Q&A: Steve Sirk on Kirk Urso: Forever Massive
Author of Urso tribute speaks about the book
August 8, 2014
As part of Saturday's Kirk Urso Memorial Night festivities, Crew historian Steve Sirk is set to launch his special book Kirk Urso: Forever Massive Memories from the 2012 Columbus Crew. Fans attending the match also have the opportunity to be among the first to secure a copy the book, available for purchase at the match for $20. A color edition is also set to be available for $45. The book, detailing insight and commentary from those that knew Urso best while he was with the Crew, is also available for purchase online at TheCrew.com/ForeverMassive. Proceeds from the sale of this book go to the Crew Soccer Foundation’s Kirk Urso Memorial Fund.
As part of the special launch, TheCrew.com sat down with Sirk for a Q&A about the book.
What initially gave you the idea to write this book?
"When Kirk passed, I wanted to do something for our guys, but I didn't know how to help. But as Alejandro Moreno used to say to his Crew teammates in 2008, 'do what you do.' So my thought was that maybe I could sit down with the players and coaches and collect some of their favorite Kirk stories and then compile those stories for them as a keepsake. The idea didn't start out as a book for the public, but as a small story collection for the guys. I was thinking like a little 25-50 page collection. I nervously pitched the idea to a few players that August and they were receptive, which gave me the confidence to proceed. I of course wanted to give the players more room to grieve, so I didn't start interviews until October of 2012. But as I started talking to them and as the stories started flowing, it became apparent that this was going to be more than just a small collection. Around that same time, the Crew Soccer Foundation created the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund, so I thought maybe we could turn this into a book to help people learn about Kirk and to raise money for important work done in Kirk's memory. The guys were on board, so it turned into a full-fledged book."
Who was interviewed for the book?
"25 different players from the 2012 team shared stories for the book, as well as the entire coaching staff, some team and front office personnel, and the Urso family. I also received permission to reprint a few articles written by others. And that's not to mention all of the people who contributed photographs and artwork. So many people were eager to contribute to Kirk's memory. It was a labor of love for all of us."
How long did it take you to complete it and what was your writing process like?
"I started the interview process in October of 2012 and was mostly finished with the written content of the book by January of 2014. From there, it was just lots of layout work, proofreading, solving technical problems, etc, building up to the release in August.
"The writing process was a bit different as I didn't sit down and write a traditional book from scratch. I like to say that I was more of an executive producer for this project. There are certainly things I wrote for the book - I hope the 'Kirk and Ryan' chapter touches people the same way it touched me - but a lot of the book was conducting interviews and then weaving them together. I wanted the middle section of the book, featuring the players' stories, to feel conversational, like you were in a room listening to them talk about Kirk. Since many of their stories overlapped in terms of subject matter, I took the interviews and weaved them in and out of one another, so it's more of an oral history. That 'Medieval Times' story I did in the spring of 2013 was basically a practice run for what I wanted to do, style-wise, with a large chunk of the Kirk book. Other than the decisions related to the assembly itself, I mostly got out of the way and let the players tell those stories in their own words.
"That's the middle section of the book, which is the largest part. The first section of the book is about August of 2012 and it's just a collection of remembrance pieces from the immediate time period. There's stuff by Adam Jardy, Michael Arace, Craig Merz, Bill Archer, and then my 'Kirk's Notebook' piece from the first game back against LA. I wanted to start the book there because that is what we all saw during the news cycle. And then I wanted the rest of the book to dig well beyond the news cycle. The final section of the book is about Kirk's legacy. There's lots of new writing in there and an article reprint or two.
"So all in all, it was a very much a scrapbook type of approach. I think one of the cool things is that you can pick it up and flip to any page and read a quick story. A lot of the chapters are just 1-4 pages long. There are definitely some longer pieces, but there are tons of quick-hitters."
How hard was it to narrow down all the stories you heard about Kirk into the finished product?
"I think the hardest part was actually leaving out some great stories I got from people who knew Kirk before he played for the Crew. Andy Rose of the Sounders told me a story about how they had learned about a national 3v3 tournament as teenagers, so he, Kirk, and Greg Jordan decided spur of the moment to enter it, and then they made it all the way to the national finals at Disney World. Rob Lovejoy, one of Kirk's teammates at UNC, told me of Kirk's 'Topic of the Day.' Kirk would just throw a random topic out there and engage in a conversation about it. One of the topics Rob gave as an example was about being locked in a cage with a gorilla. I also had stories from David Meves, Troy Muenzer, Tony Kees and Baba Omosegbon.
"Ultimately, I decided to focus this book solely on the Crew. The Crew stories were in such a concentrated period of time that they flowed and interacted differently than stories from before the Crew. Also, our players know me and know what I'm about, so a Crew-focused book was in some ways easier to make since the trust level was already there. The Crew book could then serve as an introduction to all of the people in Kirk's pre-Crew life who don't know me from anyone, and hopefully it will give them an idea of what I'm about. I'd love to do a second 'pre-Crew collection' for the Urso Fund. The stories I have from Andy, Rob, Troy, David, Tony and Baba will give me a head start on that. And I know one of Kirk's best friends from college, T.J. Scholl, who works for D.C. United, is eager to help, which is great. I hope I get the chance to talk to many more people going forward as I have really enjoyed getting to know Kirk through everyone's stories.
"So I'd say sitting on some of the pre-Crew stories was the hardest thing to narrow down."
What kinds of things did you learn about Urso that you didn’t know before?
"I had heard many great things about Kirk while he was still with us. I didn't really get to know him, but just from offhand locker room conversations, I knew he was held in high regard by his teammates, staff, and coaches. The few interactions I had with him were amusing, and people had told me I would enjoy getting to know him, but sadly, I didn't get to do so during his lifetime.
"As someone who loves to laugh, I of course enjoyed getting to learn about Kirk's deadpan, off-kilter sense of humor. There are a lot of fun stories in the book involving Kirk's humor because the players said they had never encountered anything quite like it.
"I also enjoyed learning about the little acts of decency Kirk did day in and day out. Back when he played here, Brian Dunseth told me something that always stuck with me. He said you can learn a lot about a player by how they treat the team staff, whether it be the trainers, the equipment guy, a team ops person like Tucker Walther, the locker room volunteers, etc. So when doing interviews for this book, to hear stories like how Kirk went by himself to see the assistant athletic trainer play rec-league hockey at something like 10:30 on a Tuesday night just because he wanted to show his support, that sort of stuff really hit home when I thought about what Dunny told me all those years ago.
"But I think one of the biggest things I learned was just realizing the extent to which Kirk was serious about improving his game. The guy won everywhere he went. He wasn't a flashy player who had opportunities handed to him. He fought for everything he earned. So to learn how he picked his teammates' brains about not only soccer, but life, was interesting to me. And as an example of the dedication he had to self-improvement, his family let me include a self-evaluation he wrote after the home opener against Montreal. This was something he did on his own for himself. He broke down his defensive performance, his offensive performance, and then looked ahead to what he needed to do the following weekend in Toronto. I'm so glad his family was willing to share that self-assessment as it provides a fascinating glimpse into his mindset and how important it was for him to study and improve. Something like that just shows you why anyone who ever underestimated him ultimately turned out to be wrong."
How was the experience of working with the Urso family throughout the book?
"The Ursos are such wonderful people and, with the exception of the circumstances, I am so thankful to call them friends. They have been so kind to me during this difficult time. Like I said, this started out as a project for the players, but the Ursos quickly became another huge motivating factor. Kirk's mom, Sandy, sent me a really nice email after the "Kirk's Notebook" story, and we started corresponding thereafter. I finally got to meet her and Mike in September of 2012 in Chicago. We had something like a two or three hour dinner after the Crew game that night, and it was a laugh-filled evening. I recount some of it in the acknowledgments section of the book. Meeting them and getting to know them gave me such an appreciation of where Kirk came from and how he became the man he was.
"I got to know Kirk's brother, Kyle, and Kyle's girlfriend, Erica, after that. They are also tremendously funny and thoughtful people. I got to spend the weekend with them last fall during the Crew's visit to New England and we had such a great time.
"In terms of the book, the Urso family was a huge help. They shared some insightful stories, photos, and personal items, like the aforementioned self-assessment. The book is so much better because of their support and involvement, and that includes sharing things well beyond what appears on the pages. They truly wanted me to know Kirk and I am incredibly grateful for that."
How important is Kirk’s legacy and memory to this club?
"I think it's very important. You can see that through something like the Kirk Urso Heart Award, given to the player that best embodies Kirk's winning traits, like working hard, being a good teammate, and trying to make everyone around you happier and better. You could see it meant the world to Eric Gehrig to win the award last year.
"The Kirk Urso Memorial Fund is another huge part of that. I remember talking to Danny O'Rourke, who not only lost a Crew teammate and friend in Kirk, but also lost his childhood friend and teammate Connor Senn to a congenital heart defect when Connor was a freshman at Ohio State. Because of these tragedies, Danny couldn't help but think that maybe the Central Ohio soccer community was meant to be a leader in this cause. My hope is that in the 'Kirk and Ryan' chapter that closes the book, people will how research like the kind supported by the Urso Fund can make a real difference in the lives of those impacted by congenital heart defects.
"All in all, I think Kirk's memory is still strong within the culture of the club through the guys that played with him, and one of the things I hope that the book helps with is that it can serve as an introduction to Kirk well into the future. That way there's always something to come back to as a way for people to get a sense of who Kirk was so that he's more than just a name on an award or a heart fund."
What will Crew fans gain from reading this tribute to Urso?
"Well, before they even crack the book open, I hope they gain the feeling of having done something good by contributing to the Urso Fund. All proceeds from the book go to the important work being done in Kirk's name and memory.
"As for the book itself, I hope readers enjoy learning about Kirk as much as I did. I hope doing so positively affects them in the ways it has positively affected me. I've definitely made some changes in my life and thought about some things in different ways as a result of learning about how Kirk conducted himself as a person and how he approached life's challenges. I figure trying to apply some of those lessons is the best way to honor Kirk's memory.
"And beyond grandiose idealistic big picture stuff like that, I just hope people have fun reading it. There is a lot of humor in the book and there are many glimpses behind the curtain as to what an MLS player's life is like. I can't thank Kirk's Crew teammates enough for sharing so many fun stories and for providing us with those glimpses.
"Sure, there are sad moments, and any book about a 22-year-old dying during his rookie year is going to carry an undercurrent of sadness, but when you read Ben Speas talking about how Kirk decided to go camping on the team bus during a road trip at UNC, or when you read Ethan Finlay talk about the travails of him and Kirk setting up their new apartment in Columbus, or when you read his brother Kyle recounting the story of Kirk picking him up at the Columbus airport, it's hard not to laugh.
"Laughter was a big part of Kirk's life, so it's a big part of the book too."
What feedback have you gotten since just the announcement of the book’s release?
"People who have seen sneak peeks have had positive things to say, so that's encouraging. The amount of online sales we did before the book even went to print was both surprising and gratifying to me. I mean, those people are buying the book sight unseen out of a love for Kirk and/or a trust in me, and I hope they will soon feel that their trust was rewarded. People have been very generous in helping to get the word out on social media, plus I was kindly invited to appear on a podcast and on the radio. Looking at all that, I'd say the support in advance of the book has been amazing.
"The true test comes on and after August 9, once people finally have the book in their hands. I hope we all did a good job for Kirk and I can't wait for people to finally read the book."
And just to remind everyone, how and when can they get the book?
"The book will be released this Saturday, August 9, at Kirk Urso Memorial Night during the Crew vs. Toronto FC match. There will be a book signing on the main plaza from 6:00 - 7:30 p.m. where people who ordered online and requested pick-up can get their books, plus we will have books for sale for anyone who wants to buy one on the spot. People can also always order at any time online. For those who ordered online and requested that their book be mailed, I will be back in Columbus and at the Crew office on Friday mailing out those copies, so they should hit your mailbox early next week.
"Thank you again for everyone who has ordered thus far or has shown an interest in the book and learning more about Kirk. I hope to thank many of you in person at the signing event on Saturday."