By CONOR NICHOLL
DODGE CITY – Burlingame coach Jeff Slater has paced the Bearcat football team to eight straight winning seasons and three state semifinal appearances. Those are the program’s top showings since 1972. He has turned around girls’ basketball. The Bearcats went to state for the first time in school annals this winter and took third in Class 1A, Division I. Slater is Burlingame’s head track coach, too.
On March 12, Burlingame defeated Jetmore-Hodgeman County, 55-45, in the third-place game at United Wireless Arena in Dodge City. Burlingame star senior guard Daelyn Winters finished with 22 points. After games, it’s customary for winning teams at UWA to gather behind a massive curtain on one end of the floor for pictures. Among other photographs, Slater and his wife, Whitney, took photos with their three children, Kinsley, Deacon and newborn Acelyn.
Slater stood amongst the throng of Burlingame supporters. He couldn’t hold back the tears when describing Winters.
“She is the toughest,” Slater started to say.
The emotions started to flow. Slater required more than 10 seconds before he spoke again.
The 5-foot-5 Winters has enjoyed a remarkable career and has a very strong case as Burlingame’s best female athlete ever, and Kansas’ most decorated senior girl in the Class of 2022 for all classes. She is a four-year starter in every sport. Winters has earned first team all-state in volleyball as a setter/outside hitter (top-seven), basketball (top-five) and softball.
Plus, Winters collected three state medals, all top-four, in the Class 1A state meet last spring. Burlingame took ninth as a team, the best finish in Bearcat annals. She is on the school record relays in the 1,600 and 3,200.
Winters led Burlingame volleyball to its first state appearance since 1983. Last spring, Winters, the starting shortstop, helped Burlingame to a 2-1A softball state runner-up, the top showing in program history.
An Allen County Community College volleyball commit, Winters is part of deep group of Burlingame girls including Emma and Isabella Tyson, Gracie Simmons, Kaylin Noonan, Brooke Lewis, Kenna Masters and Alexandra Crook. Winters set a bevy of school records, including game, single season and career 3s made. Emma Tyson, Masters and Winters have all started at the same position since freshman year in softball. The trio are best friends, while the Tyson and Winters families are first cousins. Emma Tyson is going to Neosho CC softball.
This is by far the best stretch in Burlingame girls’ sports history. This spring, Daelyn looks to complete her career with a first state title. Since 1969, Burlingame has two all-time team championships in school annals, 1972 football and the 1A boys track crown in 1982, per KSHSAA archives.
“We are going to miss her man,” Slater said. “Through football and basketball, she is the toughest competitor I have ever – I have ever – coached. I told her before the game – I tape her ankles – and I said, ‘There will never be another Daelyn.’ What she does across the board, four sports, the right way, you don’t replace that. She’s going to be special in little kids. I’ve got a six-year-old. Little kids will look up to her, all these girls are great girls.”
This spring marks the last sports season for Winters, known for her leadership and calm demeanor. As a freshman, she helped Burlingame softball to an unexpected state tournament berth after an accomplished career in the junior ranks. After COVID cancelled 2020 high school softball, Burlingame finished 22-4 and state runner-up behind significant favorite Pittsburg Colgan.
“Knowing that you have to be humble,” Daelyn said. “You can’t be out there being all cocky and everything, and you just have to be composed for your team. When my team is worried, I have to be that calming presence. Everyone looks toward me, and I have to be there calm for them, so that they know everything’s going to be OK.”
Daelyn’s dad, Creighton, earned 2-1A SIK Coach of the Year honors. Like Slater, Creighton labeled Daelyn another coach on the field.
“It’s amazing,” Daelyn said. “He has always been there by my side through everything. He has taught me so many things since I was a little girl and as soon as I could shoot a ball, hit the ball in softball, whatever it was. It’s nice to have him by my side. It’s just nice to have his input on situations, too.”
Burlingame has opened 8-0 in the 2-1A St. Marys regional. On Thursday, the Bearcats have their highly anticipated matchup against Eskridge-Mission Valley (9-1) and junior ace Morgan Tomlinson, a Hutchinson Community College commit. Last season, MV beat Burlingame twice. They were sent to separate regionals where Mission Valley took third in 2-1A, Burlingame second.
“She’s very, very good,” Creighton said of Tomlinson.
This spring, in a controversial move, Burlingame and Mission Valley, possibly the two best 2-1A teams and widely considered top-five, are in the same St. Marys regional. Wabaunsee and St. Marys are in the regional. Of Burlingame’s first eight victories, five are shutouts, including 8-0 and 13-3 wins versus traditional power Oskaloosa.
Mission Valley has won six straight in the series dating back to 2016. Tomlinson leads with a .500 average and two homers. In the circle, she is 7-1 with a 1.21 earned-run average with 90 strikeouts against four walks. (Editor’s Note: more on Tomlinson and Mission Valley in the next few days on SIK).
“I am excited to see the competition, because I know that it is going to be a tough game,” Tomlinson said. “The tough games are the most fun, because you get to really test your limits, and especially this one, since we will see them in regionals, and we will really see where we’re at, and who might be a contender for state or even the regional championship.”
Significantly, Winters’ toughness comes from her older brothers and her parents, Creighton and Allison. Creighton graduated from Frankfort, Allison from Northern Heights. They have spent 21 years in Burlingame. Dalton a was multi-sport standout for Burlingame, including at quarterback for Slater. He was just accepted into the physical therapy program at Wichita State.
Dakotah just finished his first year as the head boys’ basketball coach at Colony-Crest. Creighton, a Rule 10 coach, led Burlingame boys’ basketball for 13 seasons and spent time with Bearcat baseball. Daelyn, the only girl, has three brothers, two older.
Daelyn grew up at either a basketball court or baseball field with her brothers’ games. Daelyn frequently joined her brothers in family sporting games; the brothers didn’t take it easy on her. Creighton knew his daughter had special talent even in rec basketball.
Daelyn was usually one of the more athletic girls. She has long enjoyed great speed and had natural track ability. Daelyn played shortstop since she was young in part because of her ability to make plays that others couldn’t, even at nine, 10, 11 years old.
Winters didn’t miss weight room sessions and holds several Burlingame weight room marks, including squat, hang clean, tied for the bench press. She owns all the running records, such as the shuttles, and has a 26-inch vertical.
“She just has that drive inside of her that she doesn’t like to lose and she will work her butt off,” Creighton said.
Many years ago, Creighton made a promise to a friend.
“Once she gets into junior high, I said, ‘I am going to make her a really good 3-point shooter,’” he said.
In 2020-21, Burlingame finished 19-3, though two losses came to eventual undefeated state champion Olpe. Creighton knew the Bearcats returned their top-two scorers with Noonan and Daelyn. Burlingame accomplished school history this winter with the first state berth in girls’ basketball annals.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “We have worked really hard for this. This is something that has been our goal from the very beginning of the year, and I am so lucky to be a big part of it, and helped my team get to this part.”
Slater and his wife, Whitney, were due with their third child. Whitney did not attend the sub-state games. Slater monitored his Apple watch, and the family had a contingency plan in place if Whitney went into labor. Burlingame was in the Olpe sub-state, around an hour away from home. Slater drove in his car separate from the team in case he had to leave.
On March 5, Burlingame held off St. Paul, 44-39, in a 1A-I sub-state title game. In both the sub-state semifinals and championship, the Bearcats erased deficits of at least nine points.
Jeff and Whitney went to the hospital the next day. Baby Acelyn was born after midnight, on Monday, March 7. Slater called the timing “perfect.” Jeff came to practice Monday afternoon.
“That’s how dedicated he is to our team,” Daelyn said. “And he was excited for this week.”
On March 10, sixth-seeded Burlingame had its rematch against No. 3 Little River. On Jan. 21, the Bearcats lost, 43-29, in a road non-conference game that Winters missed because of a knee injury. This time, Burlingame defeated LR, 45-39.
“I was so ready to go,” Winters said. “Because I knew I couldn’t help my team the last time, and I knew that this was our chance with me back. And we even had some other girls a little banged up that were playing, but I was just ready to get another shot at them knowing that we had the chance to beat them, and on this stage.”
Winters played all 32 minutes, finished with 12 points, including 2 of 6 from long range, and five steals. Slater said the main difference between the two LR games was Winters’ return.
For the year, Winters averaged 17 points, five steals, four rebounds, four assists and and just over one turnover game. She made 75 treys. Burlingame girls also won its first-ever midseason Lyon County League tournament. Winters cleared 1,000 career points.
“Daelyn, she is special,” Slater said. “She is an extension of the coach on the court. And here’s the thing – everybody is more confident when she is on the floor, everybody is better when she is on the floor. We play through her. She throws it inside for us. She is our outside presence.
“But just her leadership and the confidence she brings with coming into the tournament – we were undefeated with her in the lineup,” he added. “And I think through her injury, we were able to develop some depth, and develop some confidence with some other roles. Isabella Tyson really stepped into a defensive role guarding the best guard, and Daelyn had done that all year up until the injury.”
Slater had his birthday on March 11. Burlingame faced second-seeded Centralia in the semifinals and fell 53-45. At the beginning of the winter, Slater told the girls the team’s goal was to reach Dodge City for state and play Saturday, March 12. The top-three teams earn a team plaque.
Burlingame defeated HC for third place and completed a 22-3 season. Winters recorded 10 points with 2 of 7 from beyond the arc, five rebounds and three assists versus Centralia. Versus defensive-minded Hodgeman County, Winters delivered 22 points, including 4 of 8 from 3.
“They do a really good job of just getting her open,” HC coach Trent Bright said. “They screen a lot for her, they get her open, and just being able to keep up with all those screens and stuff, it wears our guards down.”
Slater was proud of his squad to earn the trophy to bring back home. Slater reviewed the wild week with Whitney.
“In a week’s time, we have won a sub-state championship, had a baby, it was my birthday Thursday,” Slater said. “We played the 1, 2 and 3 seed in this tournament, the gauntlet, and we have on our resume the 1 seed and the 3 seed to earn those victories.”
When the buzzer sounded to end the Hodgeman County victory, Slater first hugged Winters. She also wiped away tears in the postgame pictures. Winters’ main photos on her Facebook are from UWA after the third-place win.
“She’s just special,” Slater said. “Four-sport athlete. Just imagine the load she carries through volleyball, through basketball, through softball, the track, she is just a dominant player in everything. I mean, that load, and to have her calming presence, to not waver when things get tough. Just that leadership is so huge. It (stinks) knowing it’s her last game.”
At UWA, Daelyn was asked about the potential with softball. She knew Burlingame returned multiple key players from the state runner-up squad. The seniors have played together since seven years old when Creighton first started coaching them.
In Creighton’s eyes, they were all “pretty talented” at a young age, especially in softball. Burlingame continually placed high at major summer tournaments. Gracie Simmons, an elite catcher, eventually changed teams, to another squad that Creighton said played at a “very highly competitive level.”
“Just kept getting better from there,” Creighton said. “Then we just kept moving up levels as we got older, and then it’s worked really well.”
After a sub-.500 season in ’18, Burlingame won 12 games and qualified for state for the first time in program history the following spring. That season, Winters carried a .500 average, along with 19 steals. Tyson and second baseman Kenna Masters both hit at least .359 as freshmen. Daelyn qualified for state track as a freshman in the 3,200 relay and high jump.
“The senior group I have now, when they stepped in as freshmen, I just felt like they brought a different attitude to the field,” Creighton said. “I thought kind of changed our team dynamic.”
In 2021, Winters hit .408 with 35 runs scored and 17 steals. Masters batted .414 with 30 runs. Emma Tyson, the center fielder and No. 3 batter, hit .442. Last season, Burlingame defeated Oskaloosa for the first time in program history.
The 5-foot-10 left-handed Crook is among the state’s top players for all classes. She hit .446 with four homers and 33 RBIs. Plus, she delivered a 13-2 record and 1.79 earned-run average. The veterans added freshman right-hander Joselyn Simmons, a standout in the younger ranks.
“We are a tight-knit team, and we are ready to go and make it to the state tournament again,” Winters said. “Hopefully with a bigger trophy this time. … We are all really close together. We have all played every single sport. It’s those girls out there on the court no matter what, and it’s just that group of girls all ready to work together.”
Winters was again going to do softball and track. She goes to track practice for approximately 40 minutes until around 4:20 p.m. and starts softball at 4:30 p.m. If both teams have competitions on the same day, Winters plays softball and/or goes to part of the track meet and then the softball games.
Last season, Daelyn also played competitive basketball in the spring. The Winters family has always been open to Daelyn doing both sports. Creighton and Slater work really well together. They plan around the practices and even will try to coordinate days off at the same time to keep athletes fresh. On April 1, Daelyn opened her track season with a five-foot clearance and high jump championship at Lyndon. Gracie Simmons is also throwing well and cleared 100 feet in javelin, her first season of the event.
“Daelyn is a very, very, very competitive person,” Creighton said. “She is not very good at losing, which I would like to say she gets that from me, but I think my wife may be a tougher critic.”
For Creighton, the daily planning around his job with EMC, a company that specializes in commercial HVAC, and softball takes significant organization. In one week during preseason softball, Winters made the 198-mile round trip from Burlingame to Abilene on both Monday and Tuesday. Normally he leaves at 6 a.m. and is back in Burlingame by 3:30 p.m.
That same week, he drove the 86 round trip miles from Emporia and back on Thursday and Friday. During non-coaching times, Winters might make multiple day/week trips to Louisiana, Oklahoma or western Kansas. He had to give up basketball mainly because of his travel. Winters wanted to coach Daelyn her four high school softball years – and cap one of the all-time great careers this spring.
“It can get very hectic at times,” Creighton said. “You know, I really felt last softball season, I felt like, ‘Oh my goodness, I am just constantly on the run.’ It’s just like never any down time, but I am like, ‘I don’t think I would have it any other way, though.’
“I am enjoying what I am doing,” he added. “Last year’s team was really exciting to coach. This team, so far this year, I am really excited about this year. So I don’t think I would have it any other way.”