Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Editor, Jewish Press
First constructed in 1967, the Burke High School (Home of the Bulldogs!) Stadium has hosted hundreds of classes, football games, band competitions, soccer practices and even Lacrosse games.
Toba Cohen-Dunning, Executive Director of the Omaha Public Schools Foundation, said:
“Burke High School has meant a lot to the Omaha Jewish Community. As I was growing up, I was aware that most Jewish kids went either to Central High or to Burke—especially since it was so close to the Jewish Community Center after it moved in the early 1970s. You don’t actually have to be an alumnus of Burke to understand how much impact the school has had in our community. You don’t even have to be an athlete! The stadium has allowed the school to have such impact through the years, from the dance team to all the games people come to see. The track meet is the third largest in the country!”
Area sports clubs along with elementary and middle schools utilize the stadium facilities as well. There have been, of course, those famous State Track meets, held at Burke for 47 continuous years. Besides being the home of the Bulldogs, it currently serves as home field of Creighton Prep High School football. Burke Stadium has annually hosted “The Fellowship Games” for Special Education students. Sheri Wehr, principal at Morton Middle School has organized the event over the years. It has also hosted special graduation ceremonies, community events and concerts—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Burke Stadium is a place that has created memories for countless students, their family members, neighbors, staff and volunteers.
“I loved my four years at Burke High School,” alumna Andee Scioli said. “In many ways, it was the ideal high school experience. I was a cheerleader at Burke, and I have wonderful memories of cheering and dancing with my friends under the lights at football games on warm (and sometimes freezing cold) nights. I am so glad to hear about the renovation project, and I hope that future students at Burke will make memories as fond as mine.”
That renovation project includes bringing the stadium into code compliance and increasing seating from 3776 to 4376. The primary focus for the renovation will be updating the West and East stadiums and the Press Box. Future plans have been created for a comprehensive athletic facilities renovation and include a Field House/multi-purpose facility, a baseball/softball indoor training facility, and a soccer, lacrosse, and band complex all totaling $12.85 million.
Janet Kohll and her husband David sent all five of their children, Anna, Sam, Max, Jack and Leo, to Burke High School. The two youngest are still there: Jack is a senior and Leo a sophomore.
“We purchased our home nearly 20 years ago,” Janet said, “because we wanted to be within walking distance to Beth Israel Synagogue. That meant our home school is Burke. Turns out, Burke is a hidden gem. Among many other assets, it has one of the few aviation programs of any high school in the U.S., including an in-house flight simulator. Our oldest son Sam caught the aviation bug at Burke and now works as a pilot in Scottsdale, AZ. Last year, two teenage boys from Israel stayed in our home for a few days as part of the Omaha Jewish Community’s Central Area Partnership with Israel. Part of their visit included going to host families’ high schools. Burke’s aviation director let the boys go in the flight simulator and the whole administration and staff couldn’t have been more welcoming to the Israeli teens when they came to classes. The Israeli chaperone couldn’t stop singing Burke’s praises!”
The stadium is definitely in need of renovations; Janet said:
“Among other things, it’s important to keep the State Track Meet here. First priority in my opinion? The bathrooms! David and I are donating to the renovation and we urge others to do the same, especially Burke alumni and their families. But, all of Omaha benefits from Burke hosting the State Track Meet; it has a $5 million impact every year. We have to keep that going.”
“The Stadium,” she continued, “particularly the track, is like a second home for our kids. Although some of our kids have competed in other sports at Burke, primarily swimming and basketball, all five of them competed in Cross Country and Track. Just last May, our son Jack qualified in two events for the State Track Meet! It is really something to see your son compete in front of a packed stadium. The State Track Meet is an economic boom for Omaha and holds a special place in our hearts — and it’s practically in our own backyard. The Track and Cross Country coaches at Burke have always treated our kids like their own. I can’t say enough good things about that program. Even after they graduate, they are welcome to meet up with the Cross Country team at the Burke Stadium and run with them during summer conditioning.”
Burke Principal Gayle Lannan said:
“When I first joined the Burke High staff in 1993, I was impressed by how the Burke staff and community embraced the stadium events. The two events I most associated with were the Burke graduations and the State Track Meet. It was my responsibility as one of the counselors to organize and set up the graduation ceremony on the east track as well as indoors, in case it rained. Most years, the weather cooperated and the stadium with the setting sun offered a beautiful backdrop and endearing atmosphere for commencement ceremonies. State Track Meet memories include thoughts of hard, often hot work, but also a strong sense of pride and camaraderie. All Burke staff had work assignments and many garnered student volunteers to assist with the events as well as take care of officials, athletes, and patrons.”
Thanks to the generosity of Burke alumni and sisters, Amy Scott, Karen Dixon (Scott) and Sandy Parker (Scott), a Burke alumni challenge has been created to support the Stadium Renovation Project. The Alumni Association aims to raise $600,000 and the family will match half. “It’s time,” said Lisa Carlson, Burke parent, alumna and one of the driving forces behind the Burke Alumni Association, “to give the stadium our support, as alumni, so it can continue to create memories for many more generations to come.”
Memories like Janet’s: “My oldest children, Anna and Sam, remember as youngsters sliding down the grassy stadium hills on a sheet of cardboard during the State Track Meet — way before they were able to compete at the high school level.
“After our Friday night Shabbat meals, my husband, David, and I sometimes walk up to the Stadium to see part of a Burke game or I’ll go on my own and meet up with fellow Burke moms in the stadium. It’s really nice to be able to walk up to Burke from our home. And, I have sat through my share of track meets there.”
Janet is not the only one who enjoys good memories of those track meets:
“Having grown up in small town Nebraska,” Principal Lannan said, “I thoroughly enjoyed working the south gate every year to greet the athletes and coaches from across the state as they entered the stadium. The atmosphere at the State Track Meet is like no other. Student competitors and spectators alike coming together from all parts of the state; urban and rural, big schools and small schools. People interacting, sharing stories, and reconnecting. Celebrating the efforts of all. Memories are made during such events, but memories are also made over time as students, year in and year out travel their own personal journey to reach a goal. They grind through practices and workouts. Neighbors walk or run the track or stadium steps to push their limits, get in shape or stay in shape. Burke is a neighborhood school. Neighbors can tell the season of year by the sounds in the air from Burke Stadium. Band practice, whistles blowing, drums playing, lights on, cheers roaring, and yes, cars rolling down past the stadium on Burke Boulevard.”
“We’re aiming to complete the renovations between the Football season and the State Track Meet,” said Lisa Carlson. “Today, as principal of Burke High and reflecting on the past 50 years, I feel the time has come to give Burke Stadium some extra care and updates,” Principal Lannan said. “It is showing its age and its patrons deserve a great place to enjoy the talents and competition of our youth. More importantly, we want Burke stadium to reflect the pride of our students and staff, both past and present; as well as our neighbors and our community. Miracle on Miracle Hill was the slogan when the school was dedicated back in 1967. 50-plus years later it’s time for another Miracle on Miracle Hill.”
For more information and to help, please visit https://burkefamilyofchampions.org/; you can also email your questions about the renovation to firstname.lastname@example.org. “We are also looking to grow our alumni database,” Lisa added, “and if you’d like to contact us, you can do so by emailing your contact info to email@example.com.