By ROBERT LINNEHAN
Eight years ago Joe Murphy said coaching a girl’s basketball squad wasn’t even an option in his mind. The varsity basketball coach had just come to Eastern Regional High School to teach and was actively looking for a head coaching position for a boys team.
Then-Superintendent Dr. Barry Galasso, however, didn’t give him much of a choice when he offered him the position. Murphy had just been hired to teach an architectural design/construction class at the school.
“Dr. Galasso said, ‘all I ask is a favor.’ He asked me if I had any coaching experience and if I would be interested in coaching the girl’s varsity team,” Murphy said. “I wasn’t too interested in coaching the girl’s team. No offense to them, but I had been coaching boys for the past 17 years in Gloucester City and Maple Shade. He said I didn’t have a choice.”
That simple order helped turn around a program at Eastern Regional High School that had historically been a weak link at the school. Without the opportunity, Murphy also never would have been announced as the state Coach of the Year for the girls basketball 2009–10 season by the New Jersey Coaches Scholastic Association.
The squad went 25–4 this past season and lost in the state finals to North Hunterdon, Murphy said. The team was lead by First Team All State center Genevieve Okoro. The team claimed its first-ever south Jersey sectional title.
The NJCSA Board of Governors announced its decision in late August, but Murphy said he didn’t realize he had won until two weeks ago.
While looking through some mail he said he came across a letter from the NJCSA and briefly skimmed it, thinking he had simply been nominated for a regional award.
Several days later he came across the letter again and something told him to reread it. He looked at it again and saw that he had been given the coaches award for 2009–2010.
It’s great recognition for the program, he said, that at times has taken a back seat to other successful athletic teams in the high school.
“It’s refreshing that I can say the girls program has done as well as our other programs. It’s nice to get recognition. It’s great for the girls program and for Eastern High School as well,” he said.
Murphy will be honored on Sunday, March 27 at the Pines Manor in Edison at the Hall of Fame honorees luncheon at noon.
He will also be considered for the sectional and national coach of the year awards as well.
Eastern Regional Athletic Director Phil Smart said Murphy is a talented coach and has helped strengthen a historically weak program at the high school.
“Joe has done a tremendous job with the girl’s basketball program over the years. He was a person who had some apprehension coaching girls initially, but he’s just someone who has a knack for coaching female athletes,” he said. “He gets the most from his athletes and has turned the program over; he’s made one of the weakest programs into one of the high school’s strengths.”