The story behind a new electronic scoreboard at Jerry Whitehead Sr. Field in Tuolumne is one that shows the power of friendship and community in the wake of tragedy.
Matt Armstrong, of Tuolumne, donated the scoreboard through his company, Armstrong Logging, as a way to honor the legacy of his fallen friend, Greg Burns, who died in late May at 48 and previously coached Little League at the field for many years.
“He was always involved with those kids and it seemed kind of like a perfect thing for him to be remembered for,” Armstrong said.
The new scoreboard replaced one donated over a decade ago and hasn’t worked for about two years.
Tuolumne Park and Recreation District maintains the field and a number of other public facilities in the township under a contract with the county, though it has little room in its budget for infrastructure upgrades without additional support from the community.
Armstrong said he decided to pay for a scoreboard because his 9-year-old son, Peyton, plays baseball at the field.
In the days after Burns died, Armstrong said he was looking for a way to honor his friend when his mother-in-law gave him the idea to dedicate the scoreboard to him.
Armstrong said he felt like it would be a fitting tribute to a man who always had the good of the community at the front of his mind.
“He was really that type of person who would drop whatever to help you out,” Armstrong said.
More than a dozen of Burns’ family and friends were at the field on Aug. 24 when the new scoreboard was installed, including his children, aunt and uncle, cousins, nephews, and the Armstrong family.
The scoreboard is emblazoned at the top with “In memory of Greg Burns” in big, white letters.
Burns’ widow, Jenny Burns, was at the dedication ceremony and described it as a “beautiful combination of pride and pain.”
“I feel extreme honor and pride in who my husband was and what he stood for,” she said. “The fact he is acknowledged in such a way shows that people remember how he lived and not how he died.”
The couple lived in Twain Harte and had been together for six years, but Jenny Burns said they were good friends for 25 years prior to that.
Greg Burns was a U.S. Army veteran who served in Desert Storm. He also would venture out to the front lines of many local forest fires to put in lines to aid firefighting efforts, including the 2013 Rim Fire.
“He was always out there protecting,” Jenny Burns said. “He did that in the Army and carried it through his entire life.”
As a Little League coach, Jenny Burns said her late husband emphasized the importance of hard work and respect both on and off the field.
She said he also took a number of kids with special needs under his wing.
“The kids who played for him absolutely loved him,” Jenny Burns said. “He was hard on them but helped them better their game. He was never about lip service, he was about hard work.”
One of the players Greg Burns coached over the years was his own son, Sam, 20, who now plays baseball at Merced College.
Greg Burns is also survived by his daughters, Emma, 17, Heidi, 21, and stepchildren Zac Broxham, 24, and Hayley Broxham, 19.
Jenny Burns said the Armstrongs and other friends have been a “tremendous support team” for her and her family.
“It’s going to be a long time for the healing process to begin, but to have my husband honored the way he has been throughout this county really goes to show that he made a huge impact and left a huge void that can’t be filled,” she said. “No one could ever fill his shoes, ever.”
Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uninodemocrat or (209) 588-4530.