Dan Woog ’71, Dennis Murphy ’73 and Ken Murphy ’76 were honored last night by the Sportsmen of Westport.
The Murphys — 1/2 of the famed 4-player family — were cited for their stellar playing careers. Woog received the Coaching Award.
In his speech, the current Staples head coach talked about what soccer has meant to him and his players. He said:
“I’d like to thank every athlete I’ve coached too; their parents, and every coach I’ve worked with throughout my life – with a particular shout-out to my longtime assistant and wingman, Kurt Dasbach. As for the Murphys – well, even though Dennis is a couple of years younger than I am, I’m still terrified of him.
“It’s impossible, in just a couple of minutes, to encapsulate what coaching means to me. But let me give you two favorite memories.
“The first is from 2006. Our Staples soccer team had endured an incredible season. A couple of fathers of players died that fall, and two more were gravely ill. We’d battled our way through a brutal tournament to the state finals. We’d won 2 games on penalty kicks, making 18 out of 19 shots – talk about poise under pressure. Now we were in the state finals, and at halftime we led 1-0. We were confident. But we gave up a goal in the second half. Then in sudden death overtime, we lost on a fluke goal – I still think it was a cross, not a shot, but whatever, it went in.
“Our guys were devastated. There were tears of anger, frustration, disappointment. But after every game they’d taken a cool-down run together, and they would not stop now. This time, though, was different. It was a cool-down walk, from one side of the field to the other. They did it with their arms around each other, supporting themselves physically and emotionally just as they had all season long. It was one of the most impressive sights I’d ever seen, and I knew at that moment that those teenage boys had become men.
“Two years later – last November – we were back at that same stadium in New Britain. This time it was the state semifinals. Once again, we had the lead; once again we lost it, on two goals in the final eight minutes.
“Once again, our guys were shattered. The bus ride home was eerie – an hour of total silence. No one spoke. Everyone replayed the game over and over in his mind – thinking what he could have done differently to change the outcome. I did the same.
“Back in Westport, as our players stepped off the bus, I felt an amazing energy. The nine seniors had been through an experience they would keep with them the rest of their lives; I saw in their eyes a new maturity, a new wisdom and strength. And in the eyes of the 15 returnees I saw a new dedication, a new understanding that life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to, but that doesn’t in any way diminish the experience. They know, despite all they’ve accomplished, that they have unfinished business – and I can’t wait to see what they will do next year. I invite you all out to Loeffler Field – what we fondly call The Hill – to watch this amazing group of young men this fall.
“It might sound odd that someone being honored tonight as a coach would recall, as his career highlights, two losses. I think it’s natural. One of my favorite sayings is, “There’s more to life than soccer – and there’s more to soccer than soccer.”
“What that means is, it’s not about the wins or losses. Our FCIAC championship last November was great – but to me and, I think, our players, the win was less important than the environment. Over a thousand Staples fans were there, all dressed in white. When the game ended, they stormed the field. They loved our comeback, they loved the action, they loved supporting their school – it was a magical moment that meant so much more than just winning a game.
“Coaching is about moments like these. It’s about watching teenagers realize that soccer is a means through which they can discover the world – and themselves. And it is a way to do it all surrounded by teammates who, through all those shared experiences, become friends they’ll rely on for the rest of their lives.
“A great line I’ve heard is that a parent’s job is to provide a child with both roots and wings. It’s the same with coaching. If I’ve helped create an atmosphere in which athletes could develop roots and wings, then I consider myself a success.
“Thank you all.”