Whatever Happened To……Terry Kirby?

dailypress.com

Giving back

Tabb High graduate Terry Kirby uses his “gift” to start a charter school in Florida.

By DAVID TEEL | 247-4636

November 22, 2007

MIAMI —

An outdoor cantina bustling with customers. Palm trees swaying in a breeze. Temperature near 80 just before sundown.

Fresh off the golf course, Terry Kirby marvels at his good fortune on this early November evening in his adopted home.

“This is why you live here,” he says, sipping a Grey Goose and club soda. “How could you leave?”

The community hopes he doesn’t.

Whether raising money for the charter school he founded or training athletes for an upcoming season, Kirby, in his own quiet way, has become a pillar of the greater-Miami region.

“He’s kind of under the radar,” says Wayne Neunie, the principal at Kirby’s Touchdowns4Life Middle School. “He’s not out there, in your face, talking about himself.”

It’s always been that way. Even as the national football player of the year at Tabb High, even as an all-ACC tailback at the University of Virginia, Kirby resisted celebrity’s call.

Credit his upbringing. Raised in a modest home by attentive parents, Thelma and the late Wayne Kirby, he competed against two accomplished older brothers — Kenny and Wayne were star athletes, and Wayne played Major League Baseball.

Now 37 and five seasons removed from a 10-year NFL career, Terry is doing what he does best.

“I guess it’s a gift I have,” he says. “Relating to people. If I can put a smile on somebody’s face, it’s been a great day.”

Kirby majored in psychology at Virginia and has always enjoyed interacting with children. But after retiring from football — he played for the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders — and settling in Florida, Kirby was unsure how to combine those skills.

The answer came from Melvin Dillard, a former teammate at Tabb. Dillard works with troubled youth in Hampton, and during a brainstorming session with Kirby mentioned charter schools.

“What’s a charter school?” Kirby asked.

He quickly learned.

Charter schools are part of the public education system but free from many traditional regulations. They often offer specialized curriculum and more individual instruction.

Kirby partnered with a veteran teacher, wrote a charter and earned approval from officials in Broward County near Fort Lauderdale. Touchdowns4Life opened its doors in the fall of 2004.

The school is located in a well-worn strip mall, the Tamarac Market Place, where it shares store fronts with Krispy Kreme donuts, a karate studio and a discount movie theater — $3 admission, 99 cents every Tuesday. Its interior is equally humble — a converted library divided into makeshift classrooms for social studies, language arts, math, science, reading and technology.

They have no gymnasium or playground, and their boys and girls basketball teams practice at the Tamarac Community Center.

But don’t be fooled.

Touchdowns4Life was among the five percent of Broward schools that improved by at least one letter grade — to a B — on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test last year. A letter from then-Gov. Jeb Bush lauding the school for its upgraded writing scores is displayed in a glass case just inside the front door, not far from Kirby’s framed Dolphins jersey.

Sitting in the foyer, you can hear math teacher Linda Augustin ask her class, “What is the value of Y if X equals five?”

A student quickly answers 11, which is correct but not quite good enough.

“Explain how you figured that out mathematically,” Augustin implores.

Approximately 110 students in grades 6-8 attend Kirby’s school. They reflect south Florida’s ethnic diversity, and most live nearby.

“It’s not that they’re bad kids,” Kirby says. “They just need that touch. … Everybody in my school knows everybody. In a school setting like that, you’re a community. … We try to get parents completely involved, and to me that’s the most important thing.”

Melanie Frey’s two children are outstanding students, but when the family moved to urban Florida from rural Pennsylvania, Melanie wanted a smaller school than their new neighborhood offered. She saw Touchdowns4Life advertised in a newspaper and enrolled Jonathan and Alexa during their first visit.

“It was very small, and (the kids) got major one-on-one instruction,” Frey says. “We were very satisfied.”

So satisfied that Frey and her husband became habitual volunteers at the school before Melanie graduated to a paid, full-time position as administrative assistant. Jonathan attended Touchdowns for two years, Alexa for three, and both are enrolled in high school magnet programs.

“We’ve become very close friends with Terry,” Frey says. “I can’t say anything but good things about Terry. To start a school is such an undertaking. I just wish he was around more often because it’s great for the kids.”

Kirby chairs the school’s board of directors and attends events such as last spring’s Field Day at the local park. But he prefers to let the educators educate.

“I can see (Terry’s) passion for education,” Neunie says. “He’s very much involved.”

Neunie pauses, grins and adds: “He’ll be by later today. He’s got to sign the checks.”

Kirby has other business ventures in real estate and fitness. He’s managing director of End Zone Title Services, and as a co-founder of the Ultimate Sports Institute, he offers training services to individual athletes, young and old, as well as high school and recreation teams — one of Kirby’s football teams, American Heritage, won its district championship this season.

The training keeps Kirby active and fit — at 236 pounds he’s only 8 pounds above his playing weight. Moreover, the training gives Kirby a teacher’s satisfaction, that pride in the moment when a student says, “Oh, I get it now.”

Touchdowns4Life is a non-profit, and Kirby organizes his own fund-raising. He stages an annual golf tournament and occasional wine-tastings featuring friends from the sports and entertainment world such as Alonzo Mourning, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Brown and Luther Campbell, his co-host on a Saturday radio gab-fest.

Kirby’s present aim is to purchase 30-40 laptops to ease congestion in the school’s computer lab. His ultimate goal is to fund construction of a new building for the school, complete with the land for those missing fields and playgrounds.

“I don’t make a dime from the school,” Kirby says. “I just give my time and money. To be involved with something you can see, that’s what’s most gratifying.”

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~ by Sactown Raider Boosters on November 23, 2007.

One Response to “Whatever Happened To……Terry Kirby?”

  1. […] Whatever Happened To……Terry Kirby? November 2007 3 […]

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