myBurbank Talks

Local Legends with Devin - Linda Murphy: From Burbank Softball to Olympic Glory

August 25, 2023 Devin Herenda, Linda Murphy Season 1 Episode 49
myBurbank Talks
Local Legends with Devin - Linda Murphy: From Burbank Softball to Olympic Glory
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Linda Murphy grew up in Burbank, where she became an original member of the city's first-ever girl's softball team, The Braids, in her early teen years. 

Next, Murphy played volleyball on a local team, and she later attained a position on the inaugural US Olympic women's volleyball team. In addition, she scored eight national titles as a member of the Long Beach Shamrocks, and her USA team took home a gold medal at the 1967 Pan-American Games. As a result of her accomplishments in the sport, Murphy was honored with the USA Volleyball All-Time Great Player Award in 1971.

Following her volleyball career, Murphy coached at John Muir Middle School, as well as John Burroughs High School. Furthermore, she served as a Burbank Unified School District physical education teacher.

In this "Local Legends" episode, the iconic athlete tells us about her experiences competing in women's sports and earning many impressive feats along the way.

This episode of "Local Legends with Devin" is sponsored by Plumbing Dudes, a local, family-owned business that offers superior plumbing services to Burbank and its neighboring areas.

Speaker 1:

From deep in the Burbank Media District. It's time for another edition of my Burbank Talks, presented by the staff of my Burbank. Now let's see what's on today's agenda as we join our program.

Speaker 2:

Hello everyone, this is Devyn Harunda and you're listening to another episode of Local Legends with Devyn, a segment exploring the journeys of people from all walks of life who have ties to the city of Burbank. My guest today is a sports legend and former longtime Burbank resident, linda Murphy. Linda is an original member of Burbank's first girl softball team, which was called the Braids. She attended John Burroughs High School and she went on to play volleyball in Burbank and with the Long Beach Shamrocks. She became a member of the first US Olympic women's volleyball team in 1964. Seven years later she was honored with the USA Volleyball All-Time Great Player Award. For nearly 20 years, linda returned to her roots and coached volleyball at John Burroughs High School. Linda, welcome, how are you? I'm fine, thank you. Thank you so much for joining me. Well, let's start with your upbringing in Burbank. Can you tell me a little bit about growing up in Burbank and your background here?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, my parents had her house built in 1940-41. This is the problem. There weren't many activities around. Mostly our whole block was boys. We played out in the middle of the street, which is something you wouldn't do now. We got out of the way of cars but gave them plenty of trouble if they dared to break up the ball game or whatever it was. It wasn't until I was in junior high school that there was news of a softball league starting for girls in Burbank, which was unheard of. We had been at the park watching firemen play the policemen and Friday night leagues that the men had, but never really expected to have our opportunities. They came basically because of Barbara Round. She actually at that time her name was Barbara Miller and she was the first woman to be hired into the Parks and Rec department in Burbank. She had a boss who was very much open to her starting new activities. She had already started some dance and exercise classes but she wanted to start a softball league. Word got out and the big boss in Burbank was against the whole project. She had the backing of a immediate boss and she went ahead anyway. The first year there were enough players to form six teams and for the first half of the summer she was basically teaching us how to play and trying to do enough recruiting to where she could fill out all of the teams. She put our teams together very much by the schools that we attended, which was appropriate. Actually, from that time I have two friends who are lifetime friends and they changed my life. They were right directly on their way to college to become teachers. We graduated high school. I didn't really have a plan then halfway through the summer because they were already registered. I scrambled. They have had a very good influence on me. They both became teachers in LA Unified Just by complete luck. I was working on the after-school playgrounds and then in the summer working for eight weeks just a regular program for elementary kids. During that time off they came and got me off the playground. They had an opening. Would I be interested? Of course I had to think about it. I think back now it's like they should have slapped me. They were giving me a great opportunity and there was a teacher up at Muir Junior High School who was going to take maternity leave. They were just then notified and I was hired. It's a great department to work in. Very professional people did great things with the kids. I really enjoyed that there.

Speaker 2:

Going back to being on that first girl softball team locally. I know that soon after you coached with the league as well, played in the league for a few years, started in your early teens with all of that playing and then coaching early as well. What was that whole experience like for you?

Speaker 3:

It was a great experience. Having the opportunity to play was just so great. Of course, as you know, we chose the name Braids. They had us standing around and we were looking at each other and couldn't think of names. We had the Ponytail League, so of course we had to braid our hair for the games, and not sure that was very attractive, but it's what we did. We played the first year in our PE shirts and jeans. We were lucky if we had a glove. It was just that's the way it was. We won that first championship in 1957. By the next year, of course, there were a lot more girls who were signing up and wanting to play on teams. At some point, barbara gave me a team to coach and she gave a team to several other people on my team. She just sent the roster and go for it. It was a great experience. But not long before she passed I asked her what was it about us that you thought we could coach a team after playing holding one year? I thought she was going to say, oh well, you're so talented, or some compliment. She didn't deal in that. She was straightforward and she said oh well, we didn't have anyone else, which was true, I coached this particular team for the first year BATS and everything on my bicycle handlebars from Luther Burbank area over to almost out of Burbank on the other side at McKinley School. It was a great experience and after that I had opportunity to coach with one of my teammates, a team from nine years old all the way through high school. She took care of the last bit of it. I was involved a lot in volleyball by that time, but it was a terrific experience. I think we gained a lot from it.

Speaker 2:

Another thing that seemed like it was emphasized, too, is sportsmanship, so how did you all learn about character while playing and coaching in the league?

Speaker 3:

Well, we had already known about the sportsmanship trophy and we had known anything else. So it really wasn't a stretch and I think the umpires rated the teams at the end the first year because most teams had a male coach. The coaches could be on the field and in the dugout but after they're running out and arguing calls here and there, that ended. The men weren't allowed on the field, they had to be away from the field. There was a woman generally as the manager and there were women coaches also, as we were at some point, but it was just a given to us. And then, probably three years into it, barbara had us play in a tournament in Santa Ana. They had some kind of a softball thing going there also and we found out that they didn't have the sportsmanship part. It's the hard way, but of course they didn't know that. It was really a shocking experience for us because we didn't know what. We were, just looking at each other because the behavior of the other team was so, I don't know, nasty at times. But Barbara's way of handling it was to invite the team to come to Burbank. We would take them into our homes, one or two each of us. Get to know them, you know, be there for a day or two and then we played an exhibition game. They probably gathered 50 cents from each person that came to the game, a little money for the parks and, of course, there was a lot of sportsmanship going on in this game. I don't know exactly how she got that information to them, but that just took care of the issue. It was done and you know most men who have played sports. There was a different expectation, and yelling at the umpire was not unusual, same as it is. Is it unusual today? That was an experience we didn't ever forget Because we just started in it and that was just it. That's what you did, I'm all for it.

Speaker 2:

Obviously, in Burbank it was a big deal to introduce the league and introduce those opportunities for girls in sports. Do you recall what the general response to it was? Obviously, when the department. It sounds like there may have been a little bit of opposition with Barbara, but do you remember how people responded to it?

Speaker 3:

Well, the community responded very positively because within I'm going to just make a guess, but I'd say within three or four years there were over 100 teams and because of the way the teams were formed and there were no tryouts, every girl was expected, I mean was accepted, and sportsmanship was there. There were rules that everybody had to play at least half of the game, so there wasn't anybody, just, you know, sitting on the bench all the time, and that just seemed normal to us because that was just how it was and, of course, why wouldn't you play everyone? And so it was very open. Unfortunately, I think that what I think are great opportunities in CIF and high school sports, now that there's competition and tournaments and things, Because of that, the kids have thought that the Ponytail League or the other teams in the parks were only for certain talented, already trained athletes, and so I think the parks program suffered from that, which, of course, wasn't the idea. They should have been able to play in the park league and it would have been even better if all the people playing were not involved in the high school game, but they still. The camaraderie, the team, the people you meet, how you behave, all those things were learning opportunities, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

Well, we're going to take a brief pause. We'll be right back.

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Speaker 2:

Well now, Linda, I want to get a little bit more into your volleyball career. I know Barbara was involved with that as well, in the early stages at least. But can you tell me how your volleyball career began?

Speaker 3:

Well, at the end of that first softball year she invited us. Anyone but only the people on my team seemed to be interested. We would be at Olive Recreation Center on Friday night and she started to teach us how to play volleyball. She had some of her teammates come Somewhere along the way. She took us physically to some tournaments to watch the play and see what was happening, like junior high school kids will. Probably the thing that made the most impression on us was the knee pads, especially how cool it was. They put them right down by their ankle in between matches. We thought that was very cool. We had to get some knee pads immediately. At the same time she was working with other parks and rec places to find teams. Eventually we played in a women's league in the local area. They had tournaments every month or so. I don't remember being particularly successful, but we had a great time and we liked learning. I was 16. She had her team invited me to join her team to go to nationals, which was I didn't even know it was such a thing to do. You know that I would be involved in, and our team actually came in third in the nation, which was, you know, again, shocking, and you know all these guys on the team were my mother's age and they certainly knew how to play volleyball. Many of them played in the parks in Burbank. You know there's a lot to be said for the parks and recreation programs starting even then, and so from that those and I went a second year on a team that was might have been called Burbank, but it had different people were involved in it, and then at the end of that season I got a phone call and I was asked to play on the best team that was just then being named the shamrocks, which of course fits into my family very well. Gentlemen from Long Beach, who was the collector of customs for the city of Los Angeles was involved with women's sports prior to getting involved in volleyball, and so they were kind of the same as volleyball. They were somewhat organized, and so that was really a step up. You know, to have and to have money to pay for the room and board and for the travel was pretty amazing, and you know he did a good job choosing because the team that I was asked to play on had really all of the top players, or many of them. So our team I mean during the time I played on the shamrocks we won the national championship every year but one, and that one year the best player in women's volleyball. During her time she had gotten injured. Playing tennis during the offseason she played, I think. I mean I wasn't. I wasn't one that would tell her what to do. Not too many people could. But you know, we played against good team, but it our team was just not quite the same. So we had to sink to second. We were not amused.

Speaker 2:

Well, you all won eight national titles over those years. With all of that success, what do you think were some of the most important factors in the team having such high achievements over those years?

Speaker 3:

Well, the quality of the players, and we also had the gift. Really, there's a gentleman named Gene Selznick who knew volleyball better than anybody else that I ever talked to during that time and I used what he taught us in all my coaching. Unfortunately, he was the bad boy of volleyball and was always in trouble with USA volleyball, so it was. He was never selected to coach a national team or anything. Actually, he did once and he got us into the Olympics the first time, but other than that, you know he did his thing and his teams were good. I was always sad that he wasn't able to be in charge, because I knew that would boost our teams.

Speaker 2:

Throughout this time were you a middle blocker.

Speaker 3:

Yes, okay, I was a middle blocker the whole time. Okay, people weren't very tall in that era.

Speaker 2:

I wasn't sure then if it would be pretty consistent or if they would mix it up with positions.

Speaker 3:

You know, it was pretty basic at that time. There wasn't much substituting, we didn't have the liberal People played all the way around. When we did qualify for the Olympics, when we got to Tokyo, we found out that we weren't playing correctly and we had well less than two weeks to we were receiving serve overhand. First ball was always overhand If you didn't do it and if somebody spiked the ball, you took it overhand. So I had to go very close to where they were, where the spiker was, in order for the ball to be up here, you know for me, and so that kind of gave us a handicap starting. But you know, the Japanese are so gracious that somehow they knew that this was the issue. I mean, they saw us trying to learn how to how to bump the ball. And, of course, where you stand on the court is totally different when your team is all going to bump than you're all up here. I don't know if you know the 10 foot line. You would stand on the 10 foot line to take it up here because you would be covering your half of the court and when you take it underhand you would be standing in different back up stand at half court.

Speaker 2:

How was it adapting in such a short time? It was embarrassing.

Speaker 3:

And no one I mean some of the players had stuck out an arm before you know something on the beach, but we really, I mean we didn't have it. And first, again, the Japanese being very gracious, they sent people to our practices to help us. Yeah, you think that's happened the last Olympics, no. And then one day they sent a team to play against us so we could scrimmage. It was a high school team. They beat us, wow, that kind of oh, in a few days we're going to be playing in the Olympics. It was very difficult. I mean, we were. We didn't travel around that much, we didn't have communication. I'm talking about the USA. We that we didn't know what was going on in the world. There were, had been some. Some teams from the USA were that they would say, ok, we're going to go somewhere and play and the people would pay their own way, and many of my teammates had done that. You know that didn't give us much of a chance to do anything. So, from that time 1964, until this last Olympics, that ended up being 2021, that was the first gold medal for USA women in volleyball. And we're trying to get the facts together and, you know, make sure people understand what the course was and not going to bore you with it now, but it was. We were not making the right choices in the women's program. The men's program, 1984 had their. So 20 years later, the men won the first goal, their first goal, and they continued to here and there, not always, you know, other teams were very talented, but so I mean everything about it was a lesson to learn. And then I come home for you know, to go back to school and we're going to play volleyball. It's like you know, and I wasn't one to tell other people how they should, how the game should be. I pretty much didn't tell them that I was playing somewhere else. You know, it's just how it was. It's very different.

Speaker 2:

You also mentioned qualifying for the 64 Olympics. What were the steps at that time for qualifying?

Speaker 3:

They had different competitions around the world that teams could qualify in, and USA chose the Pan American Games, which were in Sao Paulo, brazil. I don't know if you know what the atmosphere is in playing in Brazil or Mexico, but it's very loud and emotional and there really wasn't a way we were going to win. Okay, I couldn't hardly believe it. I was 19 at the time. I never heard about games being fixed and the referee, you know it, just didn't. It wasn't in my mind. So it was an interesting experience, because the tournament was played on in a gym with only one court. There were 7000 seats, and when we played Brazil, there were 10,000 people. So it was a mob, and if they called something on Japan, the crowd, I mean, if we had won we might not have gotten out of the building. It was a close call for the women's basketball team that beat Japan. It was. It's just part of their culture that that's what was acceptable behavior to run down and, you know, grab the net or whatever, I don't know. And of course, the officials were already paid off. I never even knew these things happened, and so I'm trying to explain to my parents when I get home. It just sounds like an excuse, you know. And then they didn't have the money to go, so we went. We were asked to go. It was kind of strange and they were really. They had much more going on in volleyball in many of the South American countries and so it was an experience. I mean at 19, I wasn't mature enough to understand it exactly. I was glad we got out of the building.

Speaker 2:

What are some other major differences you may have noticed over the years in volleyball? Are there any rule changes or just differences in the way people play the game that you've seen?

Speaker 3:

Well, there's a lot of difference in the way. One of them came with rule change that you're allowed to put in a person that in Europe is called Libro and we always call it Libero. It makes a place in the defense for someone that's a specialist in defense and, quite honestly, most of the Liberos are shorter, quicker, you know and can move, and so they are in the game almost 100% of every game. They come out for a short time so that you know somebody serves. They serve one time and the next time the player serves, and then they come in when their term of service is over. There are other minor rules, but that's really the only major one. I kind of like the fact that everybody played everywhere. A gal on our team who was a fabulous defender and they played her next to me. That was a good place. They gave me this much of a line she had. The rest, nothing got by her. You know, I mean you made those kinds of decisions on how to play your team depending on it, but it does give players who aren't big enough and don't have a fabulous jump to play at the net. It does include them in the game and more than likely it causes many more good plays. They bring the ball up a little more often.

Speaker 2:

Later you taught locally and coached locally. How did it feel to coach at Boroughs and at Muir?

Speaker 3:

I started my teaching at Muir and the very first year that I was thinking about starting a volleyball club and trying to do for the girls there what Barbara Round did, I introduced the kids to the sport. We had a teach-in, which was no extra things. The teachers did their job and left at 3.01 and were having a little struggle with the rules with the district. I guess at that time I wasn't sure I understood it totally. The next year I started it and I had the use of the gym. At Muir there were actually three courts painted on the floor, none of them the right size, of course, but it didn't matter for the beginning. All I had was the volleyball we used for class. That were rubber volleyball that were not fun to bump, especially when the kids could learn to serve more easily. Then they could learn how to do the other skills. And probably one of the better players in the group came a couple of times and then didn't show up anymore because it was so disorganized. Well, I'm not surprised. I didn't know that many kids were going to show up. I was scrambling and I was wishing we had some real volleyball leather, but we didn't. It took a while, but once I got some teams together and a friend of mine had already been coaching volleyball at Glendale High School so she invited the girls to a tournament. So we took three teams, took everybody that was interested and so there was at that time a junior program and there were tournaments beyond that that they got involved in. And then somebody started a major high school tournament during the summer Orange County was a little ahead of us Coming off the beaches, a lot of people got into volleyball that didn't get into it in this area and so we just you know I took the kids to tournaments. Good thing I had a car. They weren't very big and didn't have seatbelt rules, Sorry to say, but you know. Then that program got a little bigger and a little bigger and more kids involved and then eventually they started the program at Burbank High. Well, at the high schools they started a volleyball competition, CIF, and that helped a lot for exposing kids to sports and the girls had not had many opportunities prior to that. I think they started it with softball and tennis, gymnastics and volleyball the first year and then added as they went, and at that time it was very difficult to find people that had any experience in any of the sports to be the coach and I was able to talk a girl, a girl, a woman into coaching the team at the high school because she taught there half day and she taught at my school where I was teaching for the other half, and she did that. It was really. It was really a good move. For the girls, it was very helpful, but I wouldn't have been allowed to do that. So after the first year of course it grew. The first teams that were successful were generally from the private schools who had already had a sports program among themselves, and it was nice to see that little equality coming along.

Speaker 2:

As a coach, what was some advice, words of wisdom that you like to offer to the young kids? Athletes.

Speaker 3:

Know that there was just one bit of advice, but I know you I might have to ask one of the players. They might remember it. I mean, I was very green about what to do and how to do it and I thought some parents would volunteer to drive the kids to tournaments and help out in that way, and that didn't seem to be the case. They would come and watch, but they weren't wanting all day, I guess in the beginning. I kind of learned along the way and then at some point I was asked to coach at Cal State Northridge that their coach was leaving. It was a gal that I knew and I had known a few of the gals that had played under the new Title IX rules and things. That was also very interesting and you learn a lot when everything is new again. Then at some point they were needing a coach at Burroughs and they asked me if I would do it. At the beginning I was still teaching at Mir and then I drove in the afternoon. They ranged my schedule so that I had conference at the end of the day and you know you, just you know you make your mistakes and keep going, but I enjoyed it a lot. I'm sorry to say that, not quite sure there weren't any particular reasons. But then out of the blue I'm fired and the young man that was a mirror kid that I knew and we needed a freshman coach. I hired him and taught him the game. He was a basketball guy. He's still the coach at girls very successful Edwin Real and They've had a good program. They have continued to have a good program with his hard work and Doing it his way. You know. I mean he learned the basics during our time. So I, you know, after that I coached a couple of boys. Teams Made poor choices of the schools where the parents were in charge and not what else. I mean, it's just I loved teaching and coaching and I Retired sooner than I really wanted to retire, but it was. It was just getting a little bit Too sticky.

Speaker 2:

Well, for all of your achievements you've been recognized locally and beyond. There's an award in your name for the ponytail league? Yes.

Speaker 3:

I, I Love that that's happening, but actually it's all the criteria and everything that should have Barbara's name on it.

Speaker 2:

Well, and also you accepted the proclamation for women's history month at the city council meeting earlier this year. With that award for the ponytail league and accepting the proclamation. What does that mean to you to receive those recognition?

Speaker 3:

Probably shouldn't expose this, but the first time my life I live in Glendale and so how I'm at the city hall accepting this, it was a great honor. I mean just to be remembered. Usually, you know, when you've been around a long time, you know you've got some new, young, younger bases, and so I was quite honored that they asked me. But I knew full weld. I mean I could make them a list of People who Would have loved that opportunity as well.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, but it's well deserved. And throughout all of it, your Athletic career, teaching, coaching career. What are some of the greatest lessons you feel you've taken away from those experiences?

Speaker 3:

Hmm, no, if I've thought of it that way exactly, I know I learned every year. I learned you know and changed some things and I tried to make things right. You know, just try to be honest with the kids and you know when you're, when you're coaching at the college level or a high school varsity team, everyone doesn't play, you know, not because they aren't good enough. You just you make your choices and Certain people are on the court and they seem to be the better players right then, or they're working together. Sometimes the parents had a hard time with that and I can understand that. I mean, I would go watch my nephews play sports and I certainly wanted to see them Playing. So I mean, there was always little things like that. But you know, the parents wouldn't know and I, I would always say it at parent meeting and I always made it known to the kids Everybody on the team was as valuable as anybody else, because and that otherwise I wouldn't have them on the varsity team. But they can't all play at the same time and all I was very odd sport in that you can be winning big and then if you decide to Just put someone in because you're, that's a good way to lose very quickly. The chemistry is so important where in other sports you can get away with doing some of those things. So you know that was always an issue. I never had anybody on the team that I didn't respect and think could play. He just can't play them all at the same time and you just keep working. Your time will come and that was the case for most of the kids and they most of them got it, but it didn't. It always was upsetting when parents were angry and upset and Hard to make them understand how teams are supposed to work.

Speaker 2:

But that's very true. We said the momentum shifts can be Very quick. Very much the game.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I mean basketball, softball with someone in it does not affect the total Team and the game, so but it's hard to explain that to people. They and they don't want to hear it. I mean, I said they want to see their kid play. They always kept the varsity fairly small and we never cut anybody at girls. We kept everyone and we were able to. Maybe, you know, if I'd stayed longer and we had influx of 40 people, you have to do something. But you know, I did what I thought was the right thing to do and I Was sorry when they passed a rule in the league that if you were a senior you had to be on the varsity. I, before that, I played kids on the JV team that were seniors and they played all the time. And this Last year when I went to a volleyball match at boroughs, there was a girl there that was one of those seniors and she thanked me. I was so happy I don't know if she knows how happy I was because she played every game and At the end of the season the varsity Was Going to playoffs and we she was in addition to our team got a uniform and she was part of the group. She loved it. You know it was better than sitting on the bench and then going to the playoffs and being part of the group. I think so, unfortunately that same year One of the other teams moved all their players down so they could win the JV championship. All this time I'm arguing against At the meetings, arguing against Having this rule. The kids should play where they, where their skill is, but some coaches Want that win more than they want to do the right thing in my opinion.

Speaker 2:

Well, your contributions to the coaching world, sports worlds have just been amazing. I appreciate it so much. I was so happy to speak with you and learn more about your background and all of the amazing things you've done, so thank you so much for joining me. Well, I've talked too much.

Speaker 3:

No, no. But I feel like Barbara round is the person, and you know, she's the one that made the change and she's the one that started with the, with the kinds of standards and rules that were good for us, and so she'll always be the one. No, got a field all of diamond. Three out four diamond four Barbara round field.

Speaker 2:

Well, she said that standard and you've kept it going.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I don't know how she knew all the right things, but she did. Yeah, she's changed my life. Yeah, I would never been a teacher, I would never have had these friends that dragged me into college. You know, it's just. I mean, everyone can look back and see things that changed. But, yeah, I, I think of her all the time and I I thank my parents for making me Understand what she had done for us. You know, for all the girls in the city, and you know it was a story that I had. You know it was a springboard and when they started high school sports, they had kids that knew how to play softball, volleyball. You know, immediately it was cool.

Speaker 2:

Well, it's a wonderful journey and I thank you so much. Thank you for speaking with me. I appreciate it.

Speaker 3:

It was my honor, thank you.

Speaker 1:

My Burbank talks would like to thank all of my Burbank's advertisers for their continued support Burbank water and power, kusamano real estate group, you me credit union, the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, gain credit union, providence, st Joseph Medical Center community. Chevrolet. Media City credit Union, ucla Health, tequila's cantina and grill, ups store on 3rd Street and Hill Street cafe.

Burbank Softball League and Coaching Experience
Burbank's Girls' Sports Success Introduction
Adapting to Volleyball Changes and Challenges
Qualifying for Olympics and Volleyball Rule Changes
Coaching Volleyball and Recognitions
Parental Expectations and Team Dynamics
Barbara Round's Impact on Education