BROOKFIELD – Luke Homan loved the game. And he didn’t cheat it.
If you want to sum up the former Brookfield Central (Wis.) standout’s athletic career, those would be two good places to start.
“He didn’t back away from the big moment or anything like that,” his father, Jerry, said. “He always loved playing.”
That would sound right to those who played with or watched Homan. He was the quarterback and kicker on the Lancers’ 2002 state final football team. In basketball, he played in three state tournaments and was a starter on the teams that reached Madison in 2002 and ’03.
Today he is part of the area’s basketball lore.
It has been 16 years since Homan graduated high school and 13 years since he drowned in Mississippi River during his senior year at UW-La Crosse.
He was just 21, someone who died too soon but showed that a long life isn’t necessary to make a lasting impact. You don’t have to tell that to Homan’s friends and family, but the never-ending cycle of new basketball players and parents who come to the Luke Homan Showcase each year – as they did Saturday – probably don’t have much of an idea about the guy after whom the event is named.
“As you get older everyone matures in a different way and he just matured in such a nice way,” his mother, Patti, said. “Little kids have their moments when they can be just brats and he certainly had his but know that we were very proud of him and the things he accomplished.”
Although Luke was the son of a former Marquette University basketball player, Luke’s parents always thought his build better suit him for football or baseball. Basketball was his first love, though, and he was pretty good.
A 6-foot-6 sharp-shooting guard with great range, Homan averaged 18.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and four assists per game as a senior. The Journal Sentinel made him first-team all-area and honorable mention all-state that year.
He accepted an invitation from Bruce Pearl to join UW-Milwaukee’s program as a walk-on, but the combination of little playing time during his first two seasons and Pearl’s departure to Tennessee made Homan rethink his dream of playing at the Division I level. He decided to transfer and join UW-La Crosse’s program where the next season he played in all 28 games and helped the program win 20 games for the first time in more than 20 years.
It was the first semester of his senior year when he went missing on a Friday night in late September. His body was found in the river on Monday.
For a parent, it was the ultimate nightmare, but in the midst of tragedy came letters, emails and calls.
One person told the story of how Luke, while coaching youth soccer, paid the fees of a kid who desperately wanted to play but didn’t have the funds to make it happen. A classmate from Central related how Luke made a point of always speaking to her, an act of kindness that made life a little easier for a quiet kid who was still trying to figure things out.
One of Luke’s closest friends asked Jerry and Patti to be his godparents when he was baptized. Another sends Patti flowers every Mother’s Day. And most of his buddies show up to the annual Luke Homan Golf tournament, which has raised over $1 million for various charities in just 12 years.
“They’re very special. Really special,” Patti said. “After he died, they all clung to me. ‘I’ll be your son,’ that kind of stuff. It’s been very admirable of them. They’ve supported us through thick and thin.”
That love and support is part of the reason the couple look forward to the showcase and golf tournament each year. After each game this year at least one of the two was on hand to present the players of the game with a T-shirt.
Jerry, of course, would rather be in the stands with his son watching the games and checking out players the way they used to. Jerry still watches a lot of games – he is an assistant junior varsity coach for Central – and if he is asked, he’ll explain the spirit with which his son played the game.
“I talked to Brookfield Central before the game (Saturday) and I said the two things I remember about Luke the most is his love and passion for both basketball and kids he played with,” Jerry said. “His thought was if you’re going to be doing this, if you’re going to put in all the time practicing that when you go out and play there is no reason that you don’t go and play as hard as you can.”