From the sports editor: Without their coach, Wolverines step up for him

Trey Burrows, the 7-year-old son of Wesley head coach Dean Burrows, stands for the national anthem with assistant coaches, from left, Thomas Mullaney, Michael Fabber, Donell Thomas and Eric Anderson before Saturday’s AEC title game. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Nobody had a worse seat for Saturday’s big game than the man who should have been in the middle of it.

While his Wesley College men’s basketball team was playing for a conference title in Dover, its coach, Dean Burrows, was sitting in a hospital room at ChristianaCare outside Newark.

All Burrows could do was watch the Atlantic East Conference championship game online, agonizing over the Wolverines’ back-and-forth dual with Gwynedd-Mercy.

But after it was over, and Wesley had hung on for a 91-88 victory, Burrows had to admit there was something special about his far-off vantage point.

Stuck in the hospital, all he could do was sit back and take it all in — watching his coaches and players celebrate on the court.

“As nerve-wracking as it was during the game, and as helpless as I felt at times,” said Burrows, “afterwards, watching everybody celebrate and get caught up in the moment was pretty cool from this perspective.”

Unquestionably, the whole situation made for a pretty unique and sometimes heart-tugging scene for Burrows and the Wolverines.
The fifth-year head coach missed the biggest game of his coaching career because he’s being treated for complications from his two-year battle with severe pancreatitis.

In Burrows’ place, though, a lot of other people stepped up to fill his shoes on Saturday.

Burrows’ wife, Stefanie, and the couple’s four children sat behind the Wolverines’ bench during the game. Stefanie kept in text-contact with Dean but she knows there was nothing easy about it for him.

“I think he’s more upset because he’s worrying about this being the last game for the seniors,” said Stefanie. “He was nervous not being here. He wants to be in control.

Dean Burrows’ wife, Stefanie (with camera), watched Saturday’s game from behind the Wesley bench with Amy Wearden, the wife of interim head coach James Wearden.

“But I told him, he’s already gotten them to this point. The guys have it. The guys know what to do.”

Officially, Wesley women’s coach Jim Wearden was the interim head coach for the Wolverines’ last two games. But the former Seaford High girls’ coach is the first to tell you he was just the figurehead.

Wearden said it was Burrows’ staff — Eric Anderson, Michael Faber, Thomas Mullaney and Donell Thomas — who kept the whole operation running.

“Basically I said to them, ‘I need you,’” said Wearden. “‘Let me be the pretty face and get out of your way and you coach the team.’ They did a great job.

“He (Burrows) called me before we started and, being Dean, he said, ‘Coach, are you OK?’ I said, ‘Am I OK?’ I said, ‘I’m here and you’re not.’ He’s earned this. It was the easiest job in the world for me because everything was in place.”

Burrows did call in a few suggestions and observations during the contest. But he also said those were things that his assistants had probably already thought of.

“They did a great job of preparing them,” said Burrows, who also missed Wesley’s semifinal game on Thursday.

Of course, the players themselves deserve a lot of credit for not getting distracted from the job at hand. Even Burrows would tell you that they’re the ones who dug in and won the title — not anybody else.

“It’s about the kids, that’s what it’s all about,” Burrows said by phone. “We’ve had great leadership all year long. … The bottom line was about getting this group — especially these seniors — to that point and leaning on them to carry us through. That’s what they did.”

“We went out there and played this one all for him,” senior guard Brian Cameron said just after the game ended. “I can’t even imagine what it’s like for him right now, not being able to be here with his team. We went out there and got it done for him.”

The Wesley College men’s basketball poses for a photo on Saturday with Trey Burrows holding up the trophy. Wesley College sports information photo

At the end of the day, though, it was tough to top the job that 7-year-old Trey Burrows did filling in for his dad.

Whether it was taking the game ball out to the referee for the opening tap or sitting on his small folding chair at the end of the Wesley bench, the young Burrows was a regular reminder of his father. After the game, the youngster got in the team pictures, holding up the championship trophy over the players’ heads.

When it came time to cut the final cord holding up the net, Trey climbed the stairs and — with a boost from 6-foot-5 senior Derick Charles — cut it down. The youngster ended up posing at the top of the stairs, the net around his neck, his two index fingers up, as the players cheered for him.

And from his hospital room, 40 miles away, Dean Burrows took it all in.

“I had to have a piece of me there,” he joked.