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The youngest of Wayne and Thelma Kirby's four children, Terry has always been a superior athlete—he also starred at baseball and basketball in high school, and as a senior finished fifth in the state in the 100-meter dash—but for many years he was only the third-best athlete in his family's yard. Brothers Wayne Jr. and Kenny were standout athletes who grudgingly tolerated their little brother in horseshoes, stickball and a family-invented kamikaze version of all-against-one football dubbed Light Up.
"All day long we'd play," says 28-year-old Kenny, a 6'2", 235-pound slugger for a touring softball team sponsored by the Human Resources Development computer company in Washington, D.C. "And that's all Terry wanted to do. He was a gnat. His nickname was Midget."
Terry was competitive in everything, the brothers recall, even when they hunted in the forests surrounding the small Kirby home in tiny Tabb (pop. 690). "He always wanted to shoot more squirrels than you did," says Wayne, 29, a career minor league baseball player until last season, when he broke into the Cleveland Indians' lineup as the starting rightfielder, hitting .269 in 131 games. "In football I always thought he'd be a linebacker, because he loved to hit."
As Kenny scans the broad lawn where the boys spent their formative days, he remembers another of his kid brother's traits. "He always messed with matches," says Kenny. "He liked fire."
Sort of like Beavis on MTV?
"Yeah," says Kenny with a grin.
Naughty boy. Actually, Terry got into a few scrapes as a kid, and if it weren't for the stern but loving guidance of Wayne, a handyman, and Thelma, a custodian at a nearby NASA facility, he most certainly would not be the decent fellow he is today. "He'd go out for the school bus and then sneak off and hide," says Wayne Sr. "But my wife would get tight on him when he was messing around."
Thelma even insisted that Terry repeat second grade. He was devastated. "I hated her for that," he says. "All your friends go on; I was really upset. I was in the meeting, too, and the teacher said, 'Terry's doing well, but not as well as he could. It's up to you, Mrs. Kirby.' Later my mom said to me, 'I'm doing this for a reason. It may not make sense now, but it will.' "
He admits that it now does, though he feels his main difficulty back then was that he was just "active." As he still is. "I have to do something," he says.
At Virginia he played two years of varsity basketball as a reserve point guard. After rushing eight times for 64 yards and catching two passes for 21 more in the Cavaliers' Citrus Bowl loss to Illinois in his freshman year, Kirby was told by Terry Holland, Virginia's basketball coach at the time, to take a week off and recuperate before starting hoops. "The next morning I ran a mile to the gym and then ran on the treadmill for a long time and then ran home," says Kirby. "Players said, 'You're crazy!' I said, 'I can't sit still.' "