BRISTOL, R.I. – Student-athletes’ schedules differ from that of the typical college student. They have to balance a full course load, practice, lifts, film sessions and games. It’s tough to find time for themselves, let alone others.
The RWU baseball team falls into this category, but with compassion and determination, they stepped away from their busy schedule to help out Cory Burke, who is suffering from Ewing’s Sarcoma. Cory is a 12-year-old youth baseball player from Bristol who has a strong love for the game.
“The kid would walk through a wall for you, and he’s just one of those die-hard players,” says Joseph Simeone, Cory’s baseball coach and an adjunct professor at Roger Williams.
Cory plays for the King Philip Little League and the AAU East Bay Bulldogs. He was suffering from a sore throwing arm during his 2012 all-stars summer season with the Bulldogs but continued playing. One day the nagging pain became too much for Cory – he couldn’t throw at practice anymore, so he decided to go see a doctor for some answers.
After an x-ray, doctors saw a stress fracture in Cory’s shoulder, something that could be healed with physical therapy and rest. But the bone wasn’t healing, and the pain continued without any progress. With more tests and an MRI, doctors discovered the worst – a tumor in his knee, head and arm. Cory was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, and began his first round of chemotherapy at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston in the fall, followed by radiation a few months later.
“It was real tough at first,” says Jerry Burke, Cory’s father. “But after you get past the initial shock, you just try to think positive. That’s what we continue to do.”
Ewing’s Sarcoma can occur at any point during childhood and young adulthood, but it typically develops during puberty, when bones are growing rapidly. The tumor may start anywhere in the body, usually in the bones of the arms and legs, pelvis or the chest. The tumor often spreads to the lungs and other bones. Cory’s started in his arm and spread throughout his body.
Simeone was devastated by the news and wanted to find a way to cheer Cory up, even if it was only for a couple of hours out of a single day. Simeone had two students in his class, Chris Travers and Joe Hock, sophomore catchers on the baseball team, who both reminded him of Cory.
“They have that bulldog mentality that Cory does, and they really reminded me of him as I got to know them,” Simeone says about Travers and Hock.
Simeone met with the pair after class, shared Cory’s story and asked them if they could do anything for him – even just to send him a text message to brighten up his day. Travers and Hock told Simeone they would come up with something. They just needed time.
After the winter holiday break, Travers and Hock came back with a plan. They brought the story to their coach, Derek Carlson, and told him that they were touched by Cory’s story and it was really important to them for Cory to come by a practice so the team could spend a day with him.
“We’re lucky to do what we do and play baseball here, and we should be able to take time out of our lives and give this kid a couple hours,” Hock says.
Before leaving for their Spring Break trip to Florida, the RWU baseball team held their annual intra-squad scrimmage on the Bayside Turf Field, with one special fan watching – Cory Burke.
Cory’s father, Jerry, and coach Simeone attended the scrimmage, too, and sat back and watched as the team took Cory in as one of their own.
“These guys didn’t know Cory, and they didn’t have to do this,” Jerry Burke says. “What they did for him was amazing. They are great kids.”
Travers and Hock introduced Cory to the team and told them his story. Throughout the day, every single player on the team gave Cory a hug, handshake and pat on the back.
“Every time they walked by Cory they would say something to him and pat him on the back,” Simeone says. “They didn’t even know who Cory was, and they did all this for him. It was very special.”
The team presented Cory with his own RWU baseball jersey with his name and number, 12, stitched on the back. They also got him a RWU baseball hat that he wears all the time.
“Cory doesn’t really like to show his scars from radiation when he’s around his friends, but the night we gave out jerseys for our team, Cory showed up with that RWU hat on, and you could see the scars and he didn’t care at all,” says Simeone.
Cory gave the RWU team red bracelets with black writing that say “Cory Won’t Fight Alone.” All of the players and coaches continue to wear them every day.
Cory is still in the middle of chemotherapy and radiation and has to drive up to Boston with his parents almost every day for treatment. It’s an ongoing process that takes time and wears him down mentally and physically. But Cory’s attitude and resilience to never quit has him believing that he’ll be back out on the diamond soon.
“What shocked me the most was just how upbeat he was,” Travers says about Cory. “He wasn’t down in the dumps or anything and talking about it didn’t bother him. He was so positive and loved being there.”
Cory’s little league season recently started. For now, he can only watch as his friends take the field.
“It’s really tough for him right now because he lives for baseball and he really wants to be out there playing,” Jerry Burke says.
But earlier this month, Cory summoned enough strength and courage to throw a baseball for the first time in over a year. On Saturday, April 13, with flashes going off and the fans cheering him on, he walked out to the pitcher’s mound at Roger Williams University and threw the first pitch at the RWU baseball doubleheader against Eastern Nazarene.
“It was a great thing to see and he’s still not there yet but just seeing that small thing was awesome,” says Simeone.
“It was awesome,” says Jerry Burke. “It was a great day and people were taking pictures and he shook all the guys’ hands.”
Cory’s family wasn’t the only ones cheering him on. His entire AAU baseball team lined up with the RWU team, cheering him on as he threw his first pitch.
Cory has been through a lot over the course of the year for a 12 year old. He has been getting constant chemo and radiation treatments, as well as blood transfusions, and has lost a decent amount of weight because of it. He is going back and forth from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and home, an exhausting travel schedule. But he continues to fight and is gaining back the weight and strength that he lost. He doesn’t believe in giving up and is ready to take on the remainder of his challenge.
“It’s tough at a young age to go through something like this,” says Jerry Burke. “You never want to take anything for granted, but once this is over and Cory gets through this, he can get through anything in life.”
To learn more about Cory's story, visit http://www.corywontfightalone.com.