Anyway the Wind Blows: Westmoore's Burruss Ready for RetirementApr 16, 2019
It was last fall when Jaguar Athletic Director John Burruss felt the winds of change blowing through his life.
“Someone, I’m not sure who it was, told me, ‘You’ll know when it’s time to do something different,’” said Burruss.
Burruss decided the 2017-2018 school year would be his last in the world of public school work. It was time to retire so he and his beloved wife, “Miss Donna” could take some time to enjoy their children, grandchildren, and whatever else fate might send their way.
“The song Bohemian Rhapsody finishes up with a line that pretty accurately describes my plans for what I’ll be doing once I retire: ‘Anywhere the wind blows,’” said Burruss.
As he reminisced recently about his years at Westmoore High School, he seasoned the conversation with an assortment of quotes from different music genres. Those who know him well understand just how appropriate the connection he has with music. And it’s not just because he’s capable of belting out a show-stopping version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Burruss actually spent some time in his younger years as one of the top Elvis impersonators in the Southwest.
“My wife wanted me to call into a local radio contest where they were giving away a free trip to Las Vegas for the best Elvis impersonator,” said Burruss. “Sometime after puberty, I developed the vocal ability to sound like Elvis singing, so I called in.
The problem for Burruss is that he didn’t want his fellow teachers and coaches hearing him impersonate The King. So he thought calling in early one morning would do the trick and no one would hear him at that hour.
“Come to find out they recorded it,” said Burruss, “And they played it back during drive time, so everyone heard it.”
Not only did he win the trip and take Miss Donna to celebrate in Vegas, but it also turned out that Burruss’ could produce a near-perfect match for the singing voice of Elvis. That led to a fun side-gig as an Elvis impersonator from around 1995 to 1999. He might still be putting on a sequined jumpsuit and strutting onto a stage to the opening notes of “The Theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“I had a great time playing The King in front of a lot of people,” said Burruss, “But the extraordinary moments were these totally impromptu times, like when a man asked me to sing for his elderly mom. It turned out that she had lived next to little Aaron Presley when he was a little boy in Tupelo, Mississippi.”
Fortunately for the Jaguar Nation, most of Burruss’ energy was directed toward a legacy of excellence at Westmoore. Burruss was actually a blue-blooded Moore Lion, graduating from MHS in 1979.
“ I was a football player,” said Burruss. “I sang in the choir and acted in the drama department. I was as enthusiastic about being a Moore Lion as anyone, and I had big plans after high school.”
Those high-profile plans included a football career at the University of Oklahoma and then as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. But his life took a completely different turn. Not surprisingly, Burruss has a song lyric that sums it up perfectly.
“There’s a country song that I can’t tell you the title or who sings it,” said Burruss, “But one of the prominent lines is, “If you want to see God smile just tell Him your plans.”
Burruss ended up at East Central University where he experienced an injury after just three semesters that cut short his career. He switched to UCO, then called Central State University, got a degree in Business Administration.
“I had grown up an oilfield brat and worked in the oil field during junior high, senior high, and college,” said Burruss. “Of course right about the time I finished college it all fell apart, and the big oilfield bust was in full swing.”
So he took a job with Lanier Harris working in computer systems. It was a good job, but Burruss knew it wasn’t something to which he could devote his life. The lure of teaching and coaching proved to be too much to resist, so he went back to school to take care of some requirements for teachers while he worked. As he finished up the next round of school, he took a job with Moore Christian Academy.
“I was very fortunate in that I got 25 years of experience in about 4 years at Moore Christian,” said Burruss. “It was a tiny school, and that means you end up being responsible for everything. I taught, coached junior high and high school, mowed the lawn, was the athletic trainer, and more.”
It was Wayland Bonds who gave Burruss his start in Moore schools. Burruss was hoping for a job at his alma mater, Moore High. But no positions were open, so he ended up at Westmoore where Ben Straka and Sharon Liston helped him transfer the knowledge he had gained in college and working in computers to a teaching environment.
“I had a computer science background from being a sales manager for Lanier Harris,” said Burruss, “But as far as being able to share that knowledge with people I didn't have a clue.”
Burruss credits Rick McIntyre and Wayne Estes as the men who took a chance on the then-young coach and gave him a start in athletics. He also has fond memories of Mike Whaley, who helped him channel his “enthusiasm” during his formative coaching years.
“I had some pretty rough edges back in those days,” said Burruss. “God hadn’t rolled the river rock quite as far as He has today. I’ve definitely mellowed over the years.”
One of the great lessons Burruss learned from Whaley was how to control his intensity as a defensive line coach, where playing with high energy was a requirement for being successful.
“Whaley told me that I had to pick my moments to shoot the big fireworks,” said Burruss. “If you’re shooting ‘big-bangs’ all the time, people will just get used to it, and you’ll lose impact. You need to pick your spots carefully.”
Burruss says one of the most excellent choices he has ever made is pursuing the woman who would become his wife.
“I could not have done any of this without Miss Donna,” said Burruss. “It’s a common adage that Donna Burruss raised five boys, but we only have four sons.”
Miss Donna is as familiar around Westmoore as her husband and just might be a Hall of Fame, “hospitality mom.” She’s also the one, Burruss notes, who is her biggest fan and most trusted critic.
“I can never hear the song ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ without thinking of her,” said Burruss. “She’s a great coach’s wife, a great AD’s wife, a wonderful mother and grandmother, and a blessing to all Jaguars, and she does it because she loves me and loves kids.”
Spring is the busiest time of the calendar for athletics, with more kids participating in various sports and activities than at any other time in the school year. Even amid a crazy schedule, Burruss is aware that his last day as a working member of the Westmoore staff is looming closer and closer. He says he will miss working with his boss and friend, Mark Hunt and many others, but he’s determined to enjoy every last moment and is reminding himself to pay attention to the people around him who have made his career at Westmoore so wonderful.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Burruss. “I’d be lying if I said otherwise because there are a lot of relationships that are more than professional to me. It doesn’t matter whether they are biological or not, they’re family to me. Red, black, and silver go a long, long way.”
The long road he’s been on includes a lot of time spent in prayer and seeking God’s direction. Burruss says his faith in God means everything to him.
“I have a little five-by-seven landscape portrait of Jesus walking on water in my office,” said Burruss. “It reminds me of the importance of faith and on who I need to keep my eyes on when the things get kind of stormy in the athletic world. It’s not always sunshine and roses, but I have a great Captain to see me through it all.”
He also has two quotes in his office that, most everyone who knows Burruss would agree define his most prominent quality: the ability to love people well.
“One of those things is a quote from John 15:13 that says, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,’” says Burruss. “The other is a quote from two men named Lennon and McCartney that says, ‘In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Another song lyric that Burruss will continue to work on making a part of his life as he closes this chapter and moves to the next.