Ball in the Family:
Sonia Burleson grew up a coach's daughter, now she's a coach's wife - and a coach herself
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

July 3, 2004 -- Sonia Burleson has been part of the sweeping emotion of her father coaching a state football championship team. She has seen her brother lead his team to the playoffs and has shared playoff football with her husband, who is a coach.

She's also knows how swiftly the arrows of criticism can be unsheathed when fortunes reverse themselves.

Still, Burleson is not too badly scarred from a lifetime of being submerged in the coaching profession. In fact, she blossomed into a coach herself.

"It didn't scar me at all. I enjoyed growing up as a coach's kid. Of course, that's all I ever knew," said Burleson, who is the oldest daughter of Dickey Meeks, the head football coach and athletic director at Mount Vernon. "I suppose being a coach's kid, you get really involved. I don't know if they all do, but we certainly did, and my mother was a big part of it, too."

She has been married for 3 1/2 years to Jeremy Burleson, an assistant football and track coach at Sulphur Springs High School. Sonia is the head cross country and girls track coach at Mount Vernon.

She's seen life as a coach's child, a coach's wife and a coach herself, and has relished the lifestyle. The time it takes can be demanding and the criticism unnerving, but coaching also has its perks.

"At Sulphur Springs, they really spend extra time with the kids, but that doesn't seem like a demand to me. When we lived over there, those kids came by all the time to see him and the other coaches. The coaches really care about those kids, and in turn, the kids care about them and want to come by and spend extra time," she said.

"Somebody may look at that as an inconvenience or a demand, but I don't think so at all. I like that. That's why we do it - that's exactly why we do it. I wouldn't say it's a demand, it's more like a perk."

Sonia saw first-hand the coaching mountaintop when her dad's Chapel Hill team won the State 4A championship in 1989. She was a seventh-grader at the time, and remembers the details of that season vividly.

"I remember every bit of it," she said. "We were at every single game, in the rain when there was only about seven fans there. But, we went to everything.

"It was great. I remember going to Texas Stadium twice and the Astrodome for the state championship game. You don't get those experiences very often when you're growing up."

Of course, she has also heard the detractors. No matter how successful a team is, there are always those who voice their opinions.

Sonia's younger brother, Ricky Joe Meeks, quarterbacked Mount Vernon to the playoffs two of the three years he was on varsity. He was red-shirted last year at SMU, then recently transferred to Northwestern State in Louisiana. With a father coaching and brother playing, she had to steel herself against taking comments too personally.

"With my dad, there have been people who we know - who are friends of ours - who in the heat of the game will say things and then regret it after they say it," Burleson explained. "You don't understand how personally we take what is said, how personally we take the wins and the losses, until you've been a coach's wife or child.

"When you see your husband or your dad or your brother out there, and they're the ones who are getting talked down to or about, it's a whole lot different than for someone who is just watching the game. People say things, and they don't realize it, then they regret it."

Being criticized as a coach is considered part of the job description, but hearing it as a family member is the toughest, she said.

"Most definitely, the criticism is the hardest thing. As a coach myself, I don't even think about the criticism much," she explained. "I used to coach volleyball, and when stuff that comes from the stands, you don't pay attention to that. You focus on what's going on on the court or the field. But, it's tough as a daughter and a wife and a sister. It is a whole lot harder hearing the criticism as a family member than as a coach yourself."

Burleson splits her loyalties between Mount Vernon and Sulphur Springs. This past year, since her younger brother was not playing on Friday nights, she went to most SSHS games but managed to watch the Purple Tigers a few times.

During football season, she turns around on Saturday mornings and takes her junior high and high school cross country teams to meets and manages to find time for their 7-month-old daughter, Molly.

Being a coach's family member entitles her to an extended "family" - the other wives and children of coaches.

Of course, she is a coach and teacher herself, following the footsteps of her parents. But, it took time away from coaching for her to realize that's what she wanted to do.

"When I got to college, I decided that's not what I wanted to do, so I got a math degree and went to work," Sonia related. ''I hated what I was missing. I didn't hate my job, but I hated that I was missing what I wanted to do. So, I went back and got my teaching certification.

"My dad did encourage me to try other things, but once I decided I wanted to get back into teaching and coaching, he said, 'I knew you'd always come back to the best profession.' "

Burleson's experiences has given her a special insight into the rewards and drawbacks of coaching. Looking at the full scope, she was drawn back.

"Growing up with a dad as a coach, I think I understand the demands a coach's life has. I think what's important to both Jeremy and me is to help the kids be successful," she said. "I can understand the time he spends away. It's just the priority."

"I really enjoy going to the games," Sonia said. Then, looking at her daughter, she added, "She'll have to get used to that, just like I did. She'll be going everywhere."

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