INDEPENDENCE — For the first time in 11 years, the Central High School girls basketball program has a new head coach.
Marc Burleson will be the new face of the Panther program with more than 10 years of coaching experience, following former head coach Julie McDonald’s resignation in early March.
He said he is excited to take what McDonald started and continue with it.
“(McDonald’s) done a really good job here, so hopefully we can build on what she’s already started and progress forward,” Burleson said.
The first step will be creating a positive atmosphere for the team — a family-like setting.
“It’s not all about the wins and losses, it’s about what you do as a family and through the program,” Burleson said. “Wins and losses are by-products of what we do and, if we do things right, we’ll get some wins. But we want to create that family atmosphere, so kids want to come and play here; so they know that they’re going to have fun and learn basketball skills and be part of something really cool.”
Summer basketball league is in full swing, so he and the team have had a chance to work together and get to know each other.
“You know, stepping into Julie’s shoes, I’m not her. I even joke with the girls — I’m not Julie. I’m a little bit taller and my hair’s a little bit shorter,” Burleson said, laughing. “I think they understand that I have different philosophies and different things that we want to express as a team.”
Of the starting lineup from last year, only one player remains: Meagan Mendazona, who was on the sidelines most of last season due to illness.
“Meagan will be one of our leaders this year, she’s already expressed that in summer league, and some other seniors have stepped up as well, so that’s great to see that senior leadership,” Burleson said.
“We are going to be a young team, but the nice thing about that is you can also mold them to be what you want for our philosophy and our program, especially defensively, and what I expect on defense. Offensively we’re gonna mix things up a little bit, but really try to let every single player have an opportunity to score and be part of it. Everyone has to bring something to the table, otherwise we won’t be a very successful team. We want to be successful: in the classroom and on the floor. And if we play as hard as we can and we lose, well, then, that’s what it is.”
After McDonald resigned from her position as head coach, she said she told CHS athletic director Ryan O’Malley that she wanted to be involved in the hiring process for the next girls basketball coach.
She thought Burleson was a good fit for a number of reasons.
“I thought Marc was very knowledge about the game of basketball and he had a passion not only for the game, but for the growth of his players as individuals,” McDonald said. “It was important to me that he had the coaching side and a mentor side. Being a coach isn’t just about knowing the game and strategy; you also have to be able to understand your players’ personalities, strengths and weaknesses to get the most out of them. I just saw a lot of positives with him, and speaking and interacting with him since the hire, I think we made the right choice.”
Basketball has been a part of Burleson’s life since the fifth grade. He played for two years at the College of Notre Dame in San Francisco before transferring to Montana State University in Bozeman, where he received his degree in architecture.
“I was in the architecture business for 13 years, until I got burnt out, caught the coaching bug, and realized I should have been a teacher,” Burleson said. “I love coaching, I love being in the gym. I’m a construction manager now. One of those things where I can see the whole picture and I can see the small details as well.”
Burleson has been coaching since 2007. He started at Sprague High School for six years as the junior varsity II and varsity assistant coach. After that, he went to Crossbill Christian School for one year as the head girls varsity coach, followed by a two-year stint at North Salem High School as the boys varsity assistant coach. From there, he went to North Marion High School, where he was the varsity assistant coach.
Ultimately, his goal was to get back in as a head coach.
“The position at Central came up and I applied, and thankfully I was able to be hired here, and I’m blessed to be here,” Burleson said.
He was officially hired in late April, and since then, he’s said the community has been very welcoming.
“From my first day I’ve felt like a part of the family, which is a cool feeling,” Burleson said.