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Putnam City coach A.D. Burtschi's formula for success starts with family

JENNI CARLSON COMMENTARY — Within the two dozen or so bullet points Putnam City boys basketball coach A.D. Burtschi builds his team around a theme emerges — it all comes back to family.
by Jenni Carlson Published: March 6, 2013

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.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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