Friday, July 8, 2011


The sad news jumped off the page like a knife between my ribs.  Cancer caught up with Matt Hurlock Wednesday.

Hurlock was 39.  His work with student-athletes in Coventry was legendary.  My respect for his accomplishments as coach of the girls volleyball team was immense.  Not only did he lift the Patriots to the heights of Class S (7 championships), his teams consistently flirted with the No. 1 spot among state high schools large and small.

I first met Matt in 2006 when his Coventry High boys basketball team had the dubious task of trying to derail the Berlin juggernaut led by Doran Mitchell.  His Patriots had the higher seed in a quarterfinal matchup at Plainville's Ivan Wood Gym, but Berlin cruised by 31 points. The Redcoats went on to win what was temporarily known as a Class III state title.

When Hurlock's volleyball teams were sparring with the great Southington squads for state recognition, he was a sports writer's dream, responding to all inquiries and answering questions thoughtfully.  His response always reflected his innate desire of promoting his hard-working youngsters and the sport of volleyball, for that was the essence of Matt Hurlock.  He helped kids.

Hurlock, who according to my esteemed Hartford Courant colleague and treasured friend Lori Riley had the unthinkable volleyball record of 208-19, took a program that languished in the obscurity of one of the state's more obscure conferences (the small-school dominated North Central Connecticut Conference) and built a firm foundation based on work ethic and pride.  The Patriots were 6-12 in his first season -- 2001 -- but were atop Class S two years later when the seeds he planted and nurtured with tough love blossomed beautifully.

I ventured to the Patriots' gym for matches with Southington in 2008 and again last October, when the knowledge of Hurlock's fight for life became public.  In between those decisive Coventry victories, the Blue Knights ended the Patriots' 84-match winning streak in October of 2009.

Hurlock could have been sullen like so many successful coaches who hit a bump in the road.  With his players shedding tears by the gallon, he was extremely respectful of the Southington players and the work of their magnificent coach Rich Heitz.

Hurlock displayed the same poise when he learned of the illness that would take his life.  He leaves his wife Julie and their two young children, but leaves them with a legacy that should fill them with unparallelled pride.  Matt Hurlock galvanized a community around a simple volleyball net and some lines on a gymnasium floor.  In my book, that qualifies him as a miracle-worker.

Matt Hurlock's selfless enthusiasm has been infused in those he touched -- players, parents, assistants and fellow coaches alike.  His family should know that his spirit will live on in the hearts and minds of all those he met.  Count me among them.

Monday, July 4, 2011


The fixated motorist flies by on the right. He weaves in and out of traffic, totally obsessed with his own needs, caring nothing about those around him.

One car he passes nearly swerves off the road. The elderly gentleman was stunned. He remembers when he had some maverick in him but his energy was spent in a different way.

His knuckles weren’t always gnarled with arthritis. It didn’t seem that long ago when things like bifocals and hearing aids were foreign to him.

This man didn’t have the chance to freewheel around when he was trapped between puberty and maturity. He was on a transport carrying him and others his age onto the shores of Normandy, an agent of the free world trying to hold back the sinister arm of tyranny during the dark days of World War II.

The motorist is impervious to the benefits of living in the land of the free. He takes it for granted, pushing safety laws to the limit to satisfy his own needs.

It’s July 4. America is celebrating its 235th birthday. The aging WWII vet is the latest in a long line of freedom fighters dating back to the early days of the American Revolution, when so many gave their lives so that future generations could be free.

Does the motorist, or any of his generation, ever take the time to comprehend how our freedom evolved?

Greedy athletes line up against greedier team owners over financial matters in two of our major professional sports.

The athletes in the NFL and NBA get more and more. The owners want more and more. Lawyers and agents instigate more and more so they can get a bigger piece of the pie. The people pay more and more, making the football and basketball arenas playthings for the wealthy.

None of them give a hoot about the people.

Do any of them stop on July 4 to pay their respects to those who have made it possible to get ridiculously wealthy playing children’s games? How many of them even know the significance of the date?

I wish I could answer that they do, but I don’t think so.

The night crackles with the sound of fireworks going off all around.

The Fourth of July. They have it circled on the calendar in their minds. Fireworks, boom, yeh!

But do they know why they’re shooting off fireworks on this day? How much do they know about what they’re celebrating?

Some of them may remember the history book highlights, no matter how vague or even misleading they may be.

Paul Revere made that ride, right? President George Washington, first man in the White House? Not exactly. Ben Franklin? Five dollar bill, but there are many more reasons he’s pictured there other than flying a kite.

What about Thomas Paine? Daniel Morgan? Nathaniel Greene? There may not be one in 100 who knows about any one of them, and one in 5,000 probably couldn’t identify them all, but there almost certainly would be no speeding motorists, no professional athletes and no fireworks on Fourth of July without any one of them.

Who are they? If you can get out your Google to find out when the latest stupid movie with robots and fire is coming out, you can Google them.

So, what’s the point?

Well, maybe it’s because U.S. history resonates deeply with me. Maybe it’s because you start to think about your own mortality when your age reaches grandfatherly proportions and you want to pass on what you’ve learned. Maybe it’s because things haven’t exactly gone well for me lately and I’m looking for some sort of escape.

It’s probably a little of all three, but I decided that I would take a good portion of time this Independence Day to reflect on those who have sacrificed so I could grow up basking in the glow of freedom.

I attended an afternoon of patriotic music and festivities Sunday that the Farmington Historical Society graciously staged. A troubadour with deep historical roots named Tom Cullinan sang songs including “Rally ’Round the Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” He spoke reverently about those who have served our nation, who numbered eight at the event.

I sang when I knew the words. The thoughts that passed through my mind dampened my cheeks. One woman had the foresight to bring two young boys. Hopefully the event will be etched deeply in their minds so they can pass the spirit along to the next generation.

Independence Day. The Fourth of July. The day means everything to me, it should mean everything to you and I don’t mean the procurement of fireworks, scoffing multiple burgers and keeping the beer cold.