Thanks for the memories
Hundreds of people streamed into Rogue Valley Country Club on Saturday, eager to see the man awaiting them on the second floor of the main facility.
There stood Dennis Murphy in a bit of a surreal situation: It was the South Medford coaching legend's retirement party, and decades of familiar faces had arrived to show him love.
The celebration, organized by Murphy's wife, Pam, was attended by 307. Several rooms at the club were filled with memorabilia featuring the man of the hour and his teams.
"It is very humbling," the 65-year-old Murphy said. "I have been very, very fortunate to have the time here, to have great support from the community, from parents, my kids, great assistants. You know it's just hard to believe it's been as long as it's been."
Murphy coached the South Medford boys basketball program for 28 years, leading the Panthers to 18 conference championships and a state title in 2007.
The athletic director at South Medford for 16 years, Murphy also coached St. Mary’s High to a boys basketball state title in 1979, led the Crusaders to a state baseball crown in 1982 and was part of four St. Mary's football state championships as an assistant from 1975-82.
A man of many hats, Murphy also coached a group of girls to the 1975 Little League Softball World Series title in Williamsport, Pa.
Memories ran rampant on Saturday as representatives from Murphy's past waxed nostalgic. In a building filled with giants, including NBA player and former Panther Kyle Singler, the much-shorter Murphy found himself the center of attention.
"The first thing that comes to my mind is the way he brought it each and every day," said E.J. Singler, Kyle’s brother and a 2009 South Medford High graduate who helped the Panthers capture the '07 crown.
E.J. went on to have a successful hoops career at the University of Oregon.
"He brought that same mentality and that same passion, that same love for the game, every day,” said E.J. Singler. “That is hard to do and it's special, really. As a player you can read if someone is genuine or fake, and with Murph, everything was so real and so genuine that you bought in. He got the most out of people."
E.J. Singler proudly wore his state title ring to the celebration.
"The state championship and all the hard work we put into building up to it was just incredible," he said. "Just to be able to hug (Murphy) and hug everyone. That was just the pinnacle."
Medford resident Lori Humphrey was one of 14 softball standouts who a then 24-year-old Murphy coached to Williamsport and a championship triumph over Florida. She was 11 in '75, and the lessons Murphy instilled still resonate with Humphrey.
"He taught us how to be little professionals," the former left fielder said, "and how to win and lose graciously, and always strive to be your best. ... So much of what I learned and carried on has been from Dennis."
Rick Jackson, who was the event's emcee, also goes back a long way with Murphy. He was on the St. Mary's baseball and basketball squads that Murphy guided and, much more recently, served as one of his assistant basketball coaches.
Jackson described Murphy as intelligent, kind and hardworking.
"A great man," Jackson added.
Adrian Garcia, a 2013 South Medford High graduate and basketball player, lauded Murphy's devotion to his players.
"He taught me how to be tough as a player," said Garcia, who was a multi-sport standout. "You didn't always have to be the best skill wise, but as long as you were the toughest on the court you had the best chance of winning."
Behind the scenes on Saturday was a busy Pam Murphy.
"We contacted players and parents, other coaches who coached with Dennis, then opposing coaches, athletic directors, long-term ticket holders and then sponsors, friends and then, finally, our family," she said, adding that the event sold out last week.
For all the attention he received, Murphy just wanted to tell everyone there thank you.
"I just happened to be the guy that got to drive the bus," he said. "I was just loaded with great passengers."
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt