FACETIME- 42-year snooze: Burley Bears wake from hibernation

Former Burley football player Jimmy Hollins seeks to reunite with fellow athletes through the Burley Varsity Club.

As an African-American kid growing up in the 1950s, Jimmy Hollins couldn't wait to attend Jackson P. Burley High School. Sure it was segregated, and sure it was built by the Albemarle School Board to prevent integration, and sure by 1961, the year he started, Charlottesville's Lane High School, had already been integrated.

So what was the big appeal?

"When I was a young kid, Burley football games were on the radio," says Hollins, 61, recalling that the Bears were undefeated in 1956. "Guys playing pick up games imagined they were a Burley player. I couldn't wait to get here to be on the football team."

Play football he did. His 1964 team was state runner-up. 

Students from Charlottesville and Albemarle's three separate Negro schools, as they were then called, plus Greene and Nelson county students came to Burley, some traveling over an hour to get to the school.

"The minute you became a member, it was like being in a fraternity or sorority," says Sherman White, class of '60. "It didn't matter where you were from. You'd just say 'Burley,' and there was a spirit of community."

In the course of remembering 50th anniversaries of Brown v. Board and other civil rights landmarks, it's easy to overlook how a school like Burley was the center of a community and the pride of its students then and today, more than 50 years later.

It wasn't all smiles. Hollins recalls the odd feeling of knowing he might not be welcome at Lane. And two years after he graduated as a proud member of the class of '65, Burley closed. Today, it's an Albemarle County middle school, despite its location on Rose Hill Drive in the middle of Charlottesville.

Hollins went to trade school in South Carolina, got drafted, and worked for Amtrak for 30 years before retiring with a permanent disability. After a long hibernation, a few of the mighty Burley Bears football players got together last summer and toyed with an idea.

"Why don't we get all the athletes together?" recounts Hollins. Thus was born the nonprofit, Burley Varsity Clubwith Hollins as president and White as publicist.

Currently, the club has nine members, but Hollins says it's open to anyone who was a Burley athlete. That includes the women's basketball and tennis teams– and the cheerleaders.

The Club's first initiative is donating a trophy case to the school. They'll conduct a small ceremony May 28, and all Burley alums are invited. Next they want to replace the trophies won by the champion Bears. "Anyone can contribute," reminds Hollins. "It's tax deductible."

One thing he won't be able to replace: the Burley Bears kelly green and old gold colors. "They're the Henley colors now," Hollins notes.



Dear Lisa:

Thaanks ever so much for a wonderful story about the Burley Varsity Club. Hopefully some of your readers will remember Burley's 16 years of glory from 1951 - 1967 as this school was the very centerpiece and pride of Charlottesville-Albemarle's Black comminity!

Sherman White
J.P. Burley H.S.
Class of 1960

I also enjoyed that story very much since my hs school wasn't given much notice in the media doing the time of it's existence.