Running out to the field during a Woodward Academy baseball game, Matt Jones heard a voice coming from the dugout.
“Indy, Indiana Jones,” Kyle Burnat ’05 yelled, cheering on his teammate and close friend.
With a warm sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye, Burnat kept everything lively, energizing the whole team and keeping everyone loose, said Jim Minor, his baseball coach at Woodward.
A native of Atlanta and a 2001 graduate of Woodward Academy — a private school in an Atlanta suburb — Burnat continued his athletic pursuits at Yale as a pitcher on the varsity baseball team. With a 3.5 grade point average at Yale, Burnat was interested in politics and had planned to go to law school after graduation. But in the early morning hours of Jan. 17, Burnat was tragically killed in a car accident on Interstate 95, a crash that also claimed the lives of three of his Delta Kappa Epsilon brothers.
Burnat was a star pitcher on the baseball field, a leader in the classroom, and a role model to his peers — but if you knew Burnat, you also knew his modesty, friends said.
“He rarely talked about himself,” said Paul Pabst, one of Burnat’s friends who works for ESPN. “He never bragged about being good enough to play college baseball.”
On his first day of practice as a Yale freshman, Burnat reminded his teammates so much of Brian “Bo” Ivy ’01, they called him “Bo” from that day forward.
“Talking with Kyle’s parents this week was the first time I ever referred to him as Kyle,” said baseball captain and DKE member Steven Duke ’03. “He’s always ‘Boqueef’ to us.”
In addition to his athletic accomplishments, Burnat’s academic excellence carried him from Woodward to Yale.
During his Advanced Placement U.S. Government exam, Burnat — a senior who had been accepted early decision to Yale — finished the 70-question multiple choice section in a mere 15 minutes, said Jonathan Merrill, one of Burnat’s history teachers.
“I thought he was just blowing off the exam,” Merrill said. “But that summer, I found out that Kyle made a five on the exam. He was just that kind of student.”
Burnat had an uncanny ability to memorize obscure facts and once he heard something — anything — he could remember it years later, said Rusty Zaring, another one of Burnat’s history teachers at Woodward.
At Yale, Burnat was a top student with a wide range of writing styles, said English professor Timothy Robinson.
“In the aftermath of Sept. 11, he was quite calm, mature and rational, and he offered emotional support for his fellow students,” said Robinson, who taught Burnat in a freshman English class. “He stood tall on the mound; he kept his cool.”
For Robinson’s class, Burnat wrote a term paper on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Robinson said he was so impressed with Kyle’s efforts that he encouraged him to send it to organizations in Washington.
That summer, Burnat ended up in Washington as an intern for U.S. Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.). Burnat’s pitching talents took the Senate office softball team — the Peanut Quotas — to the playoffs, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Burnat had an interest in politics and was on track to apply to law school. After high school, he worked for Alston & Bird, a large Atlanta law firm.
When he was not studying or working out — Burnat loved lifting weights — he hung out with his brothers in DKE. Whenever Burnat would go to the DKE house on Lake Place, he would first go to Duke’s room and make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
In high school, Burnat got so embarrassed around girls that his face would turn bright red. But during his freshman year at Yale, Duke introduced Burnat to Toad’s Place. Duke said Burnat was initially shy around girls but definitely improved after a few more trips to the popular York Street hangout.
While Burnat enjoyed the upbeat social scene at Toad’s, he was more relaxed than his weekend activities might suggest.
A fan of oldies and country music, Burnat would listen to original Hank Williams records and sing along with them for hours.
“We always made fun of him because he blared oldies all the time,” Jones said. “That’s like what our parents listen to.”
Burnat always loved to eat. Jones remembers Burnat sprinting through the hallways of Woodward to get to the front of the cafeteria line, especially if Salisbury steak was served. Lee White, Burnat’s best friend in high school, remembered their frequent trips to the Waffle House — a popular Southern chain — after high school football games.
However, Burnat was as healthy as any young man could be. He drank orange juice, Gatorade and water religiously and stayed away from soft drinks. His father, Larry Burnat, said Kyle always skipped dessert.
But what Burnat valued more than anything were the friendships he made.
“What choked me up the most was him being with his friends, because that’s what meant the most to him,” said Larry Burnat, an Atlanta lawyer. “Kyle had the ability to have friends from all different backgrounds, all different levels of intelligence, just all over the lot. People who were very sophisticated and people who were country.”
Chris Freer, dean of students at Woodward, said it was appropriate that Burnat was with his fraternity brothers when the accident occurred because “he was everybody’s friend.”
“Kyle had an unselfish attitude of caring about others,” Freer said. “If you knew him, you would never forget him.”
Larry Burnat said Kyle always exceeded expectations — at home, on the field and in the classroom.
“If I had the opportunity to order a child off a menu, I couldn’t have gotten better,” Larry Burnat said. “He did so many things so well and he was always considerate and polite. He could be funny and laugh. What more could a father want?”
Kyle Burnat is survived by his father Larry, his mother Rita, and an older brother, Lawson.