By David R. Smith
Hugs and handshakes may not be an uncommon site after a well-played game, but plenty of both could be seen at the Brune Field House well before the tip-off of the Highlander boys basketball game against Malden this past Friday night.
“This is like a reunion,” one woman could be overhead saying, and she wasn’t wrong.
SHS alumni, friends and family of the late Lorne A. Murphy, known affectionately as “Mr. Murph,” came together Jan. 10 for a brief ceremony and unveiling of a banner in his honor.
Anyone involved in the boys basketball program at the school over the past three decades not only knew Murphy, but likely also received one of “Miraculous Medals,” of which he reportedly handed out 13,000 over the years as gestures of good will.
The 85-year-old Murphy died in 2012. His family moved to Somerville from Nova Scotia when he was a year old. After graduating from SHS, he served in the Army during World War II. After working for the Boston Naval Shipyard and the state Department of Health and Human Services, he retired and took a part-time job at SHS as locker room attendant.
Murphy’s role in the program was varied. He was the team’s statistician and a volunteer coach. According to those who know him, however, his impact went beyond any one title, as Somerville Public Schools Director of Student Services Rich Melillo, who also served as coach from 1986 to 2002, made clear.
“We all knew he was much more than that,” he said. “Where he stood most tall was in his role as mentor. He was the patriarch for our program. He truly loved Somerville basketball.”
He was already a member of the Somerville Basketball Hall of Fame prior to the unveiling of the banner in his honor Friday. A table just inside the gym was full of items from his time spent with the program and included a basketball signed by team members, varsity sweater, photographs, and copies of a program for the evening complete with more photos and reminiscences from the coaches who worked with him over the years.
Current Coach Mark Antonelli was among those mentored by Murphy as a player.
“He worked with your shooting, kept your stats, and fought for calls with the refs,” he recalled.
Beyond his on-the-court-assistance, Murphy contributed to the overall sense of togetherness among players and coaches.
“At SHS, we talk about Somerville basketball as a family,” Antonelli said. “Mr. Murph will always be remembered as our most devoted and genuine family member.”
The love of family, both on the court and at home, was obvious as his relatives were on hand for the ceremony. Among them were his son, Lorne P. Murphy, and his daughter, Judy (Murphy) DiBiase, herself a longtime educator in the Somerville public school system. The idea of doing something to honor Mr. Murph evolved through conversations that first started on Facebook.
“There were a lot of good people who stood up,” Judy said. “What a nice thing they’ve done.”
Both she and her brother pointed to the turnout Friday as a clear indication of what their father meant to so many people.
“This was so cool,” Judy said. “He really loved Somerville High. I wish he were here to see this. He would have loved it.”
The banner, like Mr. Murph’s spirit, will now watch over the team, which is very appropriate, according to his son.
“He always referred to them as ‘his boys,’” he said.
– Photos by David R. Smith