Eau Claire (WQOW) -- Given the stats on leukemia, Tony Navarre considers himself one of the lucky ones.
He's an Eau Claire Memorial high school grad who later student-taught at North H.S. Now, he's a teacher and coach at Homestead High School in Mequon.
It's estimated that nearly 50,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with leukemia this year, and the disease will be fatal for approximately half of those people.
Tony Navarre was back in Eau Claire Saturday to coach his Highlanders hockey team against his alma mater. Before the game, Navarre said he and assistant coach David Craig, another Memorial alum, were nervous, going up against their mentor, Memorial coach Mike Schwengler...but after everything Navarre has been through in his fight against leukemia.....he doesn't sweat the small stuff anymore.
Schwengler can recall Navarre's impact as a Old Abes player and captain.
"First year we get down there [to the state tournament], in '99, we're playing Madison Memorial," Schwengler says, "we're down 3-0, he picks up the puck in the 3rd period, skates it up ice and gets it down into their end, first thing he says when he comes to the bench is, hey, guys, they're not that good, if I can skate it down the ice, anybody can, you know, he did it from a smile from ear to ear, and he was a great leader, he was a captain for us, a phenomenal teammate, and a phenomenal kid."
That kid, is now an adult and a fellow head coach.
Navarre says, "And one of my captains actually said, 'Geez, Coach, when we go up to Eau Claire, who are you going to cheer for, us or Eau Claire Memorial?' I said, I'm a Highlander now, so I gotta stay with my guys at Homestead."
"You know, to be able to come back here," says Homestead senior forward Thomas Fazio, "with Coach Navarre, the first time back to where he played in high school, after all the things he went through, to share that first moment with him is pretty exciting."
What Tony Navarre has been through in these last few years was a faceoff against an incredibly tough opponent: leukemia.
"Two and a-half years ago he was in a coma," says Schwengler, "nobody knew what was going to happen."
What did happen was a successful bone-marrow transplant. Tony Navarre is now healthy.
"The sports community was huge in getting me healthy," says Navarre, "the basketball team did fundraisers at Homestead, the hockey team and soccer team came and helped with all the things that I couldn't do because I was too sick."
"We were able to help him a lot," Fazio says, "we did yard work for him, we also did a lot of fundraising by selling T-shirts, and I also know they also sold T-shirts all the way up here. To help him get through that whole experience that he went through, I know that made us as a team stronger, and when he came back to be our head coach, it's just made everyone a lot closer."
Tony Navarre says his battle with leukemia has given him a new perspective on life.
"You just try and focus on those good things in life that happen," Navarre says, "and the small victories and the successes that your players and your family and those kinds of things, it's been awesome."
In the game between Homestead and Eau Claire Memorial, the Highlanders players had their share of small victories and successes. But there weren't enough of those, as the Old Abes prevailed, 5-3. Chalk one up for the mentor, Schwengler, versus his pupil, Navarre.
"A lot of what I do I draw from him," says Navarre about Schwengler, "he was, you know, just an amazing influence on what I try and do with my team up at Homestead. I still call him coach, I want to be able to instill in my players what he was able to instill in me, just you know, a love of the game and a passion to play, and a passion to get better."
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