Burke Provides a Presence in the Center
Senior midfielder Sean Burke capped off his high school soccer career by helping the Tigers enjoy an undefeated season in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Sean Burke )
Sean Burke lives, breathes, and eats soccer. A senior at Daniel Hand High School, Sean plays center midfielder on a Tigers’ team that’s established itself as a dynasty throughout the course of his career.
Hand came into the 2020 season having won four-straight Class L state titles, including the last three with Sean as a part of the program. This year, the Tigers put together an undefeated season that culminated with a win versus Guilford in the SCC Division B final.
It’s a special feeling for Sean to know that he’s helped Hand continue its tradition as one of the top soccer squads in the state.
“As unoriginal as it might sound, winning that fourth-state championship was the highlight of [last] year. We had competed on all fronts and played as many games as was possible, so to reach the finish line and continue the streak meant a lot,” Sean says. “Being a part of Hand history in that way is pretty special.”
Even beyond all the victories and championships, Sean’s favorite aspect of playing soccer for Hand are the bonds that he’s created with his teammates.
“We have a great team dynamic, so working with coaches and teammates to solve problems and break teams down is really satisfying,” says Sean. “When everyone’s playing for each other and we come out on top, there’s nothing quite like it.”
Sean was introduced to soccer by his father Ronan. Sean signed up for clinics and would kick the ball around with his dad in the driveway. From there, his passion for the game took off.
“I owe my dad for introducing me to the sport,” says Sean. “It started with some clinics and kicking a ball in the driveway when I was about five years old, and it wasn’t long before I was following soccer at the professional level and playing in games and tournaments of my own. It’s been a pretty constant presence in my life ever since.”
Head Coach Greg Cumpstone says that Sean has made immense progress on the pitch since his freshman year. Cumpstone views Sean was one of the most integral figures behind the Tigers’ success.
“Sean has been a tremendous servant to our program. He has contributed to the varsity squad since his sophomore year, and has been a starter for the past two seasons,” says Cumpstone. “This year, Sean has hit a real purple patch. He has become one of the most important players in our team. His tactical intelligence is unmatched, and his positional play is fantastic.”
Coach Cumpstone tweaked Sean’s position on the field this year. Instead of pushing up the field in support of the striker, Sean often dropped back to play what is colloquially known as false fullback—a position that takes on a lot of responsibility up the middle of the pitch.
“Having Sean drop into deep and wide positions allowed our true fullbacks to push on and create width,” Cumpstone says. “Sean took to this role like a duck to water. It enabled him to get more touches on the ball in the build-up phase and drag opponents out of position when they tried to follow him. He became a platform for us to build our attacks off of.”
A year-round soccer player, Sean spends a great deal of time studying game film in order to improve his skills. Outside of soccer, Sean enjoys reading, watching movies, and public speaking. He’s a member of the debate team at Hand.
“I spend a good amount of my time off the field watching game footage,” says Sean. “Seeing my mistakes and my successes is really helpful, and I can look at each game in a way that I couldn’t before. It doesn’t hurt that our team is pretty entertaining to watch, too.”
The Tigers were entertaining and then some as they enjoyed another prosperous season in 2020. Even though there was no State Tournament, Sean feels pleased that Hand persevered through all the uncertainties to make it another magical year in Madison.
“This has certainly been an interesting year to end high school soccer with, but I’m grateful to have been able to play as many games as we have,” Sean says. “For the Hand program, the goal has been pretty constant for the past few years: Win everything. Even with less to play for this year, we try to make the most of it.”