Bourgade Catholic’s baseball coach Greg Henke, who died Thursday at age 52, left an impact on generations of Bourgade students and baseball players. (Richard Obert/azcentral sports)
A sign was dropped off behind the backstop moments before Monday’s first step to recovery for Phoenix Bourgade Catholic’s baseball team.
“We (heart symbol) You Mr. Henke,” it read.
The flag was at at half staff, as Bourgade and visiting Phoenix Christian players and coaches met behind home plate before the game, Bourgade’s first since the death of 18-year head coach coach Greg Henke last Thursday at the age of 52.
Bourgade’s softball players, led by coach JinHee, gathered into the tiny stands before the game just for the start of the game. They then left for their practice. Huff’s office was next to Henke’s in the counseling department at the school.
Several alumni, some dating to 1993, who remembered the impact Henke had on them as a student and a baseball player, were on hand to lend support.
Father Kurt Perera led the teams in prayer and dedication of the game to Henke, a fixture at Bourgade since 1988, fresh out of the University of Notre Dame.
“He made such an impact and influence in their lives,” Father Perera said. “They knew that he always expected excellence. They want to play for him. But obviously they’re sad, because they miss him. They are down because of that.”
Bourgade lost 9-0 to its rival, after which players came together in left field and listened to interim coach Ryan Lemke, who teaches off-campus.
Players and students have been provided grieving counselors since Henke’s death.
They voted not to play Friday’s game against Glendale Joy Christian. That game is being rescheduled for later in the season.
“It was absolutely a tough game to play,” Lemke said. “Trying to come back to something like that is a tough thing to do.
“Today was our first step and we try to move past it.”
Players had “G.T. 19” (Henke’s jersey number) embroidered in gold on the sides of their caps.
They’re going to be getting patches for their uniforms soon, dedicating the rest of the year to Henke.
Senior utility player Sam Estfan said it was hard to come out and play baseball with Henke weighing on their minds.
“We know he’s up there looking at us,” Estfan said. “We’re out here playing some baseball. We’re just trying to do our best.”
Senior infielder Sam Rivera said Henke’s death has brought the team closer.
“We know now that every time we’re on that field it’s for Coach Henke,” Rivera said.
Richard Lynch, a 1993 Bourgade graduate, was left with such an impact from Henke that he had to be there for the school’s first game since the beloved coach’s death.
“It’s stuff that doesn’t go away,” Lynch said. “They’re feeling it. Some of my former classmates, they have kids coming through here now. It’s a generational thing. He left such a legacy.”
Principal Kathy Rother said the school tried to return to a sense of normalcy on Monday.
There are 11 seniors on the team, which fell to 5-6 after Monday’s loss. Henke was more than their coach. He was their counselor, giving them direction on how to embrace the world after high school.
“His primary role here was as a counselor, and that counseling position is key to so many kids,” Rother said. “He would get them through high school. It was his thing. Especially the seniors, in their last year. He’d get them to stay on the right track.
“He was a full human being, a role model to a lot of these kids.”
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Luke Dreher, who graduated last May and played catcher for Henke’s team last season, stood near the dugout and gave well wishes to players as they came out to retrieve foul balls.
He remembered a man who kept everybody loose with his calm voice and humor.
“I think more importantly he taught us how baseball related to us,” Dreher said. “His priority was basically school before sports. I always appreciated his help.”
This is the first step to healing, playing the game.
No matter how many counselors they speak to, the players know it’s about their bond and their coaches’ voices that will get them through.
“There are counselors around to see what we need, but the best thing we have is each other,” Estfan said. “We’re trying to get together and get through the day the best we can.”