For those with little interest in basketball, March is just a few chilly weeks set in the liturgical season of Lent. For fans of the game, March Madness is the buzz as men’s collegiate basketball teams around the country compete in the 64-team tournament to decide the national champion.
People in both groups this week might not have noticed the passing of a huge figure in local basketball lore and his strong Catholic connection.
Eddie Burke went home to God Monday, March 23, after a battle with cancer. He was 63. As a youngster he didn’t follow two of his brothers into the priesthood – Michael, ordained in 1962 and currently pastor emeritus of SS. Philip and James Parish in Exton; and Peter, ordained in 1965 who died in 2002. Most of Eddie’s years were marked by time on a basketball court, a classic Philadelphia “gym rat” as a player and especially a coach. Most of those courts were in Catholic schools.
After his playing days at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, where he led the Prep to the 1962 Catholic League title, topped the league in scoring and earned the moniker “Fast Eddie,” Burke went on to La Salle College (now University). He then began a coaching career first at the Prep then at the former St. Thomas More, Bishop McDevitt and West Catholic high schools and Drexel University.
He achieved notoriety in his 14 seasons at Drexel not only by leading the Dragons to a berth in the 1986 NCAA tournament but also by amassing 205 wins. After that stint, he coached another seven years at the Prep.
More than the wins are the people he coached and mentored on the hardwood floors, including current St. Joseph’s University coach Phil Martelli and Villanova’s Jay Wright, who’s coaching the Wildcats in this year’s NCAA tourney.
The names of the Catholic high schools and colleges associated with Eddie Burke show how precious is the legacy of Catholic education. A basketball court is just another classroom in these schools where Catholic formation of young people takes place. The entire Catholic community has every right to express pride in these gifts and the faith in Jesus Christ that we share in this Archdiocese.
It is fitting that we take time to appreciate a respected Catholic family man and coach, as well as the schools – and courts – in which he spent his career.