Alex Verschoor-Kirss is not the first sibling to be influenced by an older brother. But the scope of how far he has taken it? That’s another story.
“I wanted to do all the things Michael did,” he said.
If Michael played a sport, Alex had to play two sports. Michael played the trumpet. Alex took it up also, and wound up playing in the jazz ensemble at Needham High for four years.
“But I don’t think it was much of a rivalry for Michael,” he said. “He was always bigger and better than me. Especially in sports. Michael had to do everything first. I think I’m a classic younger sibling. I learned a lot from him.”
A Colby College graduate, 22-year-old Michael is in his first year at Tufts University’s veterinary school.
Alex, 21, is a senior at Williams College, where, at first glance, a rundown of everything he is involved in can leave the less-inspired breathless.
He has taken on a triple major: political science, sociology, and religion (he is writing his thesis on religious terrorism). The academic load is not something he recommends. He is a volunteer assistant coach for the women’s volleyball team, a sport he captained for three years at the club level on the men’s side.
When he was at Needham High, the swim coach, Adam Cole, needed divers. Alex was a swimmer.
“Coach asked, ‘Who’s willing to do this?’ ” he recalled.
Verschoor-Kirss was, of course. “I was surprised I didn’t get injured,” he said.
In his sophomore year at Williams, Verschoor-Kirss was named to the New England Small College Athletic Conference’s All-Academic team in men’s swimming and diving.
Verschoor-Kirss took a year off from diving last season to concentrate on classwork, but coach Kit Koch is pleased he is coming back this season.
“I’ll ease him back into it, if he lets me,” said Koch. “He’ll want to go faster.”
Since Koch took over the diving program, Williams has won four Division 3 NCAA titles and produced 36 All-Americans.
She feels Verschoor-Kirss can be a top-10 point scorer in the conference.
“He’s got a good body type,” Koch said. “He’s strong and can jump very high.”
Verschoor-Kirss helped the Ephs win the conference crown two years ago.
“We needed every point,” said Koch.
Like everyone else, Koch marvels at all the activities Verschoor-Kirss takes on.
“Kids do a lot of things at Williams,” she said, “but not as much as Alex does. He’s very disciplined.”
This is his third year of writing up the swimming and volleyball results for the local papers and the college’s online page, a big help to sports information director Dick Quinn.
“I said to him, ‘Don’t you have enough on your plate?’ ” said Quinn. “This is my 24th year here. It’s the first time I’ve had a triple major, athlete, and student-coach work for me. I don’t know where he finds the time.”
“Our parents didn’t want us sitting around and being bored,” said Verschoor-Kirss. “They said ‘Go out and do something.’ ”
The world opened up to him. He couldn’t wait to try the next thing. “For how busy I was as a kid and how busy I am now, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “Doing nothing, I’d hate it.”
He and Michael would play soccer in the backyard.
“We had two nets, a real one and a fence,” said Michael. “We’d take our best shot and hoped it would go in.”
When Alex saw his brother playing volleyball, “He said, ‘I want to do that,’ ” Michael recalled.
Alex treated the classroom the same way. Why a triple major? Because it was there for the taking.
“It was an option,” said Michael. “I knew he’d go after it with all he had. Alex is kinda quiet, but he’s intellectually driven. He’s always been driven. Just playing a game, he wanted to go after the gold. He wanted to win.”
Their parents, Rein and Carla, are chemistry professors at Northeastern University and Wellesley College, respectively.
A daughter, Emily, is a sophomore at Connecticut College, and is a swimmer too.
“She’s the musical talent in the family,” said Alex. “She sings, plays the saxophone, clarinet, guitar, and flute.”
At Williams, Verschoor-Kirss dove into more than the pool.
If someone needed a helping hand he just seemed to appear.
“He came into my office and asked if he could get involved,” said women’s volleyball coach Christi Kelsey. “I said we’d appreciate any help.”
Verschoor-Kirss went to the practices and meets, writing down notes and keeping statistics that he later could recall off the top off his head.
Last year, Kelsey needed an assistant coach.
“He got more involved,” said Kelsey. “The players trusted the feedback he gave them. He’s dedicated three years of his life to the program. He’s a humble, very responsible, very caring person. Very unselfish with his time.”
As a kid, Verschoor-Kirss was quick to decide what was worth his time and what had to be set aside. “I tried baseball and basketball,” he said. “It didn’t light my fire.”
His downtime is limited.
“I usually block out a couple of weekend hours to watch football,” he said, “or read a book.”
His mom said: “I think of Alex as an intellectual, sitting on the bed reading a book. He and Michael shared a room their entire life. A lot of brothers would have argued.”
Williams was the only school Verschoor-Kirss seriously considered, although, he said, “it wasn’t love at first sight. I was excited, but nervous my freshman year. My high school had prepared me well, but you never know what you’re getting into. I’m not ashamed that I got the lowest grades in my life that first semester.”
By second semester his grades improved considerably. He never looked back.
“I found academic discipline,” he said. “Everything began falling in place. I got to know Williams as a special place and community.”
He would give back. Helping the volleyball team was a no-brainer. His father had played the game all his life.
“I took Alex to play at the Beantown Volleyball Club in Boston,” said Rein Verschoor-Kirss. “He wasn’t a natural, but over the years he developed.”
The family took to the outdoors easily. Verschoor-Kirss went cross-country skiing and mountain climbing. He and his dad did a 470-mile bike race across Iowa last year.
Verschoor-Kirss has studied numerous cultures to support his religious terrorism thesis.
“It’s a very disturbing subject, but it has great relevance for our world, unfortunately,” he said.
He is considering graduate school, and sees a government job as a possibility.
“He just wants to do a lot,” said Quinn.
That might even include volleyball.
“He said he’d love to coach some day. Not at Pepperdine or UCLA or Hawaii. At a NESCAC school,” said Quinn.
“Whatever I wind up doing I’m going to keep volleyball as my release,” Verschoor-Kirss said. “It’s a passion, and will be the rest of my life.”
He may be hard to keep up with, but summing up Alex Verschoor-Kirss is easy.
“Pretty amazing young man,” said Christi Kelsey.