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Spotlight Feature on Former Athlete: Dr. Joe Murry – Track & Field 1965-69, Weightlifting 1965-68

From Cajuns to Katrina,
Murry knew how to lead

By Bruce Brown
Athletic Network

Joe Murry wanted to find what he was made of.

It’s why he walked on to coach Bob Cole’s track and field program at USL in 1965, seeking a top end to his skill in the shot put.

That drive also prompted him to become a weight lifter for the Ragin’ Cajuns, joining a program of national reknown and adding his own punch to it.

What Murry found was beyond gratifying, as he set school records in the shot put while helping the Cajuns to four straight team titles in Gulf States Conference competition.

He became a captain of the weight lifting squad and went on to a national heavyweight championship to help spark the Cajuns to national collegiate team crowns.

Both sports gave him a platform on which to shine, and he took full advantage.

Going to college brought me up with goals and aspirations,” Murry said. “And athletics helps you to grow with a sense of confidence. That’s not just a cliché. It does build confidence.

We all worked hard with an end result in mind, and that led me through my whole life. I never had my name up in lights, but I was good for people along the way.”

Never was that more apparent than nearly 40 years later, when Murry was principal at Holy Cross High School in his native New Orleans and steadily guided the school back from the oblivion of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

We lived in Metairie, and our house was spared,” Murry said of his home with wife Jane. “But Mom and Dad and other relatives lost everything. They would come back to our place on weekends. It was like Thanksgiving.”

The picture was grim across town.

The (Holy Cross) campus had 8 feet of water on it,” Murry said. “We had been a shelter for Betsy in 1965, but this time the levees broke. We moved to a satellite campus at Dunham in Baton Rouge while we rebuilt. When we did return, the school was trailers on a site in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Before, we had 830 kids. We started back with 145. We combined with Cabrini to go co-ed, which got us up to 300. We had night school, and they met in the day. Eventually the enrollment got back to where it had been.”

AP classes and scholarship offers returned.

People really worked together,” said Murry, typically sharing the credit. “It was really a great effort of people pulling together.

Murry, who retired after the 2017-18 school year, made his way through educational ranks as a teacher and coach who was spotted early as administrative material.

He served as principal at Abramson High for 7.5 years, then led Holy Cross from 2004-18.

You are your own CEO in the classroom,” Murry said. “You start to create things. People see leadership in you and give you opportunities. You set your sights on something and work towards it, take those steps to get there.

You get people to work with you. That’s my natural demeanor. I’m a collaborative guy. It’s always team with me.”

New Orleans all the way

Murry, whose father was a major in the New Orleans Police Department, threw the shot for St. Aloysius but wasn’t satisfied with his high school career.

The school had three shot putters over 50 feet, and only two could compete in district and postseason. Murry was the odd man out.

I read in a Strength and Health magazine that USL had a national champion weight lifting team,” Murry said. “I decided to walk on in track and field, and find a way to also be a weight lifter. Force the issue.

I met Pat Arceneaux, who was a graduate assistant, and he said to talk to Coach Cole, who welcomed me. The timing was right. It was his second year running the program.”

Weight lifters were equally welcoming, and Murry was in business. The two tasks blended nicely.

I knew I needed strength and power in the shot,” he said. “We trained for Olympic lifts, not just raw power, somebody throwing 400 pounds over their head. The lifts were dynamic, explosive. You get that hip thrust for that power.”

Shot putter Murry improved. After topping out at 52 feet with the high school 12-pound shot, he eventually excelled at 16 pounds.

I threw 45 feet my first meet and finished second, and that gave me immediate acceptance,” he said. “I threw 49 at the Gulf States meet as a freshman, and was second, and was named the non-scholarship Athlete of the Year.

It was a good experience. We all worked hard.”

The Cajuns won that meet, and all four GSC tests during Murry’s years.

We started chasing after records,” said Murry, who set the GSC record of 55-0.75 and school record of 56-2 as a senior.

The field events would finish early, and I would always stay to cheer the other guys on,” Murry said. “I wanted to represent the school in a positive way.”

Gradual success

It took two years to work his way into the starting lineup in weight lifting, but Murry accepted the high standards of a program that was happy with nothing short of national championships, but his captaincy as a senior was testament to his determination.

That senior year of 1968 provided a remarkable swan song, as Murry earned All-American honors, won the national 242-pound individual title while setting 4 national records and led the Cajuns to a repeat team title in competition on the USL campus.

He did all that while shot putting in a meet during the day and weight lifting that night.

I knew I was there,” he said. “I could tell during practice when I had 400 pounds over my head. But it doesn’t count until you’re in the meet. It was a great year.”

Murry added a National Junior title in Milwaukee, set 3 records in winning the AAU Junior Nationals and 2 records in taking the Senior Nationals. He also placed third in the 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Different direction

Eventually, Murry earned Masters and PhD degrees in courses focused on education. But he also worked as strength coach of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills from 1973-78 before returning to his life’s work.

O.J. Simpson rushed for 2,003 yards in 1973 and the Bills led the NFL in rushing under Lou Saban. But it didn’t last.

Our job was to train them up,” Murry said. “We brought in Nautilus and free weights and worked on dynamic lifting. The last two years I was flexibility coach, trying to get great explosiveness.

But you realize it’s a business. It’s not glamorous. Those guys take quite a beating. The goal in every locker room is to win the Super Bowl. But success is fleeting. Things started deteriorating and the bottom fell out.”

As new coach Chuck Knox took over, Murry headed South.

It was a good period for us,” he said, “but we’re from New Orleans. It was time to get back home.”

Hurricane or not, Murry had other roads to take, and more life lessons to practice.

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Click here for the 1969 Track & Field Photo Gallery featuring Joe and his teammates.

Click here for the 1968 National Champions in Weightlifting featuring Joe and his teammates.

Click here for Dr. Joseph "Joe" Murry, Jr.’s Athletic Network profile.

Click here for the 2006 Weightlifters Reunion.

Click here for Joe’s book – Coming of Age: A Journey of Growth, Culture and Spirit in Cajun Land.  Published earlier this year, it is one which Cajun Fans are encouraged to read.  It provides an excellent depiction of his growth as a USL student-athlete and times since – which many former students of the university will enjoy.

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Click here for the chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes. 

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