GROVE CITY – Chris Burtch knew it was time. After 6 years guiding the Grove City High girls’ basketball program, Burtch recently announced that he was stepping down as head coach.
“When you get to the point where the want to be a former coach is more than the want to be a current coach, the responsible thing is to (step down),” Burtch said. “The feeling started to come over me during the shutdown (in December 2020). It wasn’t something that was on my mind every day. I tried to coach every day like I was going to be coaching here forever, but this just felt like the right time.”
With Burtch at the helm the Eagles accumulated an 88-49 record and captured the program’s 1rst playoff victories in over a decade. And in 2020 Grove City secured its first District 10 championship since 1993. After hitting the 150-win plateau against Oil City early in the 2021 season, Burtch finished his career with 161.
“I hope people viewed me as someone who treated everybody with respect and as someone who was willing to pass on a compliment even if we were competing,” he said. “I feel really good about my relationships with all the coaches we have here in Mercer County. I tried to treat other coaches with a lot of respect and provided counsel about other teams when they asked for it.
“As for my players, I hope they feel like I tried to help them become better players and better people. I hope the amount of fun I had coaching them came through. I love basketball and I loved coaching basketball. I hope I conveyed that to my players and I hope that’s something they remember about me.”
Unlike when he stepped down as the Slippery Rock High boys’ coach in 2004, Burtch believes this time it is for good.
“I definitely feel at this point in time that this is a retirement,” he said. “When I left Slippery Rock ... I stayed out of the head-coaching grind for the next eleven years with no intention of getting back in. I did it and I’ve enjoyed (being a head coach), but I’ve always enjoyed working behind the scenes more.
“Ultimately, it comes back around to why I stayed away for those eleven years ... “ Burtch continued. “There’s always been this thing in me that I want to do other things. Being a varsity basketball head coach – even under ideal circumstances – is hard and it’s not something I’ve ever worn particularly comfortably.”
Burtch loved every last second of his six years leading the Grove City girls’ basketball program.
“I say this with the utmost sincerity: These past six years have been a dream come true,” Burtch said. “They’ve been the most enjoyable of my basketball life. I can’t express enough gratitude to my assistant coaches, to my players and their parents ... everyone who was involved in all of this. I’ve had an incredible time during this second go ‘round (as a head coach).”
It was during his “second go ‘round” that Burtch had the opportunity to coach his oldest two daughters, Anna and Lily, as they moved through Grove City’s program.
“I’ve experienced a lot of great things during my basketball life, but getting to coach my daughters has to be the most soul-satisfying thing I’ve ever gotten to do,” he said. “I jumped back in when Anna was a senior. By that time, she had lost a little bit of interest in basketball, but came back and played as a senior. We’re both grateful to have had that experience. And to be Lily’s coach all four years. She put everything into it that she could, even with those knee injuries in her sophomore and senior seasons (torn ACLs) and I really enjoyed coaching her. I think she’ll be the coach in the family. She’ll be a good coach someday, because she really sees the game.
“I will always be incredibly grateful for the opportunity to coach them both.”
While coaching his daughters was his greatest personal accomplishment, Burtch recounted some of his favorite memories from his time at Grove City and Slippery Rock.
“Some of the best memories are obvious,” he said. “They’re games everybody is going to remember, but in each of these past six seasons the girls would bring in a cookie cake and we’d hang out in the team room for my birthday. I got to celebrate my 46th through 52nd birthdays hanging out in the team room, having birthday cake with my team. Those are great memories.
“I’d have to include winning the District 10 championship game last year as the main highlight of my career in terms of one, single game,” Burtch continued. “Another top memory is the game before that, going up to Oil City and beating Warren. I really started to get the feel after that game that something really special was starting to happen. Those wins were just tremendous. Winning the Hickory game when Abby Biddle made the pass to Katie McDowell for the layup at the buzzer –– that was the first win at Hickory for this program.
“If you go back to my Slippery Rock days, the 2004 team’s upset of Franklin at SRU. We were basically the eighth seed and they were the one seed,” Burtch recalled. “That was incredible. Ben Zajac making the buzzer-beater at Grove City to beat a very good Don Fee-coached team in 2000.
“There’s so many more, but those are the big ones. Those are the ones you remember and your fan-base remembers.”
With his coaching career closing, Burtch is eager to have the opportunity to spend as much time as he can with his wife Chrissy, his daughters, and dog Winnie.
“They all have things going on that I just wanted to put my complete and undivided attention into,” Burtch said. “I feel like there’s been things I’ve missed and things I feel like I should’ve paid more attention to with all of them. I want to put my full attention into whatever they’re doing.
“Anna is starting a job with the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. I just want to be completely available to help her move down there and be able to go down (to visit her) on a very regular basis. Lily is moving along in her occupational therapy program (in college), and my youngest daughter Mary is going to be a senior in high school next year.”
Burtch wanted to thank his assistants (Dennis Ranker, Danyelle Lucido, Katelyn Walter, Christa Reddick, Madeline Hoffman and Abby Fulkerson) for their help, the Grove City Area School District administration, and his players’ parents for their efforts during his coaching career.
“I hope my gratitude toward my players always came through, but I’d certainly like to thank their parents,” Burtch said. “Parents tend to get beat up in the athletic community, but I had great relationships with the parents of my players.
“I’d like to thank the Grove City administration. Casey Young is a terrific athletic director and Brendan Smith is a great principal. The Central Office administrators Dr. Finch and Dr. Weaver are just great.
“And you guys that have covered my teams over the years. I truly appreciate the coverage. It makes it that much fun and electric,” Burtch concluded.