The Best of the Best – Our Olympians
The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are well on their way. The Olympics are the highest honor for athletic excellence as an athlete – this is the best of the best. Athletes train for years to get to the Olympics, some even their whole lives. It truly is a remarkable feat.
For two athletes, the journey may not have started at Saint Xavier High School, but it certainly provided a huge stepping stone on their path to the Olympic stage.
Clark Burckle ’06 was a member of the nationally recognized Swimming and Diving team. Here, he was a four-time state champion (at the time these were the 15th-18th consecutive team titles). Also, he was an individual state champion in the 200 Yard IM, 500 yard freestyle, 100 yard breaststroke. He was a state champion on multiple relay teams, as well. On top of all these athletic achievements, he was also a National Merit Semi-Finalist. To say the least, he contributed a lot to the Tiger Sharks in his tenure.
However, being a high school state champion was not his greatest goal. From St.X he attended the University of Florida from 2006-2008, but transferred to the University of Arizona for his senior year in 2010. At Arizona, he truly catapulted into the spotlight by becoming the National Champion in the 200 yard breaststroke. He was not done yet, though. Being apart of the National Team was something he had been dreaming of since he attended the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
After missing the cut at the 2008 Olympic Trials, Burckle worked harder than ever. With another four years under his belt, it was his time to earn a spot on the Olympic team. “I was so nervous, I kept trying to tell myself it’s just another race, and I have some world-class competitors next to me and they’re going to take me to a fast time,” Burckle said to Louisville.com . He went on to place second in the race, .08 seconds ahead of the third place finisher, but regardless earning himself a spot on the Olympic Team roster. “I can’t even put it into words right now. It’s the epitome of what a swimmer dreams about.” Burckle said, after the race.
In London, Burckle performed admirably, placing sixth in the 200M breaststroke. This is what he told Bob Schaller of usaswimming.org about his experience in the Olympics: “I thought it went well. I was able to go three best times, so I could not have asked for more – maybe to be a little faster in the finals! But it was a big step forward for me.”
Burckle currently lives in California as an aspiring businessman. He put his swimming career on hold while he attended Stanford’s Business School.
Mike Silliman ’62 was a member of the last state champion basketball team his senior year at St.X. He was an honor roll student and also served as the senior class president. Coming out of Saint Xavier, he had 55 scholarship offers to play college basketball, being heavily recruited by the University of Kentucky. However, he made the decision to play for Bob Knight at West Point.
Silliman, a 6’6″ forward, was a star at West Point. There, he was a three-year letterman in not only basketball, but also baseball. He has been considered by many to be the best all-around basketball player that Army has ever had. Over his four years, he averaged a double-double (22.2 PPG and 10.7 RPG). Silliman led the Cadets to three straight NIT semi-finals.
When it was all said and done, he graduated as the most prolific scorer in Army basketball history, scoring over 1,300 points. Even more notably, this was done prior to the installation of the three-point line. Bob Knight has gone on to say that Mike Silliman was the best player he had ever coached.
From West Point, he entered the 1966 NBA Draft. He was drafted by the New York Knicks, becoming the first and only player to be drafted from the United States Military Academy at West Point. However, he would hold off his NBA Career to serve in the military. While in the service he eventually achieved a rank of captain and served with the adjutant-general corps in Korea. Even during his military service, though, he found another way to serve his country: to participate in the 1968 Olympics Games in Mexico City.
At the Olympics, Silliman was the captain of the team. His team had a perfect record, and went on to defeat Yugoslavia in the gold-medal game. This was the United States’ seventh straight gold medal in the event at the time. He went on to return to the NBA, but was traded to the Buffalo Braves. Unfortunately, his playing career was cut short by an injury, and he ended up playing only one season.
Mike Silliman died at the age of 56 due to a sudden heart attack in 2000. After more than 40 years since his athletic career ended, he is still considered to be one of the best athletes to ever come from Louisville. He is apart of the Kentucky Athletic, Kentucky High School Athletic Association, Saint Xavier, and West Point’s Halls of Fame. Just recently in 2015, his jersey (#20) was retired at Army’s basketball arena. If he were still here today, I think many would’ve loved to see a 1 on 1 showdown between himself and another St.X basketball great Connor McKim.
Lastly, though he is not an athlete, John Proctor ’91 will be joining the 2016 Rio Olympics Team as a diving coach. He is the head coach at Florida State University, and also the coach of Katrina Young. Young is a former Florida State diver who placed second in the diving competition from the 10 Meter platform. This earned her a spot on the Olympics roster.
Proctor has quite the resumé as well, though. At Saint Xavier, he was a two-time state champion in the diving competition. From St.X, he went on to dive at Auburn University. Unfortunately, like Silliman, his career was cut short by an injury.
Though Proctor himself will not be competing, we will certainly be cheering on his diver Katrina Young to win the gold medal. She will be competing on Wednesday, August 17th.
To Clark Burckle, Mike Silliman, and John Proctor, we say thank you. Thank you for continuing the tradition of athletic excellence of Saint Xavier High School far beyond the years you all walked its halls. And thank you for showing the nation and the world, the prowess of the greatest high school in the world.