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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado ? It?s an unspoken rule at the Kirby family Thanksgiving table that brothers Caleb and Cody will not be discussing work. That?s because they coach two of the nation?s top varsity Collegiate Archery Programs and are often competing for the same elite recruits and prepping for the indoor tournament season.
The University of the Cumberlands Assistant Coach Caleb Kirby shared: ?We know when we?re recruiting the same people, especially here in Kentucky where S3DA is so big, obviously we know most of the seniors who are considering our schools among others, but there was one instance a few years ago at Easter, Cody came into our grandma?s house and he kind of had his swaggy coach thing going a little bit and he was excited about this archer he found that he thought no one else was on, but it turned out she was going to another school and I was like ?oh really?!? because I had the same story and I asked what her name was and he was like, ?well, wouldn?t you like to know?? ?when we realized it was the same archer, he was like, ?man I can?t get anything up on you!? We like to joke around and pick at each other about the kids that know both of us pretty well.?
Cody Kirby, Union College?s Head Archery Coach explained that he and Caleb both got their start in competitive archery in a high school NASP program. ?I was a baseball player so that?s where my focus was, but my senior year a new teacher came in and restarted the archery program, and I knew I wasn?t going to keep playing baseball and I remembered doing archery in middle school gym class, so I thought I?d see how that goes. We shot on the same NASP team my senior year of high school when he was a freshman. I can?t remember which of us was most interested and pushed the other, but it?s the only thing that we?ve shared as far as sports go since.?
Caleb added: ?We grew up playing little league and church league basketball? But archery is one of those things that as soon as I got to high school, we just kind of shared. I guess it was Cody kind of encouraging me to do it; our cousin Tyler was on the NASP team with us too and it was something the three of us did together.?
The Kirbys? father had a recurve bow they had played around with before high school, and in middle school, Cody picked up a compound bow and learned to shoot some. ?When we got to High School our NASP Coach didn?t know much at the time, so most of the coaching I got until I got to college was actually from Cody,? commented Caleb. ?Obviously when I got to college, Strebeck was my coach, but Cody was probably a big factor in like all the coaching and tuning that went into my bow. There?s a whole lot of the success I?ve had in archery that I?d have to give to both Strebeck and Cody.?
It?s impossible to tell the story of the Kirby brothers without the Cumberlands? head coach Kris Strebeck. Cody went to Cumberlands right out of high school; both the Kirbys? parents were alums, and in Cody?s sophomore year, Coach Strebeck was a regional coordinator for NASP and taught coach certification as a PE credit. Cody was competing in ASA and IBO tournaments, so he took the class and helped Strebeck run a few NASP regional tournaments. That year, the invited the president of the University to come present awards at the NASP regionals: ?when he got there, he saw how many kids and families were there and saw an opportunity to attract a different demographic of students, so that year between my sophomore and junior year, they approved the very first varsity archery program at Cumberlands, and maybe even in the country,? said Cody.
?I helped Strebeck recruit in my junior year, shot on the team in my senior year, and then started as a Graduate Assistant Coach, and then I left and went directly to Union to start the program here. Caleb wouldn?t have gone to Cumberlands if it hadn?t been for archery.?
Caleb is now the first full-time assistant coach at Cumberlands after working as a Graduate Assistant Coach for three years post-grad. Cody proudly boasted that his younger brother earned his keep: ?He put in the work and now, selfishly, it is really hard to work against both Caleb and Strebeck.?
At the time, prior to USA Archery?s merger with the USCA, Union and the Cumberlands were tense rivals, and it still is that way with their football teams competing annually in the Battle of the Brass Lantern, but now they feel more united in their efforts to beat Texas A&M. As coaches, Caleb and Cody aren?t just competing for top podium spots, but also for top incoming talent as they recruit to their programs.
?The funny thing about recruiting is, normally, especially kids that come from far away, if they do their research and they?re coming to this area for a visit anyway, they?ll visit both schools, either seeing the second one later in the same day,? shared Caleb. ?So, if we have someone on campus and ask them where else they?re considering and they say ?Union?, I?ll just be like, ?well be sure to tell my brother hi, the coach over there is kind of a loser.? It?s funny because we?ll even try to hold a recruit over and Strebeck or I will get on the phone and say, ?hey, so and so is going to be late? sorry!??
Caleb says he and Cody are both competitive people at heart: ?Growing up, even playing Playstation one of us always wanted to beat the other. My dad has always said the difference in us is that Caleb likes to win, and Cody hates to lose. Cody has always been one of those people who doesn?t take losing very well. I was maybe 12 and he was 15 and I threw a hail mary on college football or whatever and beat him by like two points and he threw the controller at me and broke a button and that was his controller from then on.?
Neither practices archery as much now as when they were shooting in school, but they both still like to get out to shoot tournaments when they can. They?ll play it cool when they?re not having great days, but Caleb joked that Strebeck eggs them on more than anybody else. ?I?ll come home and he?ll be like, ?you didn?t beat your brother this weekend, what are you going to do? That usually doesn?t happen.? He motivates me because I want to beat him every time.?
Despite the rivalry and their competitive nature, Caleb and Cody are also each other?s biggest fans. ?My very first competitive year at Union, Caleb shot men?s bowhunter and I didn?t have any men?s bowhunter shooters, so I was able to have my cake and eat it too,? shared Cody. ?I took just a few shooters to California for nationals and Caleb had won two national 3D titles already and this was his last shoot in collegiate archery, and I think I was more nervous than he was when he went up to the gold medal match.?
In turn, Caleb sang Cody?s praises as a coach: ?My brother is really good at taking NASP kids and teaching them how to shoot a compound bow, or even a recurve or barebow. He?s really good at teaching new people how to shoot well in other styles of archery. He?s great at explaining the basics of what they need to know, making sure they get through their shot execution and just taking someone who knows nothing about archery and making them a very competitive shooter. He?s quick to identify the strengths of each archer. He also really knows equipment and how to make the bow do certain things. I pick his brain for advice every now and then.?
Perhaps the only bigger fan of the boys is their mother; she has her undergrad degree from the Cumberlands and her Masters from Union. Caleb shared a favorite memory: ?the first year Cody was coaching, our mom had got a shirt made that was orange and blue and red lettering and both had UC on it and she walked into the range we were shooting at and one of Cody?s archers looks at her and goes, ?that woman needs help ? she doesn?t know who she?s supposed to be rooting for!??
Learn more about USA Archery?s Collegiate Archery Program and follow Union College and the University of the Cumberlands? archery teams as they gear up for Indoor Nationals in this heated competition season.
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