Town honors memory of Coach Hurlock
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Coventry - posted Wed., Jan. 9, 2013
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies,” wrote Ray Bradbury in “Fahrenheit 451.” “Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die… It doesn't matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away.”
The pieces of the legacy left behind by Matthew J. Hurlock came together the evening of Jan. 5 to form a picture of the influence that he painted across the town of Coventry during his life.
Hurlock passed away in the summer of 2011 after a battle with cancer. He was 39 years old. On Jan. 5, a standing-room-only crowd gathered at Coventry High School to dedicate the school gymnasium to Hurlock’s memory. Among the crowd were many of those whose lives he touched during his years as a teacher, coach, husband and father. There were his children, Katelyn and Colby, just 3 and 4 years old when their father passed away. There was his wife, Julie, left to keep the memory of their dad alive for her children. There were other members of Hurlock’s extended family. There were colleagues and friends, current students and alumni.
Hurlock began teaching physical education in the Coventry school system in 1994. He helped develop and run summer programs for younger children to develop skills in ball handling and teamwork. He coached basketball from 1997 through 2009, earning four conference championships and three conference tournament championships. He started the girls' volleyball program in 2001 and won small school state championships seven of his last eight years, including his last year during cancer treatments.
He was awarded High School Coach of the Year for girls' volleyball in 2008 by the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance and was named Girls' Volleyball Coach of the Year in 2010 by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association. Hurlock was inducted into the State Volleyball Hall of Fame on Nov. 20, 2012. The gymnasium at Coventry High School, which now bears a logo featuring his name, is festooned with banners commemorating wins under his tutelage.
But it was another side of Hurlock that Coventry Board of Education Chair Jennifer Beausoleil chose to highlight during her comments at the Jan. 5 dedication. Behind the public face of the successful coach was a quiet, humble teacher who was dedicated to his students, she said. Beausoleil spoke of Hurlock’s tenure at GH Robertson School, serving grades three through five, “where he truly focused on teaching self-confidence,” she said.
Hurlock’s skill camps filled a need in the small town by providing children with something to do that encouraged a healthy lifestyle. Beausoleil spoke of Hurlock’s calling hours, which drew thousands of people, including both current and former students. Volleyball and basketball players were joined by “just kids who’d had him in phys. ed.,” she said.
A testament to just how much Hurlock affected the lives of his students were the remarks of Tom Myers, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound tight end/linebacker for the Coventry/Windham Tech/Bolton football team. Myers also played basketball for Hurlock. As Myers talked about Hurlock, he fought back tears. “First of all, the guy was just a winner,” he said. Myers talked about Hurlock’s “toughness and greatness.”
“There’s nobody in the world whose name I’d rather see on this gym floor than coach Hurlock,” said Myers, heading into the locker room to compose himself for the remainder of the dedication.
“You wanted to play your best for him, you wanted to make him proud,” said basketball player Mike Dolan.
Hurlock’s wife, Julie, spoke of how the gymnasium played a part in her life with her husband. From a place to help his new wife brush up on her athletic skills, the gym evolved into “daddy’s gym” for the couple’s small children. “Thank you for giving my kids a gym to go to, and know that it will always be their dad’s gym,” she said.
Asked after the ceremony if it had been hard to speak at the dedication, Julie said, “Powerful is more like it. There was every emotion going on inside of me.” Asked whether Matt would have approved of the hoopla surrounding the dedication, Julie smiled and said, “No. He would have put the nix on it. He was very humble.”
Among the players warming up for an alumni basketball game following the dedication was Adam Riddell. Riddell returned from his home in Texas to spend Christmas with his family and to attend the Hurlock dedication. He played for Hurlock for four years, beginning in 2004. Riddell had never played basketball when he got to Coventry High School, but Hurlock spotted the exceptionally tall freshman and encouraged him to join the team. Riddell was named an All-State player his senior year, but remembers Hurlock for more than just his coaching skills. “[The team] was like a family,” he said. “You wanted to get better. You wanted to be a better person for him.”