January 5, 2017
By David Nordby The Brillion News
BRILLION – When Al Coenen traveled up to Green Bay with his wife for dinner one night in the early 1970’s, he had no idea that he was laying the groundwork for more than 40 years of service in Brillion through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) organization.
Coenen and his wife met with Father Ray Dowling of St. Mary’s and Mike McCoy, who played for the Packers at the time. Dowling was Coenen’s priest and McCoy was one of the Packers who was a part of FCA, and also married to Dowling’s sister.
Coenen, a former math teacher and football coach, believes that a strong character parallels elements of Christianity and brought prayer to his football team – only it was never for victory.
“We prayed for the members of both teams that none of them would get hurt,” Coenen said. “We learned to talk to the players about doing the best job they could do with the ability that God gave them.”
The fellowship started nationally in 1954 and is still popular today, including on college campuses. Coenen and Dick Sheahan led the organization for years in Brillion, creating a staple of the community.
“I feel so great about it,” Coenen said of Kittel and Schlender carrying out the group. When Coenen retired, Kittel came to Brillion and also served as a math teacher and longtime football coach.
“It’s been a natural progression,” Schlender said. “Dick was in on my interview.” Schlender was hired when Sheahan retired in 1998. Sheahan has continued to substitute teach for the school and be a part of the athletic program.
The exact year that FCA became official at Brillion High School isn’t known, but it was first featured in the yearbook in 1974. A girls’ side eventually was created and became integrated with the boys later on.
On the playing field, Kittel carried the message that Coenen had for his players – sportsmanship mixed with competitiveness. “You can still be a competitor,” Kittel said. “You can do both.”
The group has also had a lot of fun mixed in over the years with all four carrying fond memories of contests to raise money, like the time a student paid with his own bucket of change to vote for other students so he didn’t have to dance on stage or the time Jim Schwantes wound up on the roof of the school dancing in a tutu.
Coenen said his favorite part of the group, and students in Brillion, is that students come from all religious backgrounds. Kittel, Schlender and Sheahan share the same sentiment that it has always been for something larger in the community.
Schlender meets every other Wednesday morning before school with the current members of FCA, which is around 15-20 students and other teachers.
This year they’ve been joined by Pastor Rick Andrus of Zion United Methodist Church in Forest Junction. Andrus and the church have become heavily involved through time and donation.
Please see the complete story in the January 5, 2017 edition of The Brillion News.