From the time he was a baby, Newark senior Ryan Burton knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life.
He might not have actually realized it then, but he said the first word he uttered as a baby was “army.”
“I’ve always been interested with it, and my parents said army was the first word I spoke,” Burton said. “It’s just always been appealing to me. When you are in the service, there is a lot of structure, just like Newark basketball, it’s a brotherhood, and I like that.”
Burton, who is a backup in the post for the Wildcats, went to the recruiting office and signed up for the military when he was a junior. He had to have his parents sign off for him to go to basic training.
He completed a split option this past summer, which basically is boot camp. He graduated from that and has been in job training.
He is serving in the Army Reserves and is waiting on orders to go to active duty. As soon as his papers go through, he will head to Fort Benning, Ga., for infantry training.
“I’m on call to leave, and as soon as my papers go through, I will be on my way,” Burton said. “Hopefully, I won’t leave before basketball season ends. I know that my parents don’t want me to go to war, but it’s just a higher sense of calling that I need to fulfill.
“To be honest, the military completes me. I know the risks, but I signed up for it. It’s the call of duty that I need. I want to give back to the people who sacrificed for me. When I see a flag, it just means so much to me.”
Newark coach Jeff Quackenbush said he knew Burton was interested in the service because he has been involved with the junior ROTC program.
“I knew he had an interest in it,” said Quackenbush, whose father and brother were in the Air Force and Army. “I’ve been doing this long enough, that you are more surprised when a high school kid knows exactly what they want to do with their life. I was more impressed than anything.”
On three occasions, Burton has left after a Friday night game and went to Cincinnati for training, and he didn’t return until Sunday night.
Burton said playing basketball for Newark, and playing for Quackenbush has prepared him well for his future. He understands what it means to be dedicated to something.
“A big part of the military is about being physically in shape, and playing for coach Quackenbush, he is very demanding,” Burton said. “You are held to a high standard in the military, and our basketball team is held to a high standard. Coach has been with me every step of the way when it comes to career decisions, and he is behind me 100 percent.
“He knows what the military is like because his dad and brother were both military guys. Our coaches dedicate so much of their time and they are away from their families to be with us for one common goal. Just like the army, it goes back to a common goal and a brotherhood.”
Quackenbush said he would like to get Burton more playing time, but he knows he understands his role.
“It’s hard because in a perfect world, every kid would play a lot,” Quackenbush said. “Ryan is a senior that understood at the beginning of the year that he was going to back up Teddy (Metzen). He knows what his role is and he has accepted it.
“He has been a great teammate in practice and in the locker room. This team is pretty close, and Ryan is a big part of that.”
Burton had a special moment when the Wildcats played at Logan. Before the game, every person that was currently serving, including veterans, were honored.
Burton stood with his fellow servicemen, and it was an honor that he won’t soon forget.
“There were some older military guys out there, and I was a little scared at first,” Burton said. “But once I got out there and stood with them, it was great. Those guys are my brothers, and they know what I’m going through, and what I’m going to go through.
“It’s a special bond you have with every other service member. It was neat to be able to go out and stand with them, and having (Logan’s) players come and thank me was something I won’t forget.”
“It was good that we were able to have a player involved in that ceremony, and he was in a Newark basketball uniform,” Quackenbush said. “I think it was an eye-opening experience for our players, and reality set in on exactly what Ryan is doing. The future is definitely bright for Ryan.”