When Aurora Christian girls basketball coach Jerry Tokars let his assistant coach, Burney Wilkie, know that he would be stepping down after last season, Wilkie didn’t know what to think.
“I was upset about it because I didn’t know what I’d be doing from there,” Wilkie said.
He was no run-of-the-mill assistant coach, either. His father, also Burney, has been doing the scorebook and running the scoreboard for multiple sports at Aurora Christian for 37 years. Young Burney attended the school and started coaching the seventh-grade girls team when he was still a senior in high school in 2001.
But Wilkie’s fears were allayed a couple of days after Tokars’ announcement. Athletics Director Dan Beebe called Wilkie into his office and offered him the head coaching job on the spot. Wilkie, 31, accepted immediately, admitting that he was choked up after receiving the offer.
“It was a no-brainer,” Beebe said. “Burney has this uncanny ability to have the kids play extremely hard for him and they really don’t want to let him down. That is a hard thing to get. He has that right now with his kids.”
Wilkie still walks into the school during the summer and has to remind himself that he is now the head coach of the program at a place in which he has spent much of his life.
“It was my dream job scenario,” Wilkie said. “I was still playing (in 2001), but I was more of a role player. Don Davidson and his son Matt, who were the (boys) coaches at the time, told me they needed help with the junior high girls and asked if I was willing to do it. I would go from one practice to the other. As soon as I did it, I fell in love with it. I haven’t had a season I haven’t coached since then.”
Wilkie coached under Tokars the past four seasons, a stretch that has seen the Eagles achieve more success than they ever have. The Eagles have won back-to-back regional titles after never having won one previously. One of the program’s best players, Alyssa Andersen, recently signed with Division II powerhouse Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, and she will be the biggest piece that Wilkie will have to replace on the court.
“Jerry did an unbelievable job,” Wilkie said. “We only played for a regional title once before Jerry came. To win back-to-back regionals, the program couldn’t be in better shape right now. He couldn’t have left me in a better position. I learned a ton from him and benefitted greatly from working with him.”
Wilkie still has rebounding machine Natasha Brown and a junior class that went 20-3 as sophomores among his group of players to work with this season.
Wilkie also knows what the overall vision of Aurora Christian is thanks to his time spent there, a fact that was not lost on Beebe.
“That was first and foremost,” Beebe said. “We look for coaches who know what the mission of the school is. Sports are secondary. He understands exactly what the school is about and what we’re looking for.”