Friday, June 11, 2010

On Her Own Crusade

from WaukeshaNow.Com --

Novotny centerpiece of TOPSoccer program in Waukesha

Photo credit - Scott Ash
Catholic Memorial senior Kara Novotny (right) races down field during the match against Arrowhead at Waukesha South on May 18.
Waukesha Catholic Memorial senior defender Kara Novotny cited last year's come-from-behind victory against Waukesha West as her most memorable moment in four years with the storied Crusaders soccer program. But that memory and all others pale in comparison to her time with the TOPSoccer Program.

The past four years, Novotny has been a staple in the highly-successful program at CMH on Saturdays. Operated by Crusaders players and head coach John Burke, the program gives kids with special needs the chance to develop their soccer skills. Much more importantly, the program creates a lifetime relationship with top-shelf individuals such as Novotny, who hasn't missed a session.

Novotny has made connections with many of these kids, some in wheelchairs, some mentally and physically challenged.

"Kara's never missed a Saturday," Burke said. "Her devotion is unparalleled. She comes here and she's always early, setting up, serving these kids selflessly. She's a special person, able to connect with any one of these kids, and that's not always easy.

"If one of the kids is having a bad day and some of the coaches might be scared, I can call on Kara, and she'll take care of it."

The seventh-year program holds 20 dates per season.

"I had one parent come up to me and the beginning of the spring season and told me, 'My son, Jake, came into our bedroom in full uniform at 5:30 a.m. in the morning,'" relayed Burke. "Another parent told me her daughter gets up every Saturday morning during the program happier than any other day of the week."

In seven years, TOPSoccer in Waukesha has served more than 70 kids. Novotny's gotten to know a large group during her days as a mentor.

"I look forward to it," said the senior, poised to study mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin next fall. "It's great to see them develop their skills, but it's not just about soccer. Sometimes it's just about giving them a friend they can talk to. They're all special, and I've really enjoyed being part of it."

Novotny calls fellow defender, senior Ellen Chamberlin, her role model.

"It's completely the opposite; she's my role model," said Chamberlin, who will play women's soccer next fall at West Point. "I'm her sidekick. Kara's just incredible with the kids. She's pretty much incredible in general. She never gets down and she never has a bad thing to say about anyone or anything. She's a born leader. At our games, the ball girls revere Kara. She's so kind."

The Crusaders, who have three state titles since 2004 and consecutive losses in state-title games, face Pewaukee at 4 p.m. Thursday in a sectional semifinal.

"I love what coach Burke said," Novotny said. "He told us state championships are nice, but helping the TOPSoccer kids is what's most important in life."

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