Winthrop head coach Joe Burnham talks to his team during a timeout in a Class C South semifinal game at the Augusta Civic Center in February. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Joe Burnham took over a Winthrop girls basketball program in 2013 that was on the verge of a winless season and scrapping its varsity program for another season to begin rebuilding.

This spring, Burnham is walking away from a Winthrop girls basketball program that a few months ago reached the state championship game.

Burnham decided to step down in late March after seven years to spend more time with his young family and continue with his professional development. The decision wasn’t an easy one for the Winthrop Middle School science teacher, but after leading the Ramblers to the Class C South championship and the state title game this past winter, he felt it was time.

“It was a really good season, and it just felt like the right time for me and my family,” Burnham said. “I’m going to miss the kids and coaching.”

He isn’t completely leaving coaching. Burnham, 34, has two sons, ages 3 and 6, and plans to start coaching them as early as this winter. But he just wants to be there for them more than he could be as a varsity basketball coach.

“They’ve been starting to get active in their own stuff, and with the demanding nature of coaching, I was missing some of the things I wasn’t comfortable missing,” he said.

Winthrop’s girls basketball program was floundering when Burnham took over in the summer of 2013. Rather than allow blowout loss after blowout loss erode what little enthusiasm was left for the program, he decided after the winless season to put the varsity team on pause and focus on fundamentals, the feeder system and getting everyone excited about Winthrop basketball again.

Winthrop coach Joe Burnham embraces senior forward Kena Souza after the Class C state championship game at the Augusta Civic Center in February. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

“The biggest thing was the support of the community and the parents, who allowed us to take those baby steps in the right direction,” he said.

A one-season stint as a junior varsity program was followed by a 3-15 return to varsity status in 2015-16 as the Ramblers began the slow ascent to the summit.

Winthrop returned to the Class C South tournament in Burnham’s third year, losing in the preliminary round to finish 11-8. The Ramblers took a small step back in 2017-18, finishing 7-12 while returning to the prelims, then, in 2018-19 secured the No. 2 seed reached the regional semifinals to post a 17-3 record.

Last year, led by Mountain Valley Conference player of the year Aaliyah WilsonFalcone and a talented supporting cast, the Ramblers clinched the No. 1 seed in Class C South with a 16-2 record. They knocked off Carrabec, Old Orchard Beach and Boothbay in the bracket, then fell to Central Aroostook, 67-61, in the Class C state championship.

“It was such a special team to go out with, so it felt fitting,” Burnham said.

“I’m just glad (Winthrop girls basketball) is back in a spot where it belongs,” he added.

Burnham, who lives in Auburn, said he will continue to teach at Winthrop Middle School and follow Winthrop athletics. He won’t rule out returning to coaching at the high school level some day.

“If I do decide to come back, it will be because I enjoy the kids, first and foremost,” he said.

“The thing I told the kids from day one is basketball isn’t going to define who you are as a person,” he said. “It’s nice to be a good basketball player, but it’s better to be a good person.”


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