It has been nearly 15 months since Kirk Urso suddenly and tragically passed away at the age of 22 from an undetected congenital heart defect, but Tuesday night’s Columbus Crew awards ceremony was a testament to the influence he still exerts on the club and the world at large.
At the event held at the Via Vecchia Winery in the Brewery District, Crew President and General Manager Mark McCullers announced that the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund has already reached its 2013 funding goal of $100,000. The amount set a Crew Soccer Foundation record for any single initiative and any one calendar year.
“It’s a very meaningful milestone,” McCullers said. “Later this year, we will be awarding our inaugural (research) grant in conjunction with the Children’s Heart Foundation. We will continue to raise funds for youth heart health and congenital heart defects, and we will continue to honor the memory of our teammate Kirk Urso through the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund.”
Kyle Urso, Kirk’s brother, tweeted: “Thank you to everyone who has donated to the Urso Fund. The outcome is absolutely incredible.”
Urso’s memory has also continued to make an impact within the team. The players voted Eric Gehrig as the winner of the Kirk Urso Heart Award, given annually to the player that best represents Urso’s leadership, hard work, good humor and dedication to the team. In 2012, the players voted Urso as the posthumous winner of the inaugural award, so Gehrig became the first player to follow in Urso’s footsteps.
“It feels great,” Gehrig said while accepting the award. “Kirk was one of our best friends on the team. He came to work with a smile on his face no matter what was going on. Obviously. I’m honored to be in that same category. I love my teammates. I think that I may forget the wins and losses, but I will always remember my teammates. The fact that they think that highly of me as a person, it means a lot. It really does.”
His teammates offered their congratulations on an award well-deserved.
“Eric is the perfect winner for it,” said Ben Speas, who was Urso’s teammate both professionally and collegiately. “The thing I think of is that when I was at North Carolina with Kirk, he was always business when it came to practice. Guys will screw around or not take something seriously, and Kirk was the one to snap people out of that and make sure that we’re getting work done. Then off the field, he was the first to have fun. I think that Eric is the exact same way. He comes to practice every single day and works his butt off, no matter what’s going to happen. Whether he’s going to play the whole game or not play at all, he practices the same way. That’s a similarity he has with Kirk that really sticks out to me.”
Ethan Finlay cited Gehrig’s ability to be an upbeat sounding board for veterans and rookies, first-teamers and reserve-teamers, as a trait that made him a worthy winner.
“Eric is going to give you some positive encouragement or just talk to you,” Finlay said. “He’s a guy you can just talk to. Kirk was a great listener. Not many people in this world are great listeners, but Kirk was, and so is Eric. They put the thoughts and needs of others before their own. That’s really special.”
“Eric’s one of those guys that always seems to light up a room,” added Danny O’Rourke. “Kirk and Eric each seemed to find their own niche, with their own personality within the team.”
Finlay said he noticed the beloved “Kirk smirk” cross Gehrig’s face when he was on stage accepting the award.
“That was great,” Finlay said. “He was genuinely honored. It was beautiful. I’m proud of him, and I’m proud of my teammates for recognizing him as the winner. He’s a good guy and a deserving winner.”
Sandy Urso, Kirk’s mother, said that the Urso family was delighted to learn that Gehrig won the award that symbolizes her son’s legacy as a leader and a teammate.
“All of us—and we know Kirk, also—are so happy that Eric was presented the award,” she said. “His positivity so mirrors Kirk's. Kirk knew Eric prior to coming to the Crew and always admired him. We are elated.”
Urso’s memory loomed large even after the Urso Fund announcement and the awarding of his eponymous honor. It was later revealed that Ben Speas’ March 23 strike at D.C. United was voted the Crew’s Goal of the Year. It was a goal Speas famously dedicated to Urso.
“The award means a lot to me,” Speas said. “The goal was for Kirk. [Federico] Higuain had plenty of brilliant goals, so I’m not even going to talk about the soccer part of it, but the goal was really special to me and I am glad that the fans voted for it.”