9/30/15 Community celebrates John Kirby’s 200 wins & counting

On Friday, Sept. 18 head coach John Kirby won his 200th Eastern Alamance Eagles football game. He is pictured middle, surrounded by his team.

Photograph by Beth Everhart

On Friday, Sept. 18 head coach John Kirby won his 200th Eastern Alamance Eagles football game. He is pictured middle, surrounded by his team.

Community celebrates John Kirby’s 200 wins & counting
By Charlie Pogacar, Staff Writer The Mebane Enterprise 9/30/15  
Reprinted with permission.  

John Kirby was named interim head coach of Eastern Alamance’s football team on Oct. 28, 1991. This headshot accompanied the announcement in the Oct. 30, 1991 issue of Mebane Enterprise.  

John Kirby was named interim head coach of Eastern Alamance’s football team on Oct. 28, 1991. This headshot accompanied the announcement in the Oct. 30, 1991 issue of Mebane Enterprise.

 

Eastern Alamance High School’s head football coach John Kirby’s 200th win is a testament not only to the football program he has built, but also to the legacy he has forged in the Mebane community.

Coach Kirby took over as head coach under auspicious circumstances.

His predecessor had literally quit on the team.

On Friday, October 25, 1991, the Eagles played a game against Eastern Randolph that would have secured a first playoff bid in several seasons. With an 18-0 lead at halftime, players were excited and acting as though they’d already won with their coach Jim Orr.

“I remember that night just like it was yesterday,” Kirby said. “Our players were celebrating. Coach Orr was high-fiving them. I just remember saying, ‘it ain’t over.’ And we lost. They came back and they beat us 21-18.”

After the game, Orr’s mood had changed a bit.

“Coach Orr came into the locker room after the game,” former player and current Woodlawn Middle School head football coach Demond Farrish said, “and he tells the team we were no good, he says, ‘you guys are pathetic and a bunch of losers and Mebane is a bunch of losers.’”

“He walked out of the locker room,” Kirby said, “and I haven’t seen him since.”

With two games left in the season, the principal Cecil Caison and athletic director John Moon turned to Kirby for stability.

Before the next game, an away date with Cummings, Kirby pulled the team aside and made them a promise.

“He tells us,” Farrish said, “regardless of what happens, win or lose, I will never turn my back on you guys and I will always be there for you no matter what.”

And when Eastern lost a heartbreaker to Cummings at the last minute, on a field goal by a kicker that hadn’t made one all year long, Kirby stood by them.

“We had a good game plan and we almost pulled it off,” Kirby said to the Mebane Enterprise in 1991, of his first official loss as head coach. “We just came up short. I guess fate just had it that way.”

A week later Kirby’s Eagles claimed his first win as a head coach, 28-25 over Southern Alamance.

It ended the season, and Kirby’s interim label meant the position would be opened to the public during the offseason.

Asked after the game by the Enterprise if he would apply for the coaching vacancy, he made no secret of where his allegiances lay.

“I think I will,” he said.

“I went to school here and I’d like to come back.”

Twenty-four years and over 200 wins later, Kirby hasn’t ever left.

“I stayed because this is my school,” Kirby said.

“This is where I went to school and this is the school that I loved.”

During his first full-length season as head coach in 1992, Kirby’s Eagles surprised everyone but themselves by running off an undefeated regular season.

“I do remember thinking that we needed to clean up the program and that if we didn’t win a game, then we didn’t win a game,” Kirby said. “But we needed to get the program back to where it used to be, and I think that was kind of our foundation or building block. So that year we kicked off some kids that were really good players, but they didn’t want to do what we wanted to do. So that year we only had 22 players.”

Kirby thought about it for a minute and a big smile came over him. He leaned in. “But 22 of them could play,” Kirby said.

Don’t expect Coach Kirby to use the pronoun “I” when he speaks of why his program is successful.

“This guy’s too modest,” defensive coordinator and junior varsity coach Patrick Stokes said.

To limit Kirby’s contributions to the Eastern Alamance and Mebane communities to his just being the football coach would be a mistake, said his former player and fellow coach Farrish.

From the Wed. Oct 25, 2006 issue of Mebane Enterprise:“Dave Ebert, principal, hands Coach John Kirby the football from his 100th win. Coach Fred Brady smiles. Photo by George Chockley.”  

From the Wed. Oct 25, 2006 issue of Mebane Enterprise:“Dave Ebert, principal, hands Coach John Kirby the football from his 100th win. Coach Fred Brady smiles. Photo by George Chockley.”

 

“When we talk about Coach Kirby,” Farrish said, “we use two words: he is a great man. He is someone I think of as a father figure, someone I can call to this day” despite having graduated over twenty years ago. When Farrish calls to talk about Xs and Os, he often finds he and his old coach talking about life experiences instead.

“Growing up in a single parent household like myself, Coach Kirby did a lot to shape me into the man that I am today.” This is not uncommon with Kirby, nor is it unrelated to who he is in the Mebane community.

“I think his legacy is that he puts everything he’s got into making sure the kids have the best experience possible,” Stokes said.

“And not just the football players, but all the kids in this school. He does a great job of involving all types of people and bringing them together as a community. He is a thread that binds.”

For years at Eastern Alamance, Kirby has worked hard to include exceptional children (EC) students in school on-goings and game-day activities.

“They [EC students] read the pledge of allegiance everyday,” Stokes said.

“And that doesn’t just happen. It happens because [Kirby] gives them the confidence and puts them in the position to be able to do that.”

Kirby treats players, students, and his coaching staff with the same philosophy.

“I think when you leave people alone and you let them do their job they tend to do it a little better than when you stand over the top of them,” Kirby said. “That’s kind of the philosophy we’ve taken to and it’s worked pretty good.”

It’s also why you won’t hear Kirby taking all the credit for the staggering amount of wins he has piled up at Eastern. He points to the strength and conditioning coaches (Brad Warren and Tony Aguilar) or the community support, or to the kids themselves.

He points to the Mom’s Club founded in 2005 by Kirby’s sister and some other team mothers, or the “Meet The Eagles” pep rally that was begun under his tenure, or the devotional prayer the team refers to as a “two-minute drill.”

Sometimes it’s almost like he forgot that he inherited a program whose leader had walked out on it. It’s as though he thinks 200 wins, seven conference crowns, 14 playoff appearances and two state final runner-ups just materialized out of thin air. Modest does sound like the right word.