In an effort to rekindle excitement in the Bradley Central High School golf program, several changes have recently been announced.
Taking over leadership of the boys and girls golf teams is Don Burke as head coach with former Bearette and Lee University standout Chelsea (Rakestraw) Nipper coming on board to assist him.
“We’re excited that Don has agreed to expand his coaching work for us. To have Chelsea to come back to help us is great as well,” declared BCHS athletic director Turner Jackson.
“Don did a wonderful job with our bowling team last year, and will continue with that. He’ll do a great job with our golf program as well,” the longtime Bear AD stated. “Chelsea played for us and Lee, plus she is the Lake Forest (Middle School) golf coach, so she has already been working with some of these kids.”
“We’re going to do the same as we did in bowling last year — start from the ground up,” remarked Coach Burke. “We have a lot of young kids on the team. We’re going to start with the basics and fundamentals. I want to share my love for the game with them and make the game enjoyable for them. If it’s fun, the kids will want to practice and get better.”
Along with his more than 40 years of golfing experience and Nipper’s success on the links for the past decade, Burke has also secured the help of a couple of local golf pros to help the Bradley players improve.
“(Cleveland Country Club general manager and head club pro) Lamar Mills and the board of directors have graciously agreed to let us practice at the Country Club. Lamar and (former Springbrook pro) Craig Lee have also agreed to work with the players on their games,” Burke related. “The Country Club is a great facility and having these guys (Mills, Lee) working with our players will be a tremendous help to our program.”
“We have nine players (five boys, four girls) coming back from last year’s team, plus we are expecting four more girls and three boys to be coming in as freshmen,” he explained. “We don’t have any seniors and only two junior boys. The rest are sophomores and freshmen.”
“It’s going to be a learning year, but we hope to get better as it goes along,” Burke stated. “Obviously our goal is to be better at the end of the year than we are at the first. Like with a lot of sports, the regular season in golf is getting you ready for the district, region and state tournaments.”
Although Bradley has had a few players advance to the region tournaments in the last few years, only one (Chase Montgomery in 2012) has qualified for the TSSAA State Tournament since (Rakestraw) Nipper went back-to-back in 2008 and 2009,
“I’m excited to get the chance to come back to coach at Bradley,” proclaimed Nipper, who played in four NAIA National Tournaments while she was with the Lady Flames at Lee. “I love helping younger players get into the game. We had 13 players, including five girls, at Lake Forest this year, so we are seeing a lot more interest in the game at an earlier age.”
While the 2009 Bradley and 2013 Lee graduate will be assisting Burke with the fall high school squads, the roles will be reversed in the spring.
“I’m going to be her assistant when Lake Forest is playing,” related Burke.
“A strong middle school program is key to the success of any good high school sports program,” declared Jackson. “To have them working with both programs will be a big benefit in the long run.”
Originally from McMinn County, where he played high school basketball for the Cherokees, Burke came to Cleveland in 1982.
“I adopted Bradley as my team when I moved here and have supported the Bear sports programs ever since,” he said.
After spending more than 32 years working for All-State Insurance Company, including 28 locally, Burke retired in 2010.
“I started ‘subbing’ (substitute teaching) in January of 2013. Turner asked me to take the bowling team last summer,” Burke related. “We had a good year with the bowling team last year. I’m going to continue to do that as well. I have Chelsea helping me in golf and Angela Colon is my assistant coach in bowling. Golf finishes up the end of September and bowling matches can start the first week of October, so there is just a few weeks of (bowling) practice overlap.”
“I really appreciate Turner (Jackson) and the coaching staff at Bradley. They have all helped me to acclimate to high school coaching,” he praised. “The whole faculty and student body got behind our bowling teams last year and I expect they’ll do the same for golf.”
“The golf schedule for this (fall) season had already been put together (before he took the reins). We have three matches at the Country Club, one at Chatata Valley, some at Bear Trace (at Harrison Bay) and some at Creeks Bend, which is where the district and region tournaments are this year,” he explained.
The new coaches are holding an important meeting Tuesday evening at 6 downstairs at the Country Club for players and parents who want to play for Bradley Central this fall.
“It’s not too late to join the team,” declared Burke.
“Golf and bowling are alike in that the success of the players depends a lot on how much time they spend playing the game outside of just matches and practices,” he commented. “The really good players put in a lot of time and individual effort on their own. That really makes the difference. Effort equals success.”