Parma Western's Luke Raczkowski has late mother to thank for so much

Parma Western's Luke Raczkowski has late mother to thank for so much


Parma Western's Luke Raczkowski has late mother to thank for so much


Parma Western high schools JV coach Mark Raczkowski (center) with his sons Luke Raczkowski (left) and Landon Raczkowski (right)Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at Parma Western high school in Parma MI. Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press

Parma Western high schools JV coach Mark Raczkowski (center) with his sons Luke Raczkowski (left) and Landon Raczkowski (right)Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at Parma Western high school in Parma MI. Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press

PARMA Luke Raczkowski doesn’t recall the last time he sat in the room when his father spoke to a reporter.

“I don’t remember anything,” the 17-year-old senior at Parma Western said. “I was pretty young.”

He was still in diapers. Luke was 10-months-old when his father, Mark, spoke to a reporter about the best and worst season of his coaching career.

That was ages ago for Luke, a running back and safety on the Western football team and a two-time all-state wrestler.

Also on the Western varsity is Landon, Luke’s freshman brother, who is an outside linebacker – and an added twist to the story.

In 1999, Mark Raczkowski was the head coach at nearby East Jackson, in the process of guiding the team to its first state playoff appearance in school history. East Jackson hadn’t even won a conference title since the 1950s.

While coaching had never been more fun for Raczkowski, each day was a struggle for him to just get out of bed.

The day after the team’s preseason scrimmage, Raczkowski and daughter Logan, who was four at the time, flew to Minnesota to see Pam, Raczkowski’s wife, and Luke. Pam was in the process of losing her battle with cancer. After she died, suddenly Raczkowski was alone with two young children and he couldn’t quite figure out how he was going to make it through each day.

Because he is quiet, Luke never asked a lot of questions about his mom, relying on his father to fill in the blanks, which he did. But as the years have gone on, Luke doesn’t remember a lot of the details.

“I’ve wondered, but just really never asked,” he said. “I wonder what she was like, the usual stuff.”

Well, here is what she was like.

It was Pam’s second bout with cancer. In 1996, about a year after Logan was born, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and underwent 12 cycles of chemotherapy.

She was in remission when she asked if she could have another child and was given the OK. But 26 weeks into her pregnancy with Luke, she felt a pain in her shoulder blade, which turned out to be a malignant tumor behind her right lung.

Luke listened intently as his father retold the story. He was aware of most of what happened, but not everything.

For instance, Luke was unaware that doctors told Pam she should terminate the pregnancy.

Luke’s head popped up when he heard this and his face became flush.

“I didn’t know that,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m thankful. That’s shocking.”

The thought of terminating the pregnancy was unacceptable to Pam. She simply wouldn’t hear of it, although most people close to her encouraged her to do it.

“She was very determined: ‘We’re not terminating!’ ” Raczkowski said. “She never would let it happen.”

Then Raczkowski turned to Luke.

“Sorry, son,” he said, “I was the one who wanted to. So you’re truly a miracle baby, whether you think so or not. Truly a miracle.”

Luke laughed because he knows how devoted his father is to him. How he has coached him in soccer and wrestling and football and how the two are terrific friends.

Pam is the mother of Logan and Luke, but she is not the one they call mom. That would be Christy, who married Raczkowski over two years after Pam’s death.

It wasn’t long after Christy and Raczkowski began dating that he introduced her to Logan and Luke.

“That’s how he sucked me in,” Christy said. “He had me meet his kids right away and that was it, I was a goner.”

Christy made it her mission to keep Pam’s memory alive in her children with pictures and stories.

“Christy was the one who said she needed to make sure that they know all about it,” Raczkowski said. “She is the one who talked to them about it. She was the one that wanted pictures of Pam in their room. She was the one that told stories to them when they were young. She said they didn’t have to call her mom if they didn’t feel comfortable with it.”

Both Logan and Luke call Christy mom, and they have been told about their mother.

“I think it’s really important that they know she’s their mom in heaven,” Christy said. “Luke doesn’t have any memory of her. It was really important to me that they always knew about her and remembered her. They both have pictures of her holding them when they were little. Her dad is a huge part of our life, and his brother is also, and they have been from the beginning.”

Christy and Mark have two other children, Landon and Lincoln, a seventh-grader, and it isn’t an accident that both of their names begin with the letter “L.”

The Raczkowski family has a tradition of all of their children having the same initials, and Christy didn’t want to change anything.

“It was the same with religion,” she said. “I’m Lutheran, they’re Catholic. I didn’t want there to be any difference so Landon and Lincoln are also Catholic.”

Luke and Landon get along like typical brothers.

“We argue and stuff,” Luke said, “but it’s all good at the end of the day.”

Raczkowski is now Parma Western’s junior varsity coach, and having Landon called up to the varsity and play defense alongside Luke is a dream come true for the veteran coach. He has noticed in games when Luke gives London a congratulatory helmet-bump after a good play and how they high-five each other after big plays.

“When my ninth grade son got moved up to varsity – that was the top of everything,” he said. “You’re watching two sons play together on varsity.”

Over the years, Raczkowski has many terrific memories watching Luke compete. In each of the last two wrestling seasons, Luke has lost to the eventual state champ while earning all-state honors.

“He is much better than I ever was,” said Raczkowski said. “We argue all the time. I tell him I was only sixth, but I was Class A and he’s only Division 2, Class B. But he’s really good.”

In addition to football and wrestling, Luke also competes in track. He has difficulty choosing a favorite sport.

“Whatever sport we’re in,” he said with a shrug. “I probably like football more because I like the team aspect of it. I like wrestling because it relies on me, but I also like playing with the team and having other people, not just me, and having me do it all. It’s fun winning as a team.”

This season, Luke has gained 540 yards with five touchdowns on 87 carries while catching 12 passes for 148 yards and a TD and recording 54 tackles.

“Luke is just a great high school football player,” said Western coach Dave Mifsud. “He’s 5-7, 155 pounds, but he’s got great balance and great shiftiness. He has a nose for the ball. He’s just fun to watch.”

Better yet, he is fun to coach, the kind of kid that makes coaching worthwhile. He is a “yes sir, no sir” type who does his job without any drama.

He is quiet and unassuming and just happy to be part of a team, which may be part of the reason he was elected the school’s homecoming king.

“Luke is almost nice to a fault,” Mifsud said. “He’s a wonderful kid and he’s a pleaser. He wants to please everyone and he wants everyone to like him. He’s just a great kid.”

Although he has no memory of East Jackson’s 1999 season, Luke can identify with it after last season. A year ago, Parma Western made the state playoffs for the first time in school history – and he was right in the middle of everything.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I knew going into the season we had a chance and once we did it, it was the best day of my life, probably.”

It has been a life well-lived. A life made possible by a mother who didn’t listen to her doctors when instructed to terminate her pregnancy.

“I wouldn’t be here,” Luke said, almost overwhelmed by the thought of it. “It’s weird. I’m lucky I’m here.”

Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1


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