<em>By Tom Rowe
George Steinbrenner, the late owner of the New York Yankees, dubbed right fielder Paul O’Neill “The Warrior” because of his passion and love for the game. Although surrounded by future Hall of Famers like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and perhaps even a couple others, it was O’Neill who was the heart and soul of the team that captured four World Series titles in five years as the baseball dynasty of the 1990s.
Much like O’Neill, Peter Burton was the backbone of the championship Norwich football and basketball teams that won statewide acclaim a few years before the Yankees began their streak. Over the course of three seasons, Burton earned nine varsity letters, three each in football, basketball and baseball, thus earning him a spot in the Norwich High School Sports Hall of Fame.
“He was a great leader both on and off the playing field or court,” remembered former NHS grid coach John Pluta. “He hated to lose, and pushed himself every minute. He really was a true warrior.”
Although he was a STAC all-star three straight years in baseball at a variety of positions, Burton is best remembered as the fearless tight end on the gridiron and the relentless power forward on the hardwoods. While Burton solidified the Purple offensive line, Norwich compiled an impressive 27-4-1 (.871) log, and as that inside anchor on the Tornado cage unit, the locals posted a record of 72-7 (.911).
“I really feel baseball was my best sport, even though a lot of people never even knew I played it,” said Burton. “As a freshman, I started at third base and made the STAC All-Division team. The other two years, I received All-Division and All-Conference honors at first base and designated hitter, respectively. My junior year, I played all nine positions, even catching when no one else wanted to catch Jason James, who was both fast and wild.”
Burton, who hit .361, .333 and .343 during his three-year varsity career, was the Norwich MVP during his sophomore season.
A lot of people may very well have missed Burton’s baseball days but few never heard of his exploits as a football and basketball player. The recipient of All-State, All-Metro and All-County honors in each of the aforementioned sports, Burton was the impregnable rock and the solidifying glue that enabled both NHS squads to reach never-before-seen heights.
Much has been written about the storied 1992-’93 and 1993-’94 Tornado basketball teams, both of which are enshrined in the NHSSHOF, but without Burton, much less would have been transcribed not to mention much less might have been achieved. During that two-year span, the 6-foot-4 forward scored 604 points (11.0 ppg) as the Purple went 56-2 in capturing two straight New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B championships and one Federation crown.
During his junior year, Burton reached double digits 18 times as Norwich completed an undefeated 29-0 season with a 75-69 victory over Buffalo St. Joseph’s in the Federation title tilt. It was there that Burton saved his best performance for last as he tickled the twines for 26 markers. And, even though his senior year began with him riding the bench the first three games due to a football injury, he finished in twin numbers 11 times, 22 in a 98-83 triumph over Johnson City in just his third game back from the disabled list. His scoring abilities, notwithstanding, it was Burton’s presence on defense where he really earned his stripes. All told, he grabbed 490 rebounds while always taking on the responsibility of quelling the opposition’s best man.