Plans for Semkus Memorial Push Forward

Drew Harvey holding a plaque honoring his friend, Michael Semkus.

Last summer, Drew Harvey biked 3,300 miles alongside fellow University of San Diego alum Payton Dwight to raise awareness about an opioid-abuse crisis that has had a gripping effect nationwide. It claimed the life of fellow University of San Diego student Anthony Grasso in 2017 and Harvey’s hometown friend in Sag Harbor, Michael Semkus, who was just 28 when he fatally overdosed 2016.

Mr. Harvey and Mr. Dwight raised $6,700 during their cross-country trek, which ended July 7, 2018 at Sagg Main Beach in Sagaponack. Half of that money was donated to the Anthony Grasso Foundation. Mr. Harvey has used the balance to purchase equipment for an athletic work-out station he wants to dedicate to Mr. Semkus at Pierson Middle High School, where Mr. Semkus was a student, an elite athlete, soccer coach and substitute teacher.

Mr. Harvey said this week he is hopeful the Sag Harbor School Board of Education will approve the construction of the work-out station — consisting of a set of parallel bars, three pull-up bars and a natural rock donated by East Hampton Masonry, with a memorial plaque in memory of Mr. Semkus — at its next meeting.

Proposed for a handful of areas on Pierson property, including in the gravel area leading up to the middle school gym and cafeteria or between the outdoor basketball court and sidewalk next to the school’s soccer field, Mr. Harvey said this week the space would serve as a tribute to Mr. Semkus and a way to inspire students towards the pursuit of a lifestyle built around health.

On June 17, Mr. Harvey and Nicholas “Nico” McMahon, another Sag Harbor native, presented their plans at the close of a board of education meeting that was several hours long.

“Mike Semkus devoted his life to giving back to the local community from which he came, and was a man who tragically succumbed to the opioid epidemic that cripples Suffolk County and the United States alike,” Mr. Harvey told the board. “Tragedies like this cannot be swept under the rug. Rather, they must he brought into the light for each proceeding generation to learn from.”

“It is our hope that this memorial will not only inspire each proceeding generation towards leading a life of fitness, but to also encourage the youth of this community to pursue their ambitions,” Mr. Harvey said later in his presentation. “Likewise, it can be used as a teaching tool to highlight the very real dangers of addiction and drug abuse.”

“I think this is a wonderful idea and I think it would be very meaningful to the community,” said board member Susan Lamontagne at what was her last meeting as a member of the board. She suggested it could be used to connect the two district campuses.

Superintendent Katy Graves said she had sent the plan to the school’s architects. Assistant Plant Facilities Administrator Paul Wilken said the district would also need to explore whether or not it was considered a playground, and needed approval from the state.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Graves said the district architects confirmed the project would not need approval from the state but that it would need a specific kind of flooring that will need to be professionally engineered by the district — and cannot be done by volunteers.

“I think you can tell the board and the district are very supportive of this idea,” she said. “We just need to make sure it is designed with the safety of our children in mind.”

Mrs. Graves said she would present the board of education with a potential timeline and cost analysis of the project at its July 2 organizational meeting at 6:30 p.m. If approved, Mr. Harvey said he hopes the work-out station can be erected this summer or fall, with an opening reception for friends, family and the school community, including Mr. Semkus’s mother, Maria, who taught for 30 years in Sag Harbor and who has approved the wording etched on the memorial plaque.

“In Loving Memory of Michael David Semkus,” it reads, followed by a quote Mr. Harvey dug out of a high school yearbook — Mr. Semkus’ parting “Ambition” as a graduating senior: “To be a positive role model, have a loving family, and affect people the way I have been affected by the people I love. To be remembered.” — M.S.