As one of the members of the Colonial Conference, Haddon Township High School has cultivated a number of strong rivalries over the years in a variety of sports.
The school's girls' basketball team has a tradition of winning and is a perennial contender when the South Jersey Group 1 tournament hits each March. This year was no exception as the Hawks found themselves as not only S.J. champs but in the state championship game behind Morgan Lenahan, Bella Preziosi and Alayxiah Carr.
Cross country and track and field stole headlines, led by Luke Petela who had an amazing all-around year at Haddon Township. It started with the fall cross country season where he won the Meet of Champions, followed by winter (indoor) track and then ending with another Meet of Champions crown at the conclusion of the spring season.
But as you'll see below, Haddon Township High School is a lot more than sports. We're told that one of the things that makes the school unique is that "everybody can get involved in everything."
The students we spoke with talked about how the support that they get, not just from their friends and classmates, but from the entire community, helps power them and inspire them to raise their level and work hard whether it's in the classroom, during extracurricular activities, or on the athletic fields.
Haddon Township High School is located at 406 Memorial Avenue in Westmont but the school's football stadium can be seen from Cuthbert Boulevard just across from Newton Creek. It's definitely a landmark in Camden County.
Some of the school's famous alumni include:
You can follow Haddon Township athletics on Twitter at: @HadTwpSports.
You can also learn more about the school and the Haddon Township School District by visiting: http://www.haddontwpschools.com
Episode 33 of The South Jersey Sports Digest Show delves into the raging controversy surrounding the NJSIAA proposal of a separate Non-Public conference for high school football. Our guest, Phil Anastasia of the Philadelphia Inquirer breaks it all down and explains some reasons why the Non-Public schools in the South Jersey region are opposing this concept.
We have a quick report on Clearview's win over Washington Twp. in the 8th annual Gloucester County Cup boys' lacrosse championship game
Also, we honor our SJSD/Total Turf Athletes of the Week:
Finally, we take a peek at a highlight package from the 32nd playing of the Arena/Rifkin Golf Tournament. Check it all out.
Football players, coaches, and anyone who needed advice or direction over most of the past 40-plus years at Woodbury High School knew where they could go to get exactly what they needed.
Many of them will be saying their final goodbye Saturday morning (Jan. 31) to the source of that wisdom. Former Thundering Herd standout two-way player and long-time coach Willie Murray passed away last Friday at the age of 68.
“He loved Woodbury, and I think he was helped by a lot of people when he was a student and high school football player and he wanted to give back,” said Woodbury athletic director Grant Shivers. “Even after he left the classroom he was still coaching and wanted to help. He took special interest in kids that needed help. You don’t see that a lot any more, teachers that stay at one school, and coach that entire time. It’s what he loved, and what drove him.
“You think of Woodbury football, you always think of Willie. He was a great player and taught and coached a lot of young men. He’d always go a step beyond to help kids out.”
Murray was a social studies teacher at Woodbury for more than 30 years, and coached with the Herd for much of that time and beyond with names like Claude McAllister, Larry Ginsburg, Jim Boyd, Zack Valentine and current head man Al Mailahn.
But he was so much more than that to the people he interacted with that his loss has been acutely felt by the Thundering Herd community.
“Willie and Jim Boyd talked me into getting involved in coaching,” Valentine said. “I said I would do it for one year when I took the job Jim Boyd offered me. I’d played high school, college and pro and I didn’t know if I was ready to be involved in high school football. Jim Boyd told me there was a vacancy, but Willie was the one who really convinced me to take it.
“When I think of Willie, I think of a compassionate person, I think of leadership. The one thing Willie always preached was leadership, he looked for leaders on the field and off. He looked for people who were willing to help out other people. He would pick the leaders out every year, and he was always right.”
“It was one of the best experiences I had playing football,” said Jimmer Bundy, who played under Murray in the 1980s and has been a volunteer coach with the team for more than a decade. “He taught me a lot, and anything I needed or needed to do on the field he would explain. He was just an outstanding coach.
“Everybody showed him respect, so it was easy to play for him. He wanted it done a certain way, and we respected him enough to do it the way he wanted it done.”
That respect came in part from his days as a player. Murray was so small as a freshman that despite being on varsity he spent 1960 on the West Deptford 135-pound midget team according to a 2008 story by legendary South Jersey Times columnist Bob Shryock. But he was a key to a sophomore-year win over Collingswood, and over the next two years never lost a game.
He was a first-team all-state selection as a senior, then a four-year letterwinner at Delaware State where he played both quarterback and safety for the Hornets. He was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame last fall. He then returned to Woodbury as a teacher in 1971, arriving at the same time as Boyd and Jerry Miskar, a long-time assistant and softball head coach.
“We didn’t know South Jersey when we came in, but Willie was already a legend in Woodbury,” said Boyd, who made Murray his assistant head coach. “The kids knew who he was. When Willie wanted something done, you’d better get it done or else there would be difficulties. Willie played that role, but then mellowed and went from being the enforcer to being a much more approachable person. I wasn’t always the most approachable even when I was a head coach, so the kids would go to Willie. We kind of grew into our roles as the years went on.
“Given his history in the town, he was kind of a walking encyclopedia of Woodbury sports. It was his town as far as we were concerned. If Willie thought it was a good idea, then it was a good idea. If he didn’t, you should probably re-examine.”
“I don’t think he had any other colors in his closet other than Woodbury,” Valentine said. “Willie wanted the best for every kid who walked through the halls of Woodbury. He coached basketball, softball, he was all about teaching. When he saw there was talent ... Willie had a tendency to get involved with people who had talent, ability, who could lead.”
The Thundering Herd have fostered a surprising amount of talent for a small Group1 school over the years, and maybe the most successful both on and off the field in more recent times is Chris Pressley. After an outstanding career at Wisconsin as both a fullback and student, he’s spent parts of five seasons playing with three NFL teams.
After being cut last year by Cleveland, he’s fully recovered from an injury and hoping to catch on with another team this year. He gives Murray plenty of credit for his achievements.
“When (Valentine) told me (of Murray’s passing) it was devastating, he had such a rich understanding of the game and was so instrumental in my development,” Pressley said from his home in Tampa, Florida. “He got me thirsty for knowledge of the game, why we do what we do.
“As you’re learning from him, you develop a relationship with him. He was also my 10th grade Social Studies teacher. He was an integral part of me getting going with football. He told me this was a way out. I’m grateful that I knew him. My heart goes out to his family (wife Bernice, son Marc and grandson Xerxes).”
A viewing and visitation for Murray will take place from 9-11 Saturday morning at First Baptist Church of Jericho in Deptford with funeral services to follow. There will be plenty of reminiscences and stories to be sure, and they’ll likely involve some laughter since that seems to be the other thing he was best known for at Woodbury.
His impact on the town and school can likely never be calculated, but the appreciation of it from those who were fortunate enough to be a part of it is easy to see.
“Willie was committed to that high school, he dedicated his entire career to the high school he graduated from,” said Boyd. “There aren’t many guys like that around any more. And he had a hell of a wardrobe. He probably didn’t have enough room in his closet for all his Woodbury stuff, it probably migrated into the garage.
“A lot of people would emphasize his athletic ability from his playing days, his size and quickness and he could really throw a football. But what I think he should be remembered for is his commitment to that high school.”
Scott Chappelear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @srchappie.