Beth Murphy, 52
Field hockey coach,
physical education teacher
Last fall, Beth Murphy logged her 200th win as head field hockey coach at Westbrook High School; after the season concluded, she retired from the job.
“I put in 21 years as varsity coach,” she says. “It was nice – it was bittersweet. It was a good way to end my career; it’s been a great run with these kids, this particular group. It was pretty exciting.”
With other obligations weighing more heavily on her time than in the past, Murphy felt she could no longer devote her full attention to coaching, a circumstance she found unfair to her squad. “It’s not like I’m leaving because there’s no talent. I just want someone to come in and take them to the next level.”
But as it turned out, she never did fully retire from coaching.? ? She agreed to come back for the 2014-15 school year.
Murphy remains a teacher – specifically a physical education teacher – at Westbrook High School. That part of her life is thriving: she earned her PE certificate in 2005 and took a full-time position with the school then.
“I have great coworkers, we get along, we have a great department. The kids enjoy our phys ed program,” she says.
Murphy was a three-sport student athlete herself at Westbrook High, in field hockey, basketball and track. Field hockey wasn’t her first sport. She excelled in track, winning multiple state championships.
“I was a sprinter, so I ran the 100, the 200 and the 400, and I was state champ for two years in those events,” she says. “I still actually hold a couple state records. I hold the 400, and it’s retired, because it was the 440-yard dash, and now it’s the 400 meter.”
Murphy’s record – 440 yards equals 402.336 meters – remains unbroken to this day, running a further distance than athletes now run. She set a record running greater than 400 meters and faster than the current record for exactly 400 meters.
She also showed prowess on the court.
“Westbrook had some great teams back in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s,” Murphy recalls.
The Lady Blazes were state champions in 1978, ‘79, ‘80 and ’81, a period that overlapped with Murphy’s high school years. “So I’ve had some success throughout my career.”
That success continued in the form of a basketball scholarship to the University of Maine, where she played until her junior year, when she tore a meniscus in her knee.
“Back then, they didn’t know how to diagnose it, and I just found out recently that I also had an ACL injury. They didn’t know how to repair it back then. They just kind of let it be.”
Nowadays, of course, new techniques exist for treating such maladies. Murphy’s own daughter, Erin, had a meniscus transplant in her senior year of high school.
“They put someone else’s meniscus in her knee,” Murphy says. “Times have changed, quite a bit.”
Why collegiate basketball, instead of collegiate track?
“I was pretty fast. I probably should’ve done track somewhere,” Murphy concedes. But young people don’t choose colleges based on athletics alone, and Murphy also admits to being something of a homebody. She didn’t want to go too far afield. The University of Maine didn’t have varsity track at the time, so basketball it was.
“I enjoyed what I did; I had a great career, up until I got injured,” she says.
So, ironically, her weakest sport in high school is the sport she eventually took up coaching.
“I was on the field hockey team. I was the kid that was the fast kid,” she says of her time in high school. “I might not have been very skilled – not half as skilled as my own two girls, but I had the speed. And we would lose the Western Maine Final every year to Bonny Eagle.”
When she returned to Westbrook High School in 1988, several years after graduating with an elementary education degree, it was as at the suggestion of a former teammate, who was leaving behind an educational technician position in the physical education department. But she joined the school in November, when field hockey was nearly done, and instead began coaching as an outdoor track assistant.
“The next year, I ended up being an assistant field hockey coach,” she says. “I didn’t end up being head coach until ’91, I think, or ’92.”
By that time, she was also head coach of the outdoor track team, and head freshman girls basketball coach too.
Through time, she gradually parted ways with her various coaching commitments. She gave up outdoor track in the middle 2000s, when her son Sean reached high school and joined the baseball team.
“By the time he was a sophomore, I decided it was time to give up track. My heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to go watch him play baseball,” she says.