Pain didn't stop award-winning Dunsmuir grad from doing what he loves

Steve Gerace
Hunter Kirch receives Dunsmuir High School's Kevin Young Memorial award from superintendent-principal Ray Kellar on graduation night, June 5, 2015.

You could say Hunter Kirch was following family footsteps when he walked across the stage during Dunsmuir High School’s 2015 graduation ceremony to receive the Kevin Young Memorial Athlete of the Year award.

But just putting one foot in front of the other – on or off a sports field – has been a painful experience for Hunter since he was first diagnosed with a degenerative hip disease at age seven.

Despite the difficulties of living with Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, Hunter played four years of baseball and basketball and three years of football at DHS.

He made honorable mention all-league in both baseball and football and was chosen to play in this year’s Lion’s All Star Football 8-Man game.

“I was excited,” Hunter said of hearing his name announced as the school’s male Kevin Young Memorial award winner. He said it was especially meaningful because his brother Erin and “sister” Jamie both won the award in back-to-back years, 2009 and 2010.

Jamie is actually his cousin, but they were all raised together, and Hunter refers to her as sister.

“Hunter is one of those young men who really put everything into his athletic ability,” according to DHS superintendent-principal and athletic director Ray Kellar. “He is usually in pain, but you would never know it.”

Kellar said Hunter and this year’s co-female Kevin Young award winners, Julia Allen and Tyla Edwards, are all “fine young people and will do well for themselves in life. All will go on into college and all have chosen fields of study in health science and service.” 

Didn’t want to miss out

Hunter spent a couple months in a wheelchair after he had hip surgery in the sixth grade and his activities were limited for a while.

Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease is rare, afflicting approximately 1 in 1,200 children, according to the National Osteonecrosis Foundation.

It was first diagnosed in Hunter’s left hip, then in his right hip about three years later.

It is caused by an interruption of blood flow that leads to bone deterioration which causes the hip ball to fracture. After the fracture, new tissue and bone typically grow. When that didn’t happen in Hunter’s right hip, he needed surgery while in sixth grade.

Unable to play youth baseball at that time, he started playing golf and soon became the first player in the Siskiyou Junior Golf program to make a hole in one. He hit that shot with a driver on the 13th hole at the Mount Shasta Resort in August 2008, while being accompanied by his grandfather, Tom Beck.

Hunter’s mother, Lisa Kirch, said his specialist gave him the OK to do what he wanted in sports once he got to high school, depending on how much pain he could deal with.

“It was rough,” Hunter said, “but I love sports and didn’t want to miss out. After a while it hurts, but I’ve dealt with it since I was seven, so I’m used to it.”

He said bending down to play center in football was the hardest thing, “but I didn’t mind it as much because I love playing sports so much.”

He didn’t beat out a lot of hits or steal bases for the baseball team, but he did lead the team in runs batted in this spring and had one of the Tigers’ top batting averages.

“Baseball is my favorite sport,” said Hunter, who played second base. 

More than sports

Kellar said Hunter “never complains and gives full effort on the court or field. He mentally knows the games, and performs at his top ability level whenever he is in a game. He also applies these same principles of focus to the classroom. He is a good student and mentor for others in both areas as well.”

When presenting the Kevin Young awards during the June 5 graduation, Kellar said the recipients are chosen for more than just sports. The criteria includes success in the classroom, being coachable, having a positive attitude, demonstrating leadership, and earning the respect and admiration of peers.

Hunter was also one of four finalists for this year’s Tiger Award Athlete of the Year, which was won by his classmate Chase Sordahl.

‘One of the hardest positions’

Lisa Kirch referred to her son as “a trooper... A lot of people might say, ‘I can’t do that,’ but he always keeps a positive attitude and jokes about it... To play center in football was the most insane thing, but he caught onto it and loved the game.”

She said Tylenol helped, and so did the support of his teammates.

When Hunter was named honorable mention all-league after his junior season in 2013, Tiger head coach Chris Ballard noted the hip problems he deals with and said, “He plays one of the hardest positions and gives 100 percent all the time.”

Hunter said he’s looking forward to playing in the Lions All Star Football game July 18 in Oroville on a North 8-Man roster that includes teammates Sordahl and Tommy Stibi.

“Coach (Gerald Piper of Redding Christian) told me I have to be there; I’m the only center,” Hunter said. 

Moving on

In part because of all the X-ray exams he had at UC Davis when he was younger, Hunter said he is considering a career as an X-ray technician.

He plans to attend College of the Siskiyous for two years then pursue something in the medical field at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, Ore.

He’s also looking forward to playing men’s softball in the future.

Hunter doesn’t expect the pain to go away, and somewhere down the road he anticipates needing double hip replacement.

Asked what he thinks he’ll remember most about his sports career at DHS, Hunter mentioned playing on the 2013 football team that won the Tigers’ first league championship in 17 years.

That and “getting a chance to play with all my friends,” he said.