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"Jack's Heat" - A Story of Love & the Power of a Team


by Clarence Gaines

"They are trying to keep me safe. If I fall down, they got my back."

 

 

 

Jack Burleson's statement about his teammates maybe the most succinct definition I've ever heard on the relationship that should exist between teammates. "Jack's Heat," an ESPN E60 special, is one of the best documentaries that I've ever witnessed on the amazing power of team.   Prepare to be moved by Jack and his teammates and coaches.

 

 



Jack Burleson is a 2012 graduate of Del Oro High School in Loomis, Ca. He has Oral-Facial-Digital Syndrome (OFD), which is a rare genetic disorder that causes deformities in the mouth, hands, and face.  OFD also limits intellectual ability.  Jack was born with six fingers on his right hand, a cleft palate and thinks at the level of a six year old. Wright Thompson is the reporter on "Jack's Heat" and he made this astute observation about Jack - "He can't read words, but he can read people."

Thompson's reporting is deft - "The things that brings most people his age together, school, sports, love have always separated him, a boy alone." Jack's journey through high school began to change when his older brother Alex suggested that he go out for track during his sophomore year. Alex has a milder version of OFD and was a member of the track team. Jack built connections on the track team and gained the respect of his teammates by doing two things, showing up daily and giving his best effort.

Track and Field is not your typical team sport. Some don't even think of it as a team sport at all, but they are misguided. The team aspects of track are forged in practice, the individual nature of the sport is expressed in meets.  In thinking of the value and importance of teammates in track and field, I look to Proverbs 27:17:
 

"As Iron Sharpens Iron, One Man Sharpens Another"
 
Bobby Heatherington, a teammate, said Jack "strives for greatness, he pushes himself everyday, and really tried to do his best in everything." What more can you ask of an athlete? I wrote the following in a previous blog, "Internalizing John Wooden's Definition of Success:"
 
"SUCCESS IS PEACE OF MIND, WHICH IS A DIRECT RESULT OF SELF SATISFACTION IN KNOWING YOU DID YOUR BEST TO BECOME THE BEST THAT YOU ARE CAPABLE OF BECOMING."

Key phrases in Wooden's definition are "peace of mind" and "self satisfaction." He {Garrett - my son} was content with his level of effort and performance, and was satisfied in knowing that he gave his all. His response meant more to me than a first place medal. It's nice to be acknowledged by others, but knowing when you've given your best effort and being content with the fruits of that effort is to be valued. The beauty of track and field is that a kid can win without winning the race. You can win in track in field by giving your best and setting a personal record. Not everybody can win the race or place in the top 3; but we can all strive to be the best that we can possibly be. Track teaches this life lesson and many more. More than any other youth sport that I coach, track breeds independence.
 
Wright Thompson makes the point that Jack's "energy and confidence didn't end at the track," that it carried over into his every day school life. This is as strong a statement as one can make about the value of athletics in a school environment. Ray Lokar, a high school basketball coach and lead trainer for the Positive Coaching Alliance, makes the distinction that sports are a co-curricular activity in schools and should not be viewed as an extra-curricular activity. When one thinks about how budget cuts have affected physical education and athletic programs in elementary, middle and high schools, one can't help but think how misguided and short sighted those decisions have been.
 
"Jack's Heat" is a love story. Love of teammates, teachers, coaches, administrators, students and a truly special girl, Kaicy Guzman, Jack's date for the Senior Ball. The teenage years can be brutal. Kids are looking for acceptance, a sense of belonging, and a sense of accomplishment. A kid like Jack can easily be ostracized and made fun of at school. That Jack was accepted for who he is, is a credit to Jack and everybody at Del Oro High School, especially anybody associated with the track and field team.
 
I end on this note from Jack's coach, Jake Hardey: - "Every student that comes out to high school is looking for something to be a part of, something that let's them know that he's safe. When he's running, I know that's a special moment in his life."  Here's to Moments! Be present and live in the moment!