John Burke has been coaching a Waukesha Catholic Memorial girls soccer team that remains among the best in the state. This week, he became the winningest girls soccer coach in state history.
But he's coaching with a mighty heavy heart these days.
Earlier this year, his 2-year-old Molly was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The result was the start of a 29-day course of chemotherapy and steroid treatment.
He was told his daughter will need to stay in the program for about three years. There was 81 percent cancer in her blood at the start. Burke said the treatment has knocked the level of cancer in her blood to one percent.
“She's doing as well as can be expected with the chemo,” Burke said. “It's tough because she's only two and she really doesn't know what's going on. She's going through it.”
It was diagnosed on Feb. 18.
“My team has been very supportive. They've helped to babysit my other kids and take them to school. That's made it manageable. I have two other daughters and the team has been very good to them,” Burke said. “With leukemia they have to make (Molly) very sick to in order to get her better. They have to take her immune system down to dangerous levels. So you're always worried. If she picks up anything while her immune system is so low, things could turn bad quickly.”
Molly watched her dad get his 300th career victory at the school earlier this season when Catholic Memorial beat St. Thomas More.
His other daughters, 11-year-old Maureen and 4-year-old Maggie, cut their hair in sympathy for Molly's chemo-induced hair loss.
“It's just so nerve racking, day-to-day, you just don't know what to expect,” Burke said.
“We've all supported him,” sophomore Valerie Gonyo said. “We started a fund-raiser. We've become closer as a team. We stay strong and we hope for the best for her. We stay positive about the situation.”
Burke, who teaches English at the high school, has coached the soccer team 15 seasons and has guided the school to six state titles, including in 2006 and 2007.
The team was 25-3 last season and is off to a 15-1-1 start. Most of Burke's players returned this season for the Division 2 squad.
Sophomore Gonyo has been a joy to watch for Burke. She has 16 goals and five assists this season, and 99 career points. She had 28 goals as a freshman.
“Because she's just a sophomore, she's on track to become only the third player (in school history) to get to 200 points,” Burke said. “One of those players (Leslie Osborne) played for the U.S. National team.”
“I'm versatile with both feet,” Gonyo said. “Whenever I see a shot, I take it. Half the time, I've been lucky and it's gone in.”