Preston Hirten died 3 years ago, on a place he loved: the soccer field. The former Staples star was just starting his junior year at the University of Mary Washington, when a previously unknown heart ailment ended his all-too-short life.
The college players came by bus from Virginia for Preston’s service. His 2006 Staples teammates, and the 2009 Mary Washington team, grieved together.
The following summer — to honor Preston’s memory, and reunite in a less awful time — the ’06 Wreckers invited the UMW players back to Westport. There were cookouts, a mini-soccer tournament, and plenty of stories. It was a tough time for the Hirten family, but they were heartened by so much support.
Last weekend marked the 3rd annual Preston Hirten event. The soccer tournament grew to over 100 players on 13 teams, including former opponents of Preston’s, and 2 girls squads. Preston’s young cousins “played for Preston,” too.
As they move on with their lives, Preston’s high school and college friends — from as far away as California — took time to honor and remember him. A special Westport tradition has been born.
Before the tournament, Preston’s family unveiled two benches they donated to Wakeman Park. Each bears a different inscription. Taken together, they proclaim the measure of a talented, passionate, and very compassionate, young man.
But those were not the only benches dedicated this weekend.
On Sunday evening at Long Lots School, Kuti Zeevi’s teammates and many friends did something similar — without knowing about the other unveiling.
Kuti — the popular jeweler killed last December during a robbery — was several decades older than Preston. But he too loved soccer, and played for over 20 years with a Westport men’s team called the Late Knights.
Theirs was a more casual, pick-up style of soccer than Preston’s, but they too developed a feeling of family. (They took a couple of memorable overseas trips, too.)
Preston Hirten and Kuti Zeevi did not know each other. But the 2 Westporters were united by a love of their sport, and the love of their teammates.
Now — with the dedication of benches, on two of their favorite fields — both will be remembered forever.