Thursday, November 20, 2008

One of the good guys

People sometimes get into sports journalism because they loved the games when they were a child, and they wanted to spend as much time as they could around them.

Some of those people lost that enthusiasm along the way, as the hours and unusual schedules chewed up their spark. But it's fair to say Tom Borrelli had more of that enthusiasm than anyone I ever met.

Tom died this morning after a horrific accident suffered while covering a high school football game less than two weeks ago. My co-worker was 51.

Newspapers and communities need people like Tom, who truly cared about local sports. When the Buffalo Bandits started playing lacrosse more than 15 years ago, Tom started covering the team. He did such a good job that he went into the league's Hall of Fame. His mood was always brightened when St. Joe's won a high school game, particularly when it was over arch-rival Canisius. Tom always made sure that when the Buffalo Gladiators, a semi-pro football team, checked in, their score and a couple of details made the newspaper. Some of us wouldn't have been so diligent.

Tom's love of sports extended outside of work, though. He was a devoted fan of University of North Carolina, the Cincinnati Reds and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mention those teams in combination, and friends will immediately only think of Tom. I remember Tom anxiously listening to the Internet radio broadcast of the College World Series while we were on the job one night; North Carolina was in the tournament. Pretty unusual for a Buffalo State grad. And if he wasn't in every single fantasy league east of the Mississippi, it wasn't for lack of trying.

The television business will miss Tom, because he signed up for every possible package of sports programming available. I think there were about three people who got the NBA's package when it first came to cable locally, and he was one of them. I'm not sure how he watched it all, but Tom seemed to have facts on practically every aspect of pro sports when he wrote a fantasy column.

On a personal level, Tom did some reads on my book, "Rayzor's Edge," and made it a better publication. He also was extremely nice to me when I first came to The Buffalo News in 1993, and we remained friends for the next 15 years. Tom could act like he was grumpy at times, but he was always there when you needed him.

Usually when the sports department covers an event, the reporters don't risk their lives. That's for the news reporters in Iraq or Afghanistan. All we usually have to handle is a temporarily angry coach or player. So it was quite a shock when Tom never came back from reporting on a high school football game. But as photographer and friend Bill Wippert said, Tom was doing what he loved right up until the end. Sports were his life. Western New York and his many friends are a little poorer because he won't be on the job any longer. This original personality will be sorely missed.

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