High school notebook: Neshannock senior a 4-sport star, and it’s rare
April 29, 2014 9:59 PM
Neshannock's Ernie Burkes breaks free and runs for a touchdown against North Catholic last high school football season.
By Mike White / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
David Burkes is known as “Ernie,” a nickname given to him by his father.
By any name, Burkes is one unusual athlete.
Three-sport high school athletes are considered rare these days. But Burkes goes further than that. He is a four-sport athlete who will graduate from Neshannock High School with 14 varsity letters.
“He is truly amazing,” said Neshannock baseball coach Mike Kirkwood.
But Burkes has done more than play four sports. He has excelled in all four. He has been a four-year starter in football, basketball and baseball and has run track the past two years.
In football, he was an outstanding quarterback who passed and rushed for more than 1,000 yards each as a senior. In basketball, he averaged 17.1 points a game this past season, was a Post-Gazette All-WPIAL Class A selection and scored more than 1,000 points in his career.
Now he is capping off his high school career with a big spring. A shortstop for the undefeated Neshannock baseball team, Burkes, a 5-foot-9, 160-pounder, is hitting .538. But Burkes also runs track for Neshannock and will compete in the WPIAL individual qualifiers next week in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.
“He doesn’t go to every track practice or event because of baseball, but he does enough to qualify for the WPIAL qualifiers,” Kirkwood said. “He’s not very big, but I haven’t seen many kids run like him.”
As for the nickname of Ernie, Burkes got it because he is the youngest of three boys in his family, and his father, Bob, decided to nickname him Ernie after the youngest boy in an old television comedy “My Three Sons” from the 1960s and 1970s.
Ernie Burkes will play football next season at Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio.
“The thing is, our baseball program is pretty good, so we put in a lot of time,” Kirkwood said. “The basketball program is good, and he puts in a lot of time there. Plus, the football program was good the past two years, so he put in a lot of time there. On top of all that, he’s an excellent student.”
• Sewickley Academy’s starting catcher is Derrick Littlefield, son of former Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield. The younger Littlefield, a freshman, is 5-7, 170 pounds. “He’s the real deal,” Sewickley coach Andrew Heck said. “If he keeps progressing, he definitely could be a Division I college player in the future.” Sewickley Academy also has freshman Tommy Lasorda, a reserve who is a distant relative of legendary former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
• When the four runners on the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart 1,600-meter relay team hand off the baton, it’s a sister act. The relay team is made up of four Lohmann sisters. Monica, Angelina and Anna are triplets and sophomores at OLSH, a Catholic school in Moon. Maria Lohmann is a freshman.
• The McGuffey softball team is 12-2 with senior Cassie Weiss at pitcher and junior Sammie Weiss, Cassie’s sister, at catcher.
Giving ’em Heck
You could call Sewickley Academy’s Heck a player-coach.
He has signed to play with the Washington Wild Things, an independent minor league team. Heck, a North Hills graduate who played at Duquesne University and Oklahoma State, started practicing with the Wild Things this past weekend.
“It will start to get busy, going back and forth,” said Heck, who lives in Ross. “The nice thing is a lot of the spring training stuff we do is in the mornings, or from 9 to 1 [p.m.] or 9 to 2.”
The Wild Things start May 15.
Football all-star game
The annual East-West All-Star football game will be played at 2 p.m. Sunday at Franklin Regional. The game features top seniors from around the state who are not playing in the Big 33 game in June. A few of the WPIAL players in the game are West Mifflin running back Jimmy Wheeler, South Fayette receiver Justin Watson and Gateway defensive back Delvon Randall.
• Go ahead and call Jessica Stever a freshman phenom. Stever, a ninth-grader at Indiana, has the best high jump in the WPIAL this spring at 5 feet, 8½ inches. It is the fourth best in WPIAL history. Stever also was on Indiana’s basketball team and averaged double figures.
• Kailyn Clancy, a senior at California, won a prestigious event last week when she finished first in the shot put in the high school division of the Penn Relays in Philadelphia. Clancy has the top shot-put mark in the WPIAL this season at 45 feet, 5 inches.
• The 41st annual Baldwin Invitational is Friday at Baldwin High School. It is one of the largest invitational meets in the eastern part of the country and participants will include most of the top track and field athletes from the WPIAL.
The PIAA is tossing around the idea of staging a “festival” of spring championships within the next few years. The possible approach would allow the PIAA to conduct the final few rounds of the its baseball, softball, lacrosse, volleyball and tennis championships at one college in a the span of a few days.
“We’re talking about it, so teams wouldn’t have to travel so much to games and then go back home,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. “For fans, you would buy one ticket and you get an arm band that allows you to go to any of the sports that day. Kind of like the Olympics.”
It’s not a totally new idea. In 1979 and 1980, the PIAA staged the baseball and softball tournaments at Shippensburg University. The tournaments were a double-elimination format that lasted Monday through Friday.
Positive athletes recognized
Twenty-six athletes from the WPIAL will be honored Saturday and given Positive Athlete Awards at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District.
This is the third year of the Positive Athlete program, led by former Steeler Hines Ward. Roberto Clemente Jr. also is part of the program, which promotes positivity in sports. Principals, athletic directors, coaches and parents nominated athletes from 125 WPIAL schools.
Highlands High School will be honored as the Highmark Most Positive High School for how the school came together after the tragic death of football player Ryan Richards.
Also, Murrysville mayor Robert Brooks will present FR Proud T-shirts to all the athletes as a gesture of thanks to the entire region for the support of Franklin Regional High School after the April 9 stabbing incident.
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-195 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.
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