Longtime high school sports volunteer and coach Rob Murphy is the 2020 recipient of the prestigious OFSAA Pete Beach Award for meritorious service to student athletics.
Murphy, a former president of the Superior Secondary School Athletic Association (SSSAA) joins 14 past Thunder Bay winners since 1986.
“I’m honoured to receive it,” Murphy said in a low-key presentation at the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday. “Thanks to SSSAA and OFSAA for the award. But again, all the work you do is always with a group of people, it’s never individual. I always loved working with the people were involved with SSSAA.
“Having Dave (Pineau) as president or athletic director in charge of SSSAA and working with people in NWOSSAA across Northwestern Ontario has been very satisfying. The names on that list I’m very pleased to associated with them. I can’t hold a candle to a lot of them.
“It was never, ever a goal of mine to get awards. I just like working with the kids.”
N.A Pete Beach was born in 1906 and spent 50 years of his life infusing values into the lives of hundreds of athletes.
Those ideals are in perfect alignment with Murphy’s own.
“You see kids at a different level when you coach,” said Murphy. “I love teaching. Any teacher . . . the part they miss the most is being with the kids. I love being with kids coaching all the sports that I coached. It didn’t matter what sport it was — football, basketball, volleyball, track, curling, whatever it was that we were able to coach — I just loved doing it. It’s a different perspective of the student. They really want to be there and they really appreciate the time you put in.”
The journey started in Red Lake in 1985 for Murphy.
“When you go to a small town you’re the athletic director, you coach everything and you ref everything,” said the 62-year-old, who looks like he could go bear hunting with a switch and stays pretty active.
Cross-country running, football, hockey, volleyball, basketball and track were the sports he taught back then.
Churchill, Westgate, Port Arthur Collegiate and Hammarskjold were next on the docket. Ignace followed. In 1990, Murphy made the transfer to the Thunder Bay District Catholic School Board. At St. Ignatius and St. Patrick, he was athletic director maintaining his involvement in “pretty much every sport.”
“The friendship that developed between you and the athlete. You meet kids on the street, talk to them. It’s crazy how much you’ve affected them over the years. That really stands out,” he said.
Murphy is still involved on the Thunder Bay Gymnastics board, Youth Employment Services board, and high school sports.
The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously put a huge damper on the high school sports scene everywhere.
“I feel really badly for the student athletes, and the parents, too. It’s probably the best part of some kid’s life is going through the athletics,” said Murphy. “They look so forward to it. Going to school is good, too. Not just athletics — any extra-curricular activity whether it’s on the band, drama or whatever is going on. It’s a big part of a kids life. I feel really poorly for the kids right now. . . . They become very good athletes, but they also become very good student-athletes. That’s one thing Dave (Pineau) is very supportive of and really strongly an advocate of.”
Pineau, the activities director with Lakehead District and Thunder Bay Catholic boards, said a patient, slow approach has been used in bringing sports back.
“We had some return (to sports) plans that were at the 11th hour. We were ready to go. We had some training going in our schools that had to be put on the back burner because of the recent number of cases,” Pineau said. “It’s unfortunate. We had some good plans that we vetted through the (Thunder Bay ) District Health Unit that were ready to go. Both boards were on board. Now we’re going to have to take a little pause.
“That engagement at the school level is a lifesaver for a lot of kids, especially kids who can’t afford community sport opportunities,” added Pineau. “Or maybe that sport is only offered at the school.”
The return of high school sports has gone from “cautiously optimistic” to “nervously optimistic” in Pineau’s view.
He foresees a focus more on training than competition for now.
Still thankful for what has taken place in the past, Murphy reflected on a fruitful career.
“Good coaches are just good people in life. You can tell a person just by their personality,” he said. “Poor coaches don’t last very long. Good coaches have that personality to get along with a lot of people. They’re well mannered. They plan well. They look out for the best interests of the kids, not themselves.”