There’s two things Jeremy Burnett likely knows more about than the average Yelmite: the grounds of Yelm High School and America’s pastime.
And it’s due to his deep admiration for both that he’s recently been named as successor to Doug LaPalm, the former Tornados baseball head coach who resigned from his position earlier this year for personal reasons.
A retired U.S. Army service member who has worked as Yelm High School’s groundskeeper for the past five years, Burnett plans to bring his coaching experience to a program that has been trending upward in recent years.
“I’ve always had a love for the game. A lot of coaching with my son as he was growing up through the youth program, and I’ve coached fall ball here at the high school the last three years under Coach LaPalm,” Burnett, 45, said. “It’s always been a passion of mine. If there’s baseball on TV, I’m watching it.”
Rob Hill, athletic director at Yelm High School, said while he’s sad to see LaPalm go, he’s confident in Burnett’s ability and knows he has “tons of leadership and training experience” that should help the program continue to grow throughout his tenure.
“Jeremy will fit right in. The assistant coaches are thrilled that he’s coming on board,” Hill said.
Of LaPalm’s two seasons with the Tornados, Hill said: “As a coach, you definitely want to leave the program in a better state than when you came in, and he did that … Kids loved playing for Doug and at some point we hope to have him on the diamond in black and red again.”
Coming into the 2020 spring season, there were many questions for the Tornados — most notably, how would the boys look without starting pitcher Corbin Waite and first baseman Brady Bytheway, both recent grads? Also, how would shortstop senior Austin Schaler, who led with 13 runs the year prior, look on the diamond this go around?
Those questions ultimately went unanswered with the swift end of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But, apart from the “season that never was,” LaPalm did learn something valuable during quarantine: you’re only a parent once.
Spending close time with family, he learned that he needed to learn more about his kids and dedicate more time to his unit, which also grew by one with the recent birth of his son.
“That was kind of a big eye opener for me,” he said. “It definitely was a very hard decision, considering the (players) that have come through. They’ve all been great and I only want best for them and the families in the community … There’s been nothing but support.”
LaPalm, whose overall record in the competitive 3A South Sound Conference stands at 11-17 and who was able to take his team to the district playoffs in 2018, said he plans on sticking around to help Burnett with the transition. YHS students will also see LaPalm in class, as he’s a physical education teacher at the school.
“I like Jeremy. He’s a great guy. I’ve talked to him hours and hours and hours about baseball,” he said. “I want to see Jeremy and that team and those kids just as successful as if I was there.”
A Carmi, Illinois, native, Burnett originally came to Washington state in 2011 as a service member. He said he played baseball from a young age up until he graduated high school. At that point, he joined the Army.
Burnett has one son in high school, senior Dylan Burnett.
His goals for the team after coming into the head coaching position are to implement a disciplined training program and hopefully keep the program on a positive trend.
The Tornados, who finished the 2019 season without a postseason berth at seventh in the SSC with a 5-9 record, will likely have some rebuilding to work over when they hopefully return to play in late April 2021. Burnett said they had a huge turnover in players at the end of last school year, and they’ll likely only have one varsity returner on the field.
“We’ll face it as a challenge, but I think it’ll all be about work ethic — from myself to the coaches all the way down to the players — to determine how well we do,” he said.