Raven is active, on and off the football field

Birk puts emphasis on education in charity work

March 07, 2010|By From Baltimore Sun staff reports

Stand next to Ravens center Matt Birk, and the first thing you notice is how big his arms are. It appears that he could bench-press a small car.

But whenever Birk talks to kids, which is often, he tries to emphasize the importance of strengthening a different part of his body.

The brain.

Shortly after the Ravens signed him as a free agent a year ago last week, he helped hand out scholarships from the Baltimore Community Foundation to area students, and during the presentation, the six-time Pro Bowl selection didn't talk about football. He focused, instead, on his scholastic achievements.

"The thing I'm most proud of is graduating from college, not being an NFL player," said Birk, a Harvard graduate with a degree in economics. "I always stress to kids [that] education is the one thing that can't be taken away, and it will serve you much longer than football."

When the Ravens signed Birk, they knew they were getting a smart veteran center capable of leading a young offensive line. They also knew he was active in the community and believed strongly in giving time and money to those less fortunate.

It could not have worked out better for the Ravens or for Birk, 33.

"I love living in Baltimore," Birk said. "My agent promised me that spending winters in Baltimore would be way better than spending them in Minneapolis. He was right about the Ravens' organization being great, but he missed the winters by a long shot."

Birk established himself as a team leader from the start of training camp, showing up at practice in shorts even on days when the coaching staff had given the veterans the day off. Once the year began, he anchored an offensive line that helped second-year running back Ray Rice rush for 1,339 yards.

Off the field, Birk has been just as active. On Thursday, Birk's HIKE Foundation will team up with the McCreary Cares for Kids Program to present the All-Stars for Education Dinner and Auction, a fundraiser to help Birk's foundation support education initiatives.

In 2002, Birk started the HIKE Foundation (Hope, Inspiration, Knowledge, Education) to benefit deserving and high-achieving students in St. Paul, Minn., where he grew up and where he played 11 seasons with the Vikings. In moving to the Ravens as a free agent, Birk quickly established himself in the community. He and his wife, Adrianna, have five children - each of their names is tattooed on his shoulder - and the family now makes Baltimore its home.

In June, along with teammates and other volunteers, Birk helped build a playground at Good Samaritan Hospital's Child Development Center.

In late September, Birk and teammates visited students at Corkran Middle School in Glen Burnie to help lobby for more money for physical education.

"Matt is honestly one of the greatest guys I've ever been around," said Walt McCreary, 47, of Centreville. "Matt is one of the classiest individuals you'll meet."

McCreary's foundation also works with kids, especially with Special Olympics, and it made sense for the two groups to work together. On Thursday at Annie's Paramount Steak & Seafood House in Kent Narrows, they expect 300 guests and at least 15 current or former professional athletes, including baseball Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, a longtime friend of McCreary's, and former Colts Lenny Moore, Bruce Laird and Roger Carr.

"I am looking forward to a night of great food and fun, all while raising money to help at-risk Maryland children excel in the classroom and in life," Birk said. "Education is very important to me, and these children need our help."

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