Publish date:


Meet the Murrays of Miami, a mighty mélange: Mom, Pop, 10 kids, plus two Saint Bernards and—you might say—a Mexican hairy. Sports is their game but living is their art

It is a team with everything, the Miami Murrays: superb management, skilled veterans, promising youngsters and the morale of a cloudful of angels. Of course, it helps that all 10 players come from the same background, which is not surprising, seeing that they are brothers and sisters. And that the front-office staff is small—two, in fact, and married to each Other.

Listen to Mrs. Betty Ann Murray: "People sometimes think children from large families are neglected, so I always wanted to be sure there was no doubt about ours." Certainly no one has ever expressed any. "When Tim was six [the oldest Murray son, now 21, plays on the Columbia University basketball team and is the undergraduate handball champion], I was so pregnant I could hardly walk, so I sat on a chair in the backyard, throwing a ball to him for batting practice. The other kids would catch it and throw it back to me." Later, during one of Tim's community league basketball games, his mother yelled so at the referee that he asked if she could do a better job. When she said she could, he threw her the whistle and down she came from the stands. And when Tim's coach broke his foot, Mrs. Murray look the job and the team won nine straight games and the league championship.

But Betty Ann Murray was not your typical Little League parent or swimming mother. Sports simply kept kids out of trouble, she thought, and the only trouble hers ever caused was to those who wanted to beat them at games. By Tim's freshman year at Miami's Palmetto Junior High School, the name Murray was already a legend. His sister Mary Jo, a junior at Palmetto High, was the best girl athlete at the school and the only girl ever to hit a softball over its left-field fence. By the time Tim was a junior, Mary Jo was too busy with classes at the University of South Florida, where she became Southeast Regional Ping-Pong champion, to accept an offer from the Converse Dots, who were one season away from a national title in women's slow-pitch softball. Tim won three varsity letters—in football, baseball and basketball—something no Palmetto junior had ever done before. "A strong, fierce, competitive kid," says his former football coach, "but then, look at his father."

Bill Murray, 50, keeps a tape measure in his dresser drawer and at bedtime he wraps it around his waist. Thirty-one inches or less and he eats the next day, but eat or not he is a three-times-a-week handball player, which in part reflects his desire to keep beating Tim and 18-year-old Howard, who will be going to West Point in July. Last season, as a freshman at the Florida Institute of Technology, Howard was the second-leading scorer on FIT's basketball team with a 14.6-point average.

The third son is 16-year-old Dan. Howard calls Dan "Ox." He did it once too often recently and wound up in a tree. Thrown there.

In 1968 Dan Murray won Florida's 12-year-old division in the Personna Grand Slam Baseball Contest. He has played park league jai alai, and one night in 1969 a jai alai promoter came to the house offering to get Dan coaching as he had the makings of a pro. But Bill Murray said no and that was that.

"Dad's like invisible reins." says Catherine, or Kit, at 25 the oldest of the Murray children. "Mother is the flamboyant one, the more outwardly affectionate. She was always at my high school swimming meets, embarrassing the daylights out of me with 'Go, Kitty, go!' No one else's parents ever showed up, but I can't complain. My mother has a complete and pervasive loyalty to us." Mrs. Murray agrees, a bit sheepishly. "I go to a basketball game and see only one person play," she admits. "I don't think that's particularly good, but it's the way I am. My family is the most important thing in the world to me. We've made a lot of sacrifices—driving them here, picking them up there—and it wasn't always easy paying those entry fees, but it's been worth it. A person has to be good at something. He has to get prestige from his peer group."

The Murray family is a peer group of 12. Theirs is a gentle rivalry of secure siblings, and No. 6 is 15-year-old Liz. She has played league softball since the age of eight—until recently, not too well. Last year, however, she dieted off 35 pounds, her softball improved, and she began taking tennis lessons. Perhaps it was the specter of 14-year-old Meg Murray coming up behind—Meg, who two years ago was an all-star second baseman on the Khoury League softball team that won the Miami Inter City Athletic Conference title. This may not make her an Olympic-class athlete, but that is not the point. The Murray sports machine is really a means to an end—the playing fields of Eton, as it were.

Consider 12-year-old Matt—or "Hoss." Matt keeps score at softball games. Though he has played jai alai and has wrestled, he is considered the least athletic Murray. His father keeps after him, though. "Let's shoot some baskets." he'll say. Or "How about a few laps around the track?" But the suggestions are subtle. Matt has never become self-conscious about anything, neither his weight—he is pudgy—nor the fact that he is totally deaf in one ear. "Kids learn self-consciousness," sister Kit says. "It's a listener's disease. My parents never make excuses for Matt or treat him with any special consideration. Matt is just what he is, like any of us."

And then there are Terry and Tina, 11 and nine. Terry is a third baseman, and last year was the only fourth-grader on an eight-to-12 Khoury League all-star team. Tina (or Teeny), a catcher, is the youngest Murray. "Remember, Teeny for tiny," her mother says. Tina does not always hold her glove right, but that won't last. Mrs. Murray sat with her not long ago, watching Terry play, and when someone caught a line drive, Betty Ann said, "See how that girl held her glove. That's how you should do it."

Betty Ann had driven 15 miles to watch Terry and Tina play that night (since then she has become the team manager, Liz the coach), and though there was no more vocal parent in the stands, when she stopped cheering she looked tired. Her asthma was acting up and she used an inhalator frequently. She had left the house at six a.m. to do the week's shopping; at eight she was due to teach her seventh-grade math class, and now, 12 hours later, she was preoccupied. Her father was seriously ill, and she had spent the early evening with him. Bill was with him now, and as the game went on she thought about Meg, who was being confirmed that evening; she had sent Liz as a sponsor. Back at the house five chickens were broiling in the oven. Would Howard remember to baste them? And then, toward the end of the game, she leaned down and put her head close to Matt's. "Is that your good ear?" she asked, and when he nodded they made plans to pick strawberries together the next day, just the two of them.

Once Kit Murray told a friend: "My parents are professionals. I've always felt as if I were an only child." That is a theme that echoes through three generations.

Kit Murray's paternal grandfathers as John F. Murray, a supervisor of recreation for the New York borough of Queens, an oarsman for the Ravenswood Boat Club in Long Island City and a now-and-then fight manager. In 1925 he had a fighter named Paul Berlenbach, but John F. also had four children he liked seeing occasionally, so he turned his fighter over to someone else. A few months later Berlenbach became light heavyweight champion of the world.

One of John F.'s playground supervisors was a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer named Josephine Waters. Her husband was Howard Waters, an auto dealer, a member of the New York Athletic Club and a halfback for a semi-pro football team. Josephine was a 1922 graduate of the Savage School of Physical Education. When her daughter Betty Ann was three she began taking her to the Women's Swimming Association pool, and at five she was "a crackerjack swimmer," or so Mrs. Murray claims today. "When you think of it," she says, "it was an odd thing to be doing in the middle of New York in those days." Betty Ann also took an early liking to basketball, but not to the opposite sex, especially her mother's boss' son Bill, "a scroungy little boy," she recalls, "with knickers hanging around his ankles and socks down over his shoes. He was always playing out in the streets—stickball, roller hockey, football, who knows what else."

But the Murrays and the Waterses had plans. "I was only nine and Bill was 12," Betty Ann says, "but our parents decided we were going to get married someday. Maybe they wanted a sports dynasty."

That was in 1933. Bill graduated from high school in 1939, joined the Army and was sent to Wheeler Field, 10 miles from Pearl Harbor. Betty Ann was 15, a high-scoring freshman basketball player. She still carries a fading picture of Bill in uniform, smiling and handsome, standing in a barracks doorway. The date written on the back is Dec. 6, 1941. At 7:45 the next morning an explosion knocked him out of bed.

While in the service. Bill boxed and played handball. In 1940 he won the handball championship of Schofield Barracks; a year later he was middleweight boxing champion of his regiment. And in September of 1942 he was back in New York on leave, awaiting a new assignment. The Murrays and Waterses arranged a two-family picnic at Cunningham Park in Queens; the two fathers had decided it was time for Bill and Betty Ann to get another look at each other. Betty Ann and her brother Frank challenged Bill and his brother Joe to a basketball game. There is disagreement as to which side won, but in the long run maybe they both did. "He may not have realized it," Betty Ann says, "but I purposely threw myself all over him." Bill must have realized something because at the end of the game he invited her on their first date. Betty Ann was a sophomore at Queens College by then, an education major and the star of the basketball team. "I could sink three of five from half court," she tells her children now, and it always cracks them up. "Well, maybe the girls' courts were shorter," she adds. It was not until just before they were married, three years later, that Bill saw Betty Ann play. "I think he was embarrassed," she recalls, "because he left in the middle. I was a rough toughy. I just kicked the other girls out of the way."

After 40 Pacific bombing missions, and after the Air Force had put him through Hofstra, where he earned his master's degree, Bill Murray was ordered to Germany. It was 1952. There were three Murray children by then—Mary Jo, Kit and the infant Tim. Bill told Betty Ann to sell their house and promised to send for the family when he found a place for them to live. Betty Ann sold the house almost immediately and flew to Germany with the kids. Kit was only five at the time, but the move left a strong impression. "I have never to this day seen my mother afraid," she says, "or not know how to handle any situation. She makes up her mind in an instant and what she does is always right." Every day, for six months, 5-year-old Kit rode 45 minutes to school on a trolley. "Mother may have had fears," she says, "but I never knew about them. I never even had the idea of fear, or that anything bad could happen."

Between flights to Italy, Greece and Africa, Bill Murray was athletic officer of the 86th Air Transport Squadron at Frankfurt. In 1953 he coached the squadron basketball team to the European championship. And for three straight years he was base handball champion.

By 1954 there were four Murray children growing up in Germany: Kit, Mary Jo, Tim, and a sick baby, Howard. He was four days old when the doctors diagnosed his problem as pyloric stenosis, a narrowing of the valve loading from the stomach. It's a family joke now, but it was serious then. Howard couldn't keep any food down. They called it projectile vomiting.

"What actually caused it?" Bill asked Betty Ann recently.

"Nervousness," she said.

"At four days?"

No doctor ever did explain what caused it, but "nervousness" or temperament or some such thing should not be discounted. Even today Howard seems the most volatile Murray, the most competitive, perhaps the most tireless. And his mother says she once read a study that proved a significant percentage of children who had pyloric stenosis became superior athletes.

By 1960 Bill Murray was 38, an Air Force recruitment officer in Florida and a 20-year man, so he took his pension, settled his wife and 10 children in Miami and began teaching math at Palmetto Junior High. Betty Ann had been teaching part time since 1956, and with three pay checks they just about got by. The kids started in on the playgrounds and the monthly food bill never dropped below $500 again—even now, with four of the original big eaters away from home. Howard is at FIT and Mary Jo, 22, is a phys. ed. teacher at Tampa's Hillsborough High School. Tim is married, the father of a three-week-old son, and on full scholarship at Columbia. Kit, who recently joined the Air Force, is a second lieutenant in Mississippi. But now there are two 150-pound Saint Bernards to feed—Brandy and Harvey—and Tiger, who weighs 1½ pounds and looks like a mouse gone to seed. Tiger is a Chihuahua covered with hair—a Mexican hairy. He is no sport, but he, too, seems a vital part of the Murray scene.

Everything and, of course, everyone is a vital part of that scene, or team. They all fit together snugly, like the government of a tiny town. Everyone seems to have a function; the cooperation and loyalty among all members is profound, but so, too, almost paradoxically, is their independence. Howard, for example, had a paper route when he was only seven. No one told him to; he just liked earning his own money. His mother recalls: "I can remember people asking Howie, 'Whose boy are you?' and he'd tell them, 'I'm my own boy.' "

This attitude carried onto the baseball diamond. At eight Howie played in a Khoury League all-star game. There were two out in the 14th inning." he said the other day. "I was on third and we were one run behind. I tried to steal home, got thrown out and that was the game. But it was my own idea. I'd already stolen home in the ninth inning to put the game into extra innings."

Later, Howie threw himself into a family crisis. Tim was completing his three-letter year at Palmetto, but in May he was declared ineligible to compete in his senior year. What had happened was that he had won a ninth-grade scholarship to a school 15 miles from home, but transportation problems developed. So the next year he transferred to Palmetto Junior High, took all new courses and repeated the ninth grade. He did not play varsity sports in either ninth grade—only intramurals were available—but according to Florida law he had used up his four years of eligibility. It seemed unfair. The Murray machine went into action. Howie was only a ninth-grader at Palmetto Junior High, but he showed up at Palmetto Senior baseball practice and demanded a place on the learn. "My eligibility starts now." he told the coaches, "so why not?"

No one really explained why not, but Howie got nowhere. Then his mother went to work. She wrote letters to the secondary school athletic associations of all 50 states, looking for contradictory rules. In nine states, she found, eligibility begins in the 10th grade and what comes before does not count. She took the case to the lower courts in Miami. When that failed she went to the state courts, but it was no go.

"If we ever got in trouble mother always took our side," Kit says, "and this gave us an overwhelming sense of security. We were always right." On the very rare occasions when Tim or Howard skipped school, their mother would write a note saying they'd been sick, but when Bill found out he'd be angry. It did put him in a difficult position; three years ago he left teaching to become an assistant principal in charge of discipline at Miami's Carol City Junior High. "Mother has sparked up Dad's conservatism," Kit says, "but he's tempered her craziness."

In 1966, when Liz was nine, she entered her dad in a Father of the Year contest run by the Miami Herald. She won and the contest has not been repeated. The letter: "I nominate my Dad father of the year. He teaches junior high school and comes home to 10 kids of his own. He has had a Khoury League team for six years. I have never in my life heard him shout. He makes each one of us think that he loves that child best of all."

In October 1969 Mrs. Murray gave birth to a daughter, Angela. Kit was making dinner when her father came home from the hospital. "I could tell something was wrong," she says. "He told the little kids to go away. 'The baby is a mongoloid,' he told me. He seemed almost shell-shocked, but when I saw Mother three days later she was completely, utterly happy. She didn't want any pity, not for herself, or Dad, or the baby.

"Every baby my parents had was like the first. They'd show it off, play with it and talk to it, and Angela was no different. They realized how important it was to keep her active. We tried to keep her eyes open and get her grabbing for objects but she had trouble breathing. Mother went to doctor after doctor and they all told her it was hopeless, but finally she got a slightly different opinion: 'The baby needs heart surgery, but the operation will probably kill her.' Mother started asking questions. She read everything available on the subject, and then one morning she called Dr. Michael De Bakey in Houston. Next morning Mother took the baby, who was 7½ months old, and got on a plane to Houston. Dc Bakey operated at six a.m. the next day, but Angela died four hours later" (Another Murray child, Christopher, their first son, had died of nephrosis at the age of three.)

In March 1969, seven months before Angela was born, Betty Ann Murray volunteered to be vice-president of the Suniland Park Khoury League, in charge of girls' softball. She had the time. She was not teaching during her pregnancy and, most important, it would give her one more excuse to watch four Murray's play ball—Tina, Terry, Meg and Liz. She kept the job for a year, recruiting high school girls to coach and mothers to manage; no one had ever thought of that before. For the first time in Suniland Khoury League history both its age-group girls' teams won the Dade County championship.

After Angela was born her mother would wheel her down to the park in the baby carriage and play with her while she watched her other daughters on the field. Occasionally, well-meaning people would make remarks, or ask certain questions about the size of her family. She had heard these many times before, and more often in recent years as ideas about large families changed. Mrs. Murray usually smiled and said little, hut sometimes she would say what she really feels: "I don't have to make excuses for the size of my family. Our kind of people are needed in this world. They take care of all you other guys."


MURRAY MOB minus four: from left, Howie, 18, Terry, 11, Mary Jo, 22, Bill, Betty Ann, Liz, 15, Matt, 12, Tina, 9, Dan, 16, Kit, 25, and Meg, 14. Tim, 21, was unable to make it, and no dogs are allowed in the pool.