Peter Murray has been the picture of stability on the sidelines as the boys varsity basketball coach at Dexter Regional High School for the past 23 years.
And stability at Dexter is saying something, given that the Tigers have had just two head coaches since 1967 — Murray and the late Ed Guiski, who will be inducted into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame next month.
Murray, a 56-year-old English teacher, also has played a key stabilizing role in the state’s basketball coaching community as president of the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches.
Murray will get the opportunity to use that influence on an even larger platform after being elected last week to a two-year term on the executive board of the National High School Basketball Coaches Association.
He becomes the first representative from a New England state to serve on the group’s executive board.
“The association has grown a lot in the last three or four years and now basically represents the whole country,” Murray said, “so to have Maine in a leadership role is a positive for the state.”
The National High School Basketball Coaches Association represents an alliance among the leaders of state basketball coaches associations, linking those groups in an effort to provide a unified voice for high school basketball coaches from across the country.
“The association grew out of a frustration that there were so many third-party influences involved in basketball these days that high school coaches were kind of getting squeezed out,” said Murray, who attended organizational meetings of what became the National High School Basketball Coaches Association as early as 2009 and signed the association’s constitution once the group was formalized a year later.
“We’re trying to re-establish ourselves as the pure educators and the people who have the best interests of these basketball kids at heart,” he said.
Another key goal of the National High School Basketball Coaches Association involves preserving the high school basketball brand in the wake of increasing competition.
“In a lot of countries the trend has been going more toward club sports,” said Murray. “In this country you see more and more where these [basketball] schools just pop up, almost virtual schools. AAU is big, too, and has a valuable role, but we just want to make sure the integrity of basketball as we all know it historically is being maintained.”
The National High School Basketball Coaches Association represents 33 states and boasts active relationships with the National Association of Basketball Coaches, the National Federation of State High School Associations, Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, the NCAA, NAIA and USA Basketball.
“What the association is trying to do is to establish relationships with all the governing bodies of basketball across the country at all levels,” said Murray. “With some of the bigger states the concerns are those third-party influences getting involved, so we actually met with the national director of AAU and had some discussions with him, and he educated us, and we educated him about our concerns.
“A lot of the stuff is college-oriented these days, but it all starts with high schools and high school kids, and I think the feeling was that the high school coaches were getting squeezed out and people were more apt to listen to a third-party influence than the high school coach,” he said.
“The motives of the high school coach are pretty simple,” he added, “and that’s for the educational interests of the kids as opposed to some of these other people who have other motivations.”
Murray is one of six full-time executive board members, joined by several several board members emeritus who are founding fathers of the organization.
“The organization is made up of the leaders of the associations from all the different states, that’s why I’m there,” said Murray. “Some of the people in the room are still coaching, but many of them are retired, and what they do for their associations in their states is their full-time job, that’s all they do. They’re being paid $40,000 or $50,000 a year to run their association, and they have million-dollar budgets.
“It’s a different world from what we live in. The [Maine Association of Basketball Coaches] is strictly voluntary, we have just enough of a budget to get through each year,” he said.
Murray’s election to the National High School Basketball Coaches Association executive board not only reflects recognition for his work at the state level — he’s been the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches president for eight of the last 10 years — but also provides the Maine high school basketball world another voice at the national level as well as direct access to information and feedback from other state associations.
“We’re all trying to help each other, so there’s a lot of sharing, particularly among states of similar size,” he said.
“North Carolina and Kentucky, although they’re big basketball names, their state high schools are very much like Maine, a lot of small, rural schools. You only hear about the big Division I programs there, but there’s a lot of smaller-school things going on, too, which is really what Maine is looking for, so there’s a lot of back and forth.”
Murray’s role with the National High School Basketball Coaches Association complements his work with the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches, which may be best known for organizing the annual McDonald’s East-West Senior All-Star Weekend in Bangor after each high school basketball season as well as the related Mr. Basketball award and other postseason honors recognizing outstanding achievement in the sport.
The Maine Association of Basketball Coaches, formed in 1979, also maintains a website as well as arranging coaching workshops, networking opportunities and other activities to support its more than 200 members.
“What we’re trying to do more on a local level is just make sure our coaches see value in their membership and encouraging people to be more proactive,” said Murray. “There’s a lot of coaches who have a lot of things they have opinions about but aren’t sure how to make things happen, and there’s frustration in that sometimes, but we have a governing body in the state, the [Maine Principals’ Association], that we work with along with the [Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association] and other organizations.
“We try to work with people as opposed to being in opposition to them, and we advocate for what we think is best for the game,” he said.
Murray said his continuing behind-the-scenes support of high school basketball and his coaching brethren in particular represents a repayment of sorts.
“Basically the motivation for me is that after about 25 years or so of coaching I really feel like I’ve gotten a lot out of it. It’s been very, very good to me, the sport and my participation in athletics in general,” he said. “At my age and with my background and my experience it’s an easy opportunity to give something back.”