By Danny Schrafel
Since the day their son died in a snow-tubing accident in Huntington Jan. 26, Gary and Nicole Urda said the Elwood community has time and again proven their nickname, the “Heart of Huntington,” is more than a catchphrase – it’s a way of life in the tight-knit community.
The people of Elwood stepped up to the plate once again, filling John Glenn High School’s auditorium Saturday night for a memorial concert in the memory of Sean Urda, a captain of the John Glenn High School soccer team, an Honor Society student and member of the Natural Helpers club who also worked at the Dix Hills Diner.
It’s the latest act of kindness bestowed upon the Urda family by the Elwood school community, which has rallied to their side since their son’s sudden death.
“We can’t express our gratitude, how deeply we feel about this community and how much everything they’ve done for us means to me, my wife and our family,” Gary Urda said. “It’s unthinkable what we’re going through – I can’t imagine going through it without these people to help us. And they’ve been amazing.”
Senior Tom Priest got to work on pulling the concert together soon after Urda died, and Sean’s parents gave their blessing. A guitarist and vocalist, Priest said he’d seen the power of music to bring people together and lift their spirits.
“I had this idea after Sean passed of bringing the whole community together as a healing process,” he said. “I thought I’d bring the whole community together and everybody would be happy after this and they’d realize he touched so many people.”
The concert began with a performance of the Marvin Gaye standard, “What’s Going On,” performed by the high school jazz band; Sean played in the middle school jazz band as a youngster. An eclectic set list followed, veering from songs by Matisyahu to One Republic and Ed Sheeran and Fun.
While the occasion was at times a somber one of remembrance, the atmosphere was lively – just how Sean would have liked it.
“Jolly silliness… I called him my ‘wild card’ because he was just so silly,” said Natural Helpers adviser Jen Basford said. Urda was a member of the peer-to-peer mentoring and helping program for most of his high school career.
“He was always smiling. He knew how to keep everybody upbeat,” said Glenn senior Sydney Kelly, a Natural Helpers senior trainer.
The concert was a benefit for the Sean Urda Memorial Scholarship fund, which, as of Monday, eclipsed the $80,000 mark in a little over two months.
The fund will provide at least three $1,400 scholarships – Urda’s number on the team was 14 – to a John Glenn soccer team senior, a senior on the Score FC travel tournament team Urda played for and the Suffolk County all-star squad.
Students have raised thousands of dollars for the scholarship fund in recent months through various tournaments and events.
Andrew Lule, a sophomore, was a freshman on the John Glenn Knights when Urda was a senior captain. On Saturday night, he and his teammates and coaches sold Sean Urda no. 14 t-shirts to aid the scholarship fund. So far, they’ve sold hundreds; after starting with 50 of each size Saturday night, they were down to just a handful of smalls and extra-larges by show time.
“He was more of a big brother,” he said of Urda.
After Urda’s funeral on Jan. 31, the school district opened the cafeteria to mourners to get something to eat and share memories. Hundreds packed the auditorium, and local restaurants gave enough to feed 500 people, the Urdas said.
Mother Nicole Urda said the family was “honored that they had gone to so much trouble to pay homage to Sean’s memory.”
“My biggest fear is that Sean would be forgotten,” she said. “It warms my heart to see this.”
To make a contribution to the scholarship fund, visit http://www.gofundme.com/l01mz8. Applications for the scholarship are due by May 1; for more information, visit www.seanurda14.org.