New Castle’s AJ Kirk: Yo-Yo Pro and A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children Patient Escort
The jokester, Team YoYoJam member and jack-of-all-tricks keeps a smile on the faces of patients and their parents, even through the toughest times.
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Ups and Downs
Kirk, who turns 28 in October, has been yo-yoing for nearly half of his life. When he was in his early teens his grandparents would take him to Mitchell’s toy store along Concord Pike to buy Boy Scouts accessories. Kirk discovered his passion for yo-yoing only by first becoming a juggler.
One day, while waiting in line at the toy store, the 14-year-old saw something he had to have: “Dr. Bob’s Instant Juggling Book.” Just a week later, after he had mastered basic three-ball tricks, it was back to Mitchell’s for “Dr. Bob’s Instant Ring Juggling Book.”
Kirk, who lived with his mother after his parents divorced, spent a lot of time with his father’s parents. His grandmother, Leontia Kirk—better known as “Nana”—doted on her only grandson at the time. “I bought him whatever he wanted,” she says.
Leontia and James Kirk, who has since passed, loved to take their grandson to their beach home in Fenwick Island. Once, when AJ Kirk was four, they took him to a diving show at a swimming pool. When they returned to New Castle, little AJ went to the basement. He asked Nana to announce his act in which he threw sofa cushions on the floor and dove from the sofa into the makeshift water.
That’s when Leontia Kirk realized her grandson was a performer.
“He played by himself a lot,” she says. “He’s his own person. He doesn’t talk much about himself, but he likes to be the show. He was always the kind of kid, when he got onto something he got on it and wouldn’t let up. Ninja Turtles, Ghost Busters, Power Rangers—he had to have everything. I still have a Ninja Turtle plate that he ate off of.”
It was during a trip to Mitchell’s that Kirk learned about its Yo-Yo Club. He began to dabble, but the yo-yoing took a back seat to his juggling for a few years.
In 2004, Kirk received an opportunity to do a gig for the famed Duncan Yo-Yo company. Joe Mitchell, who had hired Kirk to work at the toy store, was holding a yo-yo contest and wanted to bring in a two-story inflatable yo-yo that commemorated Duncan’s 75th anniversary.
Duncan would allow it, but only if Mitchell would send someone 18 or older to perform for a few days at Dollywood in Tennessee. Kirk was his man.
“Basically I ended up being a trade, a pawn, for Joe,” Kirk says laughing. “I spent four days performing at Dollywood with Jack Rinka, who is now captain of the Duncan Crew Worldwide. He taught me the basics of freehand and it just lit a fire under my ass.”
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