New era for Mounties: Mount Greylock boys cross-country coach Scott Burdick retires after 17 years, 9-straight titles
WILLIAMSTOWN — Scott Burdick got out of bed early Thursday morning, but for the first time in 35 years he had nowhere he needed to be.
After three-and-a-half decades coaching high school runners, the third Thursday of August is just another day.
"It's funny, I emailed Hilary Greene this week because we would've had the parents meeting and the coaches meetings this week," Burdick said in a phone interview on Thursday from his home in Williamstown. "Last night I woke up at 4 a.m., worrying about practice."
Burdick spent the last 21 years of his career at Mount Greylock, the final 17 as head coach of the boys cross-country team. He helped foster an organization that amassed 11 Western Massachusetts titles in that span, including nine straight through last fall. But it was time to step away. The cross-country programs at Greylock, which were helmed by Burdick and Larry Bell, the longtime girls coach who retired last summer, are now under the watch of Greene and new boys coach Courtney Randall.
"You just kind of know when it's time," Burdick said. "Having Hilary and Courtney there, it just made it really easy knowing there were successful, knowledgeable and just good people in place."
The Greylock boys graduated five of their varsity seven from last year's squad, but the Mounties program under Burdick has always been about replenishing and empowering the youth. That's how Greylock managed to amass a record of 215-12 with him as head coach, a mark that includes a current 55-meet regular season win streak.
That could put a lot of pressure on Burdick's incoming replacement. However, he feels more than comfortable leaving the program in the hands of Randall, who has spent the last four years as the boys track and field coach at Greylock and was an assistant with Burdick and Green last fall.
"We had talked a lot about the transition and how it would look like, and he's just an amazing person to coach alongside," said Randall, who also spent eight years as a cross-country coach in North Carolina. "It was discussion about the things we definitely wanted to keep, things that have been influential to the program, and we agree a lot on coaching philosophy. It's been neat to be able to do this."
Greene is the ideal running mate, having taken over a defending state champion from Bell last fall.
"It's been seamless, and I'm so excited to see her implement her ideas while we work and keep some of coach Burdick's influences alive," said Greene.
The Mounties will be a young team this fall after graduating varsity runners Jakin Miller, Theo Sandstrom, Jacob Fink, Josh Cheung and No. 1 Jesse Seid. That unit had a lot to do with Burdick's finale: another Western Mass. title and a third-place finish at the MIAA state meet. The team performed last season without knowing of their coach's plans to retire. Burdick opted to wait until after the season and after the postseason banquet to make his decision public.
"I didn't want to tell the kids, because this is all for them. We are merely stewards of the program," he said. "It was really great to get that last year. I really got to cherish every minute, every mile and savor every moment. The last time at Western Mass., the last time meeting with all the other coaches, and all that.
"I'll be forever grateful for that last year."
Burdick and Bell flip-flopped their retirements to ensure the Mounties cross-country program and science department wouldn't be replacing both in the same year. Burdick retired from teaching chemistry last year, while Bell taught one more school year, despite stepping down from his post with the girls team.
His time at Greylock with Bell and the runners is what he says will be most missed in retirement.
"Just being able to coach with a hall-of-famer like Larry Bell, and this place with the hard work of the kids and the dedicated parents. The climate at Greylock was perfect for education and cross-country," Burdick said. "I've always felt lucky, like I am always just in the right place at the right time."
The feeling from his runners was always mutual.
After wrapping up their high school cross-country careers at the state meet last fall, Seid and Cheung directed praise for their performance at Stanley Park to the man in the red tent with a Mount Greylock baseball cap and clipboard.
"What went into this is just Coach Burdick having us put in the work," Seid told The Eagle. "Him being probably the best coach in the state, if not the world. His expertise is really just boundless."
"He has the right advice for every race, and he adds so much passion into this," Cheung added.
A college runner at St. Anselm's, he said his first teaching job at Oliver Ames High School in Easton, Mass. was awarded to him, in part, because the school needed a cross-country coach and he was a runner. Burdick spent four years there, before moving back to the Berkshires and coaching and teaching at Taconic. With the Braves, he coached four Western Mass. Division I championship teams and had a state runner-up as well.
"I believe it is the greatest sport in the world," said Burdick. "There's no bench, the team is for everybody and you get out of it whatever you want to get out of it."
That makes for 15 sectional crowns after last season's run to a nine-peat with Greylock.
Seid, Cheung and those leaders won't be on the course for Randall this fall, but the excitement is still there, and as Burdick put it, "I always thought that building a team was more fun than having one. Getting to watch them grow was always special."
That's a theme Randall and her crew, led by senior Owen Tucker-Smith. They are embracing as they train and grow alongside Greene's more experienced girls squad — which is also the defending Western Mass. champion.
"There are some big shoes to fill," said Randall. "Either we look at it as an obstacle or a challenge, and I think we're going to embrace the challenge."
Burdick, like Bell, will still be around from time to time, and is sure to keep up with the team this fall, but from the outset of the stretching circle on Thursday morning at Williamstown Elementary, the teams are under the direction of Randall and Greene.
It's a new era for Mount Greylock cross-country.
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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