From The Archives, A Wish For Christmas: Restore Doc Hurley's Good Works

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A column on Walter "Doc" Hurley by The Courant's Jeff Jacobs that ran on Christmas Day 2013:

Doc Hurley's gifts are many and they are scattered through every generation of our community. His gifts, in turn, are tied by colorful bows of tribute and neatly placed under the tree of our history.

For it is in the archives of The Courant, his hometown paper, that we can only begin to document his impact and always end at the same 11-word destination: Doc Hurley is the man we all wish we could be.

From an eloquent speech in front of 450 people at his 85th birthday gala in 2007, here is April Jackson, the Doc Hurley Foundation's first legacy scholarship winner, thanking him, "For loving others more than you love yourself."

Here is a story from 1996. Alonzo E. Short Jr. talked about how he was headed for prison or worse until he met a high school football coach named Doc Hurley in Portsmouth, Va. Hurley did better than set Short straight. He set him on a path of a three-star Army general. And when asked upon his retirement many, many years later if he could trade places for one day with anyone in the world, Short had a ready answer: Walter Doc Hurley.

And here is another story from 12 years ago. Regina Pinnock, the former Weaver girls basketball coach, talked about how money from Doc's foundation made her dream of playing basketball and studying at Virginia State a reality. "Doc Hurley," Pinnock said on the eve of Doc's classic in December 2001, "is the best Santa Claus there is."

Yet as we awake on this Christmas morning, the best Santa Claus there is has no gifts to give. The man who has lived with a loud, booming voice and a quiet dignity for 91 years — who has done nothing but love others more than he has loved him — cannot do the one thing he always wanted. That is to give and to give and to give.

The Doc Hurley Scholarship Foundation, which provided financial support to hundreds of college student since 1975, appears to be tapped out, run dry. Worse, his daughter, Muriel, has not said how $1.7 million in 2001 turned into nothing in 2013 and how many deserving scholars in recent years did not receive the money they were promised. His 39th annual tournament at the Weaver gym named in his honor, one of the great athletic joys of our Christmas season, was canceled this year because of non-payment of bills.

It is a sad, ugly story, reported the past two months with fairness and distinction by Matthew Kauffman and Vanessa de la Torre, and it only figures to get sadder and uglier.

Yet it can't, it mustn't end as ugly and empty as the foundation's coffers.

We needn't worry too much about Doc Hurley's good name. He could never lose that. We should worry about the foundation that bears his name.

There are people out there, good people, who already are pledging support and that is wonderful. We can only hope as the public grows more cynical about the unexplained loss of money that those pledges of support do not wane.

It was in April 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that Hurley was summoned from his phys ed class at Northwest-Jones School. There was panic at Weaver High. And it was there that memorable day he convinced nearly a thousand frustrated, angry young African Americans that destroying the school would serve only to destroy their own dreams. As cities in America burned with racial strife, as our own North End endured rioting, Weaver was left untouched that summer.

After returning from Virginia to Hartford, where he had been a four-sport star at Weaver, Hurley wanted nothing more than to coach at the school. It never happened. Instead he was offered the job of coaching the Wethersfield prison football team. Later, after what happened in April 1968, he became Weaver's assistant principal. And many years after that, in thanks for all he had done, he was given honorary degrees from Trinity and his alma mater, Virginia State, and asked to carry the 1996 Olympic torch through Hartford. Yet what Hurley believed was his great calling never came to pass.

All the high school coaching jobs in Hartford were held by white men back in the day, he told The Courant's Constance Neyer in 1996, and three other African Americans who applied for coaching positions also were given administrative jobs.

"I really do think that prejudice was part of the reason," Hurley he told Neyer.

A decade later, he told The Courant's Matt Eagan, "I never did get over it, and it's still in my heart. I used to dream about coaching a [football] team at Dillon Stadium because I knew what I could do.''

So there I was in 1996, standing with Hurley inside Dillon Stadium as Weaver rekindled some of its old glory with a run in the state football playoffs. He told me he was on the selection committee when they filled the job that Dave Hodge, a white man, got a few years earlier.

"I felt a little heat," said Hurley, who had been the only black player on a Weaver team that rolled to the city championship in 1938 yet now was looking at a team of black Weaver players. "Some were saying there's a desperate need for a black coach. I said, 'Bull. Black coach? White coach? I want the best coach. And we got him.' "

A victim of racism, he refused to pass that ugly torch onto another generation.

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