Dr. Joseph Murray
Director & Head Coach
1981 - 2002
1967 - 1981
Joseph Murray came to the University of Maryland in the Fall of 1962 as a Physical Education major. A championship wrestler in high school, he had won a scholarship to the University and had become a member of its wrestling team.
Joe first learned about Gymkana from his friend, Chris Patterson, a member of the Troupe. He also had George Kramer as an instructor in several classes, including one in gymnastics, which spurred his interest in the sport. But his real interest in joining Gymkana came about because of a twisted ankle at the end of his first year at the University.
As Dr. Murray explains it,
"It was after the season and our coach had asked us if we would go to a tournament. It turned out the coach never showed up to go. We had to go by ourselves and during that match I twisted my ankle really bad and it blew up like a football.
"So the next day, when I was back at school, I was walking down the hall on crutches and George Kramer was in his office and he saw me walk by. He really didn't know me too well, but he called me into his office and wanted to know what had happened and I told him. He looked at my ankle and he bandaged it and put some ice on it. He basically treated me like he was treating one of his members on the Troupe and he wasn't even my coach. And my coach just laughed at me. He didn't even look at the ankle. He just shrugged it off and said I should have been more careful. So I figured, if anybody took that much of an interest in somebody, that's the kind of coach that I wanted to work for and not the one that I was performing for in wrestling."
In addition to being a coach, George Kramer also often served as a mentor to the Troupers. Joe would turn out of be one of Mr. Kramer’s most challenging pupils. Again Dr. Murray recalls an incident from a time when he, Chris Patterson, and George Kramer were living together.
"We had strict study hours. We had our study room and we had a routine that we had to follow. George was very strict on it. And of course this was good for us, because it got our grades up.
"One day George said, 'Well, I've got to go food shopping. You guys start studying.'
"So I said, 'Oh, yeah, we will.'
"He said, 'Now remember, no watching TV.'
"And I said, 'Yeah. OK.'
"So he left and about ten minutes later I ended up sitting in front of the TV, real close to the TV. I was rocking in a rocking chair and I decided to watch a program. So I turned the TV on. I was watching it and didn't realize George was coming up the steps. I heard the key go into the door. It was too late for me to jump up out of the seat and run back into the study room. The only thing I had time to do was to reach forward and turn the TV off.
"When George walked into the room, I was sitting looking at a blank TV. He never said a word. He just walked over to the TV and put his hand on top of it. Of course the TV was hot, so he knew it had been on. I just kind of looked at him and made some lame excuse. He pointed to the study room and I marched in there and started studying again."
On Gymkana, Joe quickly became immersed in the leadership aspects of the group, serving as Vice President and as President. After getting his undergraduate degree, he accepted an assistant instructorship in the college. He also took on the duties of assistant coaching the Troupe under the direction of George Kramer, who had just received his doctorate.
"The assistant instructorship worked out really well and after two years, after I received my degree, the College of Physical Education asked me if I would stay on to teach permanently. Of course I said I would and that opened up the door to assisting Dr. Kramer. So he gradually, over the years, started to put more time in with me in relationship to coaching and eventually taking over. That was, I suspect, what was in the back of his head for many years."
In 1983, just a couple years after Dr. Murray had taken over directing the day to day operation of the Troupe, he received some bad news. As he explains:
“Shortly after receiving my Ph.D degree, the administrators that had encouraged me to pursue a tenure track had unexpectedly retired. Likewise, the University’s policies changed very dramatically. What I had been lead to believe was an almost automatic permanent position for me was now an impossibility. I realized that my last year with Gymkana would be 1983-84.”
After 21 years at the University of Maryland (20 of which were involved with the Gymkana Troupe) Dr. Murray left. The following year, he returned in an ex-officio position to direct the Troupe through its 1984-85 season.
Toward the end of that academic year, the impossible happened. An offer came from the new dean of the College of Health and Human Performance, inviting Dr. Murray to return to the University and coach the Gymkana Troupe. Dean John Burt proposed a unique relationship between the College and Gymkana. The College would support Gymkana if the Troupe would represent the College by promoting drug-free living. Each member agreed to pledge themselves to be drug-free and to influence others to do the same through their gymnastic performances. Thus began a new era for Gymkana. An era that would spark an interest in its program, not only campus wide, but throughout the state.
For nearly four decades, Dr. Murray had been involved in the development and operation of the Gymkana Troupe and he guided the Troupe through some of its most difficult crises - dedication to and sacrifice for the Troupe, that are perhaps best summed up by his mentor and friend, Dr. George Kramer:
"He wanted my job, which I guess he finally got, not knowing it wasn't all peaches and cream."