Pushing positivity

Dan Burchfield leaves lasting impression after 22 years of teaching



A LEGACY OF COMMITMENT—Dan Burchfield is retiring from teaching and coaching baseball at Moorpark High School. Burchfield’s future plans include expanding the Joel Burchfield Foundation Memorial Fund, publishing a book, writing children’s stories, and traveling. SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers

A LEGACY OF COMMITMENT—Dan Burchfield is retiring from teaching and coaching baseball at Moorpark High School. Burchfield’s future plans include expanding the Joel Burchfield Foundation Memorial Fund, publishing a book, writing children’s stories, and traveling. SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers

Sitting inside a local coffee shop on a cloudy Monday morning, Dan Burchfield was greeted by several longtime neighbors, but one encounter stood out.

A former student stopped to say that Burchfield inspired him to become a teacher.

It’s interactions like that, Burchfield said, that make it so difficult to retire after 22 years with Moorpark Unified School District.

“It was a calling to me. I wanted to give back to the youth of Moorpark,” he said of teaching. “Little did I know they were going to help me more than I helped them.”

The Moorpark resident decided to leave his decades-long career in plumbing one year after the death of his son Joel. The 11-year-old’s life was cut short Jan. 31, 1996 when he drowned in the flooded Arroyo Simi creek while walking home from Chaparral Middle School.

Coaching Joel’s Little League team made Burchfield realize how much he loved working with children. After earning a degree from Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, he accepted a job as a history and drama teacher at Chaparral in 2001.

 

 

He found purpose in showing students their full potential, especially students who were struggling with the loss of a loved one.

“I wanted to communicate to them how much they could do in their life, knowing what Joel lost so young,” Burchfield said. “I found my passion in life. That’s what I was supposed to do. I know that for a fact.”

In 2003, he transferred to Moorpark High School, where he continued to teach history.

During his annual lesson on the history of Moorpark, Burchfield would tell students about his oldest son and share the story of the bridge that was built and named in Joel’s honor.

But most importantly, he said, he taught them about the power of perseverance.

Whether communicating with every student every day, playing inspirational videos or songs before class, or dressing up as historical figures, Burchfield sought to brighten their days.

“I pushed all my students to stay positive,” he said. “They knew what I went through, and if they can see that I’m positive and getting through it, I think they could do it.”

Jeanine Alexander, chair of Moorpark High’s social studies department, said history allows students to learn from the past and understand how one person can impact countless others.

Burchfield embodies that concept, she said.

“The way he teaches and what he teaches in U.S. history and sometimes world history shows the impact one life can make on others,” said Alexander. “He is always thinking about kids having a good future and being productive citizens.”

Burchfield’s impact has also extended to the baseball field, where he’s coached the high school’s team for 24 years.

His hard work is fueled by the hope he felt watching Joel’s team compete in the 1996 Little League World Series in memory of player No. 15.

“I love watching the kids succeed and even when they don’t succeed, picking them up,” he said.

He strived to plant the same motivation in his players as he did in his history students, often recognizing effort by giving out packs of seeds after practice.

“He is one of the most beloved coaches we’ve ever had on campus,” said Rob Dearborn, MHS athletic director. “The kids really relate to him.”

In addition to demonstrating the ability to turn tragedy into triumph, Dearborn said Burchfield became a fixture of the school’s athletics in another way. He announced nearly every football and basketball game.

“I’m kind of like the voice of Moorpark High School,” Burchfield said. “Everybody says that, and it makes me feel good because I enjoy doing it. It makes me feel part of the community.”

At 67, Burchfield said it’s time to step away from teaching and coaching.

His last day of work was June 9. Though he promised to continue announcing games, he feels a sense of loss.

“It filled the void of Joel,” he said of his career. “He was my driving force to become a teacher, and now that I’m not a teacher . . . part of him is gone and I’ll miss that.”

Burchfield said that if he is the voice of Moorpark, then Joel is the city’s angel. He doesn’t want residents to forget about that angel now that he’s retired from the district and not passing the story down to younger generations.

At the same time, he also feels a sense of accomplishment.

Growing up, he dreamed of becoming an actor, a baseball player and Vin Scully. As an adult, he’s had the opportunity to direct plays, coach baseball and announce games.

“All of the things I wanted to do as a young child I got to do,” Burchfield said.

Alexander, however, knows her colleague has even bigger dreams to fulfill.

“The way he has been able to impact people who have lost someone, I think he can go nationally,” she said. “He’s got a higher calling, and I’m excited to see him fulfill it.”

Looking ahead, Burchfield said his priority is expanding the Joel Burchfield Memorial Fund. The annual Joel Burchfield Spirit Walk will be held July 23 to 29, and he hopes to raise an all-time high of $20,000 toward scholarships.

He hopes to write a children’s book and find a national publisher to reprint his self-published 2019 memoir, “My Journey With Joel.” He also wants to carve out time to speak to grief groups and serve as a deacon at Moorpark Presbyterian Church.

Whatever he does, he is certain of one thing: It will be because of Joel.

“I think he would be proud,” Burchfield said

To learn more about Dan Burchfield and the 2023 Joel Burchfield Spirit Walk, go to myjourneywithjoel.com.

Makena Huey is on Twitter @MakenaHuey