The home stands at the Newbury Park High stadium were mostly filled. The clothing of preference were Hawaiian shirts and/or black and gold Panthers gear.
George Hurley would be pleased.
The late, great Newbury Park football coach died Nov. 19, at age 70, after a 14-year bout with cancer. On Saturday, he was honored at the stadium field that bears his name in an hour-long tribute attended by family, friends and hundreds of well-wishers.
The common theme in thoughts and recollections from speakers that included his wife Berta, brother Michael, son Ethan along with former players and coaching colleagues, was Hurley had a knack for brightening the lives of all he knew.
“Coach Hurley had an approach you didn’t often see in the ‘70s,” said former player Steve Henson, who played on Hurley’s first Newbury Park team in 1972. “He stayed on an even keel, he laughed, he taught.
“He was the first person ever to call me Mr. Henson. Calling kids Mr. was a subtle sign of respect, an acknowledgement you were an individual. Coach Hurley looked beyond your pimples and braces and saw potential. He lifted you up. Making you feel good made him feel good.”
Ditto, said Jason Sands, who played in 1989 on Hurley’s first team as the Panthers varsity head coach.
“The lessons he always taught us was play hard, have fun and be a good teammate,” said Sands. “He created an environment where we all laughed and had fun. He fostered an environment where the team became a family and we were all part of the same brotherhood.
“I’m proud that I played for Coach Hurley at Newbury Park. But I’m most proud to call him my friend.”
The legendary coach transformed the Panthers into a regional and Southern Section powerhouse in 19 memorable seasons as a head coach from 1989 to 2007. His teams won 130 games, six Marmonte League championships and one CIF-Southern Section championship in 1993.
Hurley’s legacy includes recognition as a master innovator. He revolutionized high school football in Ventura County in utilizing a pass-happy, four-wideout scheme that passed the football on virtually every down.
Henson, who later became a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times and currently is a senior editor with the USA Today Sports Media Group, knows that firsthand.
“I would sit up in the stands and watch his teams play,” said Henson. “They would throw the ball more in one game than we did my entire senior year in 1974.”
Sands said Hurley was the prototype of an inspirational coach.
“He was the ultimate players coach,” said Sands. “He led by example using humility, grace and honestly. He was the same way to his coaches. He gave them free rein to coach, which is a bigger thing than it might seem.”
But Hurley’s successful life transcended far more than football games. He was a teacher at Newbury Park High for 39 years who shined far and wide as a math instructor, wrestling coach and referee, track and field official, and chairman of the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame.
He was also a history buff who enjoyed participating in Civil War reenactments.
Read the rest of the story at the Ventura County Star.