An ode to a Buddy

In sports journalism, it could be considered an unglamorous but necessary world: the world of high school sports. It is a place that tests the mettle of young reporters, a place where nothing is handed to you easily. A place where you allot 20 minutes to dutifully handwrite team rosters in your notebook, learn to take your own stats while sprinting down football sidelines and flag down coaches and players yourself because there’s no such thing as a PR staff in high school.

Some step out of prep world and move on to bigger things: college sports, professional sports, investigative reporting. But some stay their entire lives in the prep world, dedicated to the boxscores, the concession-stand nachos and especially the kids. The kids, some of whom go on to great things themselves, but mostly, the kids whose wonderful stories sometimes don’t get told because high school is their last stop for athletic glory.

This is the world that Buddy Hurlock inhabited in Delaware. And like many prep writers, he was both a fountain of information and a passionate advocate. He knew all the parents, he knew all the coaches. He knew the kids who were great to talk to and the ones who had  egos. He also could tell you which concession stands served the best food — we were partial to Alexis I. du Pont High School, outside of Wilmington. (I used to tell people they had the best nachos in the state.)

Most of all, though, Buddy knew how important it was to get these kids’ stories and names and faces in the paper. He worked to squeeze boxscores in, to call coaches for summaries, to coordinate the insanity that is covering six high school state tournaments in the spring. During tournament time, he would sometimes pull double, triple or quadruple-headers. His efforts were deeply appreciated by the high school sports community.

This was the world I was thrust into in the winter of 2001. The News Journal was my first real job fresh out of college. I was literally in a foreign land — a California girl dropped in the middle of Mid-Atlantic winter who knew nothing about Delaware. I knew about prep sports, but the prep culture in Orange County, where I was first exposed to the craziness that is covering prep sports, is an entirely different beast from the prep culture in Delaware. For starters, I had to learn about field hockey and lacrosse, two sports I’d never even seen. Then there was the little technicality that Newark, Delaware is pronounced “new-ark” and not “nu-werk” like that town in New Jersey. And there was that whole figuring out how get from place to place. I was used to freeways; in Delaware, there were myriad numbered state routes, side streets and schools in the middle of countryside.

Through it all, there was Buddy Hurlock.

Buddy was eight years older than I was, but you would have never known it. He approached everything with a child-like enthusiasm. He loved cereal, pizza and hot dogs. He was down-to-earth and had a dry wit. He wasn’t deeply cynical.

That enthusiasm rubbed off on me. It wasn’t hard to get excited about covering a state football championship game or a middle-of-the-week 1-vs-2 girls lacrosse match when Buddy would talk about it and lay out the assignments. I have many fond memories of covering state tournaments in Delaware with him. There was the football semifinal — played on a crisp, clear 20-degree night — where he insisted we stalk the sideline instead of huddle in the press box. He advised me to wear extra pairs of socks. (It didn’t help.) There was the girls soccer state championship game where we carpooled — Buddy drove a sporty two-door Eclipse, seemingly so unlike him — and had to huddle in his car for half an hour because a lightning storm came through the area and we had nowhere else to take cover.

In between, there was a lot of advice, a lot of laughs and an incident in which my friend Allison and I took Buddy to a Waffle House after a football Friday and he tried to order English muffins. The waitress looked at him as if he’d spoken a foreign language.

I left Delaware in 2005, but not without a deep appreciation for the work Buddy did. High school sports can be a thankless, rough world sometimes. By the time I left, I decided I didn’t have the chops to be a reporter anymore and had jumped ship to copy editing. But I always had a deep respect for the people who stayed with it. I had a great pilot to guide me along the way, and a lifetime’s worth of stories and advice that I’ve since passed on to other young reporters. My time in the prep sports world made me who I was as a journalist and a reporter, and I’m glad Buddy made it an enjoyable ride.

I didn’t keep in close touch with Buddy after I left for California, but thanks to the beauty of Facebook, I was able to at least peripherally see what was happening in Delaware.

It was how I found out Buddy died of cancer on Sunday at the age of 40.

May heaven have a hot dog and endless space for boxscores waiting for you, Buddy.

(Photo credit: The News Journal. You can read more about Buddy here and here.)