From the beginning, there was always something different about Michael Burke.
Especially his first nine years, when he walked on his tiptoes because of abnormally short Achilles tendons.
All along, Mike and Lori Burke would encourage their son to flatten his feet, but the disorder wouldn’t allow it.
All along, Michael Burke is convinced, the ballet gait was helping develop unusually strong calf and quad muscles.
“When I walked,” he says, “it looked like I had springs in the bottom of my shoes. I would just bounce up and down.”
And that, in turn, would lead to noticeable jumping ability at a young age.
An example: “I was a sixth-grader playing a basketball game in one of the Clovis West gyms, a kid tried a fastbreak layup and I blocked the shot off the backboard. After the game, some guy about in his 30s randomly came up to me and suggested I begin high jumping.”
Two years later, he did, and today he’s a state high jump champion from Lemoore High, a 6-foot, 3-inch 18-year-old who has cleared 7 feet, The Bee’s Athlete of the Year in boys track and field and headed to UCLA on scholarship.
“Walking on my toes really helped me jump,” he says this week in a Lemoore administrative office while sporting a black and blue UCLA track and field camp T-shirt.
Sitting to his left with a smile that would not be lost for nearly an hour was Pops, who, in review, can say he and his wife made the right call 16 years ago: “We took Michael to Valley Children’s (Hospital) when he was 2 and were giving the option of having them do surgery with hope that they could stretch out the tendons enough to where he would be able to walk flat on his feet.
“But we decided against that because of his age. We felt it was God’s will and if that’s how God made him then, by golly, he’ll walk on his tippytoes.”
Mike Burke, the son of a former serviceman at nearby Naval Air Station Lemoore, is a 1988 graduate of Lemoore, where he also high jumped.
“In my own mind, I tell Michael I’m better than him,” he says with a chuckle, “but he far exceeds anything I accomplished.”
Michael, while 4 inches taller than his father, is actually on the short end for elite high jumpers.
USC freshman All-American Randall Cunningham, against whom Burke is about to compete with in the Pac-12, is 6-6.
Cunningham earned the All-America honor by tying for eighth at 7-1 at last week’s NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Texas Tech’s JaCorian Duffield won at 7-53/4.
Burke has twice cleared 7-0 in competition and has sailed much higher several times only to clip the bar on the way down with his heel. But it was his 6-11 leap for the CIF State Championships gold two weeks ago at Buchanan’s Veterans Memorial Stadium that was most memorable.
Four others had advanced to 6-11, but all missed their three attempts.
Burke, the last jumper in line, also missed his first two after clearing 6-5, 6-7 and 6-9 on his first tries.
And there gold dangled at the east pit at The Vet: “I’m thinking, ‘If you want to win a state championship, I’ve got to clear this bar.’ And that’s what I was working four years in high school for.”
Burke executed his 10-step approach, cleared cleanly, stood on the mat and marched off, thumping his heart with his right hand.
“I didn’t feel any pressure because I had cleared that height so many times before,” he says. “But that fact that I cleared it to win a state championship was pretty special.”
Burke, who tied for fourth in the state at 6-8 as a junior, was also among the Central Section leaders this season in the long and triple jumps before suffering a moderate tear of his right knee meniscus while long jumping in March.
That wouldn’t affect his high jumping because he launches off his left leg, but he discontinued the horizontal jumps for the season after that day.
He then waited until last week to have the injury surgically repaired. It’s expected to heal in a month.
Then, off to Westwood in September.
And it’s there he looks forward to training under jumps coach Jack Hoyt and head coach Mike Maynard.
“It was the most elite school that recruited me,” says Burke, who was pursued aggressively by Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara. “It was also the only school recruiting me that has both indoor and outdoor programs, and that was a big factor. I also felt it has the best combination of athletics and academics. It’s just an amazing school.”
And to think how it all started.
On his tiptoes.
Boys Track and Field Dandy Dozen
- Charles Williams: 100/200/relays, junior, Bullard
- Isaiah Robinson: 100/200/relays, junior, Buchanan
- Michael Lankford: 200/400, senior, McLane
- Kasey Knevelbaard: 800/1600/3200, senior, Immanuel
- Psalm Ocampo: 1600/3200, senior, Clovis North
- Jorge Perez: 1600/3200, senior, Reedley
- Isaac Leppke: 110 HH/300 IH, high jump, junior, Dinuba
- Paramveer Chohan: 300 IH, junior, Buchanan
- Pablo Perez: 110 HH/300 IH, freshman, Clovis East
- Jacob Wilson: shot put/discus, sophomore, Buchanan
- Maison Vanhelsdingen: pole vault, senior, Clovis North
- Seth Brooks: triple jump, junior, Kingsburg