MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- There are more than 30 players on the UW-Milwaukee baseball team, but none of them is as happy to be there as one local product, who is happy to be anywhere.
Scott Doffek is in his 21st season coaching basketball at UWM. He pretty much knows the drill. When a player asks to meet with him in late summer, it's usually about a workout plan for the fall or playing time for the upcoming season -- something along those lines. In August 2014, Sam Kohnke told Doffek he had cancer.
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"He just said it straight out -- 'this is where I'm at,' and from the moment he said it, you could see the attitude of 'this is just another obstacle,'" Doffek said.
Kohnke has a history of tackling obstacles. From Nicolet High School, he went to UW-Whitewater, but he then transferred to UWM for graphic design and made the Panthers baseball team as a walk-on catcher/pitcher. Poised to enjoy his senior year, he was diagnosed with Stage Two Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was then faced with eight chemotherapy treatments over four months.
"It definitely beats you down. There's about three or four days in there when you feel pretty crappy -- not much you want to do, quite nauseous, but I knew that it was just, I knew I had to get through the first one and then focus on the next one and it was just kind of checking off checkmarks in the book -- like I've got to get through eight of these," Kohnke said.
Kohnke made it through and is now in remission. His joy over being back in his baseball uniform is obvious.
"To have the attitude that he does every single day is just pretty cool," Doffek said.
Before any game, the Panthers share the field with their opponent. Kohnke has already taken on the toughest foe he'll ever face -- cancer, and he's come out of the battle a better man.
"100% better. I think I've gained a lot of new found knowledge and appreciation for life -- to know that it could be taken away so quickly. The little moments are really cool and I try to teach or instill that the idea of life is precious and you need to live every day, and it sounds incredibly cliche, but moments are important and they can become special," Kohnke said.
"You can look at it as unfortunate to be put in his situation when you're young, or you can look at it as fortunate, because now, the rest of his life, I think he's going to have a different understanding of what actually is important, and I'm hopeful that that lesson resonates with all of our guys," Doffek said.
Doffek speaks from a personal perspective -- having lost a brother to cancer when he was in his 20s. The coach is squarely in Kohnke's corner.
"You know, he hasn't had a lot of opportunity to play much since he's been here in the last year-and-a-half, but I won't be surprised if there's a game coming up where he's a factor and he makes a big difference in a ballgame. And when that moment comes, I can guarantee you he's not thinking about the time he spent getting chemo or radiation. He's just one of us -- trying to win a ballgame," Doffek said.
The UW-Milwaukee Panthers are having a strong season, and Kohnke is hopeful he can help them in any way possible to maintain their success throughout the season. After graduation, he plans to become a graphic designer and work in Milwaukee. He already has a job offer stemming from an internship.