It was a sunny day, yet large sections of the sky were dark as University of Virginia radio play-by-play announcer Dave Koehn backpacked with friends near his hometown of Colorado Springs three summers ago.
Everywhere Koehn went, there was a fire, and ash was falling like snow.
“It almost looked like an apocalypse,” Koehn said.
He was witnessing the effects of one of the driest summers in Colorado’s history.
Issues like climate change and sustainability had long been on Koehn’s mind, but, like a lot of people, Koehn was unsure how he could help. However, as he watched smoke billow from a campsite – one that he and his family had frequented when he was a kid – he knew he had to do something, anything.
“It just really hit me hard at an emotional level,” Koehn said. “I looked around and didn’t even recognize my home state anymore.
“I said, ‘Whatever happens, I’m not going to be sitting here 20 or 30 years from now and saying I didn’t try to do my part to change things and make it better.’”
He has been active in climate and sustainability efforts ever since, most notably as a member of the University Committee on Sustainability.
UVA’s sustainability director, Andrea Trimble, said Koehn has been a most welcome addition.
“In order to really advance and accelerate sustainability commitments across UVA, it’s important that individuals reflect on how they can incorporate sustainability into their own decision-making, but also look for opportunities to connect with their networks to expand impact,” Trimble said. “Dave is a great connector and has been instrumental in making connections to advance these conversations.”
Especially ones pertaining to athletics.
Recently, Koehn – who has been behind the mic for all of the Cavaliers’ greatest sports moments over the last decade – worked with Virginia Sports Properties to get a sustainability page added to the UVA Athletics website. Trimble said Koehn has also been very supportive of a student-athlete group, Virginia Green Athletics, that is focused on sustainability.
Koehn has also been involved with the Charlottesville Climate Collaborative, and currently is in the process of helping get a new Atlantic Coast Conference Sports Sustainability Committee off the ground. At the recent ACC Sports Sustainability Conference, he moderated a sustainability discussion between athletic directors.
Of course, Koehn has a day job to worry about, too.
Amid the pandemic, Koehn has managed to continue in his role as “Voice of the Cavaliers,” albeit from empty football stadiums.
“In the beginning it’s kind of weird, but you get used to it,” Koehn said. “You get so locked in with what you’re doing that it starts to feel pretty normal.
“I can’t kid myself and say I’ve never done games in front of empty stadiums, because before I got to UVA, I did plenty of games in empty stadiums and arenas in some of these smaller-tiered programs. You could sometimes count the people who were at these games on one or two hands, so it’s not as though I haven’t done this before – but you miss the crowds for sure. That energy is just such a cool part of this job. Going into [John Paul Jones Arena] when it’s electric, or to Scott Stadium for a night game – there’s nothing quite like it, and I really do miss that part.”
For road games that haven’t been within driving distance, Koehn has done remote broadcasts, using the fiber technology at Scott Stadium to provide the highest-quality video feed, helping him better see and describe the games–.
Koehn will never forget the game he called from a completely empty Scott Stadium – no fans, no players, no lights – when the Hoos played at the University of Miami on Oct. 24.
“It felt kind of fun in some ways when it was daylight, but when it started to get dark, it felt really weird and empty in the stadium,” Koehn said. “There were no lights on anywhere except for the couple little red exit lights scattered throughout the stadium.
“It almost looked like an alien spacecraft as you looked out and called this game. … It was pretty surreal.”
While all the kids were sleeping, and the stadium was otherwise empty, the Virginia Sports Network was working into the wee morning hours today to tell the story of @UVAFootball.— Dave Koehn (@wahoovoice) October 25, 2020
Photo credit: @macongunter pic.twitter.com/ypX1QTaoln
Koehn believes the best is yet to come for the football team, which has a 4-4 record heading into Saturday’s game at Florida State University, which Koehn will again call from an empty Scott Stadium.
“It was a murderer’s row to start the season,” Koehn said. “You compare the schedule they played to what they were supposed to be playing when the schedule was originally drawn up – and it changed things. Coach [Bronco] Mendenhall sets these schedules with the intent of where his team is going to be at that time, and I think at one point, going into the North Carolina game, Virginia’s first six opponents were 22-6 through that point of the year. That tells you what they were going through. I think this is probably the hardest schedule Virginia’s ever played to this point.
“So I think one of the things I’ve been most impressed with is that through some injuries and through the adversity that everybody’s been dealing with this year, I think they’ve really kept fighting the whole way through. And I think that’s going to manifest down this stretch run, or at least I hope it will. I think they have a chance to turn this around. They really do. But you have to do it on the field, so we’ll see if they can.
“But it’s fun to watch the guys kind of power through, and I think leadership obviously is such a huge component in a year like this, and I think Bronco is among the best for that. He’s just as steady as they come. I think the team really trusts him, and I think that’s huge in a spot like this.”
Koehn is also expecting more big things from the reigning NCAA champion basketball team, whose season begins Wednesday at 2 p.m. against the University of Maine at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. For the first time in the Tony Bennett era, the Hoos were selected as the preseason favorite to win the ACC and are ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press preseason poll.
“Isn’t it wild to think they have not been picked to win the ACC in the entirety of Tony Bennett’s tenure?” Koehn said. “That almost seems impossible, given what they’ve been able to do the last several years. Hopefully being preseason favorites isn’t the kiss of death, but I think they have a chance to be really good.
“I think the addition of Sam Hauser and some of the first-year players, that will give an injection of offense that was lacking at times last year. The trick is going to be defensively. As good as I think they could be offensively, I think Coach Bennett is going to be tearing his hair out at times because he’s not going to have those same guys like Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key patrolling the defensive side of things. So be careful what you wish for, but I think they have a chance to be really good.”
The crossover between football and basketball season is the most hectic time for sports media members, but Koehn seems to revel in it.
Koehn said he has wanted to be a sportscaster since he was 8 years old. Some of his fondest childhood memories are of watching quarterback John Elway leading the Denver Broncos to miraculous last-second victories.
“I was always just drawn toward that magic of sports,” said Koehn, whose broadcast mentors included Broncos play-by-play man Larry Zimmer, longtime sportscaster Gary Bender and current NBA, NFL and college basketball voice Kevin Harlan.
Koehn experienced some of his own athletic magic as a member of a high school tennis team that won three straight state championships. He went on to study broadcast journalism at the University of Kansas.
After he graduated, he broadcast high school games in Colorado before landing a job as the play-by-play man at Sam Houston State University. That led to a job at Texas Lutheran University, where he met his wife, Ashley Matthews. Later, he served as the play-by-play man for the University of Vermont.
It was while working a side job as the play-play man for the Vermont Lake Monsters, a minor league baseball team, that Koehn received word – in the middle of an inning – that he had landed the job at UVA.
Koehn also had an offer from Boise State University on the table, but said the decision was an easy one.
“Charlottesville was the place for us,” Koehn said. “I don’t care whatever happens the rest of my career. The day that I got offered this job will forever be one of the greatest memories I’ll have in this profession. It was life-altering.”
Koehn and Matthews have been active in the community.
Shortly after arriving in 2008, they became involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central Blue Ridge. Koehn has mentored a young man, now 19 years old, since he was 8.
A couple of years ago, Koehn and Matthews – who earned her law degree from UVA’s School of Law in 2012 – took the teen on a trip to back to see Koehn’s home state of Colorado.
“I’ve had so much good fortune in my life, so I’ve found that it’s important to find ways to give back,” Koehn said.
Many thanks to all those that came out for last night’s @BBBSOCBR Bowl for Kids Sake including this motley crew of celebrity bowlers...not pictured: @BryceHall11’s face...his hair made an appearance (bottom left). pic.twitter.com/NE6BvFLfFL— Dave Koehn (@wahoovoice) May 10, 2019
Over the last decade, Koehn’s voice has become the soundtrack of success, as many of UVA’s athletic programs have reached new heights.
“I’ve been the luckiest guy in the world,” Koehn said. “My second year, Coach Bennett comes and I was able to witness the birth of this incredible renaissance. Watching it firsthand from the ground floor up has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever had.”
Former UVA basketball star Cory Alexander, who was Koehn’s first color analyst at UVA prior to moving on to a career in television, said he learned a lot from Koehn.
“The most impressive thing about Dave is his passion for the University of Virginia, considering he’s not an alum,” Alexander said.
“I think I’m qualified to say after 11 years in TV that Dave is more than talented enough to be involved in television broadcasts, et cetera, but he is devoted to the University of Virginia and loves nothing more than to be the Voice of the Cavaliers. That’s his thing. He thrives on that, he loves it. He’s told me time and time again that there is nothing like it. His passion for the University of Virginia has kept him there.”
That passion is what convinced Alexander, former color analyst Ted Jeffries and current color analyst Jimmy Miller to do a video with Koehn promoting electric cars last spring as part of an initiative called Generation 180. The video includes a cameo from Bennett.
These days, when it comes to the health of the planet, Koehn, as he might say on air, isn’t going to be sloppy with the ball. He’s adamant that things need to change.
“I read a quote that really stood out,” Koehn said. “It was, ‘This isn’t a liberal agenda. It’s not a conservative one. It’s the human agenda.’ I think that really says it all. It’s about humanity and just doing the right thing for all of us.”