CINCINNATI — To a non-discerning eye, one could watch an entire Elder basketball game and not notice Mikey Kirch. He’s not one of the 4th-ranked Panthers' leading scorers nor rebounders. He does make the plays in the margins – the screens, the box-outs, the deflections – that coaches love.
“He brings a toughness to our team and athleticism to our team,” Elder coach Joe Schoenfeld said. “He runs the floor better than any of our big guys.”
“I’m not going to put crazy stats. I’m just here to win,” Kirch said.
Kirch is also noticeable for another reason. The junior forward has Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder most recognizable by involuntary movements, or tics.
But if that’s all you notice about Kirch, you’re not looking hard enough.
“When I’m focused in, you won’t know that I have it,” Kirch said.
It takes plenty of focus to play at the varsity level in both football and basketball at Elder. Kirch is also a tight end for Doug Ramsey's football team.
Athletics often receive too much credit for what they can accomplish, but not in this case. Kirch, and his parents Ike and Jody, say sports is a community where Mikey thrives.
“He’s always just wanted to be one of the guys,” said Ike, himself a former varsity basketball player at Elder. “That’s why he’s always gravitated to sports. He loves being around the team, being in the locker room, the field, whatever it is.”
Jody first noticed Mikey’s involuntary movements at a very early age.
“(The movements) weren’t as prominent as they are as you see on the basketball court. They weren’t always like that,” said Jody, a 2018 member of Thomas More’s Athletics Hall of Fame as a volleyball player. “I remember him being a constant blinker. He would clear his throat a lot. Roll his neck.”
“It feels like an itch that you just have to itch,” Mikey said. “I gotta do it, I gotta do it. And then you finally do it, you get that second or two of relief. Then it comes back."
As a family, they decided the eldest of their three children wouldn’t take medication for Tourette's. The odds of the medication being effective were low and they’d constantly have to adjust and change it.
Enter sports. There are pictures of a very young Mikey at the Pit in his youth football jersey. In another, he’s sitting with two of his current Panthers teammates in the Elder basketball locker room. He’s in his element, smiling, just one of the guys.
“Unfortunately, for people that don’t know him, (the tics) are the first thing they see,” Scotty Nieman, one of Kirch’s teammates said. “When you get to know him, that’s not what he is. He doesn’t let it affect him.”
That includes on the basketball court. Sometimes opponents make comments about Kirch’s tics. But when your team is 15-3 and one of the best in the state, you typically get the last laugh.
“I like to trash talk, get in people’s head,” Kirch said.
Kirch typically doesn’t discuss Tourette's much. He’s doing so now because he knows assists aren’t just important on the basketball court.
“Thought this would be something cool to do. Maybe there’s some kid out there that can see me and see how I’m doing. Try and be a role model,” Kirch said.
He’s known David Larkins since grade school. He’s already a role model to him.
“He’s inspirational,” Larkins said. “Anyone can do anything. If you put your mind to something, you can do it.”