category: Faculty Emeriti - In Honor Of

Chuck Burch

Athletic Director Emeritus

Chuck Burch

Chuck Burch was born on July 12, 1957, to John and Esther Burch of Charlotte, N.C. Looking back on his life, he sees the numerous ways that God directed his steps—from attending Gardner-Webb University to meeting his wife, Franki Bailey Burch, and becoming vice president for Athletics at his alma mater. After serving in that position for over 25 years, Burch was honored as athletic director emeritus before his retirement in 2023.

His relationship with Gardner-Webb began in 1975; he was a walk-on for the football team. “I came to Gardner-Webb without any hope or promise of playing; it was just one of those things,” he reflected. “I did not visit campus. Even though I stumbled upon GW, for me it was the right choice. I have a lot of lasting friendships and memories of that time.”

He was ecstatic when he made the football team, and his enthusiasm only multiplied. Four years later, he had a season of eligibility left. When the coach asked him to stay, delaying his graduation a year, his answer was immediate. “I was passionate about football, but was never good enough to play beyond college,” he shared. “So, when I had the chance to play one more semester, I did not have to think about it. Oh, yeah, I’ll do it.”

After graduation, he was accepted to graduate school at Eastern Kentucky in Richmond. Eastern had a reputable criminal justice program, and his plan was to earn his master’s degree and work with juveniles.

However, after a year into the program, the university started a Master of Science in athletic administration. “I love sports,” Burch affirmed. “I love athletics. Discovering that I could get paid to work in athletics sounded like a dream come true.”

Switching over to athletic administration lengthened his time at Eastern Kentucky, but it was perfect timing according to God’s plan. Because of his extra year at Gardner-Webb and the added time at Eastern, he and Franki crossed paths. Interestingly, Eastern was Franki’s second choice for graduate school—so she and Chuck might not have met at all.

“Franki was offered a graduate assistantship to go to Columbia in New York,” Chuck explained. “That was a prestigious offer.”

Franki came to Eastern, because her mentor at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania knew the trainer at Eastern, who was also the president of the National Athletic Trainers Association. If she took a graduate assistant position with him, she would learn from his expertise and establish connections in the field.

Chuck Burch at his retirement party in 2023.

After she arrived at Eastern, she and Chuck were introduced by mutual friends and started dating. They were married on Aug. 7, 1982. Before their wedding, Chuck accepted a position at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., as assistant director of Sports Information. For the next eight years, Burch was promoted to assistant director of Athletics, a combined position of assistant director of Athletics and Sports Information director, and associate director of Athletics. Liberty transitioned to NCAA Division I while he was there.

Then, in June 1990, at age 32, he was named director of Athletics at Liberty. He was responsible for coordinating and managing the operation of 16 teams. He supervised the administrative staff and head coaches and budget planning and execution. He implemented the marketing and promotions program, which included soliciting corporate sponsorships. He also ensured NCAA compliance with all NCAA, Big South Conference, and university policies, and served as the athletics liaison with community and other university personnel.

He was not looking for a job when he received a call in 1996 from former GWU President Dr. Chris White, asking him to visit the campus. Burch accepted the invitation, thinking they wanted advice about transitioning to NCAA Division I. About halfway through the meeting, he realized they were interviewing him for the job of director of Athletics.

Sometime later, White called to offer him the job. Burch accepted the offer with a request that the job title change to vice president of Athletics. “I felt strongly and still do that the athletic director needs to answer directly to the president,” he asserted. “I was the voice for many student-athletes. I thought it was important that I could go straight to the president.” 

Chuck Burch stands at a podium in 2018
Chuck Burch in 2018

Coming back to his alma mater was an honor and a privilege. “My experience as a student and an athlete at Gardner-Webb shaped who I am personally and professionally,” he noted. “The relationships you have — not just with other students — but the relationships students have with faculty and staff and other people, that is what makes Gardner-Webb special.”

Burch, the coaches, and staff started to work toward transitioning to Division I. The first step was to create a winning Division II program, which they did. Before the move, Gardner-Webb ranked 25th in the nation and many programs advanced to tournament play.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs moved into NCAA Division I athletics in 2000, and Gardner-Webb gained full conference membership in the Atlantic Sun Conference two years later. Gardner-Webb gained associate membership in the Big South Conference for football before the 2002 season and moved into full membership for all other sports on July 1, 2008.

Well-respected in the NCAA Division I athletics community, Burch served as a member of the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) Playoff Selection Committee and held a variety of roles during his career at both the national and conference levels.

Growth was a key theme during Burch’s time in Boiling Springs, with seven varsity sports added during his tenure. Gardner-Webb student-athletes also excelled in the classroom, putting together a streak of 14 academic years of a combined departmental GPA of 3.0 or better. That academic effort produced numerous team and individual academic achievements — at the conference, regional and national level — over Burch’s last decade at the University.

Under his leadership, Gardner-Webb saw 15 teams win conference titles at the Division I level, in addition to numerous individual honors — ranging from All-America and All-Conference recognition to conference titles and national tournament berths.

Chuck Burch was honored in 2022 with the naming of the Chuck Burch Meritorious Service Award, which is presented annually during the Gardner-Webb Sports Hall of Fame Gala.

Gardner-Webb athletics also constructed several major facilities while Burch was there, including John Henry Moss Stadium and Bill Masters Field for baseball, Brinkley Family Stadium for softball, the Gardner-Webb Football Center and Spangler Stadium renovation, Greene-Harbison Soccer Stadium, tennis courts and a major renovation to Gardner-Webb’s swim facility. “Obviously, I didn’t do all that by myself,” Burch acknowledged. “We had good teams of people involved in those projects — donors, administration and administrative support.” 

Whatever he did, Burch strived to see his actions as a ministry. Early in his career, a preacher shared with him that he represented his faith every day by the way he interacted with other people. “What is the level of expectation we place on our student-athletes?” Burch pondered. “Are we asking them to conduct themselves consistent with and reflective of the University’s goals and values? How do we interact with other schools? Are we dealing with them in a selfless servant attitude? Whether you like it or not, once you profess to be a representative of God, everything you do makes a statement.”

Burch continued, “I conveyed this to our coaches — their ministry is how they deal with their sports; how they bring people in to develop champions; not just champions on the field, but champions in the classroom and in life.”

One of his most memorable moments came in 2019 when Head Coach Tim Craft and the men’s basketball team won the NCAA berth and took on top-seed Virginia, the eventual national champion, in the first round of the tournament on March 22, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. “It was a tremendous experience, and it was a moment that brought everybody together,” Burch noted. “It brought tears to my eyes when the team came onto the court before the game. It was so loud, and there were so many alums at that game. It was such a defining moment to get that kind of support. The coverage we got out of ESPN, the publicity was incredible, but seeing all of that and knowing at the core were the values that were important to Tim Craft was monumental. He developed that championship team without compromise. The core of that program was Christ-centered and everything he did was with that in mind. To see them succeed, affirmed for me that you can win a championship in this environment doing it the right way.”

Sources: Personal Interview by Jackie Bridges (2023) and GWU Sports files

Posted: January 2024

Previous Post

Dr. Franki Bailey Burch

Next Post

Les Brown

Related Posts

  • Post

    Garland Allen

    Professor Emeritus of History Dr. Garland Allen (1922-2014) was born in Tuckerman, Ark., as the middle child to Roy and Evelyn Rich Allen. His parents only had the opportunity to receive an eighth-grade formal education. Roy Allen was a self-taught farmer and veterinarian by profession. He researched and studied through numerous books of animal science […]

  • Post

    Sheryl “Sheri” Ann Dawson Adams

    Professor Emerita of Theology and Church History Dr. Sheryl “Sheri” Ann Dawson Adams was born July 2, 1947, in Baton Rouge, La., but grew up in her father’s hometown of Jackson, La. It was a small town, where she and her three brothers would play outside, and Sheri spent many hours with her friends riding […]

  • Post

    Susan Carlisle Bell

    Professor Emerita of Art Susan Carlisle Bell (1951- ) was the third child born to Elizabeth and Thomas Jones on Aug. 18, 1951, in Wytheville, Va. She loved the outdoors, nature and farm life. Bell and her sisters grew up riding horses and cleaning out stalls at one of her father’s farms. He even raised […]