Healthy Competition

By Ted Allen, June 12, 2019


Entering his 20th season as a coach for Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team, Kirk Handy looks back in awe and wonder at the exponential growth he has witnessed since he was a hockey player for Liberty in the late 1990s.

“It is pretty incredible,” said Handy, who helped start Liberty’s Club Sports department in Fall 2008 and now serves as its athletic director.

Kirk Handy has been the head coach of Liberty’s ACHA men’s Division I hockey team since 2000. Here, he coaches players from the 2007 team.

The department started with just five teams and 82 student-athletes and has grown to 41 teams and more than 600 student-athletes. Club Sports teams travel all over the country, with some competing at the highest level of collegiate competition in their sport.

“I am blessed. God has been very good to us, and we’ve continued to refine and get better and grow day-in and day-out,” he said. “That’s a big, big part of it — not being satisfied with where we are and pushing to be the best that we can be.”

Handy gauges Club Sports’ success not only by the teams’ performances but by each student’s progression from the moment they arrive on campus to the time they graduate.

“To me, winning games and winning championships is one thing, but continuing to develop our student-athletes, continuing to make a difference in their lives, is a real big part of it,” Handy said. “We’re on a mission of Training Champions for Christ, and that’s what we’re trying to do through our Club Sports department.”

Handy leads by example, starting his day around 5 a.m. and balancing a tremendous range of responsibilities.

“A big part of the growth for me has been to ask myself the question, ‘Would I want to be led by me?’ and making sure that my life is one that people will be motivated through,” Handy said. “I want to make a difference, and I want to make sure that the people who work for me have a bigger vision than just a job, a bigger opportunity to make an impact than just the paycheck that they get. That’s real, real important for me. Personally, I don’t want to stop growing and being all that God wants me to be. Sometimes, if you get complacent, you stop growing. I don’t want to be in that spot in my life.”

After serving as a team captain and leading scorer on the men’s hockey team and graduating with a psychology degree in 1999, Handy became head coach in 2000. Besides coaching a team that had to commute to a rink over an hour away in Roanoke for late-night practices and games, Handy handled everything from ticket sales to advertising, recruiting, and game operations. He also worked in Liberty’s admissions department and oversaw recruitment events, such as College For A Weekend (CFAW). The Huntsville, Ontario, native was put in charge of Canadian recruitment and eventually was named director of recruitment.

“I stand back sometimes and start thinking about all the things I’ve done to this point, and it’s overwhelming,” Handy said. “Liberty made a big difference in my life and really built a solid foundation for me when I was here as a student-athlete. I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Jerry Falwell (Liberty’s founder) from 2000 to 2007, and that really prepared me for what I am doing now. It’s been Liberty’s growth that has spurred a lot of it and also the confidence that Dr. Falwell and our current President Jerry Falwell had in me and what I was doing.”

If Handy is the “Captain Kirk” of Club Sports, the LaHaye Ice Center is his starship. Located across from the LaHaye Recreation and Fitness Center and a football’s throw from Williams Stadium, the center is home to Liberty’s five hockey teams and the figure skating and synchronized skating teams as well as the headquarters for the Club Sports department.

“Dr. Falwell had been talking about building a rink here on campus, and when we finally did (in January 2006) and then built the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre a couple years later, it was such an exciting time for us,” Handy said. “We realized that what we were doing with these venues was building a great foundation for our Club Sports program.”

Since the opening of those two facilities, the Club Sports department has added lacrosse fields and a clubhouse, two paintball fields, two disc golf courses, an equestrian center, a state-of-the-art shooting sports complex with archery ranges, a boat house for its crew teams at Smith Mountain Lake, a rock wall, the Liberty Mountain Intramural Complex with beach volleyball courts, and a Club Sports strength and conditioning/athletic training center. Triathletes and men’s swimmers and divers utilize the new Liberty Indoor Track & Field Complex and Liberty Natatorium as well as a triathlon/cycling studio.

Liberty’s robust Club Sports program broadens the college experience for students. In addition to the classroom, student-athletes also learn life lessons on the ice, on the court, and on the field. Coaches become mentors, and teammates become lifelong friends. The university has also seen rewarding results in improved graduation and retention rates as the Club Sports program gives students a chance to continue to compete in a sport that many of them have loved since they were children.

“You have to love what you’re doing and believe in what you’re doing, and that’s made a tremendous difference in the rate at which we have been able to grow, the rate at which we are able to retain students, the rate at which we are able to bring new students in and, ultimately, the rate at which they graduate on time and go out and make a difference,” Handy said.

The success of the Club Sports program is “first and foremost part of God’s blessings on Liberty University,” he said. “Second, it’s due to the university leadership who have really allowed us to continue to grow and to have a big impact on our teams, our coaches, our student-athletes, and alumni who had such a great experience here because of the resources they were given. Third, we couldn’t have built the hockey program or a Club Sports department without people who sacrificed a lot along the way. We have a wonderful staff here who love their student-athletes and love Liberty. I am just blessed enough to stay here and be a part of something really special.”

Thirty-three of the 41 Club Sports teams qualified for national competition in the 2018-19 school year, and 21 ended their seasons ranked in the top 10 in the nation. The ACHA Division I women’s hockey team and NCWA Division I men’s wrestling team defended their national championships. The women’s crew team and the men’s disc golf team earned national honors. The men’s and women’s wrestling teams and the shooting sports teams also celebrated individual national titles.

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