Malcolm Burks ’17, who earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education at William Paterson University after a decades-long hiatus, was recently recognized as one of the top high school track and field coaches in the nation. Burks was inducted into the national Track and Field Coaches Hall of Fame run by The Armory Foundation—a nonprofit organization that dedicates itself to serving youth by promoting a love of fitness, sport, and education.
For the past 24 years, Burks has coached indoor and outdoor track and field teams at Newburgh Free Academy (NFA) in Newburgh, New York, as well as at the summer-season Newburgh Elite Track Club, which he and his wife founded to provide a summer activity for city youth.
Many of Burks’s student-athletes have broken state records and gone on to teams at top-ranked colleges and universities across the country, one competed in the Under 20 World Games, and another competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Burks’s high school teams have produced more than 33 state champions and 12 national champions; his 1,600-meter and 4 x 200-meter relay teams in 2004 established state records that have yet to be broken, and one of his student-athletes holds the national record in the boys indoor 400-meter dash.
In short, Coach Burks has created a legacy of success.
Burks has previously been named the U.S. Track and Field and Cross-Country Association’s Boys Track and Field Coach of the Year, New York State Boys Track and Field Coach of the Year, and he is also an inductee of New York’s Section IX Hall of Fame.
However, Burks is not only known for his teams’ athletic achievements, but also for their academic ones. Approximately 98 percent of Coach Burks’s student-athletes go to college, in a city where college is not a given for many young residents.
“Our program’s rules—our requirements—are attention to academics, community service, and doing the right things in life. And, the students buy into it,” Burks says, noting former athletes who are now doctors, lawyers, and successful business executives. “I believe people want structure, they want to know they’re safe, they want to know they’re doing something positive.”
“By the time they’re in the ninth grade, GPAs count, so I bring students into our program starting at seventh grade to give them two years to learn our process. The older kids mentor them,” Burks continues. “It’s almost like planting a garden: watching it and being patient and going out there to weed it and water it, and then, seeing it grow. It’s a process.”
In recognition of his induction into the Armory Hall of Fame and overall contributions to the Newburgh community, the Newburgh City Council recently presented Burks with a key to the city.
Burks graduated from Newburgh Free Academy himself, in 1979, where he played football and ran track. He went on to compete in both sports with William Paterson’s Pioneers, but in 1981, he put his college career on hold for the military.
Burks spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Army, working in counterintelligence security and computer programming, stationed in Germany, Korea, and California. At each of the three locations, Burks started military track teams and networks, coaching his fellow servicemen and organizing track meets against other posts and bases. He also coached at West Point Military Academy, and while stationed there in the late 1990s, he often visited the track team at his high school alma mater to lend assistance. Eventually, he officially joined Newburgh Free Academy’s coaching staff.
In 2012, Burks returned to WP to finish the degree he began back in 1979. “I felt like I owed it to myself,” he explains of his return. “I’ve made sacrifices in my life for my kids,” the proud coach says of his student-athletes, “and now I had to make sacrifices for myself.”
Burks says his education at William Paterson was incredibly valuable and that “everything” he learned in class has made a difference in his career, even though he was in his mid-to-late 50s at the time. “I knew how to do things, but I didn’t know the terminology, the graphs, the charts, the ways to show and explain the mechanics—really, the professors took it to the next echelon for me.”
Coach Burks stays in touch with many of his William Paterson professors and was happy to meet up with kinesiology professors Jason Wicke and Ismael Marti Flores at the Armory Hall of Fame recently. He was moved that they brought their children, who are on track and field teams.
“I want to thank all my professors at William Paterson University as a whole for helping me go to the next level,” Burks says. “I know it had to be really challenging because I was older than them, but you’re never too old to learn.”
William Paterson University
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