Talk Story: Josh Burton

KEKAHA — After Josh Burton settled and started his family on Kauai, he became involved in sports when his kids started playing.

When one of his daughters attended a basketball camp on Maui, he was so impressed that he wanted to establish the camp here on the Garden Isle.

In 2012, he held his first Northwest Basketball Camps event through his nonprofit organization, The “W” of Kauai.

He’s organized camps every year and has since added volleyball to his annual clinics. He hopes also add soccer, baseball and football eventually.

Hours are long and organizing camps are stressful he admits, but to him it’s all worth it if even just one kid benefits from his camps. And though his faith, he’s able to push through the tough times.

Burton sat down with The Garden Island at the Kekaha Neighborhood Center to talk about his coaching beginnings and establishing the local youth camps.

To start off, can you talk about your background in sports?

So, born and raised in Hilo. Played in a community league. Then I played two years in JV up until my sophomore year. Played at two private schools, and then my sophomore year I quit playing basketball (for personal reasons). So, I stopped playing my sophomore year. As soon as I graduated high school, I joined the Navy.

When I joined, my dad was sick with cancer. I asked to be stationed close to Hawaii. So, I figured maybe San Diego, right? Because you never get stationed where you’re from. It’s hard, your first duty station. But I got lucky and they put me on Kauai. That’s how I ended up here (in 1995).

That’s when I met my wife, Erika. Together, we have four kids (Kaelin, 23, Brandee, 18, Cori, 15, and Tisha, 13). … Like most families when my kids were young, they started them in sports — soccer, flag (football), Pop Warner, basketball. So, that’s how we first got involved in the community.

Then we got involved in Pop Warner first as parents, then coaches. My wife cheered in high school (Waimea High School). So, she was a cheer coach. And then my son, the first and only year he played tackle football, I helped coach. That was my first time coaching, but I never played football. I didn’t know anything about football. … That was my first dose of coaching, without coaching or football experience. But it was fun.

And then, when Brandee was a seventh-grader, we’ve always been at Westside Basketball Club. Coach Dino (Pabre) was pretty much the only coach back then. The coached boys and girls. But the club was getting so big, he needed help from parents. Like most cases, parents got to step in and coach or they’re not going to have a team. So, I knew basketball because I played. And then my cousin, he coached football for a year. So, we kind of took his coaching experience with my basketball knowledge, put it together and coached. … That was my first year, and it was horrible (laughing).

How so?

Like, I know the sport. So, I can go out there and do something. If somebody tells me, “Go do this. Run a play,” I can do it. But trying to teach it is different. There was definitely a learning curve. Like, I yelled every minute of the game (laughing). “Do this! Go here! Go there!” It was cool. That’s how I got involved.

Brandee moved on to high school, so I started coaching my other two girls when they came up. So, I’ve had this group of girls since they were about third- or fourth- grade. Now, they’re all going to be eighth-graders. I’ve had them along the way. And then I did one year with Brandon Moises (former Waimea High varsity girls basketball coach) at the varsity level. … I did one year with him, and then I continued with community.

I plan now is to coach my team (with WBC) for one last year, and then they’ll move on to the high school level. And then I’ll just enjoy watching them from the stands. That’s my plan, but you know how coaching goes. It’s hard to step away.

So was that what was most difficult learning to coach? Being more patient, especially with kids?

When I started with Pop Warner, they partnered with PCA, which is Positive Coaching Alliance. We did a lot of training with PCA, just learning how to be a more positive coach. They got a lot of proven facts and statistics. You don’t have to just beat it into the kids’ heads nowadays. There’s a positive approach to it. I took a lot from that — a different approach to coaching. Trying to be positive and motivate them. The first year was hard. I mean, coaching is hard. You have to have a practice plan, game plan and all of that. So, it takes a lot of time. It was hard at first, but eventually you get into a groove and get into a system. I learned a lot of from PCA.

A couple of years after that, that’s when I got introduced to NBC. When we went to our first NBC camp, this was in 2011, I thought NBC and PCA were partners. It was almost the same chemistry, the same type of approach. But they weren’t. So, I took my PCA training and what I learned from NBC over the years. And it not only helped me with coaching, but becoming a better person today, I think.

So, what was that first NBC camp like? And what started the process of bringing it to Kauai?

Brandee had been playing basketball for a few years. There’s two camps that come to the island. They’re great camps, but I was looking for something different. I just Googled basketball camps in Hawaii, and the No. 1 hit that came up what NBC and it was in Maui. That was in 2011 when I did that research. I called the office and got some information about NBC. I prayed about it, and I felt like it was the right thing to do.

In 2011, me and Brandee went up to Maui for a week. Everything my kids do, I try to stay involved so I know what they’re getting into. So, the first day, I just asked the director. I said, “Hey, is it cool if I just sit here and observe all week?” He said, “Yeah. The camps are always open.” So, I sat there all week. I’ve never seen a camp put on like that before. It was just well-structured. … The coaches were just right-on. In my mind, I was just thinking that this would be something cool for Kauai. And growing up, I didn’t go to much camps. I just played in community.

I talked to the director at the end of that week. I said, “What does it take to bring a camp to Kauai?” He said, “Go home and think about it. It takes a lot of work.” I said, “OK.” I went home. Of course, I talked to my wife about it. I talked to a couple of family members. I even talked to Brenda Jose (of Kekaha Pop Warner) because that’s someone I look up to, and then my pastor. After a lot of talk and prayer, we decided to do it.

How long did it take you to decide? And when was your first camp?

We came home in June. I think by August, I was ready to go. We started our nonprofit paperwork. We decided to do a nonprofit so we could be partnered with NBC. Again, following the things I learned in coaching, I trying to think of a name. Everybody has fancy names. It was just coming back to me, The “W.” It means to win. Our mission is to help kids not only win in the sport they’re playing, but also be winners in life. Basically, we’re just here to help them get the win in life. Not only sports.

It took 10 months of planning, and it was very, very stressful because I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve never led or organized anything. So by the time camp came, our first donation came in like a week or two weeks before camp started. That made me stress because when you put on an event, you got to have funds, right? But everybody had to work to make this happen. They worked with me. Just, “Do what you got to do. And when you can take care of your finances, we’ll do it.” That was a huge blessing. Not too much people will say, “Just pay me later.”

It was very stressful. But as the camp went by — Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 — NBC teaches so much about gratitude. Being grateful for what you get and what you do. By the end of the week, it was gratifying to see. We had, I think, 98 kids our first year. Just to see something like that finally transpire, it was a great feeling.

What’s it like to see these kids go through your camps and then continue on at high school or the community leagues?

It’s a really good feeling. Before I became a coach, I always heard coaches say, “Oh, so-and-so came up to me and said, ‘Hi, coach. How you doing? Remember this from back in the day?’” Now after I’ve been coaching for a few years, it’s a good feeling having somebody come up to you and tell you hi and call you coach. It means something when they call you coach. And they’re actually interesting in, “How you doing, coach? How’s camp?” Stuff like that.

It’s a good feeling when, one, they’re still playing their sport. Whatever sport, they’re continuing. And two, to see them in the community. We have some kids that are already giving back in coaching. It’s a good feeling knowing a had a little bit of positive impact on their life.

So if you’re running as a nonprofit, then you’re not making money off these camps?

Pretty much. Some nonprofits do have paid members, and some don’t. Ours is not. We’re all volunteers. Our nonprofit is supported by grants, donations and fundraisers that we do.

When I first started this in 2012, I knew like, if you go to the Mainland they’ll charge $400 to $500. That’s up to the host. We’re the host, right? They can charge whatever they want, and they can make some money and have a little reserve. But I knew, because of our cost of living and stuff, there’s no way parents can afford that. … Some parents take their kids to Mainland camps during the summer. Not too many families can afford that. The main reason I did this was to bring the camps here, and to make it cheap. That’s why it’s only $85.

So whatever fees you do get cover costs?

It doesn’t even cover cost. Our fundraisers and grants fills that gap. The $85 does go toward overhead costs, but not all of it. And I don’t foresee raising it at all because, as long as our head is above water and we do what we got to do, we’re fine with that.

With the camps, on top of your regular job, family obligations, etc., how are you handling everything?

It’s my faith that keeps me strong, and it’s my faith that keeps me going. We can only do so much physically, so I draw strength spiritually — Jesus Christ. That’s where I get all my strength from, my patience and peace about things. We just had these two camps back to back, and now we’re taking these kids to the Mainland next week (for another camp). People have been asking me, “How the heck do you do it?” I just tell them what I just told you. You can only do so much as a human. … Besides strength from my Heavenly Father, I have my five board members. They help me throughout the year.

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