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 Bernie Burns (1959-1987)

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Bernie Burns grew up in the small, central New York town of Clinton where as a child he played youth hockey and high school hockey at Clinton High School.  Some of his accomplishments are:

  • Played hockey for Clinton High School in the early 1940's
  • Played college hockey for Hamilton College
  • Graduated from Hamilton College in 1948
  • Served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II
  • Attended Pumahoo School, Honolulu, HI, 1948-50
  • Played for the infamous Clinton Comets 1950-57
  • Head Coach for Clinton High School, 1959-87 (28-years)
  • High
  • NIHOA member 1951-81 (President for several years)



The following article appeared in the Clinton Courier Wednesday, March 14, 1984 after his "farewell" banquet, best summarizes Burnie Burns' high school coaching career-

Clinton Courier
Wednesday, March 14, 1984

Coach Burns goes out in style

First of all, it had the atmosphere of a giant class reunion.  "There are people here who haven't seen each other in years," was an observation heard often as about 220 people began to mix and mingle Saturday night in the large dining room at Harts Hill Inn.

Such was the emotional underpinning for what was to be a night of great revelry and salutes honoring the hockey coaching career of Bernard "Bernie" Burns at Clinton Central High School.

Words of praise, many braced in humor and many openly affectionate, poured forth in true testimonial style for the man credited with shaping both the sport and the men who played it in his hockey-loving hometown.

Throughout the evening, Burns and his wife, Carol, beamed in appreciation.

When the honoree finally got to the podium to conclude the evening's list of speakers, he recalled a comment he made last summer when his coaching career was abruptly halted by his superiors.  He said at the time he had wished to go out with a bit more style and grace.  "You have provided me with that opportunity," Burns told the gathering of family, friends and former hockey players Saturday night.  "This is what I call going out in style."

The banquet was organized last January by a committee of friends and former CCS hockey players; Tom Dockrell, chairman, Greg Batt Jr., Jim Rishel, Dave Katz, Jack Hannon, Tom Adams, Nick Burns and Mike Hunt.

In addition to the speeches, the event included presentations of gifts and official honors for Burns and his wife.  Clinton Mayor G. Harlan Lewis, who has issued a proclamation declaring March 10 "Bernie Burns Day," congratulated Burns.  He noted the "great honor" it was to have so many of his past "students" return to pay tribute.

Supervisor John Karin's proclamation declaring "Bernie Burns Day" also in the Town of Kirkland was read by Toastmaster Sidney Wertimer.  Wertimer, a Hamilton College economics professor who also had two sons play under Burns, also read tributes from 1968 team captain Jay Jenkins, Clinton Youth Hockey President Richard Compson, former CCS player Rick Burns and Burns' brother-in-law Ed Duffy.

The salutes combined reminiscences, praise for Burns' leadership and gentle ribbing, such as the following by Duffy, who is retired as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Marine Midland Bank:  "The high tribute being paid to you tonight is well deserved and couldn't happen to a nicer guy.  My wife and I discussed that last sentence in great length."  The comment brought down the house.

Words of official salute came from state Education Regent Emyln Griffith and U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of Utica, who entered and official proclamation in Burn's honor in the U.S. Congress on March 5.

Carol Burns was presented with a silver-plated server set.

Dockrell, a neighbor of Burns and a former Clinton Comets teammate, led off the evening's speeches by remembering his first encounter with Burns when the two were opponents on Colgate and Hamilton hockey squads, respectively.  He called Burns "a great golf partner, great neighbor and a great friend."

Paul Schilling, a leading CCS hockey player of the early 1960's who went on to lead Boston College and U.S. National Teams, presented Burns with two mementoes: A Budweiser beer cap and a six pack of the beer.  Schilling is employed by an Anhauser-Busch beer distributor.  He termed Burns a "loyal friend" who was "able to make the game of hockey fun."  "I would like to personally thank you for 28 years of dedication to Clinton Hockey," he concluded.

Tom Bogan, who played for Clinton High School from 1967-69 and later with Oswego State and Hamilton, spoke on the history of area hockey and its "bright" future.  He said Burns' leadership in forming the Section III hockey league insured the continuous growth of high school hockey within the area when travel to distant game sites became more and more expensive.

Tom Wertimer, son of the evening's toastmaster, presented his former coach with a framed and mounted enlargement of the favorite color photograph of Burns.  "He's a special guy," said Wertimer in speaking for the younger generation of men who played for Burns.

Bernie Welch, a Clinton High player from the mid-60's and a hockey official over the years, regaled the audience with stories about his relations with Burns as a coach, player, referee and teacher.  "He made you have a lot of pride in yourself,"  he said.  On behalf of Burns' former players, Welch presented Burns with a portrait of him done by ex-player Daryl Hunt.  Around the portrait are definition of four words: integrity, substance, dedicated and honor.

Rishel spoke of Burns' inspiration for is hockey career and then brought all of the coach's former players in attendance to the front of the room for a final gift presentation: a plaque to "Coach Burnie Burns in appreciation for 28 years of dedicated service."  It is inscribed with his record - 332 wins, 130 losses, 13 ties - and years of service 1955-1983.

Wertimer concluded the tribute by noting to Burns, "You have sailed through much rough waters and have distinguished yourself."

Burns then took the rostrum to return some of the evening's jabs and express his appreciation for the kinder words.  "How sweet it is," he remarked.  He said he needed to set the record straight on several points:  He was "never one to seek out controversy";  He found great words of advice from the Clinton Arena "railbirds"; and he was on friendly terms with all hockey officials.  He confirmed speculation raised during the banquet that his wife was the actual brains behind his coaching efforts, saying she even provided him with the wording for his talks to players between periods.  On a more serious note, Burns called the evening's gathering a "reaffirmation" of what hockey has been to Clinton over the last 60 years. 

He said he could not pick any one team as the best during his coaching years, but he could cite certain squads as "perhaps symbolic" of their respective decades.  They were: the 1957-58 team; the 1962-63 unit, which boasted six shutouts and such players as Schilling, Tim Suppe, Pete Burns, Jim Hughes, Ted Wampfler, Mike Stutard, Jerry Dawes and Dick Rastani in compiling a 12-1 record; the 1977-78 team that produced a 19-2 record and the greatest offensive output of Burn's career.  It featured Ted Fauss and Dan Kane; and the 1981-82 "Year of Brian Hannon" team.  "Brian holds all the career and season records at the moment and they'll be tough to beat," Burns said.

Burns commented that his teams over the years were dominated by some familiar names, including 11 Burns (eight of them his relatives, including two sons), six Hameline brothers and eight Dawes.

He then mentioned what he said were some of the outstanding players from his 28 years: Tom Thurston (62), Greg Batt Jr. and Bobby Moran (65), Rick Burns and Steve Eckerson (69), Rishel and Ken Hunt (70), Tom Hullar and Joe Hameline (71), Rod Burns (72), Don Hawthorne, Dough Schripple, and Jamie Conway (73), Robby Olson (74), John Hullar (75), Curt Jennings (76), Daryl Hunt 977), Jim Fauss (80) and Dave Iles (81)

Burns concluded by noting "how much fun this game has been for me" and saying he could write a book called "The Joy of Coaching."  He said the thrill of winning the big championship games over the years could have him walking on air for three days afterward.  "I'm going to be walking on air for three weeks after this night," he said.  "Would I do it all again?  You bet I would."


Bernie was inducted into the New York State High School Hockey- Hall of Fame, March 1997, for his dedication to the sport as a truly great coach who has contributed noteworthy service to New York State high school hockey.

The New York State High School Hockey- Hall of Fame, located in the Lake Placid Olympic Center's '80 Rink hallway,  recognizes former outstanding Players, Coaches and Teams that have contributed noteworthy service to New York State high school hockey.

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