A Family on Ice

Adam BursishMark Burish (’78 JD LAW) remembers the day his wife, Helen (’79 BS EDU, ’95 MA EDU), called him to say that a neighbor had encouraged her to take their two young children down to the rink and try skating for the first time. They would wear helmets and push chairs around the ice.

The notion caused him mild alarm. “I remember saying, ‘That’s hockey. I will not be a hockey parent.’” Suffice it to say he made peace with the notion, and the men’s and women’s hockey programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison became the beneficiaries in more ways than one.

Those two Burish youngsters – Adam (’08 BS L&S) and Nikki (’06 BS L&S) – grew into team leaders on NCAA Championship squads. Adam  has gone on to a National Hockey League career. Nikki, who played forward for the Badgers, is in her first year of medical school at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. And the family has established the Adam and Nikki Burish Family Scholarship to support Badger student-athletes for generations to come.

“Scholarship endowments like the Burishes have established are incredibly meaningful and critical to our department’s success. Generosity like they have demonstrated has a direct effect on our ability to make available the best possible experience to our student-athletes.”

Barry Alvarez, Athletic Director

“Scholarship endowments like the Burishes have established are incredibly meaningful and critical to our department’s success. Generosity like they have demonstrated has a direct effect on our ability to make available the best possible experience to our student-athletes,” said Athletic Director Barry Alvarez. “It shows how strong the bond between school and student-athlete can be. The academic and athletic success of our student-athletes is our top priority, and it is special when they feel moved to help the next generation of Badgers.”

Mark Burish recalled Adam and Nikki’s early days on ice. “Our kids loved playing hockey, from the very beginning,” he said. “The thing with hockey is, the skills are so difficult to master that the kids get a little better every time they are out there on the ice. That lets them see their progress.”

Adam is a year older than Nikki, so every other year when they were young the Burish children had a chance to play together. As for Dad’s early misgivings about being a hockey parent – with its many odd hours spent in chilly ice rinks – “I got over it,” he said. “In fact, we were part of the effort that helped start the Verona Ice Arena, now the Eagle’s Nest. Our hockey time was our family time together.”

Few of those times can match 2006, when both the Badger men’s and women’s teams won NCAA Championships. Adam had taken a year off from school to play a year of junior hockey for the Green Bay Gamblers, so he and Nikki were seniors that season.

“They were both captains, so they had some good-natured competition going back and forth,” Mark Burish said. “Helen and I joked that we would go to see whoever had the higher-ranked team at the time.”

In actuality, the location of the game made a big difference. If the Badger men were in Denver, the parents traveled to Colorado. If the women were at Dartmouth, it was hello, New Hampshire.

Dual championships

Adam and Nikki Burish

Adam Burish poses with his sister Nikki after beating the Boston College Eagles during the NCAA Frozen Four Finals.

The 2006 women’s team was the first to win its title. Mark Burish remembered what Nikki said at the time: “Adam’s team will win, because otherwise I would torture him for the rest of his life.”

Adam Burish recalled that night clearly. “I was so happy for Nikki when they won the national championship,” he said. “I remember we played that really intense three-overtime game in Green Bay to go to the Frozen Four, and she was playing for the title at the same time. It was the longest night I’d ever spent on the ice, and the first thing I did was check out how they had done.

“She called me, and I think I was more excited for her winning the title than I was for us,” he said. “To see your sibling be so passionate about something and succeed is really great. I got to see their trophy, but she said I couldn’t touch it until we had won one of our own.”

Mark Burish said the difference the UW-Madison made in all of their lives was a major factor when the family was considering endowing a scholarship. “We saw what the University and Badger hockey meant for our family,” he said. “School of course was very important, but sports were a big part of the equation. I think each parent, if a child is athletically involved, gets nervous about how sports might affect academics. In our family, the kids learned so many life lessons on the ice and in training.

“Adam says there are three ‘S’s’: school, sports and social life. You only have time for two of them,” Mark Burish said. “And our kids chose well. I think they got a richer education being athletes than they would have gotten otherwise.”

In fact, Nikki Burish came back to campus, took two years of science courses and started medical school in the fall of 2009. “Having a chance to play for your hometown university was always a dream of mine,” she said. “I learned a lot about pride, teamwork, friendship and life in general.”

All about being a Badger

Nikki Burish with her Parents

Nikki Burish with her parents, Helen and Mark Burish.

Adam Burish had one goal as a young hockey player. “For me, it wasn’t about getting to the National Hockey League,” he said. “I wanted to play for the Wisconsin Badgers. That’s what we did as a family. We’d be at the games every Friday and Saturday night, and I’d get the player’s autographs and collect sticks. I think my mom wanted to kill me because our garage was filled with broken sticks from the Badgers.”

“The University will always be an important place for me,” he said. “I come back to Madison to train in the summer and skate with those guys, and I always keep track with what they’re doing.”

Nikki Burish doesn’t get to as many games as she’d like to, but she has kept up with the team. She’s done color commentary for Badger women’s games on the Big Ten Network, including the outdoor Culver’s Classic at Camp Randall Stadium in February 2010, “so I get inside scoop on line combinations, which is pretty cool.”

Both former Badgers are proud the scholarship bears their names. “The University and the hockey programs taught us so much,” Nikki Burish said. “It’s really meaningful for us to give back.

Adam Burish agrees. “I’m in the NHL now, and I’m in a position where I can do something like this,” he said. ”We talked as a family, and for me it was a no-brainer. We decided it would be great to help out the program that gave my sister and me the opportunity to play hockey on scholarship. We’re the kind of family that if someone does something good for you, it’s your part to give back and make it possible for someone else to benefit.”