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Walt Murphy's News
Last Updated: June 2, 2003

The Murphy Legacy at Penn

I'm often asked how I got started in this sport. Well, it was all because of my cousin, Tom Murphy. This year's Relays mark the 50th Anniversary of Tom's anchor leg that helped St.Augustine's of Brooklyn win the High School Championship mile relay.

Tom had already established himself as a star after he set two national 600-yard records at NY's Armory during the 1953 indoor season, and the Lancers headed to Philadelphia confident that they at least had a chance to win.

In the pre-internet era, it was hard to know what teams in other areas were doing, but the St.Aug coach had heard that Rindge Tech had been running well in the Boston area, and told his team, "You have your work cut out for you."

The anticipation was high for the final, but "Rindge dropped the stick early," said Tom. "We didn't know that Rindge had a great anchor, but he was probably 30-yards behind me when we started the anchor leg. I ran about 48.4 and he ran 47.1, which was announced as being the fastest split of the weekend, even faster than the college runners."

St.Augustine's won in 3:26.6, and that Rindge anchor turned out to be Charlie Jenkins, who went on to win gold medals in the 400 and 4x400 relay at the 1956 Olympics. Jenkins also won 8 Relays watches during his years at Villanova (1955-1957). (His son Chip anchored Villanova's winning 4x400 at the 1986 Relays and won Olympic gold after running in the first round of the 4x400 at the 1992 Games in Barcelona).

Rindge was so upset over their loss that they raised funds to bring St.Augustine's up to Boston for a match race later in the season. "It wasn't much of a race", said Tom. "I remember they had a big lead, and I patted Charlie on the back and told him 'Have a good one'." Rindge won easily and set a National Record in the process!

Ironically, Tom and Charlie were teammates for a brief time at Villanova before Tom transferred to Manhattan College. Tom had further success at Penn, anchoring the Jaspers to the College two-mile relay championship in 1957 (he suffered a heartbreaking loss to Michigan State's Willie Atterberry the following year), and winning Olympic Development 1/2-mile races in 1959 and 1960. He also won the 800 and ran on the winning 4x400 relay at the 1959 US-Soviet Union meet, which was held at Franklin Field. (He also made the 1960 Olympic team in the 800).

The next member of the Murphy family to run at Penn was me. By the luck of the draw, I had also wound up at St.Augustine's and, of course, had gone out for the track team, since Tom had become my sporting idol (it was close between Tom and the Brooklyn Dodgers' Gil Hodges).

I was a long sprinter(in the loosest definition of the term), and had plodded along during my career, running at the Armory and Randalls Island(even Van Cortlandt Park, but that's another story). In my senior year, our coach told us about the Penn Relays and that we would have to have a time-trial, which would be held at our practice track in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to decide who would run on the mile-relay. I finished a close 5th that day, but the coach picked me because it was my last chance to get to Penn.

This would be my second trip to Franklin Field since I had gone, along with my brother, Pete, our father, and other family members, to that 1959 U.S.-Soviet meet to watch Tom run. I remember it was a dreary day and I, being the savvy runner that I was, had a huge breakfast shortly before we were scheduled to run. Of course, I ran about 3 seconds slower than I had at the time-trial (and lost that breakfast afterwards), but I'll always remember running on the backstretch and hearing someone in the stands yelling, "Go Red!"

I wouldn't return to Penn until 1964, when I was drawn, not by the Relays, but by a chance to see Bob Hayes run in special 100- and 220-yard races. Nonetheless, I was hooked for life and haven't missed a Relays since then, making this year's edition my 40th straight, a streak that pales in comparison to some others.

Now back to the real "Running Murphys." Said Tom, "Despite my own success there, my proudest moment at Penn was sitting in the stands in 1978 and watching my son Keith run on the winning high school distance medley." That would be the team from St.Anthony's (NY), which is celebrating its own anniversary (25th) this year.

Keith, like his dad, husky for a 1/2-miler (he played football in the fall), ran a 1:58.0 lead-off 800 to keep St.Anthony's within reach of favored Trenton Central (NJ). John Gregorek's 4:06.5 anchor brought the team from behind and they won in 10:02.5. (See Ed Grant's and Gregorek's "Penn Memories" for more on this race).

The Murphy tradition will continue this year when Keith's son Thomas, a junior, runs on the 4x800 relay for St.Anthony's. The "gene factor" is obvious on his father's side, but Thomas also got help from his mother Cynthia, a daily runner, who is the sister of Paul Leary, who ran the 1200 leg (3:06.3) on that St.Anthony's DMR. (Bob Higgins ran 49.7 on the 400 leg) Tom and his wife, Maureen, who has been a cheerleader for a husband, a son, and now grandchildren (Thomas's sister Emily also competes for St.Anthony's), had hoped to attend this year's Relays, but, like all good grandparents, will instead serve as babysitters for Keith's other children. But they'll be there in spirit, knowing that the Murphy family will once again be well represented at Penn.