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Navarre grateful for chance as Homestead hockey coach

Cancer survivor takes over this winter

June 19, 2012

Mequon - New Homestead hockey coach Tony Navarre is a grateful man.

Grateful for his job as a special-education teacher at the high school and grateful for his family, including wife and fellow teacher, Molly, and his young daughter, Adeline.

He is grateful for friends like fellow Homestead staff and coaches Steve O'Brien, Joe Ciurlik, Rich Dorn, Steve Manor, Ernie Millard and others for all their support and for all the effort they and others put into a vast fundraiser back in February that helped he and his family make it through difficult financial days during the deepest and darkest part of his cancer treatment.

Everyone was wearing "Team Navarre" T-shirts that night.

And he is especially grateful for his health as the hard, immune-system sapping treatments for his particular brand of cancer, the bone marrow-attacking Acute Myeloid Leukemia have given him a window of opportunity. He knows that his immune-system is not 100 percent yet, but the cancer has been beaten back for the time and he is feeling healthier by the day.

Healthy enough that his doctor has given him clearance to play a little adult league hockey as well as visit relatives and friends he couldn't over the winter holidays, because he was still so fragile back then.

Coaching a dream job

Above all, Navarre is grateful for the hope he has now been given, the opportunity at life that has been sent back his way. And the chance to coach again.

"I've always played hockey, always loved hockey," he said. "To be able to coach again is a dream. I always wanted to do this. Given what's happened in my life I didn't know when another chance would come my way, especially with a program as strong and well-established as Homestead's."

"It may have never come."

So he seized it.

Navarre takes over for Chris Donovan, who stepped down after four successful seasons to spend more time with his family and his position at the Ozaukee Ice Center. Navarre had been with the Homestead hockey program for six years including the last four as Donovan's assistant. He also spent time as junior varsity coach.

Navarre has also spent the last six years working closely with Dorn as an assistant for both the boys and girls soccer teams.

A signature team

It is because of that support and trust that Homestead Athletic Director Ryan Mangan and the rest of the selection committee took a flier on Navarre and his questionable health in giving over to him one of the school's signature athletic teams.

Another point of gratitude for Navarre.

"When I found out that the position was going to become available, I went to Ryan right away," Navarre said. "I first had to give notice to him and the school that I was intending to come back to work in the fall (he had been off quite some time because of the illness).

"And Ryan was very open and honest about things. We would talk about how healthy I was and how I would be coming back to teach in the fall."

Mangan was not available for a direct quote, but noted in his news release, "Tony has been a great role model for the students of Homestead. He is taking the next step in his leadership of our hockey student/athletes.

"I am excited about his future and the future of the boys hockey program."

Things are looking up

As is Navarre, about the future of everything.

"My wife already has told me that I've hit the ground running," he said, "and that's fine by me. I just had my latest six-month appointment and everything was negative, which was a positive (laughs).

"And that's the amazing thing about it. I had a pretty bad case of AML and where it hit me the hardest was my lungs. When it happened, I was so weak, so out of breath, that Molly would have to help me through the door or even up a little set of stairs.

"There were days that I did say 'How was I going to do this (just live)?' "

The family had to live close to Froedtert Hospital well up on the north shore to facilitate his treatment, well away from their home and in a hotel. Hence, the huge bills, and the need for fundraisers. His mom helped out as a caregiver in that time.

"I don't ever know how I'll ever thank the Homestead hockey team or the girls soccer team or the basketball team or anyone else who has ever helped me," he said. "I'm just very lucky."

As noted, a grateful man.

He's anxious, ready to meet with the team, even though it's still two seasons away yet on the athletic calendar. He still can't play golf.

"The doctor said no unnecessary risks," Navarre said. "The immune system still needs some recovery time, but I can't wait to get back."

Especially now that he knows he has some time in which to work.

"It took me 28 years to get as strong and as healthy as I was (before the AML)," he said, "and I know it's going to take awhile to get back to being that healthy again, but I will."

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