Coronavirus in Oklahoma: OU cut her team, but sports eventually won her back and changed her life. She wants the same for kids living through the pandemic
Editor's note: This is the latest in an occasional series about former athletes who find themselves on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dawn Murray has sent messages, made calls, handed out wristbands, even given away a few basketballs.
These days, she’s doing whatever she can to keep in touch with her kids.
Kids who she’s coached in the Oklahoma City Police Athletic League are hers. That’s how she sees it anyway. And during the coronavirus shutdown, she’s been as proactive as possible to maintain contact with them.
“But you don’t really get to get close to the kids and talk and stuff,” she said. “I miss seeing my kids. I miss getting to talk to them and hang out with them and coach them.”
Nothing can replace that.
Murray knows from first-hand experience. Sports motivated her through tough times, and as children everywhere deal with pandemic-related upheaval, she worries about the lost benefits of playing.
Teamwork. Self-esteem. Belonging.
Those were some of the very things that drew Murray to sports. Her parents played on competitive adult softball teams, so she saw how much they loved the competition and the camaraderie. She played softball and basketball.
When her family moved from Texas to Oklahoma in the early 1980s, Murray didn’t find many volleyball opportunities in school, so she turned her attention to basketball.
Then known as Dawn Beachler, she became a standout at Moore High School. As a senior in 1989, she averaged 16.8 points a game and led Moore to Class 5A’s first full-court, five-on-five state title.
She landed a scholarship to OU.
After lettering her first season as a Sooner, word came down that the women’s basketball program was being disbanded after years of poor results and low attendance.
“I just dropped out,” Murray said. “I thought, ‘Man, I’m never gonna play again.’”
She sat out the next year with no intention of going back. Her family didn't have the means to afford for college, so if she didn't play, there was was no way to pay.
But out of the blue, Seminole State called with a basketball scholarship. Full ride. One year.
What did she have to lose?
Even though the junior college was small, people from the community would come to the games and pack the gym. The energy was high. The environment was fun. Murray rediscovered her passion for basketball.
She got back on track academically, too, cramming nearly two years of classes into one. She took 24 credit hours in her first semester, 26 hours in her second.
“But I was determined once I got back in there,” she said. “God gave me a second chance, so I’m gonna go and I’m gonna get my education.”
She also landed another D-I scholarship, this time to Texas-Pan American. She became a first-team All-Sun Belt Conference player, and 2015, she was the first women’s basketball player inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame.
After graduating Texas-Pan Am with a criminal justice degree, Murray returned to the Oklahoma City area to be closer to family, went through the police academy and worked on patrol for almost nine years. She then went to work in the schools, first at John Marshall, then at Southeast,
Being around young people drew her back to sports. For a time in college, she had thought about getting a degree in education and becoming a coach, so when she had a chance to coach in the Police Athletic League, she jumped in.
She eventually became a PAL officer where she had been for nearly a decade.
She is reminded regularly of the impact of the youth-sports outreach program.
Once when Murray was at Chick-Fil-A, a young woman approached to say hello, and Murray immediately recognized her as a PAL alum. Murray was so proud to see the young woman working, taking care of her business and staying out of trouble.
Sgt. Dawn Murray worries some kids who might've been PAL successes have fallen through the cracks during the coronavirus shutdown. She laments the bonds that faltered, the connections that failed. She's doing her best to keep tabs on as many kids as possible, but it isn't the same.
Not for her kids.
Not for her.
“Hopefully soon, it gets back to normal,” Murray said. “I’m telling you, those kids, they make a difference in my life, too.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.