Former sports editor Burger was one of a kind
Editor's note: Patricia A. Hines is the former editor of the Fairfield Citizen whose friendship with Todd Burger began in the early 1980s.
Four years ago on Dec. 19, my good friend, Todd Burger, died at the age of 49.
His death was a huge loss for me personally as well as for the high school sports community. As the Fairfield Citizen's sports editor for 14 years, no one relished covering high school sports more than Todd. High school sports and Todd were synonymous.
He was a laid-back sort of guy, a veritable walking encyclopedia of sports facts and figures and a good writer. He spent a considerable amount of time coming up with the perfect lead paragraph for his game stories or feature articles. Often -- as his friend and his editor -- Todd would run his leads by me before publication, particularly if he was proud of a turn of phrase or anecdote he conjured.
When he was healthy and vibrant, he covered as many games as he could in the time allowed. And when his health was failing him, he still had only the athletes and his twice-weekly sports section on his mind. A few days prior to his hospitalization, he mustered the strength to interview a few members of the Fairfield Warde High School girls' basketball team and their coach, Dave Danko, about their 2006 season for a preview article. Later, when he lay in his bed at Stamford Hospital, that same coach and a former player visited him to lift his spirits.
That was the kind of impact Todd had on the students and coaches he covered with enthusiasm and limitless interest. Numerous coaches, players, parents, colleagues and friends attended Todd's wake and funeral a few days before Christmas 2006 -- further testament to his importance in their lives.
Todd never really had any grand visions of working for a major metropolitan newspaper or ESPN. He was quite happy to be a big fish in a small pond, where all the players called him Mr. Burger and all the coaches treated him like a member of their families. Even the parents -- who sometimes can make a sports editor's job more difficult -- were regular readers of his articles and columns, often taking the time to compliment him. And when some parents chose to criticize how he did his job, it would bother him for days.
In the days following his death, the Fairfield Citizen was inundated with e-mails and phone calls from coaches, players, friends and former colleagues, all of whom wanted to offer their memories of a man who liked to tell a joke, was an ardent New York Yankees fan and was wont to entertain a small crowd with tall tales. While he liked to recount the days of interviewing homegrown national sports stars, like J.J. Henry, James Blake and Charles Nagy, he was just as eager to give his listeners or readers his take on the athletic prowess of Fairfield's youth.
In a tribute article in the Fairfield Citizen after Todd died, Danko told the reporter, "He really gave a general feel and showed compassion for the sports he covered. It was not about wins and losses with him, it wasn't about the coaches, it was always warm stories about the development of student-athletes for the town of Fairfield. He always hit the heart of the story, which was the development of the kids throughout their high school years."
That summed up Todd nicely.
Todd was anything if not fair. He made sure he highlighted different sports as his lead story on the opening page of each edition of the paper. As part of that fairness doctrine he liked to practice, it bothered him that the high school girls' basketball squads did not have their own tournament -- much like the highly anticipated and well-attended Fairfield Prep Alumni Holiday Classic, which takes place every December.
Todd got his wish, albeit after he passed away. Thanks to Fairfield Ludlowe High School Athletic Director Dave Schulz and the athletic departments of Fairfield Ludlowe and Fairfield Warde, the Todd Burger Holiday Tournament has taken place every year since December 2007. This year's tournament is scheduled to close Wednesday at Fairfield Ludlowe. Seeing action will be the two Fairfield teams -- Ludlowe and Warde -- as well as Brien McMahon High School of Norwalk and Clarkstown North of New York.
I attended the first tournament -- as did his family, who handed out the winning trophy -- but for various reasons I was unable to get to the subsequent ones. I plan on attending today's to root for the two home teams.
It is the least I can do to honor my good buddy.