In a League of His Own: The “Untouchable” Rory Burke
If you happened to be flipping through the Fall 1959 edition of The Rectory News you would notice an article by Rectory student Lloyd Field, who reported on the annual rivalry football game against Pomfret School. This game, generally a lopsided matchup given Pomfret’s older and more developed students, took a unique turn that year, a turn attributed to one student in particular, Rory Burke. Lloyd began his article, “When Rory got the ball, he went untouched.” He concluded the article stating, “thanks to the incredible talent and performance of Rory Burke, we showed Pomfret who’s who.”
While that fall day in 1959 it happened to be football, it is clear Rory was a game-changer in every sport he played at Rectory–football in the fall, hockey in the winter, and track and field in the spring. Rob Perkin, Rectory Class of ‘62, remembers Rory as the fastest kid he’d ever seen, one whose athleticism was immediately evident. In fact, his performances were so memorable that today, over 60 years later, his contemporaries are still in awe of the things he was able to do.
On the gridiron, Rory’s speed made him a standout. A former teammate remembers Rory racing down the sidelines with a stride so smooth it looked like he was riding a bicycle. Opposing teams didn’t even have time to register that Rory had the ball before it was too late. Going back to that 1959 season, in that same edition of The Rectory News, Christopher Robison reported on the Parents Weekend game, which he referred to as, “The Best Game I Ever Played In.” In that game, Rory Burke ran a fumble in from Rectory’s forty yard line for a touchdown. In an effort to keep the game close, the second team played much of the second and third quarters. But in the fourth Rory was back in with the inevitable result—another touchdown. Rory’s play was so outstanding that year, Coach Jackman presented him with the MVP award at the end of year banquet. But speed and strength were not limited to the football field; it served Rory well in his spring sport, track and field, as well.
It is widely reported that Rory won every track race he entered while at Rectory. Described as muscular but not bulky, Rory’s frame was well suited for success in both sprints and longer distances. In field events, Rory’s deceptive strength combined with exceptional technique propelled him to numerous victories. If Rectory maintained records for track and field, Rory’s name would likely still top many of these lists. And he might have found himself on a few others had he been able to compete in more than one sport in a season. One of Rory’s peers remembered the time Rory jumped into batting practice with the baseball team and hit a ball “that went almost up to the Infirmary,” while another mentioned the annual Black vs Orange wrestling tournament when Rory used his combination of lightning speed and wiry strength to defeat a much bigger Ken Bronckie for the title. It was that combination of attributes that served Rory best while playing one of his first, and longest lasting, athletic loves: hockey.
While Rory played hockey competitively well beyond Rectory School until he was 48 years old, it is his exploits on cam
pus we celebrate. Coming to Rectory from western Connecticut, Rory grew up in a hotbed for northeastern hockey talent so it is a tremendous credit to his abilities that among stiff competition, he rose to the top serving as the Rectory team’s highest scorer as well as the team captain.
After graduating from Rectory, Rory went on to Proctor Academy before finishing secondary school at Cornwall Academy. He then joined the Marines and completed two tours of Vietnam in the late 1960s. Upon completion of his service, Rory began a career in construction that has included building homes and boats, and he is now happily retired and living in Florida.
Rory Burke was an exceptionally talented and successful athlete, one of the best, in fact, to attend Rectory School. His recognition tonight is an acknowledgement of that and of an era where youth sports were truly amateur and recreational. Rory excelled across three seasons on three different teams playing three different sports then served his country with distinction. For these reasons, we are proud to induct Rory Burke into the Rectory School Athletic Wall of Honor.
- Athletic Wall of Honor