Marion Kirby 2013
Those who talk about his Page Pirate high school football teams talk about magic. They use words like mythical and historic, legend and mystique. They talk this way because his teams won. They won a lot – often in storybook ways. Opponents expected a field full of Goliaths and found Davids instead … smallish teams, underwhelming in shoulder pads and helmets, overwhelming in heart and discipline, in tactics and tenacity. The truth is, Marion Kirby preferred them this way. He knew what to do with little guys with big hearts.
Kirby’s career in athletics began behind his boyhood home in Hickory, in a yard outfitted with a hand-me-down bat, a scuffed baseball, and a heroic imagination. And for years thereafter it was a career bounded by a few miles – one you could follow on foot – first on nearby sandlots, then on the football fields of Hickory Junior High, and then Hickory High School, where he played for N.C. Sports Hall of Fame coach Frank Barger (and where Kirby was all-conference, all-state, and a participant in the 1960 East-West All-Star Game). College came next and hometown Lenoir-Rhyne was the lucky recipient of his talents. He was named Freshman of the Year, was a four-year letterman, and a member of a national title-winning team.
While at Lenoir-Rhyne, Kirby was a member of the Bears’ squad coached by the legendary Clarence Stasavitch, known to one and all as “Coach Stas.” To Kirby he was also known as next-door neighbor and, for the rest of his life, revered mentor.
The final moments of his freshman season were heroic imagination brought to life: Kirby kicked the winning field goal to cap off an 11-0-1 season and secure the NAIA national championship, putting the wraps on what history remembers as “the most outstanding campaign of any Lenoir-Rhyne athletic squad” ever. Ask him about the moment and he gives you this: “I was afraid if I didn’t make that field goal I might not have a ride on the plane home,” he says with a wink. “I was the guy who had missed the two extra points that put us behind in the first place.”
Having completed a sterling collegiate career, Kirby moved east in 1964, following Coach Stas to East Carolina University where he spent a year as a graduate assistant coach before setting off for Edenton and John A. Holmes High School. After only one year as assistant coach for the Edenton Aces, he spent six as head coach, leading the team to a record of 59-14-3, three conference championships, and two eastern 2-A championships during his seven-year tenure.
In 1973, Kirby departed for the plum assignment of head coach at Greensboro’s Walter Hines Page High School. There, aided ably by Frank Starling, Ken Page, and Jim Collins, assistants on one of the most stable and talented coaching staffs in North Carolina history, Kirby steadily built a dynasty in red jerseys and silver helmets. Early seasons of mixed results in the 1970s gave way to dominating, mythic seasons in the 1980s, when Kirby’s teams won the state’s 4-A title in 1980, ’83, ’84, and ’85, and were runners-up in 1982. During that time they strung together 46 consecutive games without a loss and 50 straight regular-season victories – both state records.
Kirby resigned from Page after 23 years on its sidelines with a record of 219-51-5, 13 conference championships, and four state championships. At the time, he was the second winningest high school football coach in North Carolina history.
But he wasn’t done. In 1996, Kirby was tapped to establish, from scratch, a football program at Greensboro College. In six short years, he built a competitive Division 3 program from the ground up, ending his career on the field with back-to-back seasons of 5-5.
In 2002, Kirby made his final professional move to Guilford College, where he served as athletics director for five years, overseeing the improvement and expansion of the athletic programs and facilities there. He retired in 2007.