By Pete Zamplas
Champion caliber cross country head coach Val Burch for years has been “in the running” for an award he now has — a lifetime coaching achievement honor from the Kiwanis Club of Hendersonville.
Burch’s North Henderson runners were so dominant that they won state team titles in nearly half of his time coaching cross country — in seven of 15 years leading both squads. Five of those titles were by the boys, two by Lady Knights. NHHS was state runner-up three other times.
Forty-three athletes were also heralded last Thursday, Jan. 23, as Kiwanis All-Stars. They played fall non-football sports for the four public high schools in Henderson County.
Then a special salute went to head coach Jessica Eblen and her tennis 2A state champion Hendersonville Lady Bearcats. This 61st Kiwanis All-Star luncheon was in The Chariot.
Burch received Kiwanis’ 21st annual Glenn C. Marlow Athletic Achievement Award. Marlow, who had coached athletics, was county school superintendent in 1970-90. He is hailed as a positive motivator, to principals and teachers.
“Mr. Marlow was always positive to everyone,” Burch recalled. “He got people to strive to be the very best they could be.”
Burch similarly got the most out of his athletes and students, at Edneyville then North Henderson high schools. Combined, he taught there in 1979-2018. He switched to NHHS when it opened in 1993. He taught marketing and drafting at both schools.
He coached wrestling and tennis for EHS, and helped with track. At North, he coached swimming for six years, and tennis for a year.
NHHS Athletic Director Mac Cumbo coached Knight football. As A.D. he let the genie out of the bottle when he asked Burch to coach cross country.
Burch explained how he was a “recreational runner,” Cumbo knew that and figured Burch could pass on keys to distance training and running.
Burch took the Knight crown, and we might say he “ran with it.” He was conference coach of the year in two-thirds of seasons — ten of 15 years.
Early on, he asked and received team training tips from West Henderson’s prolific cross country coach Greg Price. One reason local runners excel is they tackling hilly area routes, preparing them for the most rigorous courses at state meets.
Burch was a strong guiding force. He humbly credits mostly the runners themselves, as “very dedicated and very hard-working.” He went over the course’s terrain with runners, typically once they arrived.
Otherwise, preparation must be far in advance. As he told The Tribune, “if they’re messing up, you can’t stop it” as a coach can calling a timeout in a team ball sport.
Runners had to already be “mentally ready,” and train for endurance and persistence and a competitive edge.
Burch encouraged runners to move up the field, rather than lay back too much for a late run. “I’d tell them ‘if they’re not wearing purple (the Knights’ main color), pass them. If they’re wearing purple, pass them anyway.”
His first Knight state champ was Aaron Keller. Others include Jessica Durant, and siblings John and Diane Henderson.
Shiloh Mielke won two state titles, and set a state record that has stood for years. Mielke turns age 40 on Feb. 15.
Burch told a story proving Mielke’s determination. In a race, “someone stepped on his foot. Shiloh’s shoe came off. He ran a few more steps, stopped, then took the other shoe off. He ran barefoot, and won that race.”
Burch calls the Marlow plaque a “team award,” praising “support of the administrators, coaches, parents, volunteers” and others.
KIWANIS FALL ALL-STARS
VOLLEYBALL: West Henderson (W): Malia Moore***, America Anderson**, Katrina Kordonowy**, Kinsley Morgan*, Daija Jackson*, Bailey Lance*; North Hend. (N): Bailey Malloy*, Ashley Patton*; East Hend. (E): Emma Gilliam*
TENNIS FEMALES: Hendersonville (H): McCollough Perry***, Lindsay Bull**, Anna Trace**, Olivia Pursley*, Celia Donaldson*, Anne Jones*; W: Emilee Mosso****, Kiki Still***
GOLF FEMALES: H: Alexandra Mills***, Hunter Hill*, Katie Kubec*; W: Ashley Drake**, Bailey Swayngim**
CROSS COUNTRY FEMALES: W: Madeline Duchesne***, Riley Hill*; E: Hope Palmer**, N: Caitlyn McMinn*, H: Heidi Reid***
CROSS COUNTRY MALES: H: Sam Burleson**, Lyric Raper*, E: Joseph Sherer*, N: Brayden Robertson*, W: Quinn Schreiber*
SOCCER MALES: N: Dominick Pross**, Juan Hernandez*, Vidal Moreno*; H: Giovanni Melendez*, Angel Ramirez*; E: Aldo Montano***, Brandon Padilla*, Jason Pereira*; W: Jackson Chandler*, Woody Greene*, Thomas Lynn*
(Number of asterisks* indicate number of years as a Kiwanis all-star.)