Burkholder embraces new role as Basketball PEC member
The inaugural Athletes Unlimited Basketball season had familiar names and faces to start the season, and players who gained popularity by the end of the campaign.
Starring in their shadows were players who made their mark every game, and off the court, bonding with everyone involved in the league.
For Kirby Burkholder, her presence and influence were never forgotten.
“Kirby is just a light,” Natasha Cloud said. “She’s so talented on the court, like a silent assassin, and she has so much passion for the game and for AU.”
So much passion, that Burkholder was a slam dunk when it came time to fill vacancies on the Player Executive Committee (PEC).
“She makes our PEC complete,” Cloud said. “Something also that I love about Kirby is her ability to be able to put herself in someone else’s shoes which is why I think she’s so essential in making decisions that are gonna benefit our league and our players’ experiences.”
Burkholder, who placed 28th on the leaderboard with 2,767 points, said she is ready for year two of AU Hoops after skipping a trip overseas for the first time in nine years. The former three-time all-Colonial Athletic Association selection is also excited for the opportunity to have a voice for the 44 athletes who will play in Dallas later this month.
“This year is kind of a little more comfortable, you know, a little more how it works, what’s going on,” Burkholder said. “I know a lot of the returning players so I’m excited because it’s a really cool league. And I’m just excited to get back out on the court a little bit.”
Burkholder said she’s spent parts of the offseason still explaining to some exactly what AU Hoops is about, but has also felt nothing less than positive vibes generated from the first season, and excitement from others for the upcoming campaign.
Becoming a part of the PEC has opened her eyes a bit more to just how visible the league has become, and what’s involved in so many other aspects of it.
“I think the way Athletes Unlimited has just produced everything, highlights everything, and kind of put out these games that everyone wanted to be a part of,” said Burkholder, who recorded 200 or more points in five games, including a season-high 381-point performance for Team Hawkins in the third week of the season. “I’ve had a lot of people contact me and just contact the PEC in general, just wanting to be a part if it works out with their schedule.”
Burkholder’s offseason also included time spent at the 2022 USA Basketball 3X Nationals, joining Nikki Greene, Taj Cole and Essence Carson on a squad that represented Athletes Unlimited, providing more exposure by bringing the brand to Springfield, Mass.
Though she said it was a last-minute surprise, she was proud to bring AU Hoops to the USA umbrella and actually practice and train with the national team.
“That was another cool experience,” Burkholder said. “It’s definitely tough. It’s another side of basketball that’s a little bit different and it takes a different stamina to play. But being able to be with three people I was familiar with, we had a really good time just competing. And I think, you know, Athletes Unlimited was kind of using that as a trial to see where they can maybe go with that in the future.
“It’d be cool to see athletes and women be able to produce a team that could compete in the future of those big tournaments and things like that.”
Interestingly enough, Burkholder said she’s been learning a different side to the game she’s played most of her life, as she’s been refereeing for the past two-plus years.
It’s an aspect she said has been an entirely different world, in terms of learning and figuring out things from an officiating standpoint.
“In my mind, it hasn’t been easy to kind of change the life you’ve lived for almost a decade plus,” she said. “So refereeing is something unexpected that I’ve gotten to enjoy. And then I’m also still kind of figuring out what is that other piece I’m going to pair with it, which is where I like to use a sports recreation management type of a role.”
Which, again, is why she fits in nicely with the PEC.
“Kirby was an easy choice for the PEC because we’d already seen her be a great teammate on the court so she already had our respect,” Sydney Colson said. “You can always count on her to be present and attentive in our weekly meetings and she’s willing to speak up if she has a different opinion than the group.”
Now, as she prepares for the second season, though winning nightly, weekly, and overall remains the goal, she is comfortable transitioning to a veteran, or, mentorship role.
“Anything that helps Athletes Unlimited,” Burkholder said. “It is interesting as your career kind of changes. It’s a great opportunity to do that.”
W.G. Ramirez is a 35-year veteran sports reporter in Southern Nevada, serving as a correspondent for Athletes Unlimited.. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez
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