In the old gym, the “weight room” was a smallish, windowless room tucked in a back corner of the building. In the new Athletic Center, the spacious Bansbach Strength and Conditioning Center is front and center, brightly lit, with natural light and glass walls so everyone can see the state-of-the-art equipment and the people using it. And now, it’s run by a coach who has stepped up CA’s game with big plans and a big voice.
Wes Kirk’s coaching career started after an injury ended his collegiate football career during his freshman year. The setback sent him home to Arizona, where he trained to join a hotshot fire crew and served as the defensive coordinator for a middle school football team. In coaching, he found meaning and purpose.
“Some of the most important figures in my life were coaches, because they held me to a high standard,” Kirk says. “As I was debating what direction I wanted to go in life, I decided I wanted to work with kids and be impactful, like my coaches had been.”
Kirk moved from middle school to high school, college, and professional coaching opportunities, with stops at the University of Oklahoma, Florida State University, and the University of Arizona. Along the way, he picked up a BS in Biology, an Associate degree in Recreational Management, and a Master of Education with an emphasis in Intercollegiate Athletic Administration. Although he has experience coaching professionals, he believes he can have more impact with younger students, and the position of Strength and Conditioning Coach at CA working in a facility he calls “amazing for a school this size” seemed like a perfect fit.
“I saw the opportunity for longevity, building a program, seeing it succeed,” he says. “The students like the structure. They are smart, they ask questions, and keep me on my toes, so they are great to coach.”
The Girls Volleyball Team is suited up for practice, but instead of heading into the gym, they go straight into the Strength and Conditioning Center and cluster around Kirk. He shows them a digital screen with a list of their circuit training for the day, and for the next 20 minutes, with music pounding, there is non-stop motion in the room, as the team moves in small groups from goblet squats, to push-ups, to bar holds, to step-ups, and a series of other activities designed to maintain their performance while they are competing in season.
No one is slacking off. There’s some panting, flushed cheeks, and a fair amount of laughter, but if the pace lags, Kirk lets the team know about it—loudly.
“His voice is big!” says Co-Captain Merrill Rollhaus. “Last year, I don’t think I picked up a weight once, but he has really increased our intensity level. He does not sugarcoat things!”
On the days that the girls do not train with weights, they do “prehab” exercises, working with bands or stretching to help prevent injuries.
“Prehab is great,” says Co-Captain Gabby Ramseier. “I’ve had shoulder injuries before, and this helps strengthen my shoulders.”
Coach Bob Ulrich watches the girls work out with a big grin. “To use traditional terms, this helps our athletes become bigger, faster, stronger, and compete more effectively,” he says. “In a short time, what Wes is teaching the students is already paying dividends.”
During their first weeks of training, the Boys Soccer Team worked on building strength through body weight training, with a focus on functional movement, flexibility, and mobility. Those weeks provided a foundation for the strength and conditioning work during the competitive season. What pleases Coach Gabe Bernstein most about the experience the team gets with Kirk is the continuity.
“He has brought structure, discipline, and an attention to detail to strength and conditioning that we as a coaching staff try to maintain on the field,” Bernstein says. “He has set the bar, and he has the expertise and presence that demands that the students step up their game.”
When the team gathers for its weekly lifting session, their work is laid out on the digital board: goblet deadlift, release push-ups, glute walk-outs, rainbow marches, band lat pulls, step-ups. But before he releases them, Kirk takes a minute to talk to the boys, who are fresh from a single penalty kick loss. “You’re going to get behind sometimes, but you can’t give up,” he tells the boys, who are listening intently. “Believe in yourselves!” Then, the boys head straight to their stations, and for the next 20 minutes, they believe in the value of working hard.
“Coach Kirk woke a lot of people up with his training,” says Co-Captain Liam Hall. “We’ve learned that the more work we put in, it will be reflected in the way we play and feel.”
“He’s put the focus on being well-rounded athletes, not just soccer players,” adds Co-Captain Nick Maffei. “That will really pay off for students who play multiple sports.”
In addition to working with teams, Kirk is an instructor, teaching Middle School and Upper School Sports Performance classes. “I want all the students here to know you don’t have to be intimidated by a room with weights,” he says. “I’m teaching students across the CA community to be healthy for the rest of their lives.”
He’s also looking ahead for the student-athletes who hope to have a collegiate career, working to serve as a bridge between high school competition and the demands and responsibilities of being a student-athlete in college, so students are prepared for the type of competition they will face after CA. Ultimately, though, Kirk is coaching students to have a stronger, more resilient approach to competition—not just with their bodies, but with their minds.
“He’s not just a conditioning coach,” says Rollhaus. “He builds our character and inspires us to be better competitors.”