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/ March 6, 2013
Newtown Resident And Freshman Basketball Starter Finds Support, Community At NYU

Though she began NYU as a basketball star and a film and TV major in Tisch, freshman Riley Wurtz saw another of her identities strengthen in December: her upbringing in Newtown, Connecticut.

When she heard the news that a local elementary school had been the target of a shooting, Wurtz immediately felt an urgent desire to be home. When she talks about Newtown, she refers to it as “my hometown”; unlike the rest of America, she is one of the few who can talk about the tragedy without referencing it as a distant entity.

“I felt so disconnected,” she said. “I just felt kind of out of the loop.” When her train arrived on the night of December 14, she was hit by “all the memorials and the grievings and the funerals and how different the town was.”

Wurtz, pictured aboveĀ coaching Newtown children in basketball last summer, recalled her shock and amazement at the support that came not only from within, but also internationally. “Everyone around the world was sending in animals, notes, letters. Our whole town was just decorated,” she said.

The Knicks basketball team, various professional soccer teams, and “everyone from everywhere” came to help lift spirits, she said. And she doesn’t see an end to the support: “I think even in the future people will always be there to help and support.”

Wurtz is humbled by America’s response to the shooting, noting that “the only good thing that can come out of a tragedy like this is a change. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing a change [in gun control laws].”

Though basketball prevented Wurtz from going home for much longer than a week–she left the day after Christmas–she spent “a lot of time with family” and as a volunteer at the Newtown Youth Academy. The children she played with were from Sandy Hook, as well as from other elementary schools. The invitation was open to all area kids–something that, not too long ago, Wurtz herself used to be.

In the past, she had taught basketball to one child who was at Sandy Hook at the time of the shooting. He was one of the three children who miraculously made it out of one of the classrooms, and had “held the door for all the kids to get out.” When she saw him at home, he was still “shaken up.”

“He’s a great kid,” she said.

Back at NYU, Wurtz found another supportive community: after the shootings, her basketball coaches and teammates wore green pins and socks to the games. Her team, because it includes a lot of other “young freshmen,” is “really tight,” she said, adding that “it’s an awesome feeling.”

NYU, which is not known for being a sports school, appealed to Wurtz, who hopes to be a director, because it “wasn’t just all basketball. It’s more about doing what you love and still continuing to play competitively.” She certainly hasn’t slowed down, either: she accumulated 119 assists in the fall, more than any NYU freshman has accomplished in one season.

When she tells people at school where she’s from, “they definitely show sympathy, but they feel you don’t want them to feel bad for you. But they definitely show sympathy.” As for what she wishes people outside the Newtown community understood, she said that she wished “people knew Newtown beforehand, and not just what it is now.” She nonetheless rejects the idea of “glorifying” the tragedy by making a movie of it. At the same time, she likes to imagine that, down the line, she could depict how her hometown has remained “the same old Newtown.”

“I definitely don’t take anything for granted anymore,” she said. “Especially my family. And I appreciate everything – I think a lot more now.”


[image via Facebook]