Walk into the boys basketball locker room at Putnam City High, and you will see pictures of past teams hanging near the door and motivational phrases painted on the walls.
But look above the urinal — a space every player sees regularly — and you will find a simple white sheet of paper with black letters. It isn't embellished. No extra exclamation marks or unnecessary capital letters here.
But within the two dozen bullet points penned by A.D. Burtschi is the coach's formula for success.
“This is our code,” assistant coach Gary Wright said.
Understand your role. Respect the game. Be part of something bigger than yourself. Be part of the Pirate Family.
No one appreciates family more than Burtschi.
On the day when Putnam City opens play in the state tournament and chases its fourth gold ball in eight seasons, it does so under the direction of one of the most successful coaches in the state. Burtschi has been a head coach for 37 years and has won more than 700 games, a milestone that he reached earlier this season.
His program has been so successful that it produced an NBA Draft lottery pick, landed a shoe contract, the first ever for an Oklahoma City-area program, and attracted insinuations about the illegal recruitment of players, charges that have never been founded.
So, what drives the man behind the Pirate powerhouse?
Burtschi admits an intense competitive streak, but when it comes to the structure of his program, it goes back to family.
“We talk about family all the time,” Burtschi said. “We emphasize that you'll be inundated and approached with many things in life, but outside the good Lord, the most important thing is family.”
It's a truth he knows well.
Burtschi was the last of nine children. When he was born, his father, Arthur Link, was 56 years old while his mother, Irene Link, was 46. They were hard-working folks who owned a dairy in Chickasha.
While Burtschi was still a toddler, his dad died, and within two years, his mom died, too.
Burtschi was an orphan.
Many of his brothers and sisters were old enough to manage on their own, but Burtschi and three of his siblings still needed guardians.
“I can remember talk about potentially going to the orphanage,” Burtschi said. “Those were realistic things being said.”
But in the end, neither he nor any of his siblings had to spend a day in institutional care. All of them were taken in by extended family.
“We were all blessed,” Burtschi said.
Burtschi was adopted by his aunt Bertha and uncle Edward Burtschi, hence a name change from Link. They were both in their 50s, and because he was only 4 years old, he knows they made a huge sacrifice bringing him into their home.
But they never acted like it was a sacrifice.
They became the people he thinks of as Mom and Dad.
“There was nothing that I wanted for,” Burtschi said. “They were caring, loving people.”
And they fostered his love of basketball.
He started playing in the Catholic elementary school league in Chickasha, and he immediately loved everything about the game. Being with friends. Learning from coaches. Feeling part of a team.
He would spend hours shooting at the hoop nailed to the garage, the bouncing of his rubber basketball leaving the yard without any grass.
Lots of times, his mom had to come to the door and call him inside for the night.
“Archie Dean,” she would say, “you get in here right now.”
Even as a kid, Burtschi quickly realized that he wanted to be around basketball for the rest of his life. Nearly 50 years later, he marvels that he gets to make a living coaching the game he loves so much.
“It's always run through my blood,” he said.
He's still as passionate about it today as he was when he first started playing, a fact that his players know well. Doesn't matter if they're marquee players like the Henry brothers (C.J. and Xavier), Keith Clark, Marques Hayden or Bryatt Vann or if they're benchwarmers whose names rarely made the box scores. Burtschi demands much from all of them, doling out a gruff brand of tough love.
If he is talking, players must look at him. If he stops practice, they must stand up straight and put their hands behind their backs.
“It really deals with respect,” senior center Orlando Goldsmith said.
Thing is, it goes both ways.
Burtschi is the first to put his arm around a kid who needs encouragement. And if a kid from a hard-scrabble home needs a little more than that — a ride to practice or a couple bucks for a much-needed meal — Burtschi quietly provides.
“He has our back,” senior forward RichMarr Smith said.
That's how it goes when you're family.
Even though Burtschi is a strict and stern father figure — “I don't want to give you the impression that it's a big love fest around here,” he said. “It ain't” — his players respond. They play hard, they often overachieve, and once they've graduated, they come back and visit.
Any time Putnam City alum Xavier Henry comes to town with his New Orleans Hornets teammates for a game against the Thunder, for example, you can bet he'll make a stop at the high school.
“These kids that come through here understand the tradition, the pride we have in our program,” Burtschi said. “They want to be Pirates. They understand what being a Pirate's all about.”
It's spelled out on that simple but lengthy list tacked on the wall above the locker room urinal.
“You're a Pirate When ... ” is its title.
Every bullet point carries an important message, but the first one is first for a reason.
You don't care if you are the one who sets the screen, the one who is making the pass or the one who makes the game-winning shot because fulfilling your role is most important.
Any player is welcome to join the Pirate Family, but that's a decision they have to make for themselves. Burtschi knows from experience how important family is, and after three decades of success at Putnam City, it's obvious that he isn't the only one who has bought in.
“At the end of the day, if you can support each other, care about each other, love each other,” Burtschi said, “you can get through anything.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.