Retired Evanston H.S. Coach “Dobbie” Burton taught his students about teamwork and perseverance from the deck of the high school pool, and on Friday, March 11, his family members, former students, colleagues, and friends will recognize those lessons, paying tribute to the man they say helped mold their futures.
The District 202 Board of Education voted unanimously to name the Evanston H.S. pool the William Dobson Burton Aquatic Center, after revered swim and golf coach William Dobson “Dobbie” Burton. A dedication ceremony is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. on Friday, March 11, 2011, Burton’s 92nd birthday.
Burton is credited for “putting ETHS on the map as the school with the pre-eminent swimming program in the state and in the nation,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. Burton captured four national swim championships and led the Wildkits to five state championships in his 38-year coaching career. He was a teacher at ETHS for 38 years and was recognized by the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association and National Federation of High Schools for his coaching accomplishments. He was inducted into the Illinois Swimming Hall of Fame in 1969.
Throughout his career, Burton developed many student athletes: 200 All American swimmers; one Olympian silver medalist, Dick Hanley (Class of ’55); five NCAA Division I National Champion swimmers; and hundreds of NCAA Division I, II & III swimmers and scholars.
But his former students say his contributions are far greater.
“The reasons to name this pool for Dobbie have really nothing to do with his record,” said Bill Stiles, (Class of ’59), one of Burton’s former students. “He affected so many people in so many ways. He stood for hard work. He stood for the best values of Evanston High School.”
Alf McConnell (Class of ’62) recalls how, under Mr. Burton’s guidance, “I figured out from him, ‘Do good and expect nothing in return.’ ”
Stiles, McConnell, and Dave Burgess (Class of ’58) were among a committee of ETHS alumni who led the pool naming effort to honor their former coach. Stiles joined Tom Schwarten (Class of ’63) and Al Schiff (Class of ’66) at the February 28th school board meeting to provide testimonials describing Burton’s impact in and out of the pool. McConnell and other committee members sent letters to the school and to former classmates, bolstering support for the naming decision and this upcoming naming ceremony.
“Coach Burton was an important and inspiring figure in the lives of many of his athletes,” Tom Unterman (Class of ’62) said in a letter to the school. “He quietly imparted a strong work ethic, high personal standards and determination that served many of us well throughout our lives. I am so pleased he will be permanently remembered.”
The alumni committee, all former athletes of Burton’s, will be working closely with the ETHS Educational Foundation to spearhead a fundraising campaign to honor Coach Burton and to correspond with the naming.
After decades of hosting the state swim meet and supporting school and community swimming programs, the ETHS pool “is in need of upgrades and improvements to equal the new technology and design of 21st century pools,” said Witherspoon. The capital campaign will provide funds for pool upgrades and ensure a lasting tribute to the legendary coach. The various improvements to revamp the pool have an estimated cost of $2.2 million.
To honor Coach Burton and kick off the fundraising effort, more than $1,000,000 worth of pledges and gifts have already been raised on behalf of all Mr. Burton’s many swimmers, divers, and golfers who are so appreciative of what Mr. Burton has done for them, instilling lessons that have inspired generations of ETHS athletes and alumni to strive to be their best. The money raised will fund the $2.2 million capital improvements of the William “Dobbie” Burton Aquatic Center.
Witherspoon said ETHS alumni nominated coaches Murney Lazier and Dobbie Burton to be honored with naming recognitions at ETHS. “Both of these former coaches are legendary in Illinois, and both have had an impact on the lives of scores of ETHS alumni.” In 2007, the school named its football field in honor of legendary ETHS football coach Lazier.
Coach Burton will also be inducted into the ETHS Athletic Hall of Fame at a ceremony in March of this year.