By Kevin Wilson
John Murray collects all kinds of things, from a record collection that exceeds 7,000 vinyl discs to a grouping of toys that would make his office a good subject for a VH1 “I Love the 80s” special.
His most valuable collection, though, grows in a file folder. It is a collection of team photos he has accumulated through more than three decades of coaching youth sports in Portales.
The pictures mean more to him than his gumball machine or his yellow “Robie” robot coin bank. They have helped him collect memories, extended family and “True Success,” according to a plaque in his office. The plaque reads:
“One hundred years from now/It won’t matter what car I drove/What kind of house I lived in/How much I had in my bank account/Nor what my clothes looked like/But the world may be a little better/Because I was important in the life/Of a child.”
He’s reminded daily of the difference he made in the lives of children who played for his Panther basketball team, among others. Murray figures through several seasons of basketball and baseball, and one year of football (“It was too rough for me.”), he’s coached anywhere from 300 to 500 children in the area.
“Over the years I’ve been places and I’d have somebody walk up and say, ‘Hello, coach,’” Murray said. “Now they’re 30 years old and they don’t look like they did when they were nine, 10, 11.”
He sees former players on shopping trips, at his job with Roosevelt General Hospital (where he is the business office manager) and in the gyms and arenas.
He’ll see three of his former Panthers in tonight’s Ram 7 p.m. basketball game against Lovington, and four more in the 5:30 p.m. junior varsity game that precedes it.
“It’s enjoyable to see how far they’ve come,” Murray said. “Several of them have excellent athletic abilities.”
Murray started coaching the Panthers in 1970, nine years after graduating from St. Peter’s, a now-defunct parochial school in Roswell.
He’s been able to collect a few trophies in City League, one coming in 2000 with a Panthers team that went undefeated and included Ram sophomores Daniel Aranda and Chris Adkins.
“He taught us a bunch of fundamentals and got us ready for junior high ball,” Aranda said. “I liked him a lot.”
Aranda had a family connection, though. His father, Daniel Sr., also played for Murray, as did his uncle Lucas.
“It was kind of weird because he had coached for a long time,” the younger Aranda said, “but my dad told me he was a good coach.”
Chris Kirchner, a junior for the Ram basketball team, played with the Panthers the year before. He played post, but the memory that keeps resurfacing was how he missed the 1999 City League title game for a family trip to Disney World. The team lost to a Cougars team, led by Ram junior Chris Carter.
“If the families were doing anything,” Murray said, “that came first, whether it was vacations or band tryouts. Practice, etc., was after that.”
Murray is still coaching the Panthers, collecting wins and losses — and a file folder full of memories.