Birtell family bleeds Bulldog blue
By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director
An apartment near the Concordia University campus houses a trio of student-athletes who share a special bond. Roommates Porter, Britney and Sawyer know each other very well. They grew up together near the small town of Madison, Neb., about 80 miles north of Seward, tucked in beneath the countryside and surrounded by vast fields of corn and cattle.
Children of Brad and Christie Birtell, the three siblings followed in their father’s footsteps in making their way to Bulldog athletic venues. Porter is a senior member of the basketball team and was a first team all-GPAC selection last season. Britney, a junior, plays on Concordia’s No. 1-ranked women’s basketball team. Sawyer, a sophomore and youngest of the Birtell siblings, is part of the Bulldog football squad.
When their father Brad came to Concordia as a student-athlete in the fall of 1984, a unique pipeline between the Birtell family and the Concordia family had been constructed.
“It’s kind of a big deal,” Britney said. “My dad went here. He loves it and our grandparents love it too.”
“It’s a big deal,” Porter agreed. “You walk to the Hall of Fame and my uncle (Kenton) is up there for his team being in the Hall of Fame. With my dad playing here and all the memories he had, it’s just great to know that I’m doing the same thing and enjoying it.”
While Brad allowed all three of his children to make their own decisions when choosing a college, he was overjoyed when each of them ended up at his alma mater. Porter attended Wayne State for one year and Britney and Sawyer both had plenty of options to choose from, but in the end Concordia felt right.
“I have a deep affection for the university,” said Brad, a pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church and School in Columbus, Neb. “We’re just blessed that our kids go to Concordia. I have always been amazed by the heart of the faculty and coaches there. They really strive to share Jesus with everyone around them.”
The Birtell children became familiar with Concordia at a young age. They visited campus often for basketball or volleyball camps and watched as older children from their church and school, including current Bulldog football assistant coach Corby Osten, gravitated to Concordia.
As many others have, the people of the Columbus St. John’s community fell in love with what the “Concordia experience” offered. The things Porter learned about the school from his father and others he knew who attended Concordia turned out to be spot on.
“He told me it’s a great place to go to school,” Porter said. “And that I’ll learn about God and meet people that you’re going to have relationships with for the rest of your life.”
Britney’s experiences so far have certainly validated these sentiments.
“It’s a great place, great people,” Britney said. “You meet friends that will last a lifetime and it’s just a great place for your faith to grow.”
Faith has always been a binding force within the Birtell family – along with athletics. Brad’s younger brother Kenton played on the 1990-91 Concordia basketball team that garnered induction into the school’s Hall of Fame. Britney’s current teammate, Andrea Voss, is a cousin. As is former Bulldog football standout Michael Voss.
The athletically gifted trifecta of Porter, Britney and Sawyer grew up immersed in the world of sport. With the support and guidance of Brad and Christie, the Birtells were active in a number of sports throughout their childhoods. And of course, bragging rights were always up for grabs in the backyard ball games.
The Birtell brothers, both of whom stand roughly 6-foot-7 thanks to the Birtell genes that favor height, have squared off many times at the family’s outdoor basketball hoop.
“It was fun always being able to go shoot hoops with my brother or sister and play football outside. I had Porter’s moves figured out pretty decently,” Sawyer said while adding he could compete with his older brother in a one-on-one basketball game “if it was half court.”
It was these early years that laid the foundation for the unity that characterizes the relationship of the three siblings. Isolated from their neighbors by miles of cornfields, the Birtell children often relied on each other for companionship and entertainment. Whether it be throwing bales of hay or feeding cows on the family’s small farm or on other surrounding farms, or playing sports, the Birtells have proven inseparable.
“They really are typical brothers and sisters,” their father Brad said. “But because we live out in the country they had to be able to get along. It wasn’t like they could just walk over to the neighbor’s house. They always figured out what they could do together. It’s a great blessing for Christie and I as parents.”
As roommates to this day, the Birtells are still finding ways to do things together.
“They’re real tight,” Brad said. “I don’t know too many families where the kids still live together (in college). Their unity as brothers and sisters is incredible. They’ve gone through everything together and I think that’s why they’re so close.”
That’s not to say everything is roses all day, every day. “We still have our days,” Britney says.
With busy schedules that involve the demands of school and working out and going to practice, the Birtell siblings do not see each other as often as one might expect considering the fact that they live under the same roof.
“We all have practices at different times, so we don’t see each other until eight or nine o’clock at night,” Porter said. “By then no one has the energy to fight, so it’s pretty relaxed.”
For now each of the Birtells worries more about the next opponent instead of winning a game of “Horse” against one another in the backyard. While Brad concedes that his son Porter has far surpassed his own athletic merits while at Concordia, the three humble children are hesitant to declare a best athlete in the family.
“We’re all kind of good at different things,” Sawyer offered as Porter and Britney voiced agreement.
Perhaps it’s this agreeable nature that led all three to attend the same university. It’s a place that has proven to be the perfect fit for the Birtells.
Says Brad, “We bleed Bulldog blue when it comes to our family.”
3 December 2012
Left to right: Porter, Britney and Sawyer (sitting).