The Newburgh Free Academy community bid farewell last week to one of its own with the death of one of its standout athletes and coaches, Michael “Mickey” Burkoski.
Burkoski, who played basketball at NFA and became one of its all-time leading scorers with 1,636 points, before graduating in 1955, died at St Luke’s Cornwall Hospital on Aug. 27 at the age of 84.
Burkoski was described by his family as “a lover of sports and more social than he realized. He loved people and they tended to love him, too.”
He was married to his wife, Linda Wilkin Burkoski for 51 years until her death in 2011.
After graduating from Newburgh in 1955, he went on to Manhattan College in the Bronx, where he became one of two Jaspers to compete in the NCAA tournament in two sports. He was a key member of the Jaspers’ first NCAA tournament basketball team in 1957, where the Jaspers defeated No. 1. Ranked West Virginia (with future NBA great Jerry West) in the opening round. He was a member of the first Jasper team to win the Holiday Festival and helped Manhattan to a No. 10 (UP) and No. (13) national ranking, and two NIT appearances.
On the baseball field, he was a .340 career batter a two-time All-Metropolitan honoree, leading the team to a Metropolitan championship.
He was inducted into the Manhattan College Hall of Fame in 2005.
His biggest contribution to the area came after he graduated college when he served as a physical education teacher and basketball coach during the 1970s. He also served as a JV baseball coach for the Goldbacks.
Burkoski coached George Bucci, who after graduating from NFA in 1972 went on to his coach’s alma matter – Manhattan College from 1972 until 1995. Bucci was selected by the Buffalo Braves in the third round of the 1975 NBA draft and by the New York Nets in the 1975 American Basketball Association.
Bucci played until 1976 with the Nets until he went overseas, where he played in the Lega Basket Serie A in Italy until 1991.
After his basketball career, Bucci served as a councilman and eventually Supervisor in the town of Newburgh.
In a post on Legacy.com, Bucci described Burkoski as a teacher, coach and friend since 1970.
“I share stories of my experiences with him all the time with the basketball world,” Bucci wrote. “He let me in the gym summers when I trained in Newburgh, an on occasion, we would share lunch at Crudele’s. He was a major positive influence on my life.”
Former Newburgh Teacher’s Association President Frank Colone wrote that he and his wife, Peggy, considered him to be a great colleague and friend.
“We were always appreciative of the way Mickey coached our son,” Colone said. “Paul learned a lot from his coach and teammates.”
John B. Rizzuto posted on Legacy that Burkoski was one of Newburgh’s best athletes.
Writing on Burkoski’s guestbook on the Brooks Funeral Home website, Alan Angelone, who now lives in Port Orange Fla., was a varsity basketball player during Burkoski’s first year as a JV coach.
“When he participated in our scrimmage sessions, we all had a very close look at what it took to be an ‘All-American’. He was an outstanding athlete, coach and mentor to those of us fortunate enough to have known him. He meant a lot to me.”
Richard McHugh of Salisbury Mills recalled how much he enjoyed umpiring Burkoski’s games when he was a JV baseball coach and how his NFA 1979-80 basketball team filled Marist College to overflow crowds and defeated both Poughkeepsie and Spring Valley in the playoffs.
A celebration of Burkoski’s life will be held later.