LAYTON — During a timeout, Kirby Christensen edges into the Northridge High School boys basketball huddle offering drinks to the players.
With a pat on the back or a gentle touch of an arm, Kirby passes out the cups and then returns to his seat behind the bench as team manager for the Knights.
Whether dressed nattily in slacks, loafers, a white shirt and cardinal tie or Black Plague T-shirt, jeans and moon boots, he is a noticeable figure on the Northridge sidelines.
“I wear whatever (coach Chad) Sims tells me to wear, which is how the team dresses up on game day,” Kirby says.
As team manager, Kirby dispenses Gatorade, gathers the basketballs before the game and at halftime, keeps track of the warm-up jerseys and has the board that Sims uses to diagram plays during timeouts.
He also attends all practices where he runs the clock, always encourages the players and is constantly looking for places to help the team.
Kirby, age 25, does all these things and more, while dealing with Down’s syndrome, which is a genetic disorder present at birth.
Kirby graduated from Northridge in 2006, where “he was the most popular kid in the school,” his father Kirby Christensen Sr. said. “Classmates would go out of their way to say ‘hi’ to him in the halls; he loved high school. It was the best time of his life.”
“He is the entire family’s hero; the glue that keeps us tight,” said his dad. “He has always been very active in sports and still plays basketball in the Special Olympics.”
Kirby Sr. approached Sims in 2011 and asked if he would be interested in his son as team manager. Sims had been named head coach in May of that year, after a stint as an assistant under Jay Welk at Davis High.
“We had a boy with Down’s syndrome associated with the team at Davis and I saw what a great experience it was, so this was a no-brainer,” Sims said.
Close with all the players, including Jake Bigler, Davy Adams and Dallas Bond, Kirby is hailed by the Knights as the “best team manager in the state.”
Kirby’s younger brother Preston is also on the team and is co-captain this year in his senior season.
As a 6-foot 1 guard, Preston averaged 10 points, three rebounds, three assists and one steal last year and was named first team All-Region 1 and second team All-State.
This year he has moved to forward, through the miracle of the measuring tape has become 6-foot 2, and is averaging 16 points per game, eight rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals.
“He’s an enigma; he didn’t get it (his athletic abilities) from me,” Kirby Sr. said. “If he didn’t look like me, I couldn’t claim him.”
“When he was a year-and-a-half old, we got him a Little Tikes Basketball Hoop and he would go out, shoot for hours and his mother (Melinda) would rebound for him,” his father said.
“I have known Preston his whole life since he was a little baby,” Kirby Jr. says. “We do lots of stuff. Me and him have fun, drive around, go shopping and we play basketball.”
“We joke with each other a lot; whenever we’re down, we can go to each other and pick each other up,” Preston said. “He always tells me if I’m down, get back up, life goes on.”
“We’ll always be there for each other. Kirby has taught me more than anyone else. He has never been malicious with anyone; he’s always willing to give someone a chance,” Preston added.
Whenever Preston needs help on the basketball court, he turns to his other brother Chester, 26, a computer technician.
Chester played one year at Northridge as a sophomore, but learned his basketball acumen by applying the techniques that make him good at his job.
“Preston was athletically talented at a young age; he learned to run before he could walk,” Chester said. “When other kids would watch cartoons, he would watch sports.”
“He would come to me when he was seven or eight and ask me things that showed me he was serious about getting better. I would study timing and cadence of the great players like Steve Nash and Ray Allen; how they shoot and do things they don’t realize. Then I would design drills that were outside the box to help distance Preston from other kids,” Chester said.
“One of the things he always stressed to me was don’t be praised by talent, but be recognized by hard work and adaptability,” Preston said. “His favorite quote to me is hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard.”
Chester calls Kirby and Preston his best friends.
“He (Kirby) looks out for me and I look out for him,” Chester said.
Kirby started playing basketball in Special Olympics at age 8 and Chester was an assistant coach when he was 13 or 14. The volunteer coaches were frustrating to him and the players, so Chester became a head coach when he became eligible at age 16.
Chester coached for six years and had “a most enjoyable good time. Kids with special needs want to be respected and get the experiences that others get. Players and coaches learn compassion and love; these kids have challenges and embrace it at a young age. I’m glad and fortunate to be exposed to it.”
When work got in the way last year, Chester turned over the coaching reins to Preston, who had been helping teach skills competitions the previous two years.
In his first year as a head coach, Preston guided his team to the gold Medal in the Utah Special Olympics Games at the University of Utah.
(Coincidently, Sims led the Knights to the Region 1 championship last year in his first year at the helm), with Kirby staring at point guard, but playing any position one through four on the floor. He has a deft left-hand set shot that often finds the center of the net.
By the way, Kirby looks stylin’ in a tank top, gym shorts and tenny runners.
As far as continuing on as team manager next year when Preston graduates, Kirby says “I’ll think about it, but if not, coach, you’re just going to have to do it without me.”