‘We’re playing for Jerry:’ How Seymour softball rallied for its head coach


Camryn Sterling remembers sitting in anatomy class when she got a text from fellow senior Sydney Stewart.

“So is practice still on?”

Sterling was confused. “Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?” she replied.

Stewart responded, “By what happened to Jerry, I wouldn’t think so.”

Assistant coach Emily Bobb was teaching at Seymour-Redding Elementary School when she got the call. She hadn’t heard from Seymour softball head coach Jerry Burton in the morning, which Bobb said was unusual.

She received a call from a former coach of hers who is friends with Burton, and that’s when Bobb found out Burton had suffered a heart attack.

“It was devastating,” Bobb said. “I was shocked.”

Bobb called Burton immediately, and he picked up the phone, just having a stent put in.

“He was acting like it was no big deal,” Bobb said. “Knowing Jerry, I shouldn’t have been surprised he answered right away.”

Bobb and the coaching staff decided to tell the team later that day before practice. Bobb admitted some of the players already knew, like the text exchanges between Stewart and Sterling.

“A lot of them had already heard, but we wanted to let them know what was going on because they deserved that,” Bobb said. “But we also wanted to let them know that he (Burton) was very clear that we were going to proceed with the season just as we would have had he been there.”

This was in the middle of April, and the players admitted it was weird at first adjusting to practices and games without Burton in the dugout.

“Right after we found out, we practiced. That was a little odd because we were trying to soak it in at the same time,” Sterling said.

“He’s such a presence in the dugout, so it’s very noticeable when he wasn’t there,” senior Kaylee Waskom said.

The Owls had to regroup fast as they had some tough games coming up on the schedule.

Seymour had a thrilling 1-0 victory over New Albany where Stewart had a walk-off single to win the game in the bottom of the seventh.

Two days later, the Owls rolled past Columbus East 10-3. After a setback against Silver Creek, the Owls rallied off more impressive wins and set themselves up for a game at Bedford that was for the Hoosier Hills Conference title.

“I think we really tried to get the rest of the team to understand we’re playing for Jerry,” Waskom said. “Even though he wasn’t with us for some of those games, he’s still our coach and we should do our very best for him.”

And even though Burton wasn’t there, he still tried to be involved while he was on the road to recovery.

“Jerry was still very involved. Even though he wasn’t in the dugout, him and I were still collaborating on the lineup for the games,” Bobb said. “The girls decided that they were going to play for him. It was a great time for him and I to collaborate, so it strengthened our relationship.”

It didn’t take too long for Burton to rejoin the team, either.

He wanted to get back to his team. Burton started rehabbing three days a week, getting on the treadmill and elliptical, doing some weights and even taking a class to learn how to eat better.

“I’m feeling better. I feel like I’m getting a little stronger. It’s just going to take time,” Burton said. “I want to be here. I wish I could do more, but I definitely want to be here to support them. We’re together as a team, so I need to be here.”

The girls weren’t surprised Burton started showing back up, either.

“I wasn’t surprised at all because that’s the type of guy Jerry is. He wanted to be here, and this is where he belongs,” Waskom said.

“Softball is such a big part of his life,” Bobb said. “It was a great feeling to have him back, really encouraging to see him start his rehab and make necessary life changes.”

While he was out, the team signed a card for Burton and constantly sent messages to check up on him.

Those actions meant a lot to the Owls head coach.

“It’s a great group of young ladies we have here,” Burton said. “I had a lot of texts asking how I was doing. They really stayed in touch with me, which means a lot.”

Burton has been back with the team for a couple of weeks now, and last week at practice, he was readying his team to close the regular season on a strong note and get ready for the sectional.

The Owls did the first part of that, beating Franklin 16-8 on Friday to finish the season with a record of 14-9 and 5-2 in the HHC. The second part of that features playing at Floyd Central on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.

Floyd Central beat Seymour 13-0 on April 26, and the Owls hope to avenge that in the sectional.

“I think as the year has gone on, they’ve won the games they should’ve won,” Burton said. “I’ve been a little disappointed in how we competed against Bedford and Floyd Central, but I hope we can play better in the sectional.”

That starts with defense and keeping it a low-scoring game. That’s what Burton is preaching, and the message is getting across to his players.

“Definitely defense and the amount of errors we’ve had in the field, we need to keep those down,” said Stewart, who starts at catcher. “If we do that, we’ll be fine.”

Sterling said she didn’t know how this season would go with the mix of experienced and young players. But the team has worked hard to get better, played for a share of the HHC title and now enter as the underdogs against the Highlanders in the sectional.

She said she’s ultimately trying to have fun as her senior season winds down, but the Owls have all of the intentions of going out swinging.

“I’m looking forward to the sectional,” Bobb said. “I know they’re really fired up for it. We have a great opportunity ahead of us to beat Floyd at Floyd. On paper, there’s probably a lot of doubters, but we know we can do it.”

Seymour has been tested in numerous ways that go beyond the diamond this season.

For the seniors, the team as a whole and the coaching staff, they’re just happy to enter the postseason with their head coach back in the dugout.

“His passion for the game with his age and how long he has been around, given that his health hasn’t been that great, he’s still here and showing up and helping us out,” Stewart said. “He always strives for perfection.”

Seymour doesn’t have to be perfect on Tuesday. They just have to come ready, locked into the game plan, and that’s what Burton plans to have them doing.

“The best team doesn’t always win,” Burton said. “It’s the best team that comes to play that night. We‘ve just got to come to play that night against Floyd Central and let the chips fall wherever they will.”

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