To understand the value of a man, pretend he never existed for a moment.
Please try to imagine. And while you do, ask: Is the world a smaller place?
“Oh my god,” said former Duncan all-state tennis champion Tricia Payne-Leavitt. “I can’t imagine a world without my coach, Phil Burns.”
Neither can we.
Thankfully, you don’t have to.
For those of us who knew him, Phil Burns lived a life so vibrant and big that it was never overshadowed. The coach who led Duncan High School to seven state tennis championships and taught for the district for 37 years died Tuesday.
He suffered a stroke on May 24 and was hospitalized for 74 days before his family believed it to be a fatal brain hemorrhage.
Burns’ body lasted 65 years, but his influence could create endless ripples.
“The impact he had on hundreds of lives at Duncan…I think it changed the course of people’s lives,” said Payne Leavitt. “There are so many people I don’t know where I would have been without him.”
All former players and their parents say the same thing about him. He taught me how to win at tennis, but he taught me more about winning in life. ”
Like Burns’ influence, the stories are endless.
One woman who learned about physical education from Barnes at Emerson Elementary School said he changed her life the first day of school. I told her to sit at
A local man was taken aback by Burns’ generosity. The person jokingly retorted that it stands for “Part Time” — driving past Duncan’s tennis courts and noticing a kid practicing his serve.
Three years after retiring from head coaching, Burns threw his car in the parking lot, stopped, got out, and helped the boy serve.
I didn’t have any lessons scheduled. No service charge. Barnes’ personal win-loss record is unaffected.
Someone needed help, a little work, and a lot of love.
Burns was at his best then. “You can’t drive by a tennis court, wave your hand, and hope it gets better,” he said fondly. You have to stop and do the work.
“The coach was tough. He made you work hard when he needed you to,” said Payne-Leavitt. he loved people he loved Duncan.
“He was Duncan.”
He was a friend, a throwback to a bygone era when men loved you, but wanted to hide the fact.
“I’ve never seen anyone love their children so much and work so hard to hide it,” said one.
he was a mentor. Close friend. he likes to talk
and a comedian.
“He was rowdy,” said Payne Levitt, who played basketball for Texas Christians after high school. She believes she started taking tennis lessons from her PT around the age of five, and she won back-to-back state championships in 1996 and 1997.
“He always told me, ‘I’m a tennis legend. I beat the man who beat the man who beat the man who beat John McEnroe.
“I want to know the names of all those people so I can keep track of their records.”
Another local man recalls a pick-up basketball game at Irving Elementary School when Burns was teaching gym. At some point, every weekend warrior broke down and soaked up the water before play resumed.
All but PT.
“We thought he was superhuman. He never drank water. How is that?
Burns shyly replied. I have always been an athlete. It’s in good condition and doesn’t need much water. ”
During one break, the Chief noticed that PT was conspicuously missing from the group and went looking for him. He stepped onto the stage at the edge of the court, pushing back the curtains and watching Burns suck water in a previously undisclosed fountain.
He always knew secrets.
“He was drinking water all the time and we didn’t know that.”
Another time, Burns visited Frontier City and started riding a roller coaster. A park attendant told Mr. Barnes not to wear a hat.
So Barnes took off his hat while standing in line and put it back on when the ride began.
The ride started and, sure enough, the hat flew off the PT’s head.
“He took the hat out of the air in one fell swoop and gently put it back on his head as before.
The former state champion remembers Burns encouraging him to become team leader in fourth grade. I was hoping
Burns, who was driving the team van for that year’s state competition, glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw all the team members stretched out and asleep. “Okay, road to Oklahoma City. They’re resting,” he thought.
Thirty minutes later, the child Burns tapped to be the leader awoke from a deep sleep and broke the silence with a sharp yell.
“Oh my God!” cried the child. “Don’t tell me you missed Chickasha’s McDonald’s.”
Barnes shook his head. “We are going to play the biggest tournament of the year, but my best player is worried about Happy Meal,” he said.
We laughed a lot and had a lot of memories.
Burns’ legacy is too big to be captured in print or language.
Unless it’s the language of love.
“When you left Duncan, you never left him,” said Payne Leavitt. “He was always following you. You didn’t quit PT.
“He always intended to be with you.”
Kelly Wray is a freelancer for The Duncan Banner. To contact him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.