by Jim Mulligan
If you love the settings of movies like The Horse Whisperer or A River Runs Through It, you have likely dreamt of living in the wilds of one of the most beautiful states in the U.S.A.: Big Sky Country—Montana. At least during the summer months, it seems like an idyllic place to live, be a kid, and experience rural life to the fullest. No one would argue that growing up in suburban towns, urban centers, and even the mega metropolis of a place like New York City don’t give folks these unique opportunities and perspectives. But the exceptional experiences of hunting and fishing miles from the hustle and bustle of the city, traveling hours for the Friday night high school basketball matchup, or being able to say hello, by name, to everyone in town, molds a perspective as special as they come.
Arguably, it may also breed adaptability and grit like nowhere else. Mr. Kirby Kauk, Reedley High School teacher and long-time Reedley resident, knows well the joys and challenges of growing up far from cosmopolitan culture, and often returns to his boyhood state for rejuvenation.Kauk was born at Washington State University Hospital while his father was finishing veterinarian school, but grew up among the red spring wheat fields of north-central Montana in the small town of Brady. His dad became the regional vet, caring for the medical needs of large animals——think Dr. Pol from Nat Geo TV. Like many American youth growing up in rural America, Kauk worked on the family farm and ranch while going to school and playing sports. Whether it was the ranch work in the bitter cold of Montana winters, or his enthusiasm for athletics in high school and college, Kauk developed and maintains a hunger for competition that likely aided him in his life-long quest for excellence in everything he tackles.
Kauk excelled in school and competed enthusiastically in sports, both in high school and college. He was the salutatorian of the Brady High School class of 1981. Basketball was his game in high school where he was a four-year varsity player. He also ran track and made the state track meet all four yours of high school. He was Second Team All-Conference (basketball) as a sophomore, First Team All-Conference as a junior and senior, and All-State Honorable Mention as a junior and senior. He was a member of the National Honor Society, making honor roll each of his eight semesters in high school. If that’s not enough, he participated in the school play “Prime Time Crime” as a senior, portraying Tony Baretta, a maverick undercover detective in New York City. Kauk went on to attend Western Montana College (now the University of Montana Western) about four hours south of where he grew up. His acumen in both academics and athletics continued in college. He was part of the Frontier Conference (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics: NAIA) All-Academic football teams in 1983 and 1984 and a recipient of the NATA (National Athletic Trainers’ Association) National Undergraduate Scholarship Award sponsored by the Professional Football Athletic Trainers’ Society in 1985. He graduated with a B.S. in Health and Physical Education with an emphasis in Sports Medicine, and a minor in Biology.
After graduation Kauk was ready to venture even further away from his home and begin graduate school at Arizona State. He eventually started his career as a college athletic trainer. At the suggestion of a college acquaintance, Russ Richardson, who worked at a small college in a town he had never heard of—Reedley, California—Kauk decided to move his young family to the heartland of the Golden State and took the job of Head Athletic Trainer at our very own Reedley High School in 1986. In addition to holding this new position of Athletic Trainer for the Pirates, Kauk also began teaching science, and building a new teaching program at Reedley High. This program not only gives RHS students an opportunity to learn about sports medicine, but puts them on the field with athletes to put theory into practice.
Kauk’s philosophy of education was essential in creating this dynamic program: “I try to put things in a meaningful context whenever possible, trying to relate things to real life as much as possible.” Over the last 35 years, Kauk has created and sustained a sports medicine program that he is very proud of, one that has provided opportunities for Reedley youth to gain real-life work experience and be competitive in the health care and sports medicine fields. Kauk says, “It’s so great to hear from former students ten and 20 years after they’ve graduated. You know, they tell me they are a doctor or physical therapist…and they tell me that what they learned in my anatomy class helped them in medical school.”
In addition to being bolstered by the success of his former students, Kauk has been recognized many times as a teacher of excellence. He has twice been named High School Teacher of the Year by the Kings Canyon Unified School District. He was also recognized as Educator of the Year in 2019 by the Greater Reedley Chamber of Commerce. The Far West Athletic Trainers’ Association named him High School Athletic Trainer of the Year in 2002. I really don’t have enough column space to list all of Mr. Kauk’s accolades. He is a well-respected athletic trainer and educator.
Kauk has been married for 40 years to his high school sweetheart, Kathi. Together they have three children: a son, Cameron, who is married to Bri; and two daughters: Lindsay, who is married to Karl, and Emily, who is married to Vince. All three spent their school years as KCUSD students and proud RHS Pirates. The Kauks also have five grandchildren: Parker, Carver, Brinley, Cambria, and Daylynne, with one more grandbaby on the way.
No date has been set yet, but retirement from teaching and the sports medicine program is definitely on the horizon. But, you can bet Mr. Kauk won’t be sitting around when his paid career comes to an end. In addition to spending time with family and friends, both here and at a summer retreat in Montana, he intends to continue, if not ramp up, his unpaid endeavors as an amateur wood worker and home brewer. And if you think the competitive nature that fueled his athletic endeavors has waned, think again. Kauk channels his “make every day count” attitude into not only brewing beer, but brewing the best beer he possibly can. Kauk’s hoppy concoctions have received awards such as the People’s Choice Award at the Tioga Homebrew Club competition and even received regional recognition in the National Home Brewers competition. As a self-proclaimed beer aficionado myself, I told him, that’s all well and good, but he needs to let me taste test his future entries, just to make sure they are up to par.
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