Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
Rampage forward Bracken Kearns is the team's go-to guy off the ice, an eager participant in community service events.
Need a volunteer to serve meals to the homeless? Kearns is there. Need a player to befriend children with cancer? Kearns is the man. Need someone to visit a San Antonio area school? Kearns is the first to offer his time.
The quality and breadth of his community contributions led Kearns to be named the Rampage's IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year. The recognition makes him one of 30 finalists for the American Hockey League's 2011-12 Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, which honors the overall IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year.
"I feel honored to be part of that group," Kearns says. "This team does a lot of community service."
Rampage fans know Kearns, 30, as a rugged center from Vancouver, British Columbia, a 6-1, 200 pound veteran who ranks second on the team in scoring (48 points) in his second season in San Antonio. Hardcore fans know Kearns made his NHL debut with the Florida Panthers in October.
"It was amazing," he says. "I've been working toward that goal for a long time. To finally have been given the chance, I felt really lucky. I want to be back."
As he works toward a return to the NHL, Kearns remains committed to volunteering. And therein lies a story not often told: A hockey player who is passionate about community service.
"I can honestly say I love doing it," Kearns says. "As hockey players, we have an obligation to do it. Certain days end at noon or 1 o'clock, so we have no excuses to not want to do community service. It's fun. A lot times you do different activities and you get to see a lot of the city. I enjoy it."
This season, Kearns has participated in the Rampage's Face-Off Against Kids Cancer Program, volunteered to walk dogs at the Animal Defense League, skated with breast cancer survivors in advance of the Rampage's Pink in the Rink game and painted ceramic bowls with children from Peterson Middle School in Kerrville to raise hunger awareness.
"You can't say enough about his commitment to the community of San Antonio," says Rampage coach Chuck Weber. "He represents this team with class and professionalism on the ice as well as off the ice. He's taken a leadership role in getting guys out and about the community. He's been able to grab guys and go make a hospital appearance. He makes an impact and doesn't care about getting any recognition. A lot of what he does is on his own free time without anyone having to ask him. You respect a guy who is willing to give up his free time."
Kearns is not the first in his family dedicated to helping others. His father, Dennis Kearns, held charity golf tournaments in Canada for years after retiring from a distinguished NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks.
Bracken has served multiple communities. In 2009-10, the Rockford IceHogs named him their American Specialty/AHL Man of the Year. In Rockford, he assisted with a Special Olympics lunch, participated in a Bowl-a-Thon to raise money for Huntington's Disease and donated a portion of his salary to support St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
In San Antonio, Bracken donates $20 for every goal he makes to benefit children fighting cancer. "I just really like doing it," he says.
The first time he volunteered with the Animal Defense League (ADL), Kearns toured the facility with his fiance and walked a dog that had spent a good part of the day in a crate. "We were hooked," he says. "We loved it there. We came back soon after and picked out a dog."
For an ADL fundraiser, Kearns created a video of how he came to adopt a dog. He also inspired teammate Colby Robak to adopt a dog, met veterinarians and got an education on strays. Along the way, Kearns grew into into a passionate advocate for animals and an unofficial spokesman for ADL. "We've got a pretty big heart for dogs," he says.
Kearns has a big heart for people. When his fiance went home to visit her family over Christmas, Kearns stayed in San Antonio and decided to volunteer. His project? Kearns visited a campus on the edge of downtown, Haven for Hope, and spent an afternoon feeding the homeless.