Dunkirk Observer

Burns took a Mystical journey

If you look real closely, you may see a black jersey peeking out from under Cheryl Burns’ sweater.

She won’t be showing it off, but it will always be there.

It is kind of like Michael Jordan wearing his old North Carolina team shorts under those for the Bulls – he wears them for luck.

“It’s my luck shirt for the girls,” explained Burns, who is in her first year coaching the Forestville girls basketball, team. “No crushes and hopeful wins.”

Whether that luck rubs off remains to be seen – the Hornets are off to a 2-2 start to the 1998-1999 campaign.

But if you ask she will show you the jersey – No. 12 for the Washington Mystics.

It isn’t some shirt she pulled off the rack at a sporting goods store. It was given to her by the WNBA team.

While other teachers are studying for their master’s degree, Burns spent a day sweating away in a gym. How did the 1979 Forestville graduate spend her summer vacation? By trying out for the WNBA – one of the two new women’s professional basketball leagues.

It all started pretty much to please a few of her students at the school at which she teaches in Erie County. She always tells them to chase their dreams, so it was time for her to put her money where her mouth was.

“I teach at an alternative ed school and we’re always playing with guys on the court – high school boys – and there hadn’t been a kid yet who could beat me,” she said proudly. “So they’re always saying, ‘Burns! Burns! You’ve got to try out for the NBA!’” I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ And I kept putting it off, but I heard it enough that I said, ‘All right. I’ll try it.’ It’s kind of like setting an example. As a teacher, we always try to encourage kids to pursue things, so I thought I’d turn it around. I tried to pursue it. I went up to the kids who were bugging me and I said, ‘Look, I’m going to try.”

She started by calling the league’s office in New York City. She sent in her profile – she played for two years at Fredonia State before finishing up her schooling, without basketball at Slippery Rock, in 1987 – and she got a list of the teams and their addresses.

“I had leads on three that I wanted to play for,” Burns said, referring to Detroit and Charlotte along with Washington. “I just decided to go with Washington. I just fell through first so I went with it.”

The trial was fun, but she learned right away the deck was stacked against her – 400 women and only a few slots.

“I turned it into a really fun day, at about 11 a. m., more so than I was already having, just because I started realizing there were girls they already had their eyes on,” she said of the trials at Georgetown University in Washington, D. C. “Because it was an expansion team, a new team, it was probably a big publicity day. Some girls would be lucky enough to come back again, but it was very difficult to get noticed.”

“We were there from 9:30 a. m. to 7:30 p. m., and I might have gotten an hour-and-a-half on the court, total in all that time. So I just played it up and had a great time.”

A wrist injury from a bike accident has slowed her game a little lately, but she is hoping it will heal and she will get another chance to try out for another team. Even at 37, she is not giving up, whether it’s to make the WNBA or to just earn another free jersey.

“I’m still running competitively and I’m still beating a lot of college kids, so I’m not worried about that,” she said. “I’d go back and do it again in a second.”

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