The Buck Creek Invitational cross country meet will be renamed the Jim Murray Memorial Cross Country Invitational in honor of the former Northeastern High School athletic director and girls basketball coach who died Monday at 71.
A ceremony before the race at noon Saturday will honor Murray, whose wife, Abby, and daughters, Shana Murray and Shari Diaz, are expected to attend, said Mike Chatfield, of FinishTiming.com. Murray helped found the race with Mark Klopfenstein.
“Jim was one of the first few that came to work for me after I had worked for him as his student then coach at Northeastern,” Chatfield wrote Tuesday on Facebook. “As soon as he retired from teaching, he asked me if he could help out and he did hundreds of track/cross country meets. I will always remember the laugh and all the good times we had while working track and cross country meets together. There was never a dull moment with Jim around. I will miss you dearly my friend.”
Shana Murray said her father passed away of natural causes at the Bluebird Retirement Community in London. Shana said Murray coached her and her sister Shari at Northeastern. He worked 40 years in the school district, coaching the varsity girls basketball team for 23 years and serving as Northeastern’s athletic director for 28 years.
“He still continued to coach even after he retired,” Shana said Tuesday. “He even coached middle school girls for a couple of years. He loved it.”
When Murray retired at Northeastern in 2008, he listed his 10 favorite memories from his years at the school for a story in the News-Sun. His favorite memory involved his family’s contributions to his career.
“My wife’s been retired 10 years, and she wants me home,” Murray said then. “She’s been a great supporter. She still sells tickets at the football games. Also, we lived in the district so my kids got to be in the district. Even though I had a job with long hours, I still got to see my kids.”
Murray’s best years coaching the girls basketball team came in the 1980s. He led the Jets to a 20-0 regular season in 1986-87 and a regional finals appearance in 1987-88. He spent almost his whole life in the district.
“It’s the only job I’ve ever had,” Murray said in 2008. “I graduated from Miami (University) in the spring of 1968, and I went to work at South Vienna in the fall of ‘68. I grew up on Plattsburg Road. When I started in the district, I was in third grade.”
Murray also took great pride in the achievements of his fellow coaches during his tenure and listed these among his top-10 memories: Doug Heskett’s regional finals basketball team in 1983; Jerry Wasserman’s seven playoff football teams; Mark Klopfenstein’s state runner-up cross country teams in 1983 and 1984; and Kregg Creamer’s Ohio Heritage Conference boys basketball championship in 2006.
Improving Northeastern’s sports facilities — the baseball and softball diamonsd, all-weather track, tennis courts, fieldhouse, stadium lights and stadium bleachers — with donations totaling $860,000 also made Murray’s list of memories.
“He was the overseer who got that all done,” said former Northeastern baseball coach Chris Kitchen. “He was a Northeastern guy, and he wanted Northeastern to have good stuff.”
One of Murray’s most lasting achievements was the founding of the OHC, which began play in the 2001-02 school year. He played a big role in getting the new conference off the ground, along with Bill McDaniel and Kirk Martin, and served as OHC commissioner long after he retired from Northeastern.
Until the formation of the OHC, Northeastern had been the smallest school in the Central Buckeye Conference, which then had eight members.
“Enrollment is what was driving it,” Murray said in 2010. “People from around the area said, ‘Jim, we’ve got to do something about this. We’ve got to level the playing field. It’s not fair for our 450 kids to go against a school with 600 or 700 kids.’”
Murray is survived by: his wife of 51 years; his daughters; Shari’s husband Eric and their four children (Hector, 11; Elena and Sofia, 9; and Eva, 7); and one sister, Shirley (Ray) Wise; step-mother Maryanne Murray; and sister-in-law Patricia Murray.
Visitation will be held from 4-7 p.m. Thursday and from 12-1 p.m. Friday at Jackson Lytle & Lewis Life Celebration Center in Springfield. A celebration of his life will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at the funeral home. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Northeastern Jets Athletic Boosters.