Pro basketball player Alex Kirk of Los Alamos
By Matt Kothe
Former Los Alamos Resident and Kirk Family Friend
Life has a funny way of presenting opportunities when you least expect them. For Sharon Stover and her husband Steve Girrens, such an opportunity arose one morning just a few months ago.
Sharon Stover of Los Alamos
After attending a parade in Cuba, (Stover is a Dist. 43 candiate and Girrens is seeking reelection on the Los Alamos County Council) the Los Alamos residents headed to nearby Gallina for lunch and found themselves at Papa Joe’s Diner talking with owners Larry and Lydia Velazquez. The topic of conversation?
Area youth and how to encourage them to pursue education not just because it’s a requirement, but because it’s a gateway to a better life. Papa Joe’s is a mere stone’s throw from Coronado High School, so the Velazquez family is well acquainted with Gallina’s youth. The town’s school district has slowly been recovering from scandal and hardship over the last five years, and to Stover, it seemed like a perfect time to inject some optimism into the equation.
Steven Girrens of Los Alamos
Fast forward a few weeks from this initial meeting, and Stover found herself back in Gallina talking with Coronado High School Athletic Director Jason Binion about ways to energize the school’s students. Binion does a lot of work with the GEAR UP program, a seven-year initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Education that aims to prepare students for college by their senior year of high school, and one of the lessons he stresses to students is that it’s vital to dream both fearlessly and without limitation.
Stover happened to know a young man from Los Alamos by the name of Alex Kirk whose career is built on big dreams. “Alex is viewed by both youngsters and adults as a positive role model,” notes Stover. “I had a hunch that his story would resonate with the students at Coronado High School.”
The former Los Alamos High School and UNM basketball star has played professionally with the Cleveland Cavaliers, was known as “Captain Kirk” during his time with Pistoia Basket 2000 in Italy and is currently signed with the Foshan Long-Lions of the China Basketball Association. Kirk was initially slated to visit with 30 CHS students in a small classroom, but by the time he arrived, students from all grades were waiting to hear him speak in the Little Pit, the school’s gym that takes its name from UNM’s famous arena.
Kirk’s message was simple: stay focused, go to college, don’t be afraid to lean on your community for support, and always remember that you can accomplish big things no matter where you come from.
“Being able to talk to the youth not only in Los Alamos but all over northern New Mexico is a huge inspiration to me,” says Kirk. “I can share both the successes and failures of my own story, and beyond helping the kids, it puts my life into perspective. Coming from northern New Mexico and being able to play basketball worldwide is amazing, but without the support of my home behind me it wouldn’t have happened. I loved being able to share that message with students at Coronado High School.”
According to Binion, the visit got rave reviews from students. “After Alex spoke, these kids were genuinely excited about their future. They were able to see an individual who comes from a small town in northern New Mexico and is living his dream every day. That kind of real life example is invaluable.” The effects have also been felt throughout classrooms at Coronado.
“Our students love sports, and they especially love basketball,” says Binion. “The teachers have used Alex’s visit to maintain and grow the motivation in their classrooms.”
Many influential people got their start in northern New Mexico. In five or 10 years’ time, you might just see one of them in the Little Pit at Coronado High School telling students how Alex Kirk’s story inspired them to start writing the narrative of their own dreams.