"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" - - - - 7/16/11

Matt Hurlock recently succumbed to a year-long battle with colon/liver cancer; he was just 39. His name may not be familiar to all who read this column, but those who were fortunate to have crossed paths with the man will always treasure fond memories of a special person--and a true educator. Yes, I was one of the lucky ones.

I met Matt a few years ago; he was the head basketball (boys) and volleyball coach at Coventry High School and also taught physical education. At the time, he had just won another Class S state championship in volleyball. In addition, his basketball team was still undefeated and his wife was expecting their second child. Yes, all was well in the world of Matthew J. Hurlock. Before the start of one particular basketball game, I approached Matt, shook his hand, and introduced myself. After congratulating him on his continued volleyball success, our conversation immediately turned to basketball. I relayed to him that I had coached his star player, Jamie Kohn, at the middle school level. He then shared some thoughts with me about Jamie and his team in general. What immediately struck me about Matt Hurlock was his modest, easy-going nature. For a guy who was collecting state volleyball championships like they were stamps (he'd win a total of seven after taking over the program in 2001), I found him to be remarkably approachable, non-egotistical, and friendly. In an instant, it felt like I had known the guy for a couple of decades. I then asked him if he'd like to appear on my cable TV sports show--and if he could bring a couple of athletes from the high school with him. He smiled, his face lit up, and without hesitation said something similar to, "Absolutely--that would be SO cool." We then parted ways as I would go on to watch his basketball team keep their unblemished record intact that night. Man, I said to myself--if only ALL coaches were as easy to deal with as Matt Hurlock!

A live edition of "Monday Night Sports Talk" was produced in February of '08 as Matt brought along one of his top volleyball players, Ashley Curtis, and the aforementioned Jamie Kohn--an All-State player. He immediately thanked me for inviting him and happily chatted with my co-host, Tony DeAngelo, prior to the airing. As the show progressed, Hurlock continually lauded the personal efforts of the duo that had accompanied him to the studio that night. Even more noticeable was the fact that he constantly used the words "we" and "us" when referring to EITHER team he coached. Yeah, it soon became extremely clear to me that Matt Hurlock's philosophy of coaching could be summed up in ONE word--"selfless"--and he was able to communicate this approach very easily to his players. And it was more than just athletics to Coach H. as he was quick to point out that he was most proud of Ashley due to her being "very well-rounded." At one point, we specifically asked Matt about combining academics and sports. It was then revealed that both Ashley AND Jamie were ranked in the TOP FIVE of their graduating class academically. "I have high expectations," he said that evening, "but I want my players to reap the awards of working hard." It worked, folks.

Matt Hurlock compiled a 208-19 record as Coventry's volleyball coach; last fall, as he coached through chemotherapy, his squad became the first small school to ever be voted the #1-ranked team in Connecticut. He headed the basketball team from 1997-2009--winning four conference championships. He ran summer programs for youngsters--all aimed at developing a sense of TEAMWORK. It's really no surprise that this man won all those volleyball titles; you see, the ultimate "team game" was headed by an extremely erudite "TEAM GUY."

Finally, it was obvious that he cared so much about his family--which he was quick to point out on the night of our telecast. "Family comes FIRST," Hurlock said--and it DID. I remember the unmistakable glow on his face when he'd see his wife and children just before game time--or when he'd spend a few quality minutes prior to tip-off getting some last minute pointers from his twin brother Mike. But one can only ponder if Hurlock's "family" was an extended one--including the many young athletes he came in contact with over his brilliant coaching career; he surely treated them that way. If you knew Matt Hurlock--even casually--you FELT like family. What better legacy can a man leave?

I hadn't heard much from Matt over the past year or so; sadly, a fellow media colleague ultimately alerted me to Hurlock's battle with the aggressive disease that would soon take his life. From this day forward, I'm sure his wife Julie will be fueled by memories of special times spent with a wonderful man/husband. His children, Colby and Katelyn, will someday take comfort in knowing that their father--though taken from this world at such a young age--was a 'high-quality' human being. I'll always remain grateful that our paths crossed and that I could consider him a friend--even if only for a few years. His abbreviated time here on earth was surely QUALITY time. Most important, he made a huge impact--and isn't that the ultimate goal? Yes, though short in duration, it was a life well-lived.

Rest in peace, Matt Hurlock--you'll surely be missed.
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