Honouring part of the Mustang family
By Ryan Hickman
The Homecoming football game on Saturday will be filled with fervor and remembrance. Last week's tragic deaths of former Mustangs football player Michael Kirkley and his wife Dr. Sandy Kirkley will cause emotions to run very high on Saturday afternoon.
Long-time Mustangs' football equipment manager Clay Warner pointed to the magnitude of Homecoming this year. "This year is even more important. There's a lot of things involved with Michael and Sandy," Warner said.
The ties between football and the Kirkley family will be all over the stadium on Saturday. Michael Kirkley was a star running back at Western in his playing days in the late '70s and early '80s.
Dr. Kirkley was an orthopedic surgeon at the Fowler-Kennedy Sports Clinic here on campus, an institution that holds a very close relationship with all Mustangs' athletes.
McMaster University's head coach Greg Marshall will be returning to coach against his former alma mater for the first time on Homecoming. Marshall was a very close friend of Kirkley and his entire family. They were teammates at Western when Marshall joined the team with Kirkley in 1978.
Marshall was the fullback and Kirkley showcased his talents as the tailback in Western's backfield. The two running backs were also drafted to the Canadian Football League together Kirkley being selected first overall by the Toronto Argonauts.
As a coach, Marshall, who still has strong ties to the Mustangs football team, knows he will have to keep his emotions intact for the weekend.
"It's going to take me a long time to get over this, but we are trying our best to prepare for the game," Marshall explained. "Mike would have wanted us to go out and play an entertaining game."
Current Mustangs bench boss Larry Haylor served as coach for both Marshall and Kirkley during their time here as players.
Haylor spoke about the loss of Sandy and Michael Kirkley.
"They were part of our family. They were our friends and we were theirs," Haylor said.
In honour of Michael and Sandy, the Mustangs are wearing a decal on the back of their helmets. Haylor explained the meaning behind the symbol.
"They were both very proud of their Irish heritage. We have Mike's number on it and the medical symbol for Sandy's profession."
Michael Kirkley was also a huge contributor in co-ordinating support for Mustangs football players. He was especially active in the Champions Club, which was an organization set up to help football players tackle the overwhelming costs that come with playing varsity athletics. The Champions Club allowed boosters to sponsor a certain player on the team. Kirkley sponsored current Mustangs running back Drew Soleyn.
Soleyn, who just formally met Kirkley after the Windsor game this season, talked about the short time he was able to meet with Kirkley.
"I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to meet him and speak with him and I thanked him for supporting the program and myself personally," he said.