She sat and watched her older siblings play basketball in the driveway at home. For years, that was all Kirby Bartelstein could do.
She watched and learned.
Watched and learned some more.
Josh Bartelstein would star for Highland Park High School boys basketball teams and suit up for University of Michigan men’s basketball teams. Sisters Morgan (basketball and soccer) and Courtney (track and field) would become highly competitive prep athletes, too.
“There I was, watching my family play hard, go at it,” Kirby recalls. “I eventually got to play, when I was six or seven years old. They’d mess with me. At first, I thought my brother and sisters were too competitive.”
Kirby Bartelstein, in 2016?
Like Josh and Morgan and Courtney.
Competitive. Competitive. Competitive.
The thought of losing in anything, even in a game of Monopoly at home, riles her.
Kirby, a 5-foot-5 junior, runs the show as the starting point guard for Highland Park High School’s girls basketball team. The third-year varsity member averages nearly eight points per game while leading the team (4-8, 2-2 in the Central Suburban League North) in assists.
The Giants’ 45-36 loss to host Deerfield High School on Dec. 16 was tough to accept. Bartelstein, a pass-first hoopster who dribbles soccer balls as a forward in the springs, scored three points, had three steals and dribbled behind her back once near midcourt to prevent a steal. She missed some free throws, but her positive energy — clapping her hands to encourage teammates, keeping her head up after a turnover, driving the lane relentlessly to get her team back in the game — never wavered.
Effective leaders do what Bartelstein did against the Warriors.
“Good basketball IQ,” Highland Park basketball coach Jolie Bechtel says of Bartelstein’s top hoops trait. “Kirby does a really good job of finding the open player in transition or in the half court. Good distributor. Her defense this year has improved, a lot. She’s more vocal this year, and she works really hard to keep everybody together.
“A very good teammate,” the coach adds.
Teammate Lily Kahn, a junior post player, and Bartelstein have been good friends since Kahn was an eighth-grader and Bartelstein was a varsity rookie in high school. Kahn had a highly productive night against Deerfield, notching team highs of 15 points and 18 rebounds. Bartelstein got the assist on Kahn’s first bucket in the fourth minute of the first quarter.
“She has a tough job,” Kahn says. “Kirby has to do what she can to control a game. She makes smart decisions, and she brings everybody together on and off the court. Good energy; she has that. She’s more consistent this season, more composed.
“Her sense of humor off the court is quirky,” Kahn adds. “Kirby makes me laugh all the time. We give each other funny faces when we see each other in school. Mine, though, is goofier than hers, definitely goofier.”
Bartelstein was all business as a freshman on varsity in 2014-15. She watched again. She learned again. Then she got to apply what she had absorbed when she hit the court to play meaningful minutes against seasoned players.
“I looked up to a lot of our team’s older players when I was a freshman,” Bartelstein says. “I’m older, more experienced now, pretty vocal, and I’m aware our team’s younger players are looking to me as an example. I can’t get down on myself in games. If I do, everybody would get down.
“The only energy I want to show is a positive kind.”
Following games, she receives plenty of feedback from her father, professional sports agent Mark Bartelstein. The daughter welcomes it. Her mother, Sheri, did not play competitive basketball in high school but has seen enough basketball games to qualify as a hoops expert.
“The instructions I get from my dad are always good,” Kirby says. “I’ve always appreciated his input. He sometimes sneaks in a compliment when we talk after games.”
Morgan Bartelstein, like Josh, graduated from Michigan. She works for a marketing company. Josh works for the owner of the Detroit Pistons, serving as the assistant to Palace Sports & Entertainment vice chair Arn Tellem. Courtney Bartelstein attends the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
“I’ll look at both,” Kirby says of including both Big Ten schools in her college search. “I have so many pieces of [Michigan and Wisconsin] clothing.”
Monopoly is a game of pieces — houses and hotels, among others. No need to remind Kirby Bartelstein of those.
“The key to winning a game of Monopoly is to buy as many houses and hotels as soon as possible,” she says.
Her competitive words settle. Had the game board and pieces and the fake money of Monopoly been nearby, Kirby Bartelstein, the competitor, would have insisted on playing. Anybody.
Kirby Bartelstein, the spectator?
Nobody remembers her.
Notable: Highland Park freshman forward Addie Budnik poured in 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the loss at Deerfield on Dec. 16. Her three-pointer (the team’s lone trey), at 2:40 of the first quarter, knotted the game at 10-10. Senior Jenny Goldsher added four points and three steals. … The Giants were scheduled to fly to Orlando, Florida, on Dec. 26 for a slate of three games at Disney World. The program goes on the trip every other year.