There is an old phrase that ‘respect is not given, respect is earned.’ Few people have earned the type of respect among their peers at Missouri Western that former athletic director Charlie Burri has earned.
University President Robert Vartabedian holds Burri in very high regard as someone who has shaped Western into the place it is today.
“If you look at the history, (of the institution), go back all the way to the mid-60’s, (Burri) has been an important part of this university for half of its existence,” Vartabedian said.
Former Griffon athlete under Burri and current head football coach Jerry Partridge knows that any successes that the athletic department has can be traced back to the influence of Burri.
“Charlie is the godfather of Missouri Western athletics. He is the guys that started it all,” Partridge said.
Current Griffon Athletic Director Kurt McGuffin got along with Burri well from the moment he was hired.
“When I got the job, I asked for a list of people to call,” McGuffin said. “Charlie was the first one I called and two and a half hours later on the phone after all the stories, I knew right then we had someone who cared about Missouri Western.”
Burri did not take a common path to his place among Western’s legends. In fact, he began his path to the head of Western athletics in one of the most unlikely of places: Northwest Missouri State University.
In 1958, Burri graduated from Northwest. After a stint at Faucett High School, Burri moved to St. Joseph and became a teacher and basketball coach at Benton High School.
In 1966, Burri was approached by then-College President Milburn Blanton about joining the staff at what was then-Missouri Western Junior College.
Burri not only served as the school’s first director of athletics, but he was also the school’s first head basketball coach, first golf coach and first physical education teacher.
Burri also had the foresight to realize that if the athletic department was going to continue to grow, that a major sport was missing that would help propel it upward. That sport was football.
Where some might have only seen a hillside with a flat patch of grass at the bottom. Burri saw a football field.
“We drive by that little natural bowl down there, so I said to Dr. Looney (Western’s then-President)… it’d look nice to have a football field down there,” Burri said.
In 1979, Burri opened Spratt Stadium and changed Western and the athletic department forever. While the university looks to renovate the stadium this year, Vartabedian appreciates the work that must have gone into the project when Burri undertook it.
“Huge accomplishment,” Vartabedian said. ”You can imagine getting something like that going at an institution like Missouri Western. It took a lot of ingenuity on his part, incurable people skills, connection, all of the above.”
Burri was only focused on building a football facility though, he also got the Griffons the MWSC Fieldhouse in the Looney Complex, which is named for the president which Burri served under for the longest, M.O. Looney.
“To think ahead and to say we need to put in top-notch facilities for the future was key,” McGuffin said.
Burri’s foresight and ability to think quickly on his feet were attributes that served him well as an athletic director, but they also served Dr. Looney and several faculty members well during a photo opportunity shortly after the school purchased new land to move from its downtown location to its current setting.
“Out where you go to turn in, that was part of a dairy farm, well they wanted to take a picture,” Burri said. “ We had to climb under the fence, and I didn’t like something I saw, I saw two longhorn steers out there. We got over there 10 yards or 15 at the most and they charged. You should have seen us diving over that fence. How it ended was they jumped the fence a ran through some gal’s laundry.”
The Bearcat-turned-Griffon is not just respected in the athletic and Western community for what his teams did on the field. He also worked very hard to position the department well off the field as well.
In 1970, he established the Gold Coat Club, modeled after the Kansas City Chiefs Red Coat Club. And before Western was the training camp home of the Chiefs, Burri had the NBA’s Kansas City Kings playing in the MWSC Fieldhouse.
Western had many successes on the athletic fields and courts during Burri’s two decades with the institution, including a softball national championship, golf national tournament appearances, and football bowl victories.
Burri had opportunities to leave Western and take larger profile jobs, but in the end, St. Joseph and Western were too special to him and his wife Patti.
Burri retired in 1986. He is a charter member of the Western Athletics Hall of Fame, in addition to being elected to several hall of fames dedicated to athletic directors.
Burri, to this day, rarely misses a Western home football or basketball game.
Partridge talks to Burri whenever he has the chance and is quick to thank him for making what Griffon football does today possible.
“Everytime I see or he sees me, we talk,” Partridge says. “I’m so respectful of what he did to make my job possible and Missouri Western athletics possible.”
Varabedian appreciates the fact that Western is in Burri’s blood and he continues to support Western with his great love of the university.
“For the last 31 years, since his retirement, (Burri) has just been like Griffon royalty attending our events,” Vartabedian said.
Charlie Burri is truly ‘Griffon royalty.’