CHATHAM – It's been almost 10 years since Chatham High School graduate Ken Owens died in a skydiving accident in Hawaii, and while the hole he left in his tight-knit family will never be filled, what helps is the support of loved ones and the annual Kenny Kup Ken Owens Memorial Soccer Jamboree, this year slated for Aug. 18 at Veterans Field.
The 2019 event marks the 10th Kenny Kup, an event Ken's parents, David and Missy, started as a way of honoring their son, a talented soccer player and someone who made a lasting impact not only within his local community, but wherever he went.
Ken Owens had big dreams, many of which began in his Chatham hometown, where he grew up alongside siblings Adrian and Tim, attended Chatham High School, and was a gifted student-athlete. Though he played baseball, basketball, and soccer, his heart seemed to belong to soccer, even if it was through the sport that he suffered two broken legs, the first during a state championship game, and the second a year later in a regular season game.
Though temporarily sidelined, Owens, always No. 14, had an indomitable spirit and an ever-present smile on his face. He loved to study and had an affinity for finances, delighting in an internship with John Whelan through which he honed his skills with stocks.
His enthusiasm for the internship, and his ability to quickly change clothes from his professional white-shirt-and-tie ensemble to his soccer gear, earned him the nickname Superman during his senior year.
After graduating from CHS in 2001, Owens headed to Westfield State where he majored in business economics, securing a job with an investment firm in Waltham. He paid for nearly all of his college education by clamming and was so adept at it, when locals saw Owens out digging, they knew to get out there, too.
One day Owens came home and told his parents he was joining the Navy, which did and didn't surprise them.
“He made a couple trips to Hawaii to visit some friends,” said David. “We weren't really sure what he was up to but he was up to something. That was when he announced that he'd been accepted into the Navy SEALS. I guess he'd been out in Hawaii taking a test.”
Later, courtesy of a letter in the mail, David and Missy learned their son had also expressed an interest in the FBI.
“He always wanted to make it to the top,” said David. “He always wanted to be James Bond.”
Owens, who often completed his morning training regimens well before any of his fellow service men and women, was a studied Navy man who went to dive school in Panama City and was later stationed at Pearl Harbor.
“His Navy career was actually beginning to take off,” said David. “He was less than a month away from his duty station ending in Oahu and then they were going to send him to Coronado, Calif., for SEAL school. He probably would have ended up going to officer's school and making a career out of it because he was suited for it.”
To bolster his chances of becoming a SEAL, Owens took up skydiving as a hobby. He was on his third jump of the day when tragedy struck, his life ended on Oct. 12, 2009.
Seeking a way to honor their son and carry on the legacy he'd created in his youth, David and Missy decided to give a small soccer tournament a go. The first year of the tournament was mainly family, but as the years passed, the event grew in size and popularity. These days the event draws not only local folks and past teammates from Chatham High, but players Owens coached via area youth programs, and even summer visitors that plan their trips around the Kenny Kup, which raises funds for scholarships that are given to local soccer players heading to college.
“I think it brings the community together, old and young,” said Adrian. “There's such a range of ages, and it's just supposed to be a nice, fun-filled family day of soccer and being together, remembering somebody important to the community, and being able to raise money to give scholarships to local athletes.”
That the event benefits local student-athletes would be something Owens would have appreciated as he was ever the helper, be it through coaching or by assisting his friends in their life's pursuits.
“He would help other friends of his invest in their dreams,” said Missy.
That the Kenny Kup has become a tradition brings a measure of comfort to the Owens family, who noted that referees Tony Sepa and Mike Amerault have been lending their services since the first year, and that many of the scholarship recipients often return to join the event when possible.
“Everybody seemed to like the day,” Adrian said. “It was nice and relaxed and fun and family. It's just become this really cool thing.”
What thrills Ken's family is hearing from those who've taken part in past Kenny Kup events that now have children of their own that they're excited to have participate. Brett Tolley, one of Ken's close friends, recently told Missy and David that he's looking forward to his young son, Leo, being able to play in the tournament.
“That just made my heart soar,” said Missy. “They're all waiting for their children to play in the Kenny Kup so they can tell their kids about Ken.”
Like his family, Owens's friends meant the world to him.
“They were a very tight group,” said Adrian.
“His group of friends always stayed in touch when they went to college. When they'd come home for weekends they'd get together. They still do,” David said. “You're not supposed to lose your buddy...”
Along with getting folks into the game of soccer, it's also a chance for the Owens family to reminisce about Ken. They welcome the stories people share each year, especially those offering insight into times their son was away. Each tale makes it clearer that Owens was a singular young man, a devoted father to his son Brycen, and determined to make the world a better place, though always with a special spot in his heart for Chatham.
“He liked his hometown when he came home from college and the service,” said David. “He stayed very close to most of his teachers, places he worked, and always made the rounds to connect with them. He stayed in touch with people even when he was out in Hawaii.”
While in college, Owens wrote his parents a heartfelt letter thanking them for his upbringing, grateful for their closeness and that of the community he'd grown up in. It brings his family joy to know they're giving back to that community through the Kenny Kup.
“It's hard but we do enjoy the day,” said Missy. “We just know he's around and he's just hootin' and hollerin' when we have this. Family and community are important. This was Ken's playground.”
“Ken was very family oriented, and really loved his community, and that's what we're trying to keep promoting every year,” said Adrian. “We've got to keep families together and promote happiness.”
The 10th Annual Kenny Kup Ken Owens Memorial Soccer Jamboree kicks off at 9 a.m. on Aug. 18 at Veterans Field. The event includes soccer, a bounce house for younger kids, raffle baskets, food, and more. For more information visit 14setthebar.org or to make a donation mail checks made payable to Ken Owens Memorial Soccer Jamboree, PO Box 1536, West Chatham, MA, 02669.