KINGSTON, R.I. – April 25, 2011 – Wishes made when blowing out birthday candles rarely come true. That’s not the case for Michael Tanke.
Tanke, a senior from Niles, Mich., has dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player since he realized his love of the game and made this his lifetime goal. Starting the game when he was 3, Tanke grew to love soccer, itching to fit in as much playing time as possible.
“My parents got me involved when I was young, but by the time I was 8, I was begging my parents to let me play on more and more teams,” said Tanke, admitting at one point, he played for 5 teams. “I remember Saturdays when I would have games from early morning to late at night, all for different teams.”
Tanke’s carried his enthusiasm for soccer into his college career, looking at schools with not only distinguished teams, but coaches as well. When he visited the University of Rhode Island, coach John O’Connor met Tanke’s expectations.
“A huge part of me coming to URI was for soccer, but not just for the winning records and the playing facilities, but the team and coaching staff. Coach O’Connor had the attitude and personality of a coach I wanted and knew I could play for,” said Tanke.
O’Connor was a driving force in recruiting Tanke after seeing his talent at a summer camp.
“When I was appointed head coach replacing Ed Bradley, I was going through the files of recruits and found a letter from Michael with his interest in URI,” said O’Connor. “I knew then I had to have him in my first class of Rhody Rams.”
Tanke has lived up to O’Connor’s expectations and has grown into a powerful midfielder, starting in all 18 games of his senior year.
Although he has excelled in academics, Tanke acknowledges the difficulty of fitting in time to study during his intense traveling schedule during the regular season, and demanding practice schedule during the off season.
“Sometimes, if there are things you need to work on for soccer, that takes priority over homework. You just need to find time to fit that in. It’s easy to find the balance between athletics, school, and having a social life, but it’s hard to find the motivation to actually do it,” said Tanke, who obviously has, maintaining a 3.4 grade point average and being named to the Dean’s List for most of his time at URI.
As a senior nutrition and dietetics major and international development minor, Tanke has managed to also apply his studies to soccer.
“I already had an interest in nutrition because I pay attention to what I eat due to soccer, but I also had an interest in international development since becoming aware of the Grassroot Soccer organization as a teenager,” said Tanke.
As part of his minor, he traveled to South Africa as part of the Cross Cultural Solutions organization; a volunteer program that helps address global issues and promotes education, childhood development and overall quality of life for diverse populations. Through this program, Tanke acted as a classroom aid for a low-income elementary school.
Along with completing the required classes and focusing on soccer, Tanke has also taken on various extracurricular activities such as URI 101 mentor, student-athlete orientation leader and GoRhody blogger. His blog, Tuesdays with Tanke, was a tongue-in-cheek examination of men’s soccer. The content focused less on the x’s, o’s, and play diagrams and instead takes a personal look at the team through his humorous point of view.
With May 22 commencement approaching, Tanke has not only been looking ahead to graduation, he is also realizing his childhood dream; playing professional soccer. During his final semester at URI, Tanke was signed with the Rochester Rhinos, a United Soccer League team based in Rochester, N.Y.
“My family and friends are all excited and happy for me. As much as this was a dream and a goal, there were times when I doubted myself and my ability,” Tanke said. “As a kid, it was certain I would someday play professional soccer, but in college, I started thinking about what would happen if this didn’t work out.”
Although his childhood dream has manifested itself, Tanke is still planning for the future after his soccer career.
“Right now playing soccer is my job and I’ll continue with it until I either move up to a different league or get cut. After that, I’m going to participate in Grassroot Soccer and then maybe think about graduate school or pursuing a career,” said Tanke.
Grassroots Soccer, a volunteer program in Africa, links the popularity of soccer with the local community to educate the population about HIV/AIDS and stop the spread of the virus.
“What Tanke has achieved as a student and athlete is not by mistake or sheer luck, but a result of hard work, dedication and ability to sacrifice to achieve his goals,” said O’Connor.
“From day one, he came to URI to get his degree and if the situation presented itself, make it as a professional. He has done one already and will do the other this May.”
While his coaches and peers point to his commitment to soccer as a driving force to his success, Tanke is more humble.
“I was never the best player on the team. I owe my success to my teammates and coaches who I looked up to and learned from,” he said. “URI has certainly helped me to achieve my goal of playing professional soccer and turned me from a high school to college-level player.”
Tanke will graduate not only with a diploma and athletic recognition, but a career opportunity that few will land.
URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.
This release was written by Alicia Blain, an intern in URI’s Department of Communications and Marketing and a public relations major.