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Mildred Murray was ahead of her time in promoting girls athletics

Mildred Murray was ahead of her time in promoting girls athletics
(DIPAOLA / Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

Mildred H. Murray, a tireless trailblazer for girls high school sports who spent 30 years as an athletics administrator in Baltimore County, died Wednesday from complications after a fall at her Towson home. She was 91.

Although she worked in administration during the Title IX era of the 1970s, when women's demands for equal opportunities in scholastic sports became federally mandated, Murray had long before championed girls sports in the county and across the state. She continued to do so until she retired in 1991 after 14 years as Baltimore County's coordinator of athletics.

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"I remember when she retired, the comment was made that if you think of all the kids during her professional lifetime who have benefited from her work, it probably is about 2 million when you consider every girl across the state [who plays] in state tournaments, but also just by providing the opportunities for girls and advocating for girls," said Ned Sparks, who worked with Murray while he was executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association from 1981 to 2015.

"At the time, girls didn't have anyone looking out for them, and she was in that leadership position. She was well respected by men and women and she was probably the right person for the right time."

Murray, who began her career as a teacher and coach at Kenwood in 1948, was the first woman to head a county high school athletics department in Maryland. She also served as the first female president of the MPSSAA from 1978 to 1980.

"She was the first to open those doors and make it acceptable to see women in the athletic realm," said Jill Masterman, program specialist for the MPSSAA and a former coach and administrator in Baltimore County. "You've got to have a thick skin to do that because you're the new face of high school sports. It was new for everybody. It was new for the women who were coaching. She was a pioneer."

Throughout her career, Murray gave girls more chances to compete on the county and state level. By the time Title IX became law in 1972, leaving every public school system in the country scrambling to add girls sports, Murray already had Baltimore County's girls almost on par with the boys.

When Murray was growing up in West Virginia, there were no varsity teams for girls, so she played intramurals. In Baltimore County, she saw the chance to take the lead in growing girls sports.

"When I went into the county office as coordinator, we continued to add sports so that the women's program would be as equal as could be to the boys' program in opportunities, facilities, equipment, coaching and all that's related to interscholastic athletics," Murray said in 2012 when asked by The Baltimore Sun to reflect on the 40th anniversary of Title IX. "[There was] very little resistance in Baltimore County. In nearby counties, [women] did not have those opportunities."

She also organized and chaired the first girls state championships in field hockey, softball, volleyball and basketball in the mid-1970s and in lacrosse in 1990.

Pat Berry, who became Montgomery County's supervisor of athletics in 1976, looked to Murray as a mentor.

"She just set us ahead of the curve," Berry said. "Mildred just set the course and she set the standard. ... She had high standards, and she didn't yield and she didn't go out and march and protest; she just did it her calm, professional way."

A West Virginia native, Murray earned a bachelor's degree in physical education from Fairmont State and a master's degree from Wisconsin.

After 13 years at Kenwood, she became Baltimore County's supervisor of secondary girls physical education and athletics. She moved on to lead county office of athletics from 1977 to 1991.

Ron Belinko, who followed Murray as the county's coordinator of athletics, said he could not have had a better mentor.

"You thought of her as a leader," he said. "She may have been misunderstood, because she cared as much for the male program as the female program, and a lot of folks didn't realize that. She did a lot for the total program. We had a lot of expansion during her tenure with the male program, too, and she was instrumental in getting football started in Baltimore County [in 1966]. She wasn't the coordinator at the time, but she supported the football program."

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Belinko said it's coincidence that on the day of her funeral, Wednesday, he will help select the winners of the McCormick Unsung Heroes Awards. Murray was instrumental in having girls honored alongside the boys, and he took her place on the committee when she retired.

Murray received several state, district and national awards during her career and was listed in Who's Who of American Women. The annual sportsmanship trophy presented at the state girls basketball tournament is named in her honor.

The soccer field at CCBC-Catonsville is named the Joseph P. and Mildred H. Murray Field, because he was the dean of development at the community college and she chaired several of the first girls state championships there.

Joseph Murray died in 1974. Mildred Murray is survived by niece Carol Ann Douglas, nephew Jim Hesseman and his wife, Debbie Hesseman, all of Towson, and many other nieces and nephews.

Viewings will be held at the Ruck Funeral Home in Towson on Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. A memorial service will be held at Towson Presbyterian Church on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., with interment to follow at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Mildred H. Murray Scholarship, c/o Lynda Slyder, 9710 Harford Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21234.

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