Monday, July 28, 2008

HAL LEVY: SCHOLASTIC SPORTS LOSE A LEGEND

Some of you knew him well, others knew him in passing and some may just know his name, but every sports-loving soul in Connecticut became a bit less fortunate Thursday with the death of longtime Shore Line Times executive sports editor Hal Levy.

Levy’s work was epic, a model on which weekly sports sections should be based, and thousands of young athletes along Connecticut’s shoreline east of New Haven and bordering the I-91 corridor northbound to his native Middletown will have a vestige of his magnificent prose and unflagging dedication in their scrapbooks or folded up neatly in their wallets.

For those who didn't know, Levy was diagnosed with liver cancer in March. The disease progressed rapidly. Thankfully, he had a chance to say good-bye to many of his friends at a very special party in Cromwell June 26. Through the efforts of Larry McHugh and a committee organized by his Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, Levy was afforded the chance that not many of us get – a living wake.

As a member of that committee, I spread the word among Connecticut media about the party that helped Levy savor some of life’s final days and offset the expenses in as courageous a battle against cancer that I’ve ever witnessed.

This vignette will give you a glimpse into Hal’s personality. I banged out a brief press release about the party and sent it to every sports media person I know. I referred to Hal as being the executive sports editor of the Shoreline Times. What I neglected to do was to leave Hal’s email off the list.

Not more than 2 minutes after I hit the send button, I received the following terse reply: “It’s Shore Line Times.”

Levy’s dedication was especially essential to the Conn. Sports Writers’ Alliance, a sports journalists’ league that dates back to 1939 and will suffer greatly from his departure.

He understood the value of preserving our state’s sports history and honoring those who have contributed to its grandeur. He relished nominating people he deemed worthy of receiving the John Wentworth Good Sport Award. At the Gold Key Dinner, he’d bask in the radiance of his honorees’ bliss as they took their place behind the lectern for a few words.

He told me how badly he wanted to emcee the annual event and the CSWA granted him that wish. By the end of April, the cancer was taking its toll but he battled through the event in typical Levy fashion and had the assembly in the palm of his hand from start to finish.
He fought hard for what he felt was right, no matter how unpopular it may have been with his CSWA colleagues. He never groused when the cards turned up against him.

I met Hal Levy in 1980 when my journalism advisor at Southern Connecticut State University strongly suggested that I accept an internship with his Guilford-based publication. He had a firm plan how to educate aspiring sports writers from entering bowling scores in these new-fangled technological wonders he called tubes to interviewing nationally esteemed former Yale football coach Carmen Cozza.

He tore me down for being too heavy-handed in editing what I viewed as biased ramblings of an in-house sycophant, and then built me up by handing me the assignment of covering a dissertation by the son of turn-of-the-century Baseball Hall-of-Famer “Big Ed” Walsh at the Wallingford Public Library during the 1980 World Series.

In regard to my hatchet job on his reporter’s copy, Hal explained to me that his paper would feature what the hometown folks wanted to read. He was stern enough to rankle your innards, yet astute enough to keep you from flipping up your middle finger, bellowing a few expletives and slamming the door in his face.

Now, within walking distance of that very Wallingford library, my mentor and treasured colleague will be sent to his eternal rest at the B.C. Bailey Funeral Home on 273 South Elm Street, Wednesday between 4 and 8 p.m.

At that time, I will bid Hal farewell on his everlasting journey in my own way, but a sizable chunk of his spirit and knowledge will live on in my heart. The residue of his wisdom will also live on in such outstanding writers as Mike DiMauro of The New London Day, Dom Amore of The Hartford Courant, Les Carpenter of The Washington Post, Paul Nichols of The Middletown Press and Ed Price of The Newark Star-Ledger.

A smaller trace will live on in the next generation of sports writers in whose hearts Hal’s devoted students stoked a passion for our craft.

Hal Levy ignited my ire like no other person I’ve ever met. Yet I could never stay angry with him because of the great respect and appreciation that he elicited. Such extreme polarization made him so exquisitely unique that I often sought out his advice above all others in any journalistic matters.

Scholastic athletes racing up and down the fields, tracks, pools and gymnasiums of Southern Connecticut have lost their greatest advocate. May the spirit that moved him reverse the course of every sports writer who has ever gone to a community sports event and mailed it in.

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