Southwood is playing for a lot this postseason, including its quest to honor a late (and great) man
On yonder hill there stands a creature,
Who she is I do not know.
I’ll go and court her for her beauty;
She must answer Yes or No.
O No John! No John! No John! No!
WABASH – As he sat alongside his older brother by six years, John Burrus listened to Paul Burrus serenade him with the opening verse of the old English folk song “Oh No, John.”
The two were reminiscing about their nearly six decades of companionship and Paul broke out in a song that he had first learned as a kid in choir.
“I’m really glad that I had that time with him,” John told News-Sentinel.com recently. “That was a good day.”
Tragically, it was one of the final days that the brothers enjoyed each other’s company.
“I could see that I had a problem”
As a high school teacher, John Burrus has the luxury of not having to go to his full-time job during the summer months. Some might say that John “has his summers off,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
A Burrus works. Period.
All the months of June and July mean for John, who teaches social studies at North Miami High School, is that he gets to spend more time at his second and third jobs, and not as much at his main one.
John has taught Driver’s Education for years and years, and in addition, he is the varsity boy’s basketball coach at Southwood High School. So June and July are spent teaching the nuances of parallel parking, as opposed to politics, and preparing the Knights for yet another successful season.
When John does have a moment of free time, it is spent puttering around his house or that of his parents, Lowell and June Burrus.
Last June, John was working around his house and for the first time in his life, he was becoming fatigued to the point that he couldn’t complete simple tasks.
“I was trying to do what I normally did in the summer,” John explained. “I’d mow my parent’s yard, which is a small yard, and I just couldn’t finish. That was my first warning sign.”
His wife of 30-plus years, Tammy, knew that her husband hadn’t been feeling well for a few days, and when she came out onto the back porch one afternoon to check on him, she found him sitting in a chair trying to catch his breath.
“That’s it,” Tammy said, “we’re getting you to the doctor.”
The two rushed to the office of Dr. William Hoover in Peru, who John had taught and coached at North Miami, and when John failed the stress test, he was transported to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne for emergency five-bypass surgery.
“It was frustrating,” John said, “because you are putting everybody out.”
Prior to the surgery, John was surrounded by his family, two of which (his father and brother) were ministers.
“I was given a real sense of peace from my family,” John said. “It’s a pretty powerful room when you’ve got Lowell Burrus in there praying and you’ve got Paul Burrus in the room praying, and my mother, who is one of the stronger saints in the world.
“If you want something to pray about in this world, she is probably where I’d start.”
John came through the surgery just fine. He has changed his activity level (he walks during the school day during downtimes) and eating habits and has lost over 50 pounds.
Fewer French fries for John and an extra large order of faith got the Burrus’ through that trying ordeal.
And they would soon need it.
“He never got home”
In wake of John’s health scare, not only had John and Tammy turned their focus toward improving their physical health, but the incident had also led them to valuing their time together just as much.
John had recently returned to teaching full-time in October, but when North Miami went on Fall Break, John and Tammy took off for Florida.
On John’s birthday (Oct. 25), Paul sent John a “Happy birthday” text and also told his brother that he “wasn’t feeling right” and was going to the doctor.
The 59-year-old minister at the Corunna United Brethren in Christ Church, as well as adjunct professor (he taught psychology) at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne, was unlike his younger brother, he did pay close attention to his health.
Paul was a living adventure.
He would lead his family, friends and church followers on hiking, biking and liking excursions, as he formed special bonds with virtually every one that he came into contact with.
If you didn’t laugh your ass off within five minutes of hanging out with Paul Burrus that was on you, not him.
The doctor ran tests on Paul and the results were far from just your typical fever.
A fast-acting form of leukemia was discovered and there was nothing the doctors could do.
John’s sister, Julie (Burrus) Deniston, called John on vacation and told him “That it wasn’t going well and they were keeping him.
“He went in and thought that he would just be in for a little bit, get some medicine and be home. But he never got home.”
The gregarious and oh-so-lovable Rev. Dr. Paul Victor Burrus passed away on Nov. 5, 2017 and the Burrus family was shaken to its core.
“We’re the Burrus family,” John said, “we’ve been at a lot of funerals. We have been there for a lot of people. My dad pastored for all of those years and I watched him comfort people.
“Well, now was our time. When it is you and it is your pain, it’s a little bit different.”
“She’s been like a rock”
The Lord knew exactly what he was doing when he chose Paul for that fateful journey. Most people staring at a death sentence would have been paralyzed with fear – and perhaps understandably.
But spending his final days cowering in fright just wasn’t who Paul was.
“When you go through it,” John said, “you find out really what you are all about. You find out how strong your faith is.”
Paul’s faith was nothing short of a towering mountain.
He knew full well what the outcome was going to be, and he understood that it wouldn’t be long in coming, but he exhibited nothing but love and appreciation for all that he had been blessed with.
“One thing I look at is how did my brother handle things in life,” John said. “He always just faced them straight on. He never backed down from a challenge.
“My brother, he is somebody that we all can be proud of the way he lived his life and the way he went on. It made it easier for me to see how at peace he was when it all happened. He showed that he was true to his faith.”
And so was his wife.
Carie Burrus has been left to hold the thread that weaved through her two daughters (Tiffany Branam and Charity Burrus) and six grandchildren (Josiah, Adrian, Judah, Samuel, Ezekiel and Esther).
She could have crumbled and no one would have blamed her for doing so. But that isn’t the Burrus way.
“People are watching,” John said, “people are watching to see how you handle (the pain). I’ve been so proud of Carie, she’s been like a rock. She has been so strong in her faith. I am so proud of her and the way that she has shown that to the world that ‘Hey, we’re going through a tough time, but I’m still not wavering in the person that I am.’
“Part of that is that she wants to keep Paul’s spirit alive. That is something that people have to see.”
“Paul was really proud of this team”
Southwood (19-3) opens its postseason Tuesday against Clinton Central in the IHSAA Class A Lafayette Central Catholic Sectional (7:30 p.m.) and it will be the 23rd game of a season that has been dedicated to the memory of Paul Burrus.
“These kids have helped me,” John said, “because they come in and they understand what I have dealt with, but they also are kids and they have a life to live. I can’t come in here and be a detriment to their progress.
“So, we’ve kind of, in a way, helped each other.”
Needless to say, nothing over the past four years has been a deterrent to Southwood’s “progress.”
The 2018 Knight senior class of Ethan Roberts, Carson Blair, Peyton Trexler, and Matt Nose has evolved into the winningest class in Southwood history.
Southwood has won 73 games over the past four seasons, which includes a Three Rivers Conference title in each of those years.
“I could go on and on about this team,” John said, “but the biggest thing about this team is that they are together. This team is unified in what they are doing.”
Any of Trexler (18.6 points per game), Blair (19.1), or Nose (13.2) could be a star in their own right, as each has totaled over 1,000 points for their careers. But none are willing to seize the spotlight and shine it on themselves.
“There is nobody out here,” John continued, “that is trying to outshine anyone or anything.”
Earlier this month, Southwood traveled to TRC rival Northfield and got back on the bus afterward having won by 23 points.
None of the three senior stars dominated the night, but rather it was junior forward Dallas Holmes, who dropped 35 on the Norse. But even his spectacular evening wasn’t the talk on the ride home.
“In that game,” John said, “we were playing to go 9-0 in the conference for the second time. Everybody had a goal, and we didn’t care how we got there, we were going to get it done together. And if we didn’t get it done, we were going to point at everybody.”
They got it done just fine.
The Knights have won 32 of their 34 league games over the past four seasons.
A year ago, they knocked off host and 2A sectional favorite Oak Hill (60-52) and eventually advanced to the regional, where they battled eventual state champion Frankton to the final minute before falling 65-61.
“Paul was really proud of this team,” John said. “He really enjoyed watching these guys. He would always tell me after the games little things that he got from the game.
“That always meant so much to me.”
John thought a lot about what it meant to dedicate the season to his brother. On the surface, it sounds as if it would be an easy decision and an overwhelmingly positive one from an emotional standpoint. But he knew what playing for Paul’s memory would require of his young players and he has used that message to help teach them an invaluable life lesson.
“He was somebody that when you talk about being on a team,” John said of Paul, “he was going to put hard work in front of glory and accolades and all of that stuff. It was all about ‘Let’s out-tough them, let’s out-work them, and see where we get.’
“I wanted to make sure this year that our kids understood that, before we even started, dedicating the season to my brother will be good in some ways for you, but in other ways, it’s going to be a little bit tougher. But we’ve had fun.”
An arduous trek filled with happiness, hard work and great achievement; that is precisely what Paul Burrus would have wanted this season to be.
For more on prep basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.