Bonner Springs to honor legend
Coaching wrestling pioneer will be honored before championship rounds at Dick Burns Classic
Dick Burns will return to the gymnasium where he introduced wrestling to Bonner Springs on Saturday.
He will be honored with a plaque for his contributions to wrestling and will see familiar faces during the ceremony.
Jess Buck wrestled for Burns in the 1970s.
Buck, who lives in Bonner Springs, was undecided on whether or not he would wrestle one year during high school.
After wrestling as a sophomore, he didn't sign up when wrestling coach Burns passed out a sign up form.
Buck hadn't experienced a lot of success in wrestling and he could do something else with his winter months.
Burns, who was establishing a wrestling program at Bonner Springs High School, had other ideas.
He called Buck into his drafting classroom and sought a personal connection with his wrestler.
"He said, 'you know I noticed that you did not sign up for wrestling. I know it is hard, but you got what it takes. I would like to see you come out this year,'" Buck said recently. "That made me think this guy pays attention to me. One of the best things I did was not quit wrestling."
Burns' likely had conversations like that throughout his coaching career at Bonner Springs High School in the 1970s and 1980s.
Burns' son Dan Burns' coaches the Bonner Springs wrestling team today, but Burns imprint on the program goes beyond just having a son follow in his footsteps as a coach.
Longtime Bonner Springs residents and wrestling fans all say the sport of wrestling would never have developed the way that it has in Bonner Springs without Dick Burns.
He brought wrestling to Bonner Springs in the 1970s. He never wrestled or coached the sport before he started the program.
However, he liked the sport because a wrestler didn't have to be the best athlete, but just had to be willing to work at his craft.
A wrestler had to condition, run, sweat and strive for that next level of excellence.
"No matter the size of a person, they could wrestle," said Dan Burns, Dick Burns son. "You just had to have a big heart and a lot of courage. Some kids did well, but were not the greatest athletes. A lot about of it is the kind of toughness it takes. I think that is why he appreciated it so much. It is one of the rare sports you get out there and it is a pure form of sport."
When Burns started the Bonner Springs wrestling program, not a lot of schools in Wyandotte County offered wrestling. It wasn't in a lot of eastern Kansas schools.
Burns wanted to build a team that could compete with teams from western Kansas. He wanted to build a program that was second to none.
The Braves would travel to western Kansas to compete against the best teams.
At first they weren't real respected. Teams from out west didn't think Bonner Springs belonged on the mat with them.
"People were surprised with the kids he had and the type of talent," Dan Burns said. "Some said, 'You don't belong, but I guess you guys are pretty good, maybe you do.'"
For a period of years, it didn't really matter who the opponent was, the Braves found ways to win matches. He coached champions.
"We made good showings at state," Buck said. "We did good. There were teams we did not lose to. If we did, it was a hard practice. It was because we weren't working hard enough.
Burns led Bonner Springs to one second-place finish in the state and two third-place finishes in his coaching career.
"He had the ability to get the best out of his wrestlers," Dan Burns said. "He was in your corner 100 percent whether you were an undefeated wrestler or a kid that hasn't won a match. You knew he was there for you on the mat."
Burns also tried to make the sport more than just about an individual. He wanted the wrestlers to be near the mats cheering on each other.
"It was an individual sport, but Mr. Burns saw to it that we mingled as a team," Buck said. "After you were done wrestling, you supported the rest of the team members until done."
Burns left a legacy on the sport of wrestling. More schools added wrestling to their lists of sports teams after Bonner Springs did. Today, the sport is offered throughout the sport of Kansas.
One of his former wrestlers, Frank Gonzalez is the coach at Sumner Academy. He was a longtime coach at Wyandotte High School and built solid programs.
Burns has other former wrestlers who run the Bonner Springs kids club.
"So many of his wrestlers, their kids are in the sport now," Buck said. "They are spread out all over."
"He cared about us," Buck said. "He cared whether we did our best. He always let me know his behavior was in my best interest. We need a 100 more just like him."
Burns retired after 30 years of coaching and teaching drafting at Bonner Springs High School.
Buck took numerous drafting classes from him. He later became a plumber who had two children.
The principals he learned from Burns have followed him well as a parent and as a plumber.
Dick Burns suffered a stroke in 1992 and hasn't been able to speak since it occurred.
Dick Burns wife passed away a couple of years later.
Today, Burns lives with his daughter, Patti Nickel. Kelly LePlant, Jackie Burns, Colleen Hotop and Nickel are his primary caregivers.
"It is a struggle for him, but he keeps going," Dan Burns said. "He is wheelchair bound, but my sisters do a good job of taking care of him."
Dick Burns will be honored for all of his work on Saturday before the championship round, which is estimated to take place at 4 p.m.
"He is everything a legend should be," Buck said. "He is a big impression on a lot of people in Bonner Springs."