When he lined up under center for the Tuscola football team, Dusty Burk played better than nearly every high school quarterback in Illinois at the time.
The former Warriors standout — The News-Gazette’s only two-time Player of the Year winner in the sport achieved those honors in 1996 and 1997 — knew what he wanted to do on Friday nights in the fall.
Throw for a bunch of yards (he racked up 7,526 passing yards, good for 12th in state history) in coach Stan Wienke’s offense. And celebrate wins (the Warriors went 36-10 during Burk’s career) that resonated in the football-crazed Douglas County community.
So how would 17-year-old Burk have handled no high school football in the fall?
“I would have been upset and probably angry,” Burk said. “I would have been hoping like crazy that things would improve so that there was an opportunity to play at some point. It’s especially tough for the seniors. My heart goes out to them.”
These days, the 40-year-old Burk is entering his fifth school year as the athletic director at Chatham Glenwood, just south of Springfield. Like everyone else involved with high school athletics in the state, he’s going through a fall unlike any other because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Football tends to bring our community together,” Burk said of the Titans, who have reached the playoffs in 17 straight seasons and advanced to the Class 6A state semifinals in 2019. “Other sports and activities do as well, but football is unique in its impact. It’s not just football families at games on Friday nights. It’s those supporting the marching band, the cheerleaders and the dance team. It’s a place to see old classmates and connect with people you don’t see often. Our football games are a community event, and not having that this fall will be really tough.”
Burk still keeps tabs on Tuscola — Warriors coach Andy Romine was in Burk’s wedding and Burk was in Romine’s wedding — and what his hometown is up to. It’ll just be a little different this fall with no updates on what his alma mater is doing each Friday night.
“The thing that is most special to me is that I was a part of the foundation of the current Tuscola tradition,” Burk said. “It was so much fun to be a part of it, and I loved sharing those experiences with a great group of teammates.”
Matt Daniels is sports editor of The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.