He had left his hometown of Carthage in 1975 to play college baseball and figured he would see where life would take him. And then the phone call came in. From his old high school coach.
For John Burgi, returning home to coach? There were good reasons and understandable reservations, but mostly good.
“I just kind of fell into it,” Burgi said. “We were really, really good every year. We thought we had a chance to get to the Final Four.”
Burgi soon took over for his mentor, boosted Carthage High School baseball’s fortunes and, thus, kick-started a fine coaching career that took him to success at the collegiate level and into Arkansas, too. That’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the Show-Me State native with the Class of 2023.
A 1975 Carthage High School graduate, Burgi led his alma mater for eight seasons (1982-1990), with three teams reaching the state semifinals. They also won five conference championships and seven district championships.
He also coached at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas (1991-2000), where his teams won four conference titles, and Burgi won three Jayhawk Coach of the Year awards. Thirty-seven players were selected in the MLB Draft, with six reaching the big leagues.
He also coached at Valley View High School in Arkansas from 2004-2012, winning two state championships (2008 & 2009), and at one point was the recruiting coordinator at Arkansas State University. He also led the 2008 local American Legion team to a state title, the Midwest Regional and a fourth-place finish in the American Legion World Series.
All this from a man who came full circle. He was an all-district pitcher on the Carthage’s first ever district title team and later returned to Missouri to serve as baseball coach and athletic director of Hollister High School from 2012 to 2022.
Looking back, his mentor, Carthage and Crowder College coach Gary Roark, set him up for success.
“He made you grow up in a hurry,” Burgi said. “He was the type of coach that, if you were willing to work hard and play hard, you never heard anything out of him. And I saw the influence he had on other kids.”
Burgi’s coaching journey came after he played at Crowder College and Emporia State University in Kansas. Roark invited him back to be Crowder’s assistant coach in the spring of 1981, and Burgi took over Carthage the next year. His 1982, 1983 and 1987 teams all placed third in the Class 3 state tournament.
“I thought I knew everything (when I started) but I knew very little,” Burgi said. “That first year we went to the Final Four was probably the worst job I ever did.”
He thanks players, parents and the community for making it all such a wonderful experience. And that could be said of his stops after Carthage.
The Hutchinson job came open after the departure of coach Brad Hill, who would later transform the Central Missouri Baseball Program (MSHOF 2017). Four of Burgi’s teams ranked in the top four nationally, including a 45-9 finish his final season.
Valley View in Arkansas, an emerging school in Jonesboro, recruited him away from Arkansas State.
“The first year I was there, I saw the talent that was coming and said, ‘I’d be stupid to leave this place,’” Burgi said. “They let me rebuild the field and, when you have people supporting you, it makes it real nice”
His 2008 and 2009 teams won state titles, and his 2006, 2007 and 2010 teams made the state semifinals.
At Hollister, his teams gradually kept improving the program, to the point that now it plays on a plush field featuring turf. His final team won the Central Ozark Conference Small Division.
For him, the secret to his success was the way he treated players. Not that he had the touch right away.
“It’s kind of funny,” Burgi said. “I changed when an umpire in Kansas talked to me after a game. He said I needed to treat umpires and players the way I wanted to be treated.”
Burgi thanks so many others for support, particularly his wife, Debbie, and their children, Addy and Kevin. He tips his hat to numerous administrators and assistant coaches, including Mike Siriani, Andy Sawyers, Rick Sabath, Trent Oxenreider, and Hutchinson athletic director Randy Stange.
“I would not change what I did for anything in the world,” Burgi said. “I met a lot of people in my sport. That’s why it was a blast.”