By Jason Bohne
In the fall of 1985, a former NCAA track athlete began graduate studies at Idaho State and proposed a master’s thesis project to research best practices for running a good track and field meet. Little did that student, or his professors know how that thesis would be put into practice over the decades that followed, creating opportunities for tens of thousands of high school athletes while helping build Simplot Games into not just a good meet, but one of the nation’s premier track and field meets.
That graduate student was current Simplot Games meet director Greg Burch, the 2023 Spirit of the Games Award honoree. Established in 2009, the Spirit of the Games Award is presented in memory of J.R. Simplot in recognition of distinguished commitment to Simplot Games.
Greg grew up in southern Idaho and was a standout athlete at Burley High School. He went on to run for the College of Southern Idaho, and then for Idaho State, where he was the 1983 Big Sky Conference 500-meter champion with a time of 1:03.61. He returned to Idaho State in 1985 to pursue a master’s degree in athletic administration and began volunteering with Simplot Games. He became the meet director in 1990. His principle as meet director has been “do the best you can, and then improve next year.”
He has meticulously refined the meet’s schedule to account for any number of variables. Despite the logistical challenges of shepherding thousands of athletes across dozens of events on the track and in the field, Greg ensures the event runs on time so that athletes can be confident in their start times and ready to compete at their best.
“He knew how frustrating it was to get all warmed up and ready for a race, and then be told they were behind and his race wouldn’t start for another half hour,” says Tammy Burch, Greg’s wife of 37 years. “He works hard to put together a quality meet that is exciting to watch.”
Jim Spier, the longtime meet director of the New Balance Nationals indoor and outdoor track and field championships, said that Simplot Games is “the best organized track and field meet in the country.”
During the event, Burch can be seen all around Holt Arena, making sure that everything and everyone is in place for a successful event. No detail is too small, and none go unnoticed. For two decades as meet director, he worked closely with then-Simplot Games Executive Director Carol Lish in building the event from a regional track meet to the nationally recognized event it has become. For all the hard work, innovation, and attention to detail, she says Greg has never lost focus on athletes and their coaches.
“He always said that for some athletes this will be the biggest event they will get to experience, so let’s always be respectful, helpful, and kind,” Carol says. “Our unofficial motto was that we wanted to make it so everyone wanted to come back.”
Tammy sees his dedication to the athletes each year: “He loves being down there along the track, cheering them on and doing all he can to support them and help them succeed.”
Greg’s family has always been part of the event, volunteering in various capacities. His children now organize and manage the awards area. “As soon as he felt they were old enough to help, he put them to work,” Tammy says. “It’s something they all look forward to. They’ve had a lot of cool experiences over the years.”
The 2023 Games will be extra special for Greg after two years of cancellations because of the COVID-19 pandemic—and because his youngest son, high school senior Brody, will compete in the
800 meters and attempt to make the medals area a family reunion. Thanks to Greg’s dedication, innovation, and enthusiasm as meet director, countless others have had their own cool experiences at Simplot Games both on and off the track. For all of this, and more, Greg Burch truly exemplifies the Spirit of the Games.