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Boys basketball: Kirk resigns after 7 years with Hilltoppers’ program

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By Mike Cote

Some thought Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball head coach Alan Kirk might resign after the 2009-10 season so that he could more easily follow his son’s collegiate career.

Those speculators were half right.

Kirk put in his resignation to Los Alamos High School’s athletic office Monday, ending his 7-year stint with the program. However, Kirk said that numerous factors were involved in the decision.

“You kind of have to re-evaluate your situation,” Kirk said. “You look ahead and see what your priorities are.”

Several of the many priorities coming up for Kirk are some big community projects that he would like to get behind, including a proposal for a youth multi-use facility in Los Alamos County that he said is overdue.

Along with that, Kirk said he would like to get a chance to see his younger daughter, Erin, compete in athletics. Erin Kirk plays three different sports, but coach Kirk’s time commitments largely precluded that.

Kirk was hired in a co-head coaching capacity following the 2002-03 season, along with Burt Buehrer. The two coached for two seasons together before Buehrer stepped down and Kirk remained to lead the program.

Prior to Kirk and Buehrer, Los Alamos’ program had gone through two coaches in two years.

“Burt and I felt the program needed continuity,” Kirk said. “We told (then athletic director) Robert Abney that we were making a commitment. When we took over, it was basically to stabilize it.”

The program had had a couple of thin seasons prior to Kirk’s and Buehrer’s joining it, but started to patch together quickly.

For each of the last five seasons, the Hilltoppers have made it to the Class AAAA state tournament and won their opening round game. Unfortunately, the Hilltoppers weren’t able to make it past the tournament’s second round.

All Los Alamos’ elimination games were played in a building in which Kirk hopes his son will have more success than he did: The Pit.

“As a player and as a coach, I’ve never won in The Pit,” he said. “I even have a bigger desire to win as a coach than a player.”

Just prior to the start of the 2009-10 season, in which Los Alamos finished 19-10, Alex Kirk signed his National Letter of Intent to play basketball for the University of New Mexico. The younger Kirk’s signing ended months of speculation as to where Los Alamos’ star might land — he was one of the most heavily recruited athletes in the history of the school.

But coach Kirk, who had a noteworthy prep career at LAHS himself,  said that while he was glad he’d have a little more extra time to follow Alex’s career, it wasn’t a major deciding factor.

“When you get down to it, coaching is a huge sacrifice,” he said. “Twenty-one years. It’s been fun and exciting. It’s for the love of the game, but it’s time to look at other things.”

Kirk said he appreciated the effort of those around him, including his assistant coaches and the LAHS administration, as well as all the efforts and sacrifices made by his family during that long stretch. Kirk started as an assistant coach with the Los Alamos girls program in 1990.

In his seven seasons of coaching or co-coaching the Hilltopper boys, he compiled a record of 102-85. In the last five years, his won-loss record stood at an impressive 85-49 (.634).

Away from the court, Kirk is a municipal court judge — he is running unopposed for the position this year — and works with several youth programs such as the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board. As a former police chief, Kirk helped initiate an anti-gang program at Los Alamos Middle School.

He said he’s not going to cut ties with the boys basketball program immediately and would be there to run open gyms and summer camps, but said he feels the program is in good shape and his successor will be walking into a good situation.

“We’ve got a core of 16 sophomores coming back,” he said. “We’ve got one junior who was a big part of our success. He’ll be back as a senior …. There’s a real opportunity to take a core of kids and develop them. There are a lot of talented kids in the program right now.”