HS team manager with Down Syndrome fulfills dream by hitting the ice
Kirky Daum is in the middle of the action in Big Rapids’ game against Mattawan. “I wanted to play my hardest out there,” he said.
Having Down Syndrome did not stop Kirky Daum from playing in a high school hockey game recently.
Daum, a junior, has been the Big Rapids Varsity High School hockey squad’s team manager for his high school career. Last Saturday, in a dream come true, Daum played three shifts – including for the opening faceoff – in the Cardinals’ 3-2 win over conference rival Mattawan at Ewigliben Arena in Big Rapids.
Daum is close friends with all of the Big Rapids players, especially the seniors.
“We’re excited we could have this win in Kirky’s game,” Big Rapids coach Tim Blashill, brother of the Red Wings’ coach Jeff, told the Big Rapids Pioneer. “We talked before the game how it’s great we have a game to compete in, but there are things that are bigger. But it was just an awesome atmosphere. We’re happy he could do this today, and our guys could be a part of it.
“Sometimes you don’t realize that it’s privilege to play hockey and do these things. The sheer excitement in Kirky’s eyes was worth it.”
“It was my first game, and I wanted to play more,” said Kirky, who wore No. 16. “I wanted to play my hardest out there.”
Blashill had an agreement with the Mattawan coach and players that no one would hit Daum.
“We had him in practice on Thursday,” the coach said. “He’s played before. He played a year of Bantams and then he really couldn’t play after that. He started managing for us.
“He’s truly an outstanding kid. It’s unbelievable. After the game, we’ll all talk and we’ll all speak and he’ll say some really profound things, which are awesome. He does a lot for us. We’re happy we could have this happen.
“I kind of thought about this the last year. We kind of talked about this. He’s not a senior but he’s been with a group of these seniors for quite awhile. It’s nice he was able to skate with that group of guys. We put him on the roster with the thought we might be doing this.”
His father, Erich Daum, said this was not Kirky’s first game.
“He got started (in hockey) because his older brother (Garret) played in the Big Rapids organization and with the Cardinals four years,” Daum said. “Kirk has been around the Cardinal hockey team a long time. Kirk started skating when he was 4 or 5 because our whole family kind of did.
“He did play one year in Grand Rapids for the West Michigan Patriots, which is kind of a special hockey team.”
He added that hockey has helped Kirky deal with the effects of Down Syndrome.
“People with Down Syndrome struggle often with their coordination and their physical abilities,” he said. “This has helped Kirk do a number of things like keep weight off. It’s helped Kirk maintain his agility and his coordination.
“That’s just the physical part of it. If you throw in everything he gets in being associated with the team and camaraderie with the other players, it’s a great sense of pride for him. He does go to Big Rapids High School. To be affiliated with a high school sport and team, and to be a part of that, it’s huge for his confidence. It’s had a major impact on Kirk.”
Kirky was glowing after the game.
“He was excited,” his dad said. “He was grinning from ear to ear and was incredibly happy. Coach Blashill came out and I thanked him. Coach Blashill said he was already lobbying for more playing time.”
Kirky will continue to be the Cardinals’ team manager as a senior next season.
“For sure next year,” said Erich, “and chances are high he will stay in the area. It’d be awesome if he could keep being part of the team even after next year.”