By Carson Ellis
Ray Brewster speaks fondly of his former coach Clark Burlingham.
Brewster was roughly ten or eleven when Burlingham came to his house and was directed outside by Brewster’s mother where he was killing time throwing rocks on the railway tracks.
The town’s first recreation director, which was a job few communities had at the time, was so impressed with Brewster, he asked him if he wanted to play in an upcoming ball tournament on the weekend. Brewster agreed, although he had never played organized sports before. Burlingham gave him a glove and a uniform and put him in as pitcher. The team won the tournament that weekend; Brewster remembers they were given leather jackets.
Over the years, he would also have Burlingham coach him in hockey, and track and field.
Brewster refers to Burlingham as a very influential person. Clark ‘Burly’ Burlingham, who had spent several years playing as a goalie in Saskatchewan and Ontario and was scouted by NHL teams before an injury during his time in the military prevented him from going further in the sport, was what Brewster called ‘an inquisitive person.’
Burlingham would often drive around and find kids playing and try to get them involved in sports. He would guide them towards sports he felt they were suited for based on the skills he saw them displaying, according to Brewster.
“He was doing things he knew was good for a person,” said Brewster.
As a coach, Ray Brewster says Burlingham was well respected by his players. He demanded respect and he certainly earned it; he had respect for his players as well.
Burlingham would often work one on one with players, especially those who asked for help to improve, which he says wasn’t exactly a common practice at the time for coaches.
Brewster says that Burlingham “never played favorites.” If a player wanted to play a particular position, he had to prove himself. He was this way with both the boys and the girls, treating them both equally, and working just as hard with any of them if they were willing to listen and try.
According to Brewster, playing away games was different in the past.
Teams didn’t charter buses for long trips. Players were transported all across the province, and even to other provinces by team parents. Sports at the time was a community, and players’ families were responsible for getting them to and from the games.
Players were often billeted at homes of players in the towns they were traveling to. Brewster says that Burlingham made it perfectly clear before anyone left Stettler that if anyone were to get out of line in any way, they would be grounded (benched) and that was all there was to it.
“He’d do it too.” Brewster said, with a laugh.
Burlingham’s strict rules to behave yourself didn’t just apply to the players, but the parents too. Everyone had to follow his rules; the players and parents respected him for it and would follow them.
Brewster says Burlingham could draw the energy out of you and help you to do your best.
This would be evident over the years as Brewster himself had an opportunity to go to the Worlds for youth javelin, but now regrets not going.
Brewster said with Burlingham as his coach, he even had a chance to try out for the NHL but was unsuccessful.
According to Brewster, Burlingham was also a coach of Bobby Falkenberg who had reached the Edmonton Oil Kings, and Dough Davidson, who played briefly on the Vancouver Canucks before dying in a car accident.
Ray Brewster eventually moved out of Stettler, playing ball briefly while in Wetaskiwin, before moving down to Lethbridge, where he currently resides.
He would go on to coach youth baseball for 25 years, with several players making it to the Little League World Series; and, one player he knows of making it to Philadelphia’s MLB team.
Brewster says he tried emulating the way Burlingham had coached him over the years and felt that it was a beneficial practice. He remembers Burlingham having a profound effect on him and admired the man greatly.
Brewster says a lot of the things his coach did back then would probably never be possible in modern youth sports, but he was grateful for his experiences with the man.