American’s Elijah Murphy wins ESPY Award but relishes on continuing his mentorship work

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Photo by Jay Mutchnik

WASHINGTON – American University student-athlete Elijah Murphy recently saw his face on television being honored during the ESPY Awards and was left in awe.

Together with Howard University student-athlete Niah Woods, Murphy was one of seven recipients of the 2020 Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award. The 157-pound wrestler said he did not know he was nominated until days before the show.

The moment his face flashed on the screen during the broadcast was “surreal,” but confirmed to Murphy that his work mentoring middle-school-aged children in the Washington, D.C. region meant that he was “doing something right.”

“[To] be in the same conversation as all those professional athletes and having people like Billie Jean King say your name and acknowledging the work that you’re putting in and saying that you’re an inspiration and that you give her confidence for the future alone, it really means a lot,” Murphy said.

The Northwestern High School alum was awarded for his work for The Grassroot Project, mentoring middle schoolers in Washington, D.C. in an array of topics, and will direct a grant to the organization to continue its outreach programs in the city.

The Grassroot Project partners with more than 50 D.C. public and charter schools to provide health education programs taught by NCAA student-athletes, which they call “non-traditional health educators.” The program chooses to work with student-athletes to build trusting relationships with the young students to discuss sensitive issues related to their health.

Topics include sexual, mental, and physical health, as well as nutrition. To break the ice, the “educators” are trained to start the conversation with interactive games before splitting into small group sessions.

While several of college friends were mentors, Murphy was unsure that his introverted personality would fit with the program’s objectives. His reservations on public speaking and being “goofy” around middle school students made him feel nervous and apprehensive initially.

“At the beginning, I didn’t see myself doing that because of the person I was, but I saw it as an opportunity for personal growth and also giving back and doing great community work,” Murphy said.

The Eagles athlete recalled the first few visits at a Washington, D.C. middle school where he was caught off-guard by their advanced knowledge levels on sexual health. Students already knew about antiretroviral drugs, the types of other medications needed to manage HIV, and the exchange of different bodily fluids can spread sexually transmitted diseases.

The District of Columbia Department of Health reported 12,322 D.C. residents, or 1.8% of the population, were living with HIV in late 2019. The humbling experience of not having answers, taught to mentors during training, moved Murphy to be a better listener and speak in a conversational tone.

“I talk to them as equals,” Murphy said. “Because I know that when I was that age, I didn’t like people talking down to me as if they were better than me or just because they’re were older than me, so they’re my equals.”

Along with his status as an American University student-athlete and a native of the area, students began to gravitate towards him.

“Being a Black student-athlete from Prince George’s County, you can go into one of the middle schools and impart to someone just basically being someone who looks like them and who is doing something that they want to do, which could potentially be a D-I athlete, or it could be to go to a college,” Murphy said.

Admittedly, having students trust him to share their lives with him can take its toll on Murphy. The discipline instilled in him as a wrestler pushes him to strive for perfection and shoulder their experiences with multiple conversations.

His journey began at Northwestern, where he went 85-30 during his career, leading him to American. The sport’s push for excellence helped him “walk the walk” in becoming a better mentor for his students.

“I wouldn’t be at American University right now if it weren’t for wrestling,” “I would never have met my coach while I was in high school, which allowed me to have that access to American University and had that connection to be able to go to American or be a part of The Grassroot Project.”

Murphy recently received his bachelor’s degree in psychology and has begun working towards his master’s degree. He plans to return to the mat for the 2020-21 season as a redshirt senior wrestler while completing the course work for his advanced degree a year early.

Murphy also plans to continue his work with The Grassroot Project as a paid internship program, while helping the organization revisit the mental health curriculum. He hopes to add listening sessions that tackle topics like systematic racism stemming from the protests fueled by the death of George Floyd.

Had the pandemic not occurred, Murphy believes students would have used the program to discuss police brutality and its effects on mental health in their community. The desire to share one’s experiences inspired him to join together with University of Maryland wrestler and Fort Washington native Jahi Jones in a two-part Instagram discussion on race in America.

His overall goal is to spread the importance of mental health in the African American community, and Murphy believes it starts with his work on a mentor. 

When asked about his thoughts of being looked up to, Murphy said his position as a role model goes beyond than his personal exploits as an athlete and relishes the opportunity to continue that path going forward.

“It’s being able to help them in any way, shape, or form, and that’s extremely important to me, as a psychology major, as a human being, and as a Black man,” Murphy said. “That’s extremely valuable to me to help when help is needed or make any type of impact, and I can.”

MPSSAA calls off basketball finals, spring sports season

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

HYATTSVILLE – More than a month after calling off all high school athletic events throughout the state due to coronavirus known as COVID-19, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) announced on April 28 that it is canceling the remainder of its basketball state finals and its spring sports season and championships.

The decision comes after Maryland State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon announced canceling all athletic events during a state Board of Education meeting. MPSSAA released a statement following Salmon’s announcement that the decision was made after “careful review and consultation” between both parties.

“[MPSSAA] is officially announcing the cancellation of all MPSSAA events for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year,” the statement said. “This includes the remainder of the 2020 Boys and Girls Basketball State Championships and all spring sports, as well as spring State Championships.”

With the cancelation, MPSSAA is the last public school association to cancel its spring sports season in the metropolitan region. The Virginia High School League (VHSL) shut down all high school athlete competitions on March 23 as the state began its quarantine efforts.

Once Washington, D.C. announced its plans to continue at-home learning for the rest of the school year, both the District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA) and D.C. Public Schools Athletics (DCPS) office confirmed the cancelation of their spring seasons in mid-April.

Luckily for DCSAA, the championship games were held earlier this year before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Photo by Cory Royster/The Sports Pulse

The state was in the middle of its final weekend of the state basketball championships, scheduled to take place on March 12-14. With the continued spread of the coronavirus, only players, coaches and their immediate families were going to be allowed in the Xfinity Center in College Park and SECU Arena in Towson for their respective tournament games.

As the spread continued, officials elected to postpone the finals on March 12 and all athletics events indefinitely on March 27. Numerous coaches and student-athletes voiced their concerns on playing via social media, especially after the death of Northwestern High School boys basketball coach Terrence Burke due to COVID-19 on March 27.

“Do I want to play the game? Absolutely I want to play,” Dr. Henry Wise, Jr. High School boys basketball Head Coach Louis Wilson said. “I definitely want to have a chance to compete and have a chance for a state championship, but I know it more than basketball. This is a real-life situation.”

Dr. Henry A. Wise High School will no longer have a chance to finish postseason competition because of the MPSSAA tournament cancellation. Photo by Phillip/Peters/The Sports Pulse.

Spring sports affected by the decision include baseball, softball, lacrosse, track and field and tennis. Teams were in the middle of their preparations for the year once practices began on Feb. 29, preparing for the season to start on March 20. Their state final games were slated to begin on May 12 and finish on the 23.

“With this announcement, the MPSSAA wishes to extend its heartfelt gratitude and admiration to all of our member schools’ graduating seniors, underclassmen, coaches, administrators, and extracurricular athletic and activity sponsors who have dedicated countless hours to these programs,” MPSSAA said.

Moving forward, MPSSAA said it would work on ensuring the return of high school athletics by working under the guidelines in Gov. Larry Hogan’s “Maryland Strong Road Map to Recovery” plan, which was announced earlier in the day. 

The plan, created by the governor’s office with the help of scientists, business leaders, and public health experts, is a “safe, effective, and gradual approach” on how to reopen Maryland during the pandemic, Hogan said.

Northwestern High School Basketball Coach Burke dies from complications of COVID-19

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

HYATTSVILLE – Terrence Burke, head coach of the Northwestern High School boys basketball team, died on March 27 after battling with symptoms of the coronavirus known as COVID-19.

Burke, who worked at Northwestern as a counselor and was a veteran of the U.S. Navy, died late Friday evening, according to a post by a family member.

Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) CEO Monica Goldson confirmed Burke’s death early Saturday, stating that she extends her “deepest sympathies” to his family, friends and students whose lives he impacted through his work. Prince George’s Educators’ Association President Theresa Mitchell Dudley asked for prayers for his family in a Facebook post.

“I know this news is devastating and shocking to many in the Northwestern High School community and all who knew and loved him,” Goldson said. “Please know that my heart is breaking with yours, and I am praying for your strength and comfort during this time.”

Reactions following the news of Burke’s death were swift, with the attention pointed to his coaching career with the Wildcats. This past season, Northwestern finished with a 13-10 overall record. Northwestern girls basketball head coach Keith Devoe called it a “pleasure” working together as part of the Wildcat basketball community.

Guard Marquise Delahaye last spoke to Burke the day before schools closed due to the pandemic as they worked together to figure out his future. The senior said he will never forget that final conversation and how Burke always looked to help every player reach their goals.

“I’ll never forget how hard he was invested in [each of] his players and how he wanted to make us better men in life more than anything,” Delahaye said. “He was very hard on me, but I knew it was tough love. He saw something in me [and] he always constantly reminded me.” 

PGCPS will provide remote counseling to students and staff dealing with Burke’s death with the help of a support team of psychologists, professional school counselors, and pupil personnel worker, Goldson said. 

The school system plans to continue consulting with the county’s and state health department on preventative measures, reporting protocols and communication.

“We will make it through this time together,” Goldson said. “Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones.”

As of March 28, Prince George’s County has confirmed 196 cases of the coronavirus, the second most of the state. In total, Maryland has over 990 confirmed cases with Gov. Larry Hogan stating late Saturday evening that the number of people who have died has doubled, from five to 10, since March 27.

Baptiste goes off for 24 en route to shocking victory over Northwestern

By The Sports Pulse Staff

RIVERDALE, Md. – Parkdale High School senior guard Koby Baptiste was on fire against Northwestern High School during a boys basketball match on Feb. 11.

The six-foot-six, 190-pound standout led the Panthers (6-12) in scoring with 24 points and also pulled down 11 rebounds defensively as he helped lead his team to a nine-point victory (80-71).

Fellow teammate Jamal Hubbard also notched a double-double after scoring 21 points, and he accounted for 11 rebounds. The only other Panthers player to score in double-digits was senior David Andre, who tallied 14 points and also pulled down five rebounds.

Northwestern (11-8) started off hot and enjoyed a nine-point lead at the end of the first quarter with the help of Jeremiah Woodland, who led all scorers with 25 points, but it was not enough to attain a victory down the stretch.

The Wildcats fell victim to the underdog in this one, but they will have a chance to rebound against Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School (14-4) on Feb. 13 at 7:15 p.m. at home.

Parkdale will look to capture its seventh victory of the season against Suitland High School (1-9) on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in Forestville.

1st 2nd 3rd 4th Total
Parkdale 13 11 35 21 80
Northwestern 22 11 17 21 71