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Happy campers

By GORDON D. FIEDLER JR.

Salina Journal

A straight answer from Heart of America Sports Camps owner Bob Murray and former owner Ken Cochran can sometimes be as hard to score as a full-court bucket.

The two have known each other since Murray played for Cochran when he was the basketball coach at Kansas Wesleyan University.

So, how did Murray, a 1967 graduate at Lenape High School in New Jersey, end up at Kansas Wesleyan?

"He made the worst recruiting mistake of his life, and he's been paying for it ever since," Murray said of Cochran, who spied Murray during one of his East Coast recruiting trips.

So, what special skills did Murray possess?

"He had a pulse," Cochran said.

It was hard for the two men to hide deep affection for each other behind the in-your-face banter, and not just because they were sitting about 10 feet apart during the interview. Murray started working part time for Cochran beginning in the 1980s, and it was Murray whom Cochran called when he decided to sell the sports camp in 2001. Although Murray already had a full-time job -- teaching history and government at Bennington High School -- he accepted the offer. As he told his wife, "I've never told the coach 'no.' "

Is that in Canada?

Murray said he had no conception of Kansas before Cochran showed up. When a high school classmate once told him he was going to attend Ottawa University -- the one in Kansas -- Murray thought his friend was moving to Canada.

Easing Murray's decision to head west was New Jersey's somewhat novel approach to higher education. At the time, the Garden State had no public university network, Murray said.

"The state decided it was cheaper to pay you to leave," he said.

Which was just dandy for Cochran.

"When I was at Kansas Wesleyan, the scholarship program was pathetic," Cochran said.

Athletes with talent -- or rich parents -- went to the elite schools. Cochran said he targeted students who could play at the college level but lacked the financial resources to get there.

"They couldn't get into Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Princeton," Cochran said.

Murray took slight offense at that.

"I could get in," he said. "I just needed fence clippers and a dark night."

Had to go to college

Ending his educational career at 12th grade was unthinkable.

"That was not an option," Murray said. "My family said, 'You will go to college.' So away I went."

The culture shock was of the pleasant variety, starting with the environmental quality.

"I was astounded at the aroma when I got off the plane. It was clean air," he said.

More than the Kansas atmosphere appealed to him.

"I liked it," he said. "Everything -- the pace, the people. I found myself very accepted here. The team accepted me right away, the community accepted me."

Also, he found the girl he would marry while a Wesleyan student.

Retired from teaching

He began teaching at Bennington High in 1973 and retired last May but still coaches the girls golf team. He had been the head boys basketball coach and was assistant football and track coach.

He's been at the helm of Heart of America since 2001, which means Cochran now works for him.

"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that," Murray said. "He's still the coach. Once a coach, always a coach."

--Gordon D. Fiedler Jr. can be reached at 822-1407 or by email at gfiedler@salina.com.

(c)2014 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.)