Saturday, August 06, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Books before practice

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville High School graduate Kinley Burrows played a big role in the success the Lady Red Devil softball team had this past season, its best since 2002, but the four-year starting shortstop’s accomplishments in the classroom are just as impressive as her play on the softball field, if not more so.

Burrows graduated in the spring as the Salutatorian of the 2016 JHS class with over a 4.0 grade point average. Her work in the classroom and on the softball field earned her both academic and athletic scholarships to Central Baptist College in Conway this fall.

At CBC, Burrows plans to major in health science and after she graduates, she wants to pursue a career in physical therapy. She said she wants to keep her GPA high enough while she’s an undergrad so she can eventually get accepted into the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Central Arkansas, which is among the elite physical therapy programs in the nation.

Being an athlete, Burrows was first interested in the athletics side of the physical therapy field, but found another interest when working at an Allied Therapy camp for kids at the Veterans Park Community Center in Cabot a couple of summers ago.

“At first I wanted to do that just because I kind of wanted to stay in the sports area,” said Burrows, “and I figured that’d be a good thing to do, but then I kind of changed tracks after I job shadowed this lady that did physical therapy for special needs kids.”

Burrows said she loved the experience of working with the kids there, and is what led to her interests in wanting to pursue a career in pediatric therapy.

“I just fell in love with the kids there,” Burrows said. “I just thought it’d be really cool to help them out and spend my time with kids.”

Playing a collegiate sport takes the same time and dedication as a full-time job, but keeping a high GPA can be just as challenging. It will be a challenge to excel at both, but it’s something Burrows has done throughout her time in Jacksonville, and from an early age, she learned at home that academics came before extracurricular activities.

“My parents kind of always pushed academics before athletics,” Burrows said. “If I missed school I couldn’t go to practice. It (school) always came first, and they always taught me I had to work as hard in the classroom as I do on the field.”

Both of Burrows’ parents are teachers in Jacksonville. Her mother, Stephanie, is a fourth grade teacher and her father, Larry, teaches geometry and is also the head baseball coach at the high school, and his influence and teachings played a big role in Kinley’s development and progression on the field, according to her.

“When I was younger, we’d go and hit on Sundays and get (field) groundballs whenever I wanted, which was all the time, basically,” Kinley Burrows said. “But really as I got older, he would teach me the little things in the game to get perfect, and how you can never be perfect, so you’ve always got to work.”

This past season the Lady Red Devils were perfect in 5A-Central Conference play (12-0) en route to their first conference championship in softball since 2004, and the team advanced to the semifinals of the Class 5A state tournament for the first time since 2002, finishing the season with an impressive 26-5 overall record.

“It was awesome,” Kinley Burrows said of the 2016 season. “It was like a really big payoff year for us. It was kind of frustrating the previous years, because we worked just as hard every year, and it just didn’t really work out those years.”

The JHS softball team was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the spring sports merger between Jacksonville and North Pulaski. The merging of those two programs only made the softball team better, and coming together as a team wasn’t a problem since most of the players from the two schools played summer ball together.

“We got some new people from North Pulaski and we just clicked,” Burrows said. “We played summer ball with each other, so we kind of already knew each other and stuff like that. So we just all clicked together and became a family. It was awesome.”

As for Burrows’ impact on the team, Jacksonville softball coach Hank Hawk said she definitely did her part and brought an intensity and energy to the game that the rest of the team took notice of. Burrows was also her biggest critic, because she expected excellence out of herself, even on the tough plays, according to Hawk.

“She would get down on herself by not making tough plays,” Hawk said. “Routine plays were routine for her, but when she didn’t make a tough play she’d get down on herself, because she expected to make those plays. She expected excellence out of herself, and that bleeds over to everyone else on the team.

“I can remember her junior year about halfway through the season, she started sliding head first. Sliding is an art, but going in head first to me is aggression, and she started doing that and other girls followed suit, and that’s kind of when we turned the corner as a program – getting dirty, not worrying about the bows in their hair but getting their jerseys dirty.

“One time I came home and sent her a YouTube (video) of Pete Rose, and she couldn’t believe (the effort of) Charlie Hustle. I said that’s what you remind me of.”

At CBC, Burrows will be one of two Mustang freshmen softball players that were on the JHS conference championship softball team this year. She and fellow JHS graduate and teammate, pitcher Kym House, will carry the success they had at Jacksonville to Conway this fall, and look to build on their accomplishments with the Mustangs.