When looking back at his work from this past decade, one might think that Jason Burke would have much to say about what he has done for Hillsboro soccer.
As coach of the Hillsboro High School boys’ soccer team, Burke has been at the helm for what has been the most successful stretch of years in program history.
With three regional championships and four conference titles since 2010, Burke has brought home his fair share of hardware. With only one losing season since then, he has helped to turn HHS into a perennial contender in the South Central Conference (SCC).
As teacher of English I and III, as well as oral communication, Burke has never been known as a man of few words. Described by The Journal-News’ own Kyle Herschelman (and probably anyone that knows him) as a “quote machine,” I expected to hear a lot about himself and the success he has had this past decade when I got a chance to sit and talk to him. I could not have been more wrong in my assumption, as he was quick to send the credit elsewhere.
“I’ve had nothing but great players and great parents since I took over,” said Burke. “I’d like to sit here and tell you that it’s because of me that we’ve won all that we have, but that’s just not the case.”
Burke was also quick to give credit to Hillsboro’s youth soccer programs and the job they have done at developing players at younger ages.
“We have a tremendous youth program,” said Burke. “I’ve got guys literally handing me entire teams of athletes as they come into high school. I feel very fortunate to be supported by such a great community.”
However, a great team takes more than just having a great youth program and local support. When I asked Coach Burke what his methods were to build a great team, he said it starts with accountability.
“One of the first things that I tell our guys each year is that it is our job to be a positive representation of our school. Everywhere we go, our school’s name is on our bus and on our backs,” Burke explained.
That same accountability is just as important off the field, according to Burke.
“Checking up on your teammates in the hallways, keeping your grades up and just doing the right thing are all a part of it,” he added.
Since taking over the team in 2006, Coach Burke and the Hiltoppers have a record of 179-113-18. Of the last 10 seasons as coach, seven have been winning seasons, with all but one winning at least 14 games.
Of the other three, two were right at .500 (2016 and 2018), with his only losing season coming in 2010, just the second losing season of his 14-year career.
Burke has led his team to four South Central Conference championships (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019) as well as three regional titles (2012, 2014, 2015). When asked if any of his championships felt bigger or more important than the rest, he just grinned.
“Winning is the one thing that never gets old.”
Having been the coach of the team since 2006, Burke is now the longest serving boys’ soccer coach in the SCC. He is also the second longest serving coach currently at HHS behind only Bret Tuektken, who started in 2001 and captured a girls basketball state championship in 2005-06, just months before Burke’s debut.
So what is it that keeps him coming back? Is it the quest for more hardware? Is it the thrill of chasing after records? Or is it just instinctive for him at this point just to coach? When asked, Burke waved away all of these claims.
“We’re like a big family” he explained. “It’s the relationships you get along the way. It’s seeing guys grow not just as soccer players, but as young men. It’s seeing former players and having them come up to you and have good things to say to you. I feel extremely blessed to be able to do what I do.”
With the past decade behind now, Burke looks forward to the turn of the new decade and what the future holds for himself, his players and the next generation of Hiltoppers.
When asked what is the one thing he would tell his future players, Burke said, “Just be sure to take it all in. Especially nowadays because you never know what the future holds. The smell of the grass, the sounds of the game, even the bus rides, just take it all in because it goes fast. The days are long but the years are short.”
Seth Watson is a Hillsboro High School graduate and senior at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville majoring in mass communication. Watson will be interning with The Journal-News over the next several months.