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.