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Sierra High grad has big impact in Grid debut
Buddy Hitchcock in the weightlifting competition. - photo by Photo courtesy National Pro Grid League


• WHAT: San Francisco Fire vs. Boston Fire in an NPGL regular-season matchup

• WHEN: Sunday, 5 p.m.

• WHERE: Haas Pavilion on the campus of UC Berkeley

• WHO: Sierra High graduate and former CrossFit Excel trainer Buddy Hitchcock, 24, competes for the Fire.

• TICKETS: Visit

He bounced near the starting line — wrists wrapped, hands covered in powder. The entire arena bounced along with him.

You want to talk about pressure? All eyes were on Buddy Hitchcock at the start of last Thursday’s NPGL match.

Including his own. 

Just over his shoulder, a woman waved a huge FatHead cut-out in Hitchcock’s likeness, a sure sign of stardom. Several more smaller versions dotted the sea of red at Haas Pavilion.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves...

The San Francisco Fire made its National Pro Grid League debut on Thursday evening, showcasing America’s newest sport to a region teeming with fitness fanatics.

The product did not disappoint. 

The Fire sizzled and popped and scorched a path through the Philadelphia Founders, thanks largely to the ability and pizzazz of its California kid. With every exercise, with every twitch, tug and pull of his 5-foot, 8-inch frame, Hitchcock’s star grew brighter and brighter.

To be certain, Hitchcock, a third-round draft pick by the Fire back in July, didn’t arrive at this moment alone.

Hundreds of fans, wearing crimson shirts and their wildest party pants, made the short trip from the Central Valley to cheer its native son. 

Hitchcock’s home box, Manteca’s CrossFit Excel, chartered a bus for 53 of its members. They sat in Section 9 — along with Hitchcock’s parents, John and Diane — just behind the Fire bench. They screamed, yelled and even danced in the aisles each time Hitchcock sprinted onto the four-quadrant grid.

“Dude, it was out of control. It was so awesome. Having all these people come from the gym was really cool,” Hitchcock said in between high-fives and various photo-ops following the 21-13 victory.

“We were all excited. This was our first race, so were all kind of amped. We’ve been training for this for the last month and half, ever since we became a team. Every single thing we’ve put in practice has been about this.”

The NPGL was born in the womb of CrossFit, but incorporates the team and organizational attributes of America’s mainstream sports like the NFL and NBA.

By that definition, Hitchcock is a pro. 

And by virtue of that paycheck, he now has a place in the pantheon of professional athletes with Manteca roots, joining the likes of Scott Speed, Don Morgan, Scott Brooks, Ken Huckaby and others. 

He gets paid $2,500 per match, but you get the sense that Hitchcock would do this for free.

Grid is right in his wheelhouse. Hitchcock was a two-sport star at Sierra High, where he excelled in track and still owns the school record in the 100-meter dash. He’s long been considered a darkhorse contender for the CrossFit Games, but hasn’t yet made it out of the regional round.

Oh, but he’s an undeniable force on the grid, where the combination of speed, power and shorter exercises plays to this track star’s strengths.

“He’s always been in something, basketball and track,” his father, John, said, fighting back those proud papa tears in the vendor village before Thursday’s match. “This is the best thing for him; being part of a team makes him push harder. 

“... They couldn’t have invented a better sport for him. Buddy’s a great athlete. My son is awesome — and these people are just now figuring it out.”

Count Buddy as one of the NPGL’s blossoming stars. What he lacks in sheer size — he’s listed at 180 pounds — he makes up for with cat-like quickness and agility.

At one point on Thursday, Hitchcock rattled off 21 consecutive handstand pushups. He was also responsible for the Fire’s victories in Races 5 and 6, creating separation with his rope climbs.

When it came time to touch a 10-foot ring — in between nine burpees — the Fire called on their human spring.

“I’m kind of the speed specialist. I do everything fast,” Hitchcock said. “They want me to jump high, I can do that. They want me to throw weights around, I can do that too. I’m the utility guy.

“I do everything fast. Like they say in practice, I have one speed — fast.”

His impact on the Fire roster — a collection of alpha males and females from across the globe —has been, you guessed it, immediate. 

If every fire begins with a spark, Hitchcock has been that ember for coach Jeremy Jones’ team. His team-first attitude has galvanized the Fire, say teammates.

“Buddy, I could sit here and tell you about how great of an athlete he is. How springy he is. How well he can adapt to any physical contingency that may be new or old or adverse,” said Fire strongman Sam Dancer. “But the strength of character that he brings continuously, day after day after day, is probably the most vital component he brings to our team.”

Go on.

“I guess to shorten that up, it’s his ability to string together efficient action for our team, in regards to his character, his confidence. It just resonates and radiates amongst the whole team,” Dancer added. “The obvious things, people see that. They see him jumping and touching rings, but it’s his character.”

Give the Fire this: They see the potential in Hitchcock not only as an athlete but as a brand.

Public Relations Officer Kat Sullivan dreamed up the hashtag #YeahBuddy, “because everyone likes Buddy and it’s a popular saying.” General Manager Paul Southern then turned it into a T-shirt, which flew off the racks in front of Haas Pavilion on Thursday. 

With a sly smile, Sullivan said another 100-plus were pre-sold before the event.

Fans can see Hitchcock and the Fire this Sunday in their final home match against the Boston Irons. 

True to form, Hitchcock, a consummate teammate, has already stoked the Fire. His goals since the Thursday’s match have been to 1) perfect the freestanding headstand pushup; and 2) double the size of Sunday’s Fire Pit, the name given to San Francisco’s loudest and rowdiest fans.

He’s taken a personal stake in the organization’s success and the NPGL’s sustainability. The eyes don’t bother him — not even the cardboard versions of his own.

“I’ve found my home,” Hitchcock said. “That’s for sure.”