When the Columbus Crew decided to make youth heart health a part of its philanthropic work, the Major League Soccer club's executives never imagined the cause would hit so close to home.
But here the Crew is, starting the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund to honor Lombard's own, a 22-year-old midfielder who died of a congenital heart defect known as arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy outside a Columbus restaurant Aug. 5.
"It was an emotional time and it still is an emotional time," said Crew general manager Mark McCullers, his voice somber, still struggling to find the words in a phone interview this week. "There are emotions still below the surface, and you never know what's going to trigger it."
While Urso had been with the Crew less than eight months, picked in the MLS Supplemental Draft after captaining the University of North Carolina to the NCAA national championship last December, the brief timeline didn't matter. In that short period, he knew he had found a home and a new family.
"He was such a great person and a great teammate, you really feel the void," McCullers said. "It's remarkable the impact he had in such a great time."
So the Crew is making sure Urso will have an impact for a long time to come, starting with the memorial fund.
"He continues to do things for other people," McCullers said. "That's one of the big things that made him who he was -- that he put other people before himself."
The fund will "support research and programming focused on congenital heart defects and sudden cardiac death in youth," according to the club website, working with "the Children's Heart Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing health, hope and happiness to children impacted by congenital heart defects by funding the most promising research to advance diagnosis, treatment and prevention."
That's not all the Crew has done to help itself and Urso's family heal. It has worn Urso's No. 15 on a patch on its jerseys and printed his number on the grass of its field before every game.
One of Kirk Urso's favorite quotes -- "I am strong. I will overcome." -- is posted in the Crew locker room, near where the players exit on their way to the field, McCullers said.
And before last Sunday's match the club dedicated a maple tree and a plaque for Urso on a boulder in its Founder's Park, located just outside Crew Stadium near the statue of late Crew owner and founder Lamar Hunt.
Urso's family issued this statement to the Crew regarding Sunday's dedication: "Kirk's life revolved around how he could inspire and build others up. Having this memorial comforts us knowing that he will not be forgotten. We thank everyone for their support during this most difficult time in our lives."
The boulders are special to the Crew. They were dug up during construction of Crew Stadium, and when Hunt realized they were glacial boulders, he had the construction crew collect as many as possible and place them throughout the property around the stadium.
"Founder's Park has special meaning for us," McCullers said. "We know that Kirk's going to always be part of the stadium with these memorial elements."
The Crew wouldn't have it any other way.
Donations to the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund can be made at thecrew.com/ursofund online or by mail at Kirk Urso Memorial Fund in care of the Crew Soccer Foundation, One Black & Gold Blvd., Columbus, OH, 43211.