Thursday, April 14, 2011

Former Jayhawk Mike Rivera volunteers time to teach crochet to city youths

Former Kansas University football player and current Miami Dolphins linebacker Mike Rivera, left, sits with Boys and Girls Club member Frida Danburno as the two work on a crochet project. Rivera volunteered his time to city youths on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at Hillcrest Elementary.

Former Kansas University football player and current Miami Dolphins linebacker Mike Rivera, left, sits with Boys and Girls Club member Frida Danburno as the two work on a crochet project. Rivera volunteered his time to city youths on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at Hillcrest Elementary.


Crocheting the Mike Rivera Way

Former Jayhawk linebacker and current Miami Dolphin, Mike Rivera teaches Boys and Girls Club kids at Hillcrest Elementary how to crochet.

At 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, with blue gym shorts, a backwards cap, a Nike T-shirt and an bulky bandage around his left knee, former Kansas University linebacker Mike Rivera hardly looked the part of a crochet teacher at Hillcrest Elementary on Wednesday.

But give the man a couple of needles and some yarn, and the imposing member of the Miami Dolphins instantly transforms into a master crochet artist capable of banging out a stocking cap in a variety of styles and colors.

“My first hat took 15 hours to make,” said Rivera, between sessions with the 8- and 9-year-old students. “Now, I can make one in an hour.”

Rivera first picked up his new hobby during a recent trip to Guatemala with a friend. He spent a couple of weeks volunteering at a school in the Central American country and has since returned the favor in the states. His first trip to Hillcrest, for an after-school program run through the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, came a week ago, when he introduced the world of crochet to the 13 boys and girls who signed up for the voluntary class. He returned Wednesday to help them take their talents a step farther.

“I’d never heard of that thing,” said Louis Singman, 9, asked why he chose to sign up. “I just thought it would be cool to try it.”

Added Enoch Kalonda, 9, a native of Congo who has been in the U.S. for four years: “I knew how to do it a little bit, but I didn’t know how to make a hat. He taught me more than I thought I could learn.”

Back home in Africa, Kalonda’s parents routinely used crochet to make garments for friends and family.

Wednesday’s session, which included treats and drinks brought by Rivera and his mother, Judy, was nothing out of the ordinary for Rivera, a 2009 KU graduate and three-year starter. Throughout his career with the Jayhawks, Rivera was know for his participation in student-outreach programs. He was honored with the KU Community Service Award multiple times and, now that he has joined the professional ranks, he said he has found it even easier to contribute to society in a positive way.

“You just have more time,” he said. “In college, you’ve got a full class load and a football schedule. Right now, with the (NFL) lockout, we have time. And I always try to fill my time with activities. I’m sure my teammates would give me some flak for this, you know, a big football player doing crochet is ‘not cool,’ but it’s still fun for the kids.”

The children who attended Wednesday’s crochet class — they’ll return next Wednesday for another run — had no idea that Rivera was a former KU and current NFL athlete.

In fact, Rivera introduced himself only as “Michael,” a name that some of the students quickly transformed into “Michaelangelo” when they needed help.

How fitting.

The NFL’s ongoing labor dispute encouraged Rivera to return to Lawrence to work out. After signing with Chicago as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Rivera joined the Tennessee Titans organization and spent the ’09 season on the Titans’ practice squad.

He landed with Green Bay in 2010 and was on the Packers’ practice squad until the second-to-last week of the regular season, when he joined the Miami Dolphins. He spent the final week of last season on the Dolphins’ active roster and hopes to continue the steady climb when training camp rolls around this summer.

“Everything after college is just icing,” Rivera said. “I’m just gonna ride this as long as I can.”


gchawk 11 years, 8 months ago

Shades of Rosie Greer. Great story about a fantastic person and roll model.

KGphoto 11 years, 8 months ago

I'm sure he's a great guy. Kudos. But what a hilariously slow news day.

Former players and crochet? Maybe you could sneak into the weight room and see who's kicking butt, and who's lazing around. I'd like to know that.

Here are some other possible stories I'd rather read.

-What are Turner Gills parking lot habits? -What's it like for the players, to have a coach that can climb all the way to the top of the tower to watch them practice? -What's Berglund's girlfriend up to? -What kind of workout equipment does Zenger use? Borrowed? Anderson Complex?

Not as much sarcasm here as you'd think. I like your stuff Matt. It's just the crochet thing made me snicker. And I DO want to know these other things.

Dan Pawlowski 11 years, 8 months ago

Nice story. Some of us enjoy reading out of the ordinary stories on the guys that went to school and played for KU.

justinryman 11 years, 8 months ago

ATTENTION all current University Jayhawk Student Athletes!!!! This is the model of what you should do, how you should act, how you should give back.

You are very special in that you are a Div. 1 college athlete or greater, don't just think its all about you, it's about how you are perceived in the eyes of your fans.

Way to go Mike, setting the bar high!

My hats off to you (pun intended)


kshkfan7 11 years, 8 months ago

A picture is worth a thousand words. The reason this is a big deal is because it shows his character, that he is a real man. Sure it may not be as exciting to some who would rather hear about other things.....but for a single Mom of three, (who is in a 90% Caucasian city, who is also Caucasian, and middle class) it gives me hope to see there are some outstanding role models out there. My oldest son's Dad has never cared about him. My younger two children's Dad died 8 years ago. If you go to Big Brother's and Sister's here, you can get a Big Sister right away for your daughter, but there is a waiting list if you want a Big Brother. Why? Because of this day and age we live in, few men know what a real man is and how to act like one because they never had a good Father as a role model. Too many men are too selfish and self-centered to give a crap about anything but themselves, including their own children! I say Mike Rivera will go far in life because he invests it in others, in the least of us who really need a caring hand. He will be a great Dad and Husband someday! Our country would be in much better shape with more like him around..........

Alex Staley 11 years, 8 months ago

During my time at KU, I had class with several "big-sport" athletes. Some just didn't take class seriously, period. I had a class with Mike and I was incredibly impressed with how down-to-earth he was but even more impressed with his commitment to learn. This was a guy that would ask and answer intelligent questions in class, then go knock some heads in on the field. Great to see he is giving back as well.

Dyrk Dugan 11 years, 8 months ago

when he was a RS frosh., he was the lead wedge breaker uppper on the kickoff team....there couldn't have been a faster middle guy in college football....250 lbs. of whirling arms and legs...he HAD to have struck some fear in guys. man, was he fast AND big.

if he hadn't of gotten hurt, he would have been a 1st day draft pick...2nd round at least. sounds like he's healthier now....i just hope he can keep 'er goin. good luck to him, and kudos to all of his volunteer work.

Smojo 11 years, 7 months ago

This is a great story. However, the writer should have done just a tad more research. As the picture shows, you use just one hook to crochet. Needles are for knitting. And yes, they are different.

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