As a member of the Summit High School Class of 2011 and of the lacrosse team, I feel the need to write about my experience with Coach Kirst.
I had the pleasure of working with Coach Kirst for both my junior and senior years as a varsity player, and he had an instant impact on me and my career. My sophomore year, I was a second string LSM on JV, and close to giving up on the sport altogether. When junior year rolled around, I thought I’d give it one last try and see if I could land a roster spot on varsity. I did make the squad as pretty much the last spot on the bench. Instead of being discouraged, seeing Coach Kirst work inspired me, and after that first week of practice I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.
Fast forward to senior year.
Two starting defensemen had graduated, and it was time to fill those roles and rebuild for another championship run. I was probably the fifth option going into that year, with several guys ahead of me who had been on the team since sophomore year. Coach Kirst pulled me aside during summer ball and told me that I had potential and, if I worked hard enough, I could see time on the field. I quit soccer, my other sport, a few days later and fully committed myself to lax.
I considered myself an underdog for a starting spot, with fewer years of experience and training than the competition. But Coach Kirst believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself, reaching out regularly in the offseason to check on my progress and continue encouraging me. I have never worked harder than I did that year, and a lot of that drive came from wanting to justify Coach K’s faith in me. I ended up with a starting role and we came within a few crossbar deflections of three-peat, and another Summit championship. Coach Kirst inspired me, as he has with countless others, to break my own expectations, with his infectious enthusiasm and support. Coach proved to me that at the intersection of preparation and belief is success, or as he would call it, “mojo.” And, it’s all about the mojo.
More than his vast accolades on the field and accomplishments in the sport, it will be Coach Kirst’s charisma and attitude that will resonate with me for years to come. He had a way of bringing out the best in his players, both as athletes and as people that made him truly unique. I can say with confidence that he has influenced every person he has coached, which is quite a statement considering he coached everything from Summit Varsity to three youth teams to (probably) the East Hanover bowling team.
He pushed his athletes to the apex of their potential, and his constant encouragement and skillful coaching usually did just that. Under his coaching, mediocre players became good players and good players became great. He instilled a sense of pride in his players, pride in being a Hilltopper, pride in wearing the maroon and white.
Coach Kirst taught everyone what it means to be a Hilltopper; be the best version of yourself, take pride in what you do, believe in yourself, and the believe in the program you represent. It’s this intangible definition that creates an aura of transcendental greatness around the program, this formula for success that fuels a competitive program year after year, a program that he was an integral part in building.
It speaks volumes to what he has established that the annual alumni game attracts members of the team from 5, 10, even 30 years ago. Everyone that has worn the hallowed maroon “S” wants to remain in some small way a part of the program, because they know just how special it is. Coach Kirst believed in his players and we believed in him. I am lucky to have known Kyle Kirst and to have felt his positive influence on a personal and athletic level. I am proud to have played for such a great man, and I am proud to be a Hilltopper.