Reflections on 43 Years in Green and White
STORY BY GREG MURRAY, UPPER SCHOOL PHYSICAL EDUCATION TEACHER,
GOLF COACH AND DIRECTOR OF SENIOR CHALLENGE
Greg Murray retired this spring, closing the book on 43 years at Durham Academy, among the longest tenures in the school’s history. Over the course of those four decades, he served as a physical education teacher, multi-sport coach, yearbook advisor, photographer, Senior Challenge director, lead class advisor and inducer of laughter and smiles everywhere he went.
It’s not every day that you get the chance to say a collective “thank you” to an entire community. My connection with Durham Academy began back in 1979 when Rob Hershey, then head of school, believed in and trusted in me enough to hire a first-year teacher and coach. As I began my career, I had the good fortune to have incredible mentors, many of whom are still close friends 43 years later. How many people can say that? I was given the opportunity to pursue my passions while learning from the best.
I actually started my coaching career at DA on the gridiron. Yes, I have been around long enough to say that I coached football at Durham Academy! Robert Hallyburton ’82 — parent of Julianna ’22, Scott ’18 and Spencer ’14 — was the quarterback. A lot has transpired in the 40 years between Robert’s and Julianna’s graduation days!
My first love has always been basketball. I was given the opportunity to coach the junior varsity boys team for several years before taking over the varsity girls program following the infamous Dave Gould [the former Upper School history teacher and 2012 Faculty/Staff Legacy Award winner passed away in 2016]. One of the many highlights of coaching those incredible young women was a magical run in 1992. The N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association (NCISAA) tournament was held on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus at Carmichael Auditorium, where a team anchored by senior Liza Zug Cox ’92 defeated the defending champs, Charlotte Latin School, to win our first state championship. A ninth-grader, Katie O’Connor ’95, scored 17 points in the final, setting the stage for an All-American career. She, along with teammates Ryan Hardaker LaForce ’94 and Becca North ’94, repeated as state champs together in 1994. The experience gained in coaching these girls definitely set me up to win as a dad of daughters! The added bonus was that our favorite babysitters were marvelous role models. For that, I could not be more grateful.
Of course, most know me now as the coach of DA’s varsity boys and girls golf teams. I have been blessed with so many passionate, hardworking, dedicated players over the years. My best role as coach has been as a psychologist/cheerleader because, to be honest, we were extremely successful because those players were much more gifted and talented than I was! A favorite memory came in 2004 as Bryce Mueller ’04 set the tone by demanding that the guys join him for offseason workouts. During the cold of winter, he pushed them to face the elements to practice when others were enjoying the warmth indoors. When the season began, he insisted that their work would make them unbeatable, and he was right. His example inspired a young team to Durham Academy’s first state championship in golf.
During that same era, there were few opportunities to play team golf for girls. Nancy Mountcastle Wall ’03 boldly stepped onto the tee to play on the DA boys team. She played from the same tees and was one of our leading scorers. That experience prepared her to play collegiately, and she became a mainstay in the lineup at N.C. State University! Walker McLear ’09 followed in her footsteps a few years later, competing with the guys. Little did they know that the seed that they had planted would grow into the dominant girls golf program that we have today.
Samantha Lanevi ’14 and Christen Howlett ’14 came to me after class one day back in the spring of 2010 to ask if I would be willing to coach a girls golf team. Their passion became a reality, and over the last 11 years, the team has finished top three in the NCISAA six times!
Having taught at some point in all four divisions, I was able to develop a better understanding of child development, and that knowledge paid tremendous dividends as I became a husband and father. Over the years, my wife, Deb, and I had offers to leave for other jobs, but we ultimately decided that Durham Academy was absolutely the best place for our children to thrive.
Our daughters, Erika ’09 and Mariel ’11, attended DA from pre-kindergarten through graduation. The gratitude we have for the love, care and support that they received from their teachers and coaches is immeasurable. They learned how to organize, to prepare, to study and to write — skills that helped them to become the accomplished women that they are today. From being a part of the Fabulous First Grade Explorers and the Lang Gang to performing on stage in musicals, In The Pocket, and the XIV Hours a capella group, they were able to explore a variety of experiences that built confidence and strength that they may not have gotten anywhere else. They competed together to win field hockey and lacrosse state championships, but their most fond memories are the road trips and the fun and laughter with teammates and their amazing coaches along the way. The Durham Academy “village” helped us to raise our children.
In many ways, the DA village helped to raise me, too! I was surrounded by the best of the best faculty and staff members. What they have taught me is immeasurable. The folks on the maintenance staff are my heroes. The support staff behind the scenes are the backbone of the school. There are incredible people at every turn. Thanks to them for taking such good care of me and my family!
Of course, I cannot write about my most fond memories at DA without mentioning Senior Challenge, the longest continuous tradition at DA. The experience offers a challenge that is unmatched, and it involves a shared experience by an entire class. The fact that I have been able to hike with decades of students and some of my closest friends has been the best way to begin each year! I can’t wait to hear about the adventures of my fantastic advisory group, which will take the challenge this fall.
Every single day, I was astounded by the depth and breadth of our students. They are creative, caring, talented, diverse and inspiring. The joy of observing them pursue their passions motivated me to do the same. The opportunity to coach sports that I love with kids that I love has been icing on the cake. As I move to my next stage in life, the relationships I have built with my students — especially my players, advisees and their families — are what I will miss most.