Homecoming sweet for Shelburne’s Jay Burnham

  • Shelburne native Jay Burnham, left, calls UMass action earlier this season against UMass-Lowell. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Jay Burnham began his new gig as UMass men’s basketball play-by-play voice earlier this month. The Shelburne native graduated from Mohawk in 1999. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/4/2018 11:13:44 PM

Shelburne native Jay Burnham has a lot of memories at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

During his teenage years in the 1990s, Burnham would attend UMass men’s basketball games, which came during the height of the program, as forward Marcus Camby and coach John Calipari helped make the Minutemen one of the premiere programs in the country. In fact, the 1999 Mohawk Trail Regional High School graduate spent a good amount of time inside Mullins growing up.

“We used to go to a lot of hockey games and bang on the glass,” he recalled. “And the second concert I ever saw was Green Day at the Mullins Center.”

Burnham had not been in the Mullins Center in years prior to a few weeks ago but he will be spending a lot more time inside the arena this winter as the new play-by-play voice of the Minutemen men’s basketball team.

The job opening came about quickly, after former men’s basketball play-by-play broadcaster Josh Maurer left to take the same job at Boston College. Maurer, who was also the lead broadcaster for UMass football, finished out the football regular season, but at the moment there was no word about the future of that broadcasting job.

Stepping into the role of play-by-play for UMass hoops so quickly may have seemed daunting to some, but Burnham had the advantage of at least knowing the team a bit from his past role. He got his start in broadcasting working for Minor League Baseball teams, but in 2013 he began delving into other sports, including serving as the television play-by-play person for the men’s and women’s basketball teams at VCU. He also called games for Virginia Tech basketball on television, as well as men’s home basketball games at Longwood University, which is a small Division I school in Farmville, Va. Because of his experience with VCU, which plays in the Atlantic 10 along with UMass, Burnham knew many of the names when he arrived on campus.

“Fortunately, I’ve been in the league, so names like Holloway and Pipkins meant something to me,” he said. “One of the skill sets I’ve been able to hone is switching from one team to another.”

Burnham was also calling home football games for William & Mary, as well as women’s soccer game at Virginia Tech. In all, he did over 200 events last year.

After graduating from Mohawk in 1999, Burnham hopped on a plane and took off for Hawaii Pacific University, where he spent one year before eventually winding up at Elon University in North Carolina. During his time there, he spent a semester in Japan and it was then that he realized he wanted to find his way into baseball, which is no surprise to anyone who knew his grandfather Bill Burnham, who was referred to as “The No. 1 Tigers fan” in the area due to his love for the Detroit Tigers. Burnham’s father, also named Bill (who was a longtime teacher in the area), also loved baseball and was a committee member for the American Legion Post 81 baseball team prior to his passing in 2011. After his death, Post 81 chairman Bill Phelps began handing out the “William A. Burnham 10th Player Award” after each season to commemorate the man.

Jay Burnham’s first experience with the big leagues came during a summer break when he worked security and parked cars at Yankee Stadium. His first taste of broadcasting came in 2003 when he became the No. 2 voice for the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns of the South Atlantic League. After two years there, he assumed the No. 1 job in Pensacola, Fla, for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

He moved on to work for the Asheville (N.C.) Tourists and the Trenton (N.J.) Thunder and completed his sixth year working for the Richmond (Va.) Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. In 2011, Burnham was named Minor League Broadcaster of the Year, and in 2015, Baseball America recognized him as the best Major League broadcasting prospect.

While in Trenton in 2011, he actually hired Maurer to work the broadcasts along with him, and the two have remained friends.

Burnham said that it was a goal of his to get hired by a Division I athletic program. He said he loves calling Minor League Baseball games, but the atmosphere surrounding the college sports games is unmatched.

“I’ve enjoyed college sports immensely,” he explained. “There’s multiple reasons why, but there is a lot more energy in the game itself. In college basketball, one win can mean the difference between going to the tournament and not.”

Burnham will be in charge of not only calling UMass men’s basketball games, but he will also host the weekly radio UMass Insider Show Monday nights from 7 until 8 p.m., as well as host the UMass Insider Television show that appears bi-weekly on NESN.

And he will live back in the area he grew up in for the first time in nearly two decades, which he said is a nice addition, although not something he ever planned.

“I think it makes it a little more real,” Burnham concluded. “My wife (Cheyenne) and I have been on this journey and every time I’ve made a move and stepped forward in my career, she has been supportive.”

That journey has taken him home.

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