Monday profile: The beloved Coach B
Coach Stephen Burnett has poured a decade of his life into coaching Alameda High School’s sports teams to success, and his efforts reached a pinnacle on November 8 when Alameda High’s girls golf team won the Northern California Golf Association/CIF Girls High School Championship after just four short years in existence.
“It came from a vision of two 14-year-old girls who wanted to play golf for their high school,” Burnett said of the team. And it emerged almost instantly as a dominant force in high school golf.
The 10-member team – led by “Fab Four” seniors Grace Na and Samantha Esguerra and juniors Carly Childs and Samantha Moyal – has excelled both on and off the links, earning both tournament wins and awards for high grades. And Burnett praised the players he’s coached over the years for their high marks and college successes. Childs’ older sister, Emily, for one, is a golfer at Cal.
“Job well done, ladies,” he said. “Job well done.”
As the team prepares for Tuesday’s state championship at Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga, Burnett – a straight-talking Philadelphia transplant who is known to spoil his players – talked to The Island about its road to success.
Meanwhile, Angela’s Bistro & Bar is doing some fundraising for the team, whose efforts have been largely underwritten by Burnett. The restaurant is hosting its weekly Friday Night Flights on the team’s behalf on November 19. The flights cost $10, and the event takes place from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The restaurant is at 2301 Central Avenue, right up the block from the Alameda Theatre & Cineplex.
I’ve heard you referred to as Coach B for so long, I don’t think I even know your full name.
You have a long involvement with sports in Alameda.
I’ve coached different sports. I’ve coached football, basketball, badminton, golf, volleyball.
How did you end up starting a women’s golf team at Alameda High School?
I remember being out (at the Chuck Corica Golf Complex) and seeing this young lady (Grace Na). For a couple of holes, I watched her play. I’ve always been a sucker for kids with talent. They intrigue me. And I said, ‘Hey, where do you go to school?’ And she said, ‘I’m going to be a freshman at Alameda High this year.’ About a week later, she comes to me on the golf course and says, ‘Here’s friend of mine. Her name is Sam Esguerra and she’s going to Alameda High too.’ Grace is poetry in motion. She’s dedicated. And when I saw Sam tee off – this kid was hitting about 220, 230 yards. We went back to school. And about two weeks later, Sam and Grace come up to me and go, ‘Hey Coach B, how come we don’t have a girls golf team?’ We were like ‘Well, golf is in the spring.’ And they went, ‘Well no, they’re playing right now.’ Three or four days later (they asked), ‘Why don’t we get our own team?’
The team had a pretty good showing in its first year.
It was already month or two into the season almost. The first tournament we went to, the coach from Monte Vista (High School), I’ll never forget, he walked up to me and said, ‘Nobody can beat you.’ And I said, ‘Well, this is our first year.’ I really didn’t know how good we were at that time.
It’s been a long road building up to your success at the NorCal championships.
A lot of these schools – especially the St. Francises, the Monte Vistas, a lot of the private schools – a lot of these schools actually recruit. And they recruit for golf. We should have been the NorCal champs the last two years in a row. In our first year we came in fourth place. The next year we came in second place by two strokes, and that (loss) was to St. Francis. But they had four seniors the next year. Last year, we lost to them by two strokes again. Right now we have 10 kids. We are all on this Island.
Who’s the better golfer, you or your girls? What’s your handicap?
I want you to quote me on this: I can beat all of them at putt-putt. At my best, I would shoot right around 80. I’m an 8, 9 handicap. But I’m nowhere near the golfer that my girls are. These young ladies are phenomenal.
What are the secrets to the team’s success?
It’s being accountable for each other. Understanding that there is something greater than you. When Grace Na and Sam Esguerra play each other, they want to beat each other bad. But in the same regard, it’s a team thing. When those two are matched up, they play their best together. And then I have Samantha Moyal and Carly Childs – these two have been mirroring each other for four years. And when they play against each other, they play better than you can imagine. So that’s a strategy. Our top four kids are tremendous. But we’ve got to have five scores to win. So now, they understand that. We have young kids coming in on the team right now – they mentor them, and they work with them. We have a good time.
Can you tell me about the team’s regimen? I understand it’s different from how a golf team might ordinarily prepare.
We have a weight-training program. We work two days a week on lifting. And we have a Pilates instructor, Ada Wells, once a week. With young ladies, your core not your strongest point. So you need to work on your core. Once you strengthen that core, you start increasing in distance. You start having less back problems than a lot of golfers. The weight training is like everything else. When Tiger (Woods) came onto the scene, you had a lot of fat golfers like me. Now if you’re in the professional ranks, the collegiate ranks, you’re in better shape.
You and your team have been active in efforts to save the Mif Albright par-3 course.
Every one of my girls has played the par-3. Our short game is impeccable. When you play a short game on par-3s such as our course, it gives you an advantage. It teaches you not to overswing or overcompensate. It just gives you the advantage of working on a small, confined area on the golf course. And that’s one of the hardest things to do.