As in most small communities, high school sports have always played an important role in Colusa County, and without question it is an odd feeling to head into fall with the playing fields and gyms deserted.
Thus, in an effort to fill the void, the Pioneer Review has reached out to some of the long time local coaches to discuss what each feels are their most memorable teams.
What clearly emerged from the reflections of these veteran coaches was that narrowing it down was an extremely difficult task, and while not every athlete, statistic or anecdote can be included, the larger message was that it was a team effort that created some of their longest lasting memories.
Leading off the “Coaches Corner” series is Pierce’s Scott Burnum, who despite retiring from coaching in 2019 continues to teach and remain a fixture at Bear athletic events.
Now in his 28th year in Arbuckle, Burnum, recognized as one of the elite coaches in the Northern Section, became the embodiment of Pierce basketball accruing a record of 165-91 over 17 seasons on the bench.
What some may not realize about the legendary coach though, was that he spent four seasons, from 2010-2013, just as successfully leading the Bear football team as he compiled a 30-14 record over that span.
For Burnum who has always found the motivation for coaching as well as teaching in the lasting memories and friendships that develop, the two teams that standout most are his 2004-05 section champion basketball team and his 2012 football team that went 10-0 in the highly competitive Sacramento Valley League.
“Basketball is such a hard choice,” said Burnum. “I had some great teams, good teams and not good teams, but our goal was to always play as hard and as smart as we could and let the results take care of themselves. I feel that 99% of the time, from our first playoff run in 2000-01 until I finished, that is what happened, but I have to pick the ’04-’05 team because of their pure drive to win. Those kids just knew how to win.”
With a starting five that included Austin Bedart, Manuel Cano, Martin Corona, Kevin Hardy and Jose Lomeli, the athleticism and quickness of this group made not only for a ferocious defense, but also created match up problems for their opponents on the other end of the court as they went on to finish the season 23-6 overall.
It was a team truly built for the era, a hard-nosed, physical group that was intimidated by no one and mirrored the fiery personality of its coach.
Starting as the No. 4 seed, in the 16 team Northern Section Division V playoff bracket, the Bears ran the gauntlet, first by employing an element of gamesmanship against nemesis Bishop Quinn in the opening round, then beating both Modoc and Liberty Christian on the road, before downing Portola 58-40 to claim the championship.
A similar attitude prevailed on the gridiron in 2012, with a team that Burnum described as the “last of its kind,” meaning the athletes wanted to play by earning everything and having nothing given to them.
As an example Burnum recalled the first day of spring practice when quarterback Nate Smith walked out of the locker room and announced, “This is our year baby!” expressing the undying enthusiasm of the squad that willingly toiled throughout a brutally hot spring and summer to get ready for the upcoming season.
Preparation paid off though as the Bears dominated their SVL opponents and then knocked off an always tough Durham team in the first found of the Division III playoffs.
Yet a second round match up would ultimately bring an end to the Bears’ season in what Burnum described as the “hardest loss” he suffered in all his years of coaching, and one he still thinks about often.
A controversial call in their first possession in overtime resulted in a heartbreaking 3-0 defeat at the hands of Willows after it was deemed that running back Adolfo Ramirez was stopped short on a fourth and inches play at the goal line, giving the ball back to the Honkers who kicked the game winning field goal on the ensuing drive.
Burnum however fondly remembers this team, which also included Andy Corona, Preston Smith, Chaz Benton, Mago Meza, Jesus Huerta, Jonathan and Ryan Hunt, Hayden Kalfsbeek, Robby Cross, David Castaneda and Joe Howard among many others, as a “great family team, and as true men who were leaders of the school.”
Now given the recent success of the Bears’ basketball and football programs, both of which finished as the section runner up last season, the question frequently arises whether the 2019-20 teams are as good as Burnum’s teams from the past.
While the answer is up for debate, one thing is certain, that the ’04-’05 basketball team and the 2012 football team set a standard at Pierce for all those that follow to reach. ■