Murphy's philosophy results in 400-plus wins
The woods that surround a good portion of the softball diamond at Milford’s Foote Field are great reverberative’s of sound.
On a clear and cool Tuesday afternoon, as her team was taking on Career Magnet of New Haven, Platt Tech head coach Sue Murphy’s shouts could clearly be heard by her players who were in the midst of an intense battle with another team also nicknamed the Panthers.
Murphy’s charges came up short, on the losing end of a 3-2 game, a contest which the coach wished could’ve gone on longer.
Murphy, a veteran coach of 29 years and her assistant of just two years, Myke Kuslis, never yell at their players. Instead they yell to them. In the words of Murphy, who works third base while Kuslis handles first, it’s always encouragement. It’s never done in a disdainful way.
“I haven’t been around this sport long and I didn’t play it,” Kuslis says. “But, I can tell you Sue Murphy is an exceptional coach. She’s a true teacher and a wonderful motivator.
“The kids that have come through this program learn the game. But, more important, they take the lessons of life from what she brings to them. They keep coming back year after year even after they’ve graduated.”
Murphy’s team may have dropped a tough game to Career, but a little over two weeks before, an 8-6 win over Goodwin Tech of New Britain in a Constitution State Conference (CSC) game earned the Orange resident her 400th career softball victory.
“We knew at the start of the season that Sue needed seven wins to reach the milestone,” Kuslis said. “We were all a little nervous. We lost a game to Kaynor Tech right before it, setting up the opportunity to get it against one of the better teams in the conference.”
After a slow start and falling behind, 4-0, the Panthers rallied, won 8-6, and Murphy had her mark.
“I always thought a little about it,” Murphy said. “But, never that much. A few years ago (2004 to be exact) I was up for Teacher of the Year at Platt Tech. I had to go back then and count the wins and losses.
“Records are important, but teaching kids the fundamentals of the game and seeing them get better is more important.
“For 29 years, I’ve had an amazing group of kids playing for me. Getting them prepared for the real world is what really counts.”
Murphy’s rival coach on that given Tuesday, Career’s Ron Resorbo, says the two are very much alike.
“I believe we both think that it starts in the classroom,” Resorbo said. “If kids get focused there; learn how to use their time correctly, it then leads out to the softball field.
“I’m very proud to call her a good friend. She’s always been there for her young ladies. She makes her kids better by working with them. They not only become better players, but they become better people.”
Her players have always been taught valuable lessons. Fifteen years ago, Murphy was raising her children, then all young at the time. She had to make a decision about practices.
“I told my players that the only way I could still coach was they had to be willing to practice at 5:30 in the morning,” Murphy said. “Otherwise, I’d have to step down.
“Fifteen years later, we’re still getting here at 5:20. I have kids coming from 24 towns (she has 30 players in her program) and they all have to be at every practice. That’s the rule.”
Murphy became a very good and disciplined three-sport athlete herself at Amity Regional in Woodbridge, where she graduated from in 1979.
She played field hockey, basketball and softball and was inducted into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
Murphy went on to Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic and played on two Division III national championship teams there under Clyde Washburn. Murphy entered the Eastern Connecticut Hall of Fame in 1990.
“I still see Clyde at least once a year,” Murphy said. “He’s 82 now. I’ve used his approach to sports ever since I was a player. He always said you have to have fun and you have to work hard. The rest will fall in place from there.”
Her current players echo many of those feelings.
“She loves to see us win,” Amy Mulkern said. “But she also likes to see us have smiles on our faces. That makes her happy, too. She is one of those people who can motivate you.”
Broghan Lavery was extremely proud to be a part of the team that earned Murphy her 400th victory.
I was so happy to have that opportunity,” she said. “Nobody deserved that more than Coach Murph. Everyone that comes out for her team and makes all the practices and games stays on the team. That’s a great way to treat players.”
Junior Brooke Pawlak loves Murphy’s coaching style.
“I’ve had a chance to play for other coaches,” she said. “We have so much fun here, but it’s tough love. You’re not only motivated to be good, you learn discipline as well.”
Murphy’s decision to become a teacher and coach, even though she first earned a business degree came about more by chance.
She first became a gym teacher at Eli Whitney Tech in Hamden in 1984 before moving over to Emmett O’Brien Tech in Ansonia and then Platt Tech in 1989. She’s been the school’s athletic director for the past 20 years.
Her husband, Ken Sokoloski, an All-Naugatuck Valley League football player at Naugatuck, also graduated in 1979. Their children, Callie, Hanna and Mattie, are 21, 19, and 16 years of age, respectively.
In 1986, Murphy’s passion for running began. Since then, she’s logged 35,000 miles (all written down) and has competed in five marathons.
“I’m a crazy person, what can I say,” Murphy quips.
A crazy person with the ability to teach and coach.