Goals on & off the field: Preston Hirten soccer tourney pays tribute to his legacy
Preston Hirten, a well-loved son of Westport died tragically four years ago, but his spirit lives in the hearts of friends, family and fellow soccer players.
On Saturday, more than 150 turned out despite blistering heat to honor the young man's generous legacy for a charity soccer tournament organized in his honor. Now in its fourth year, the tourney at Wakeman Field has attracted an increasingly large turnout that ensures his cause endures.
"We have a great turnout," said Lisa Hirten, Preston's mother. "The fact that they come out and play in honor of Preston is very heart-warming to us. And being around a bunch of boys getting together to play soccer is something we miss very much. It's bittersweet."
Preston Hirten died in 2009 while in soccer training at the University of Mary Washington, a few months after the Staples grad and soccer player had traveled to Africa for volunteer for the service project, Goals 4 Ghana.
"It's become one of my favorite days of the year, when all the boys come up and play the game they love, and that my brother loved so much," said Preston's sister, Ella.
Marc Hirten, Preston's father, noted that the jerseys for the event all had Preston's uniform number -- 15. He said that at Staples now, the soccer team votes on who will be chosen to wear 15 for the season to honor his son.
"There's a lot of tradition kind of wrapped up in all this," he said.
The tournament itself was the brainchild of Preston's friends and teammates from Staples High School, who saw it as a chance to get Preston's old teammates from both Staples and the University of Mary Washington together.
"It's just an opportunity for everyone who was friends with Preston to get together and do what he loved, and just have fun," said Matt Lamb, who now lives in Maine.
"I think he'd be happy to see us all having a healthy competition," he said.
"There's definitely some good soccer here," said Dave Sharpe of Westport, who played for Staples with Preston and helped organize this tournament.
He said the first year the event involved only two groups, from Staples and Mary Washington, respectively. Now, he said, there are 12 teams with more than 100 players, playing 15-minute games in Saturday's very hot July sun. The rosters have expanded to include friends of friends, including female players and soccer enthusiasts ranging in age from nine to 30.
"It's sort of a reunion of our friends now," Sharpe said. "Every year that we can get people back, we're going to do this."
Asked how he remembers Preston, he said, "By far, his wonder and his demeanor with children. Secondly would have to be his smile ... Everybody knew Preston as somebody who was very easy to talk to and approach. And he was a really good soccer player, too."
Brad Burton of Fairfield, Preston's cousin who organized a team for the tourney, remembers seeing him play at Staples.
"That team was pretty spirited," he said. "I would go to a lot of the home games."
"My cousin was a great guy," he said. "I miss him every day."