SUMMIT, NJ - Tributes from throughout the lacrosse community -- and the community at large -- continue to pour in for Kyle Kirst, the iconic Summit High School Varsity Lacrosse Assistant Coach who passed away June 16 of an apparent heart attack.
Universally praised for his unique ability to make everyone he came in contact with feel vibrant and valued, all who remembered him described a transcendent human being who was spectacular husband, father, coach, teacher, role model, and friend.
A Hilltoppers assistant coach the past decade, Kirst ran the Summit's defensive unit, a linchpin of the program's success and rise to the elite echelon of New Jersey lacrosse. Prior to his coaching role with Summit, Kirst was Head Lacrosse Coach at Hanover Park. His coaching resume also included roles as Hanover Park JV coach, an assistant at West Morris High School, and he began his coaching career in 1993 at Princeton High School.
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A 1990 graduate of Rutgers University, Kirst played goal for the Scarlet Knights. In addition to his coaching duties at Summit, Kirst taught history at Hanover Park High School. He is survived by a wife and five sons.
Tributes to Coach Kirst were immediate, extensive, and deeply personal, individually and collectively lauding the life and legacy of a man who touched so many people in such a uniquely positive way. Among them:
Jim Davidson - Head Lacrosse Coach, Summit High School
"He treated everyone the same, and made them feel like they were the most important person or player. He cared about every kid, was the ultimate coach, and was a great role model for every kid, not just our athletes. He never talked about himself, he always wanted to know about you, and he really enjoyed other's people's success. He was the ultimate competitor, but kept a great balance, always focusing on the goal to create great young men. It is a huge loss. I lost my best friend."
June Chang, Superintendent of Summit Schools
"We offer our deepest sympathies to the Kirst family and our lacrosse community. Our thoughts and support go out to Kyle's wife and children. Coach Kirst had a tremendous impact on our student athletes and lacrosse program here in Summit. It is a great loss and he will be missed."
Charles Ruebling - Head Lacrosse Coach, Delbarton School
"I have known Kyle for over twenty years. My first introduction to him was while he was an assistant coach at West Morris. I can say that he is the same person today that he was 20+ years ago. Kyle was larger than life, but if you put aside all his wonderful attributes as a coach, teacher, husband, and father and go to the core, it is that Kyle had the rare or unique ability to make everyone feel great about themselves whenever you ran into him. I do not know anyone else who can do that.”
Peter Britt - Goalie, Class of 2005
"There are two everlasting memories that I will always carry about Kyle: The first was that going into my senior year, I was pretty nervous about being the starting goalie. I had backed up Robbie Schroeder for two years, and I wasn't sure if I had what it took to step into the void that he left. Kyle wouldn't have any of that thought process, and he was determined to make sure I worked my butt off to succeed. He worked with me a few times a week BEFORE school at 6:30 a.m. in the freezing cold down at Tatlock. He didn't have to be there that early, and in fact it was well out of his way to swing by Summit. But Kyle truly cared about our team, even though at the time he had yet to coach us in a game. And he didn't just care about his players, he also had the tools to make them better people. He instilled confidence in me that I wasn't sure I possessed and it has left a lasting impact that I will never forget.
The second goes to show his gregarious personality, one that was so infectious that it always left me smiling. I had pretty short hair in high school, and often a buzz cut. When I went off to college I decided to let my hair grow, and I distinctly remember seeing him for the first time when I returned to Summit with hair that hadn't been cut in far too many months. Upon seeing me, the first words out of his mouth were "HOLY MIDDLEBURY HAIR!". I couldn't stop laughing, and for the next few years, whether my hair was long or short, that was his usual greeting for me whenever we saw each other. Kyle had the ability to instantly put a smile on my face, and it was the same with everyone else he encountered. He was a tremendous coach, but an even better human being, and everyone who knew him can honestly say their lives are better for having known him."
David Giarrusso - Head Lacrosse Coach, Seton Hall Prep
"Northern New Jersey lost a model husband, father, and friend with the passing of Kyle Kirst. Kyle's selflessness and devotion to others is evident in the way he lived his life, serving others - in particular serving the children of others. He and his wife Michelle have raised extraordinary boys, they are role models for my own three sons. Seton Hall Prep is a better place due to his impact - his second oldest son Colin will be our student body president and second-year captain of the lacrosse program. Kylie's influence in the lacrosse community is extensive, and we mourn the loss of a legend - we were blessed to have worked with and learned from a true blessed person."
Mike Dugan - Attack, Class of 2005
"I can remember when Coach Kirst first came to Summit. I knew he was an incredible coach by how Coach D respected him and prepared for him while he was the head coach of Hanover Park. Over the last 12 years I have had the pleasure of playing for him, playing with and against him, coaching with him, and learning from him. I feel very lucky for all of this, but I am most fortunate to have had Coach Kirst as a friend. RIP Coach Kirst. I love you, and I will miss you."
Kyle Mahoney - Attack, Class of 2009
"Although I was on the offensive side my entire high school career, I was able to witness his magic in motion when the offense scrimmaged the defense in daily practice. The way he taught and encouraged players was unlike anything I have ever witnessed, even at the collegiate level. He had faith in everyone, period. He would never shy away from taking risks and trying new people, it was as if the entire spring season was one big tryout. In return everybody had faith in him, trusted in what he said and taught, and it clearly translated on the field each game.
As a captain in 2009, I could see his overall affection and charisma resonate throughout not only the defense, but the entire team.... Made my life easy. Not once can I recall teammates arguing with one another.... When a teammate made a mistake, he taught all of us not to criticize and get mad, but instead pick each other up, learn from it, make a joke of it, and move on.
I also had the distinguished pleasure to coach Fourth Grade Summit Futures with Coach Kirst. This was also an amazing experience for me watching him interact so friendly with younger kids.
Looking back, I knew when ever I was in his company I was with someone truly special, but what I took for granted and what I am realizing now is that I was in the presence of a saintly figure.
Thank you for touching all of our lives. You will never be forgotten. God bless you Coach Kirst, you will forever be in my thoughts and prayers."
Matt Muller - Defense, Class of 2014
"Coach Kirst was one of the greatest men I will ever have the chance to meet in my lifetime. Compared to what I learned from him in terms of lacrosse his teachings on how to be a great individual and young man far surpassed his lacrosse lessons. When I would encounter him he would never bring up lacrosse first, but rather he would always greet me with a smile and ask how I am, how my family is doing, and then ask how I was doing in school.
He cared far more about the young men he was coaching under their jerseys and pads than he did about any outcome to a game. If you want to know how great of a lacrosse coach he is, look at the records over the years he has been coaching. But if you want to know about the integrity and compassion for his players and everyone around him, simply ask anyone who has ever been around Coach Kirst, and they will tell you about one of the greatest men they have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He let every player and I into his family each afternoon and weekend we spent with him and even I felt like it was never enough.
His whole personality preached live life to the fullest and have fun in every situation it throws at you. I know for a fact even in the short time I knew Coach Kirst that he lived every single day as happy and compassionate as he could and it shows in the legacy he leaves behind or all that he touched.
He always joked with me about how once I left for college I would forget about old Coach Kirst, but I know now as much as I knew then, that I would never forget the impact he has had and will continue to have on my life. For that I will always be grateful for every second of time with one of the most amazing people I have ever known. He taught me how to be a good person, and if I grow up to be half the man Coach Kirst was it would be more than a success. I will never forget Coach Kirst."
Geoff Marks - Midfield, Class of 2005
"Coach Kirst was a tremendous human being. I think what gets lost in all of this is how he was a wonderful person first and foremost, and a coach second. His enthusiasm, respect, passion, humor, and positivity for you as a person was above all else. The fact that he had the ability to teach lacrosse to young men was secondary to me. He just wanted to affect your life in a positive manner. I'm going to miss having such a great person and energy in my life."
Bobby Lawrence - Defense, Class of 2010
"I have been playing lacrosse since I was five years old, was fortunate enough to play Division I lacrosse, and now professionally for the Florida Launch. Without hesitation, the most satisfying, enjoyable, and the meaningful lacrosse experience I've ever had to this point was playing for Summit High School. It's because of people like Kyle Kirst -- the embodiment of a coach and leader."
James Holzer - Midfield, Class of 2014
"The first thing that comes to mind is when I thought about quitting after tryouts my senior year. I said, "Coach, I'm thinking about not playing this year." He replied with, "James, if you quit, I quit." I can't think of a better example of how much he cared about each and every player. We also heard frequently about his three youngest sons, and how he'd catch them fighting/wrestling and how proud he was of their competitiveness."
Nick Kilkowski - Attack, Class of 2012
"Not only was Coach Kirst one of the best lacrosse coaches I have ever had, he is without a doubt the most genuine and joyful person I have ever been around. The light that he had in his soul simply could not be darkened, he was positive, passionate, and had a unmistakable ability to make people laugh. Everything he did, he did with a smile on his face, incredible passion, and love in his heart. I simply cannot put into words the profoundly positive impact he has had on my life. Rest easy big guy, your incredible spirit will live on through all the lives you have touched."
Matt Maier - Attack, Class of 2013
"As a coach, he was simply the best. As a man, he was truly one of a kind. He will be missed by the entire community."
Tim Flynn - Head Lacrosse Coach, Mountain Lakes High School
"New Jersey lacrosse lost one of our very best with the passing of Kyle Kirst. An excellent coach, teacher, and friend. Kyle made you feel great every time he saw you. Larger than life. RIP."
James Kennedy - Attack, Class of 2009
"Coach Kirst always made us feel like we could accomplish anything on the lacrosse field. Encouragement would be an understatement. He loved and believed in every single person that he coached. His smile and love for his players was infectious as every day he brought something new to make us smile. My personal favorite was his “Holy Irish Catholic James Kennedy” every time he saw me.
Not only was he our coach, but he was a loving and caring friend to all of us. Nothing was better than that unexpected call or text from Coach. Everything about him just made you smile from the cheer in his voice to his words of encouragement. When I look back at our previous texts over the past couple years he always ended them in a similar fashion: “You are the best 23” That was Coach Kirst, always giving some encouragement and putting a smile on my face."
Sonny Round - Attack, Class of 2011
"Coach Kirst was the most excitable person on the lacrosse field at all times. During practices in the dead cold or rain where it was easy to catch a lull, Coach Kirst would be going full tilt, yelling nicknames at players and encouragement from all angles. He brought a charisma to the game that was unyielding and unmatched.
His ability to create player nicknames and laughs on the field was truly remarkable, some notable nicknames were 'The Polish Cowboy' (Joe Jaskolski '10), 'The Badgitude' (Peter and Mike Badgley '11 &'13), and 'Soup' (George Campbell '11).
His orchestration of Summits famous zone defense speaks volumes to the coaching knowledge that he possessed. Most of all Coach Kirst was your best friend whether you were the star player or someone who had no chance to see the field, that was the type of guy he was. We are all lucky to have been under the tutelage of such a special man, Rest In Peace, Coach."
Chris Zanelli - Midfield, Class of 2015
"As you know, this past spring was not a particularly easy season for me personally, as I played while still trying to recover from an injury suffered during football season. It was pretty clear to all of the coaches, and specifically Coach Kirst, that I was constantly frustrated with my leg and inability to do what I could previously do on the field. Being the contagiously positive person that he was, Coach Kirst was always the first to praise me for something I did at practice or during games, regardless of how small or unimportant my action was. Even while just running in and out of the substitution box I would always hear his loud, booming voice from the sideline as he would send me words of encouragement such as 'Hey! Way to go Chris Zanelli!,' 'Way to go captain!,' 'Willis Reed way to suck it up out there!!,' or 'Way to go 23!!!'. This was followed by a famous Coach Kirst high-five, of course.
Even though I had no idea who Willis Reed was for a while, Coach Kirst's positive attitude and the constant words of encouragement he would send me truly helped me get through this season. Whenever I was having a tough day, the moment Coach Kirst started talking to me or cheering me on I immediately felt more confident in myself.
One day, I finally looked up who Willis Reed was. According to various internet sources, he was a Hall of Fame basketball player for the Knicks from 1964 to 1974. He is best known for what is now known as 'The Willis Reed Game'. In game five of the 1970 NBA finals, he tore a muscle in his leg, causing him to sit out game six. After the Lakers forced game 7 by winning the game Reed did not play in, Reed was not expected to play. He did not even warm up with the team. When the team came out of the locker room for the opening tip off, Reed was on the court, playing in the game. The fans at MSG erupted into a powerful roar of cheers as they saw their captain limp around out of the tunnel and onto the court. He went on to score the first two baskets of the game. Despite those being his only points that night, it was his presence and leadership that inspired his teammates to an emotionally charged victory to win the NBA championship.
Who else but Coach Kirst would know all about Willis Reed and his legendary game and make the comparison between him and myself. Everyday, he would refer to me as Willis Reed at least four or five times. I was humbled and honored to be compared to an all-time great such as Willis Reed. It was things like this that made Coach Kirst who he was. He was always the first to pat you on the back, crack a joke to lighten the mood, or give you a big hug and tell you how proud he was of you. Coach Kirst brought out the best in all of his players and everyone who was lucky enough to meet him.
Before overtime of the Union County Finals,Coach Kirst pulled me aside and told me how proud of me he was, started shedding some tears, and gave me a big hug. Whenever I think of Coach Kirst, that is the first thing that comes to mind.
He cared about others more than himself.
Coach Kirst was one of the few people who kept my spirits up throughout the season and gave me the confidence to push through the frustration. If it were not for him, I really do not know if I would have made if all the way through the spring without hanging up the cleats until next year. I will forever be thankful for everything Coach Kirst has taught me about lacrosse and life. He was more of a man than I could ever dream of being.
As we are all mourning his loss, Coach Kirst is watching over us, probably saying one of his favorite sayings, 'Quit acting like someone peed in your Cheerios', all with his infamous ecstatic smile stretching from ear to ear."
Brian Feeney - Goalie, Class of 2010
"Kyle Kirst never stopped coaching me on and off the field. After I left Summit High School, he continued to remain a close friend and mentor, consistently reminding me of my capabilities so I never got too down on myself after a bad game. That’s what was so great about Coach Kirst, he recognized what made people feel better, whether it be a friendly reminder, joke, or life lesson, and wouldn’t leave your side until you understood. Just the sight of him brought out the best in everyone, because nobody wanted to disappoint him or let him down.
Coach Kirst never stopped caring about his players. After I graduated, all he ever wanted was for the guys in my class to come back to Summit and meet him for dinner or drinks, talk lacrosse, reminisce, and just purely enjoy each other’s company. He would have a huge smile on all night, and tell us how much he loves us. To me coach Kirst was the epitome of how to treat the world, and one day I hope to value people as much as he did."
Memorial arrangements are as follows:
Viewing/Wake - June 18, 4 - 8 p.m.
School of St Elizabeth' s gymnasium
30 Seney Drive
Funeral Service - June 19, 12:30 p.m.
Our Lady Of Perpetual Help
111 Claremont Road, Bernardsville, NJ 07924
A reception will follow, with details to be announced at the Church.
A number of mechanisms have been established to provide support for the Kirst family.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) has created an option for accepting donations for the Kirst family for the short term. Those wishing to donate are asked to send a check made out to OLPH, with Kirst Family in the memo,.to 111 Claremont Road, Bernardsville, NJ 07924.
The Bernards Café, a local deli & café, is accepting donations to provide food for the family so they can simply call and have it delivered when they wish. Donations for this program can be made by calling The Bernards Café at 908-221-0222, and asking to make a donation to the Kirst family fund.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help has also created a Kirst Care Calendar for anyone who would like to make meals for the family, the specifics of which can be found by visiting carecalendar.org
Logon ID: 213982
Security Code: 9675
Additionally, donations and contributions can be made to:
Kirst Children Education Fund*
PO Box 1352
Summit, NJ 07901
Tax ID # 26-3962440
* This is a registered 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization for donating purposes.