Neshannock High School in Lawrence County was much more than a school for Ernie Burkes. To him, the place was like his own personal “four seasons” resort.
Oh, don’t get the wrong idea. Neshannock was never a place Burkes went to relax. But it was where he always went to get his fix of sports – in all four seasons.
Burkes would start football in late summer and play it into the fall. He would move to basketball in the winter. In the spring, it was on to baseball and track.
Four seasons. Four sports. One incredible athlete.
Now just call him Athlete of the Year.
Burkes, a Neshannock senior, wins the MSA Sports Male Athlete of the Year for the 2013-14 school year. The winner is picked from the entire WPIAL and is selected by the MSA Sports staff.
In the days of athletes specializing in one or two sports, and in the days of dwindling three-sport athletes, Burkes is most certainly a rarity, competing in four sports. He graduated with 14 varsity letters. As impressive as that is, how is this for rare? Burkes was a four-year starter in football, basketball and baseball, and ran track for two years.
But it wasn’t just competing in four sports that made the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Burkes different. It was the way he excelled.
*In football, Burkes was an outstanding quarterback at the Class A level. As a senior, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and passed for more than 1,000.
*In basketball, he averaged 17.1 points a game as a senior and was an all-WPIAL Class A selection and was selected to play in the Roundball Classic.
*In baseball, Burkes played shortstop and batted .525 during the regular season and scored 24 runs.
*In track, he went to a few meets when the sport didn’t interfere with baseball. He competed in the 100- and 200-meter dashes as well as the long jump and high jump. He was hoping to compete in the WPIAL Class AA track and field qualifiers in May but had a baseball game instead.
“My thing is, just do whatever you love,” said Burkes. “I just like being on a field, no matter what kind. I don’t care if I would be playing on a lacrosse field. I just like competing.”
Burkes did more than just play football, basketball, baseball and run track. He even dabbled in soccer at Neshannock.
“Over the summer, I’d come and play soccer with the team because they didn’t have a lot of players,” said Burkes. “I would come and play striker for them. In fact, sometimes I would just jump right on the soccer field after football practice. Our football coach came out one day and saw me, and yelled at me.”
Burkes is the youngest of Robert and Marianne Burkes’ three sons. The multi-sport athletes run in the family. Oldest son, Bobby, is 26 and in 2006 was the Lawrence County Historical Society Athlete of the Year for Lawrence County. Like Ernie, Bobby competed in four sports, although he played at Union High School.
Middle son Jason Burkes, 22, also played sports at Union High. Ernie Burkes and his family moved to Neshannock when Ernie was in eighth grade.
So, no matter what Burkes son you talk about, you can call him an athlete. But the funny thing is nobody calls Ernie Burkes by his real name. His given name is David Joseph Burkes, but his father decided to nickname him Ernie after the youngest boy in an old television comeday “My Three Sons.” That show aired in the 1960s and 1970s and the Ernie nickname stuck.
“I have family members who think my real name is Ernie,” said Ernie. “My Dad actually bought the whole series of that show for us to watch. I watched a few of the shows. It was funny. I’d recommend it.”
Ernie was in third grade the first time he played a sport for a team. It was football and he ran for a touchdown the first time he touched the ball.
Ernie will tell you that basketball was his favorite sport for a long time and the sport he thought he would play in college. But he has decided to attend Mount Union College in Ohio for football. Mount Union is a Division III powerhouse.
Burkes said there is a chance he might also play baseball at Mount Union.
As far as Neshannock, he left an indelible mark. Many thought speed was his most important trait, but Burkes doesn’t necessarily think so.
“I’d say speed and probably my cleverness,” he said. “My speed got me out of a lot of things, but I think my mind got me out of things, like being in trouble in the pocket in football, in trouble under the basketball hoop and maybe in the batter’s box with two strikes. Coaches will tell you I have a weird mind that really helps.”
Athletic ability doesn’t hurt, either.