Just one of the guys
Pulaski student Mitchell Koenig has been become a valuable part of football, basketball teams.
By Greg Bates
PULASKI – Long after the crowd has filed out of the Pulaski High School gymnasium and the Red Raiders boys’ basketball players are gone, there is a kid shooting around on the open court — a smile draped across his face.
He’s exchanging laughs with some classmates.
His family members call him a social butterfly.
Mitchell Koenig is the last one to leave the gym. On this night, the 18-year-old is accompanied by his aunt, Sarah, who is going to drive him home.
Koenig’s evenings are busy during the fall and winter sports seasons. For the last two years, he has been a manager for the Pulaski football and boys’ basketball teams.
They are special jobs for a special kid.
Koenig has an intellectual disability and is developmentally delayed in his learning. He struggles to communicate, read and write, said his dad, Matt, who is the athletic director at Notre Dame Academy.
Koenig helps out football coach Jerad Marsh and boys’ basketball coach Dave Shaw. Both coaches love the assistance from the eager teenager.
“It’s a win-win, of course,” Shaw said. “It’s great for Mitchell to have some responsibilities, be involved in the social aspect of being a part of the team and it’s really nice for our players to be accepting of Mitchell and his position and take that off the court as well into school. It’s been nothing but a positive experience for everyone.”
“He’s positive energy, man,” Marsh said. “We love to have that.”
It means a lot for Koenig to play a small role with each team.
“He loves that,” said Kare Goodness, who works with Koenig as an adapted physical education teacher at Pulaski High School. “He wants to have that connectedness, that feeling of being a part of something. That’s what drives him, that’s what he looks forward to.
“He stops into our office every single day — I share an office with coach Shaw — and so even when he doesn’t have phy-ed class with me, he’s popping in. ‘Hey, Goodness. Coach Shaw, we got a game tomorrow.’ He’s got to have his game plan for each game. ‘What are my duties? What are my roles? Where am I going?’ … He’s got his roles, he’s got his jobs and he takes it seriously and he expects to have those.”
Koenig’s responsibilities with both the football and basketball teams are making sure the players — his classmates — get plenty of water during practices and games. He’ll also help with carrying equipment and various other equipment-related duties.
“I like getting the waters to the guys for football and basketball,” Koenig said.
Marsh enjoys giving Koenig the opportunity to get into team huddles.
“He’ll go in there and break the guys down or lead a cheer or any of that stuff,” Marsh said. “It’s really fun.”
Koenig likes to get decked out in Pulaski football gear to prepare for gameday.
“He’ll pick a player out and that’s the jersey he’s going to wear that day,” Marsh said. “That’s who he’s going to shadow for the day, so that’s who he’s by for drills.”
Oftentimes, Koenig will go above and beyond his on-court and on-field responsibilities.
“He considers himself a scout,” Shaw said. “We’ve told him that when he’s at other games to be a scout for us. So he provides me with a makeshift scouting report at the beginning of the game. We put it up on the board and we talk about it a little bit during our pregame. It’s fun.”
Koenig feels like he’s making a difference for his team when he’s watching YouTube videos on his iPad of opposing teams.
“They can win games,” said Koenig, who during basketball games wears matching candy-cane striped warm-up pants just like the Pulaski players.
For how much the coaches love to have Koenig be a part of their teams, the players seem to enjoy Koenig’s presence equally as much.
That spills over into the high school building during school day hours.
“All you’ve got to do is follow Mitchell in the hallway and you know that he’s the heartbeat of our school,” Goodness said. “He can’t take 10 steps and not have somebody giving him a high-5 or a ‘Hey, Mitch. How you doing?’ Or a fist bump. He’s calling kids’ names out in the hallway. It’s nonstop all day long. He has a true connectedness that runs deep in the school.”
Koenig is blessed with a contagious personality that radiates throughout Pulaski High School.
“He brings positivity every day,” Goodness said. “You might be having a tough day and you see Mitch, he brings a smile to your face and makes your day a little better. That’s what we love about him.”
Pulaski athletic director Janel Batten thought it was a great idea for Koenig to get involved with the athletic teams.
“Mitchell is a great kid who shares the Red Raider pride with the rest of our student body and community,” Batten said. “He has served as a manager for football and basketball, as well as a number one fan for soccer, baseball, softball and just about any other sport or activities our kids compete in. He is truly a Red Raider at heart. We are grateful to have him as a member of our student body.”
Getting a chance to compete
Along with staying busy with school work and his athletic responsibilities at Pulaski, Koenig is active as an athlete.
Koenig, who moved with his family to northeastern Wisconsin from Ohio in 2019, competed in Special Olympics basketball for the first time this year and loved it.
Koenig said he is good at a number of aspects in basketball.
“I get a layup and I steal the ball,” said Koenig, who played Special Olympics soccer last summer.
Koenig is big into competing in the Miracle League of Green Bay, which is adaptive baseball for kids with mental and/or physical challenges.
“He loves having the opportunities to play these sports,” said Koenig’s dad, Matt.
After two years of being a manager for the football and basketball teams, Koenig is getting a shot to be an athlete on a high school team.
Koenig started golfing with his family, and Goodness had the idea of him getting involved with the high school team. He pitched the idea to Koenig’s parents, who were all for it.
“They’re working out some modifications and stuff to help him be successful, so that’s his next chapter,” Goodness said. “He’s looking forward to being part of the golf team and going and competing with the guys.”
Goodness told Koenig that if he was going to be on the golf team, he would have to get in shape. Koenig won’t be able to ride in a cart and will have to carry his own clubs; he got serious about what it meant to be a high school athlete.
“So the next week, he’s asking, ‘Who’s the strength coach?’” Goodness said, laughing. “So now after school he’s going up and he’s getting into the weight room and he’s starting to work on his training program. It’s just good to see him being invested fully in all of that.”
Koenig will now truly be part of a high school team.
“He wants to be like all other kids,” Matt Koenig said. “We’re so thankful for the opportunity that Pulaski has provided him and the Special Olympics and Miracle League groups have been able to offer for kids with special needs.”
Koenig, who will turn 19 in July, is eligible to be enrolled through the Pulaski School District for two more years — possibly three.
“We’re glad we’re going to have him for a few more years yet,” Goodness said. “It will be a sad day when he fully graduates from school and is no longer here. But as long as we’ve got him, we’re going to keep him.”