Monday, December 6, 2021

It Takes a Village to Raise a Family’s Grieving Hearts

Rumination from the Rock and Beyond

Photos by Jory Westberry

Sean Hurley was a student at Tommie Barfield Elementary back when I was the Principal. He was one of those boys that just makes you smile, whether he was planning something mischievous or pretending he wasn’t planning something mischievous, but you could just tell.  

I talked to him recently at my neighbor’s house where he was trying to diagnose an air-conditioning issue. He was so patient and sincerely wanted to solve her problem. I kept thinking that Condee Cooling and Electric was so fortunate to have him. We caught up a bit on our lives and it made me proud to witness the young man he had become. 

Accidental death is always tragic, but Sean’s death penetrated me deeply. He was on a large boat on the way to the Keys and suddenly a super-squall hit them, knocked the three passengers off the boat and Sean didn’t make it. This good-looking, smart, kind man with his life ahead of him 

Sean’s family, his many friends, many avid fishermen/women like him, were and are still devastated. There was a Memorial Service on Isles of Capri that was attended by a hundred, give or take a couple, sharing stories, memories and fishing tales, shedding tears, hugging, reminiscing over photos and adventures and sobbing over what was not to be. 

This was a celebration of Sean’s life and the admiration for him flowed like the highest tidefish stories, escapades, humor and comradery along with a healthy buffet and beer. Sean would have loved it. There were places to leave messages, the large white ball with words of affection, colored rocks to write a note on and they were tossed into the sunset on the Gulf as remembrances of their friend as the dolphin surfaced nearby. 

His fishing buddies, Saltwater Syndicate, came up with an idea for a fishing derby in Sean’s honor called the Red Fish Showdown for August 14 and 15 at Walker’s Coon Key Marina in Goodland. It was definitely my best experience ever at a fishing competition. The men, women and children had Sean’s love of fishing, there was great comradery between them, good-natured teasing about the size of their fish as they were measured and weighed and awe when they saw a huge redfish or catfish that qualified to the contest. 

Meagan and Tim.

With each catch from one of the 56 fishing boats that went out that morning, the fishermen/fisherwomen did their very best to keep the fish alive, since it was a Catch and Release Showdown. There were some monster redfish and Sean’s friends drank beer in the heat and speculated as to who would win as they watched the leaderboard. All boats in the competition had to be back at the dock at 3:30 to qualify. It did take some time for the fish to be transferred to clear fishing bags and hauled to the Measuring Man. After the fish were measured for length and weight, they went into a holding pool to keep them alive; sometimes taking some manual stimulation to get oxygen through their gills. 

Throughout the day (6 AM Start – 5ish PM Finale) there were cheers and kudos to the participants from the Hurley family. “I can’t believe they did this for Sean, it’s just so generous,” remarked Sean’s Mother, Sandy. Scott Hurley stated that “Most of their family, including Scott’s sister, Alyson was there from NJ and were so moved by the outpouring of love from Sean’s friends.” 

The judges conferred, double-checked the board and somehow found a way to slip off privately to create enormous “checks” for the winners when they handed out prizes. I was told by a participant standing next to me that the tournament fee of $200 is divided into several categoriespart is for the tournament expenses, part for prize money and part to the Hurley family and part to a scholarship. 

And the winners are… Sounds of love and cheering for the prize winners and a drum roll please… What are the chances that Sean’s girlfriend of 6 years, Amanda Massey—Team River Bankswins the Calcutta tournament for the largest catfish and received $3,700 for her catch? What? Really? Wow, right? 

Now, brace yourself, it gets better! Out of 56 teams, Sean’s sister Meagan won first place for the biggest redfish! What? What are the chances? That’s just crazy luck OR Sean was looking out for them and was the fish-whisperer, which is what many of us thought. Meagan competed with her boyfriend, Erik Mikula and Erik’s dad, David Mikula. Their team name is Outlier. Meagan’s prize money for first place was $3,780! 

I’ve reported on fishing tournaments in the past, but this one was full of energy and love and nostalgia, and yet, when Sandy and Scott Hurley expressed their appreciation to everyone who participated at the conclusion of the tourney, there was a tangible sense of Sean hovering over the event and it touched all of us deeply. Scott’s final words went deeper. “Love your children, tell them that you love them every day, don’t miss any time to tell them again and again.” 

At the conclusion of the prizes, the Saltwater Syndicate announced that this tournament would be an annual event planned during this same time of year to honor Sean. The crowd erupted into cheers and excitement for more competitions to come and to remember their friend and fisherman, Sean Hurley, and contribute to positive actions in Sean’s name. The decision left us with deep-felt appreciation for their commitment and dedication to Sean and furthering his good name and love of the outdoors. 

There’s really nothing more to say, is there?




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