I knew Buddy Hurlock for 16 years, and I always thought I knew what he did.
During the last nine months, it quickly became obvious that I had no clue. I never knew just how many games Buddy covered, how many stories he wrote, how many people he got to know as The News Journal’s high school sports reporter.
Now that I’m in that job, it has been an eye-opener – to say the least.
Since moving here from Florida in 1996, I had always gone to a couple of high school games here and there. I was just a spectator, sitting in the stands and peeling out as soon as the game was over. But since October, I’ve been going to games at least three or four days a week. I pay close attention, keep statistics, talk to the participants when it’s over. And it has given me an entirely new appreciation for high school sports in Delaware.
The most impressive thing has been the sportsmanship. I never knew how strongly it was emphasized at every school, in every sport, by every coach, at every game. Athletics is competition, but as this level, it is also part of education. I have been amazed at the constant reminders to do the right thing and treat each other with respect.
But there have been plenty of other surprises for a guy in his first year on the beat. A few observations:
* Oct. 11: Salesianum blanks St. Mark’s 2-0 on the fabled pitch at Baynard Stadium, in the first high school sports event I’ve covered in 25 years. It was the first soccer game I had watched in – well, ever. Sallies coach Scott Mosier, correctly sensing that this was like my first day of kindergarten, kindly gave me some good quotes and told me who scored the goals. That was helpful, because I didn’t know.
* Oct. 22: Host St. Andrew’s shuts out Tower Hill 16-0 on one of the most beautiful football fields anywhere. With only about 50 bleacher seats, fans ring the field as yellow leaves flutter in the distance. Just as I was thinking this is the kind of place where you could see a dog on the sideline, I look to the right and see an old Irish Setter.
* Nov. 4: Sweating, exhausted football players scream, “We did it, coach!” after William Penn knocks off previously undefeated, No. 1-ranked Middletown, 28-25. It hits me that this may have been the biggest accomplishment in some of these young men’s lives so far.
* Nov. 8: Tatnall edges A.I. du Pont 1-0 in the opening round of the DIAA Field Hockey State Tournament. It’s scoreless at halftime, but since I’m not exactly a field hockey veteran, I hesitantly approach the scorer’s table to make sure. They laugh and tell me that if you see everybody on the offensive team throw their hands in the air and start hugging, that’s a goal.
* Nov. 18: Trailing with 30 seconds to go, Caravel scores 11 points in the next 12 seconds to shock Delmar 21-18 in the opening round of the DIAA Division II Football State Tournament. One of the most stunning finishes I’ve ever seen in any sport.
* Dec. 2: Newark had already beaten Middletown during the regular season, and the Yellowjackets led 16-0 just 6:20 into the DIAA Division I Football championship game. The Cavaliers must have known I had started writing a story, because they wrote a new one. Middletown 27, Newark 23.
* Dec. 6: Concord routs Howard 66-38 in boys basketball, the first event of my winter season. I’m uncomfortably reminded that a packed gymnasium is about 80 degrees warmer than the outside world.
* Dec. 17: The first wrestling match I’ve ever seen – which turns out to be the first of 1,500 wrestling matches I’ve ever seen – comes at the Beast of the East. It’s kind of like walking into the Super Bowl for your first football game.
* Jan. 10: A.I. du Pont sweeps McKean in my first high school swim meet. I find out that a packed swimming pool is about 80 degrees warmer than a packed gymnasium.
* Jan. 29: The Delaware High School Invitational is my first indoor track meet, at the University of Delaware Field House. I discover that your head better be on a swivel, because there are people running everywhere – on the track, in the infield, in the halls, in the parking lot.
* Feb. 14: Caesar Rodney and Polytech take the titles at the DIAA Wrestling Dual Meet State Championships. We can’t see one of the championship matches, we don’t know the lineups for any of the teams and the results aren’t readily available afterward. Other than that, it was smooth as silk.
* March 9-10: Ursuline and Sanford win the DIAA Basketball State Tournaments. After watching 18 basketball games in 11 days, it’s definitely time for a new sport.
* March 22: Salesianum beats Caravel 8-2 in baseball on the first night of the spring season. It’s 77 degrees, the fans are wearing shorts and I’m thinking spring is going to be beautiful.
* March 31: I start covering a baseball game in a light jacket, move to a heavy jacket, then go to a heavy coat over the heavy jacket. Nothing against Woodbridge, but I’m ecstatic when Red Lion Christian’s Danny LeNoir doubles in the bottom of the seventh to give the Lions an 8-7 victory.
* April 7: The Keith Burgess Invitational at Lake Forest is my first outdoor track meet. And I find out it’s hard to write, type or think in a ceaseless 30-mph wind.
* May 11: It’s the top of the seventh inning, and News Journal photographer William Bretzger asks me how many hits Charter of Wilmington pitcher O.J. Juhl has allowed so far. I go through the scorebook inning by inning, then say, “I can’t tell you.” He says, “Why not?” I say, “Because I can’t tell you.” Juhl loses the no-hitter with one out, but Charter still blanks Middletown 3-0.
* May 19: Lacrosse is another new sport for me. But after covering three DIAA tournament games in one day – Tower Hill at St. Mark’s girls, St. Mark’s at Archmere boys and Cape Henlopen at Tower Hill boys – I start to get the hang of it.
* May 24: Before the DIAA Girls Lacrosse championship game, a group of Cape Henlopen fans yells repeatedly throughout the moment of silence for Buddy Hurlock, who had given as much to Delaware high school sports as anyone. Undoubtedly, it was the worst thing I witnessed all year.
* June 2: Sussex Tech edges Caravel 5-4 in the championship game of the DIAA Softball State Tournament, the final event of the high school sports season. I almost throw my cap in the air, because it feels like I have graduated. I’m no longer a rookie.
It has been a long nine months, full of wrong turns. Literally. It’s a small state, but finding every high school and playing field isn’t easy.
But after meeting all the people involved, I can say that covering high school sports in Delaware is an honor. Almost every coach and athletic director is friendly, helpful, happy to see you at his or her game. Many of them even thank you for coming.
That’s nice, and the students are even better. Anyone who believes Delaware’s high schools are failing hasn’t talked to a lot of the athletes and others involved in extracurricular activities. The vast majority of athletes I have interviewed are polite, disciplined and well-spoken. You can easily see they are doing well in school and are on their way to a bright future.
Suffice it to say, I never feel like the smartest guy in the room.