A champion rower and 1939 recipient of the Sullivan Award as the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States, Joe Burk left his mark on the sport of crew as a coach.
As a competitor, Burk was the national single sculls champion four years in a row (1937-40) and two-time winner of the Diamond Sculls at England’s Henley Regatta (1938-39). He captained Pennsylvania’s crew team of 1936.
He returned to coach at Pennsylvania in 1951, and remained through 1969. Overall, he coached three crews at England’s Henley Regatta with his 195 squad emerging victorious. His 1968 varsity eight won the IRA championship, the first time Pennsylvania had won the title since 1900. Burk was also a training innovator, initiating weight and interval training programs that were not commonly in use in the 1950s and 1960s. He once described himself as a coach by saying: ‘I’m rather exacting in my demands and require utter dedication. I don’t get out the whip and beat them, but they have to want to row very hard and very much.”