Despite uncertainty with NFL lockout, Koenen keeps busy
June 23, 2011
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
DAVID RASBACH - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Thursday, June 23, marks the 100th day of the NFL's lockout of its players - the league's first work stoppage since 1987 and its longest ever.
Like every one of his peers, former Ferndale High School and Western Washington University standout Michael Koenen, who has served as the Atlanta Falcons' punter and kickoff specialist since he entered the league in 2005, has had the professional part of his life put on hold.
Put in limbo might be a more accurate description, as Koenen is one of 16 Falcons who was scheduled to be a free agent after last season, according to the team's website. Until the lockout comes to an end and the rules for this offseason have been set, Koenen, like all other NFL free agents this year, is unable to negotiate a new contract with Atlanta or any other team.
So Koenen, who said he receives weekly e-mail updates from Falcons player representative Coy Wire and alternate Tyson Clabo and keeps in touch with other teammates and friends in the league via texting, has decided to focus on other areas of his life, like spending time with his wife, Devin, and their two young children back home in Whatcom County.
"It's been a weird year. When we came back after the first of the year, we kind of anticipated that there would be a lockout," Koenen said last month. "We wanted to build a new house in the area, and I'm happy for the extra time I've been able to spend with my family. But I'm anxious for there to be a resolution so that we can get back to work and start playing again. I'm looking forward to seeing what's next for me in my career and moving forward."
As frustrating as the waiting and lockout have been professionally, Koenen said it's given him a chance to remember what he loves about competing - something he's always enjoyed, since long before he was playing for a paycheck.
"I started playing football, because the other kids did," Koenen said. "For me, I always dreamed of being a basketball player. But I loved sports and I loved competing. It didn't matter what sport it was. When I first started, I didn't anticipate that in the NFL, business is No. 1. I understand why that is, but it's refreshing to remember a time when football slash sports was at its purest form."
It's that kind of innocence and love for competition and physical activity that Koenen hopes to share when he hosts the 2011 Michael Koenen All-Star NFL Football Kids Camp on Saturday, June 25, at Ferndale High School.
The first year he held the camp for youth in grades three through eight, Koenen said 30 kids turned out. Last year, that number grew to 170, and this year the registration maximum of 300 participants was reached three weeks before the camp and a "stand by" list has been started on the website for the event's title sponsor, Multop Financial.
"Doing this camp the last two years has given me an opportunity to get back to what I love about playing in the NFL and what I love about sports," Koenen said. "It's also allowed me a chance to give back to the community that has meant so much to me and help teach kids about some topics that are very important to me - staying active and staying healthy, good teamwork and strong sportsmanship. We also want to teach kids about making strong life choices like staying in school and staying away from drugs."
To help him in that endeavor, Koenen has enlisted the help of several of his NFL peers to help teach at the camp, including former Falcons and Seahawks long snapper Boone Stutz, former Seahawks and Ravens wide receiver Alex Bannister, former Cowboys cornerback Clayton Holmes, former Seahawks quarterback Sam Adkins, Bears offensive tackle Frank Omiyale and former Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien. Former Buccaneers defensive lineman Louis Holmes and former Seahawks lineman Dennis Boyd also are tentatively scheduled to help Koenen.
The Ferndale High School football coaching staff and players also play a big role in running the camp.
"What we're trying to do is make an impact on some kids' lives," Koenen said. "I know if I was at that age and had a professional athlete that I looked up to take the time to come and have fun with me and play sports with me, it would have meant so much. I can't imagine what it would be like to rub shoulders with them or catch a pass from them. This is a football camp, but it's bigger than that. It's about teaching what a fun, active lifestyle can do for kids."
The camp, which is non-contact and free for participants, is run in conjunction with a golf tournament on Friday, June 24, at Shuksan Golf Course. The tournament helps raise money for the Michael Koenen Foundation, a charity the Koenens started in 2010 to give back to the community, and is run in conjunction with the Chelsey Rae Ebert Trust.
Koenen's foundation, which is represented by Multop Financial, also received a $10,000 grant this year as part of the local Walton Beverage and Whatcom Community Foundation Pepsi Refresh Project.
"Michael's foundation is a pure charity," said Multop Financial's Tyler Ryan, who serves as the executive director of the foundation and camp director and is a longtime friend of Koenen. "One hundred percent of the funds raised by the foundation are distributed directly back to the community. ... Whatcom County athletic programs are in serious jeopardy of being canceled alltogether. Without community support, many children could lose their chance to participate in youth sports. ... To see that happen would be a real tragedy, especially when there is so much we can do as a community."
Though Koenen's message for the camp has not changed, Koenen and Ryan said they expect the camp to be even bigger and better than in previous years. It will all get started with a special entrance by the players courtesy of the U.S. Army that Ryan said "no one will soon forget."
"The thing I'm most happy to see is the way the community gets behind this project," Ryan said. "They believe in the message that Michael is trying to teach the kids, and this camp wouldn't be what it is today without their support."
Especially in this time of professional lockouts and potential financial cutbacks in high school and middle school sports, Koenen says it's exactly what he and the youth of this community need.
"If I can put a smile on just one kid's face during the camp, it's a success to me," Koenen said. "Just seeing that one kid enjoying themselves and having fun playing sports is worth it to me. I can tell you I'm going to have a smile on my face. This is really my chance to give back."
Koenen camp sees increase in numbers
Andrew Lang - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
FERNDALE - The NFL's ongoing lockout has hung an ominous cloud over the state of the league. But while labor disputes have placed an obscure hold on the 2011 NFL season, Atlanta Falcons punter Michael Koenen spent Saturday, June 25, giving back to the Whatcom community youth on a sunny day of unadulterated football fun.
"Days like today bring it back to why sports is not all about business," Koenen said. "This camp teaches kids to compete the right way, and a lockout can't stop that."
Koenen, a Ferndale and Western Washington University graduate, has been a member of the Atlanta Falcons since the 2005 NFL season, and on Saturday, Koenen put on his free of charge third annual Michael Koenen All-Star NFL Football Kids Camp, much to the pleasure of many awestruck third to eighth graders.
"It's just awesome to see all these kids and to see all them smiling," Koenen said. "To see all of them have a good time is what makes this camp worth it to me."
The Michael Koenen Foundation, along with the camps title sponsor Multop Financial and several other local sponsors, organized the camp, which saw a turnout of approximately 350 kids, a drastic increase from last years' camp which had 170 attendees.
"It's more challenging to have this number of kids, but if I could get 1,000 kids out here and make it work, I would," Koenen said. "To have the number of kids we have out here, and to make an impact on them is awesome."
To offset the increasing number of kids, Koenen enlisted the help of several other current and former NFL players such as former Seahawks Alex Bannister, Boone Stutz, Sam Adkins and Dennis Boyd. Also in attendance were former Cowboys cornerback Clayton Holmes, former Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien, former Buccaneers defensive lineman Louis Holmes and current Bears offensive tackle Frank Omiyale.
Not originally listed to attend, new Titans quarterback Jake Locker even made an appearance, and combined with the help of the Ferndale football coaching staff and players, Koenen was able to field the large turnout.
In between asking for signatures, kids got lessons from the pros in various aspects of the game of football.
Eighth grader Lee Reardanz, who was awarded the camps long kick award for the eighth grade age bracket, said his favorite part of the camp was breaking into small groups and playing ultimate football.
"It was kind of weird seeing the NFL players at first," Reardanz said. "You don't notice it, but then it's like, whoa, these are the guys who are on TV and they're right in front of us."
Although Reardanz enjoyed the game of ultimate football he played, he said the best football skill he acquired was learning how to punt, because he got to learn from the best.
Lee Reardanz's mother, Diane Reardanz, said she enjoyed taking her son to the camp and liked the positive message Holmes delivered to the kids at the camps conclusion.
"I think it's great they're giving back to their hometown," Diane Reardanz said. "(Lee) is too old to come back next year, but if I could bring him back, I would."
Executive director of the Michael Koenen Foundation and long-time friend of Koenen, Tyler Ryan, said the goal of the camp and the Michael Koenen Foundation is to provide kids with positive role models, while preaching to them to stay in school and to stay away from drugs and gangs.
Created just a year ago, Koenen and Ryan said the Michael Koenen Foundation has not located a specific niche they would like to aid, but said their main objective is to make a positive impact on the community.
"It's all about the kids," Ryan said. "The favorite part for me was at the beginning when we introduced the NFL players. Looking into the stands where all the kids where sitting, there was not one unhappy face. It made me ask myself, 'why don't I do more of this?'"
The camp lasted from 1-5 p.m., and each camper was given a commemorative T-shirt. Holmes closed the camp by providing the kids with an inspiring message to stay in school, choose good friends and work hard.
Although Koenen's profession is currently in limbo, he showed the importance of giving back to a community in which gave him an opportunity to become so successful just several years ago.
"Some of these kids out here are kids of my former teachers," Koenen said. "It's a personal thing, and these people are family to me."
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