Seminole Fans lost a great friend on Friday with the passing of long time Orlando Sentinel sportswriter Bill Buchalter, who passed peacefully at 81 after a heart attack.
Long before the internet, “Bucky” became the authority on high school sports, in particular football recruiting and track and field.
In addition to covering everything from Preps to the Olympics, Buchalter produced a newsletter for college coaches that contained the names of his top 200-plus prospects in Florida.
It was the source document for college coaches across the country and led to many scholarship opportunities for Florida preps who might otherwise go unnoticed by colleges outside the Sunshine State.
A 2007 Florida Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Buchalter was instrumental in the inaugural Florida-Georgia All Star Game, played in Orlando in 1985, and in selecting the “Super 24.”
Sammie Smith, who was a star football and track athlete at Apopka High School before signing with FSU, came to know Buchalter well.
“Mr. Buchalter is a legend in athletics across Central Florida and beyond. The impact he has had on young men and women is immeasurable,” said Smith, who starred in that first All-Star game and is now team chaplain for the University of Mississippi.
Mark Salva first met Buchalter when he played football at Winter Park High School prior to signing with Florida State over Miami.
“As a high school player in the Orlando area, there was no greater honor than to be recognized by Bill as one of the top players in all of Florida,” Salva said. “Bill was the original recruiting guru. He was ahead of his time. Before recruiting became a cottage industry, Bill recognized that the lifeblood of college programs was recruiting and blazed the trail of the industry we know today.”
Salva graduated from FSU in 1987 then entered the coaching profession as a graduate assistant at Florida State and later as an offensive line coach at South Carolina, where he depended on Buchalter to help find talent.
“As a coach, he was a dependable conduit of information,” Salva said. “You could trust he had the pulse of Central Florida recruiting and knew every kid in the area and you could trust his evaluation. He was a good friend to me as a young coach trying to make his way in the recruiting wars in Central Florida.”
Former FSU outside linebacker coach Jim Gladden recruited Central Florida and developed a special respect for Buchalter, who retired from the Orlando Sentinel in 2007. Gladden was able to sign both Smith and Salva as well as Winter Park classmate Paul McGowan, who would win the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker and become FSU’s first national award winner.
“Bill was the premier authority on high school athletics, especially in Central Florida, but all over the state for that matter,” Gladden said. “If you wanted to know about a college prospect, Bill was the expert on football and track.”
Buchalter also created a state track honor roll and ranking system for top athletes around the state. Just as in football, Buchalter’s research and connections helped track and field coaches.
“I first met Bill as a high school 9th grader at Boca Ciega High School in St. Pete,” said Dick Roberts, a longtime FSU assistant and head track and field coach. “Bill was a junior, played on the school baseball team, and was the sports editor for our school newspaper. Bill befriended me for some reason and as my track career progressed in high school and college and throughout my coaching years he was always on top of what was happening. He was always cordial, interested and complimentary.”
Beyond the friendships Bill made with players and coaches, Bill was accessible to media members and fans.
Florida State fans who followed recruiting in the early years will remember gatherings of attentive fans who hung on every word Buchalter had to say about high school prospects and where they might sign. Bill became a friend of the Osceola in those days, too, willing to collaborate on evaluations, leanings and commitments.
We all lost a good friend.