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Who Doesn't Love Toney McMurray? 8/26/21

Who doesn’t love Toney McMurray?

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 

 

They stood in silence, guarded by the shade of the community center adjacent to the Alma tennis courts. Arms folded, a smile on their faces. 

Former students and tennis players alike showed up this week to reminisce about the man everyone referred to as "T-Mac."

Toney McMurray impacted a lot of students. He talked some of them into playing tennis, too.

"To me, it was a packaged deal," remembers Courtney Craft, who picked up a racket for the first time in the summer prior to her junior year — and has yet to put it down. 

"He could take his class to life, but he's the one that made me fall in love with tennis," she said. "Here we are 15 years later and I'm still playing, and I wouldn't have ever considered tennis."

McMurray was honored this week by Alma Mayor Jerry Martin on a hot afternoon in late August. Of course, because it was Toney, the hot August sky was secondary.

Standing in the scorching sun for 'T-Mac?' 

When? Where?

The Alma Community Tennis Courts are now and forever the Toney McMurray Memorial Courts. 

"To remember him like this is so special and important to remember all he did for us, and not only for what he did for the tennis program but the community in general," Chloe Ray said, who like Craft, had McMurray as a history teacher and a tennis coach. "He made sure that not only was history fun but us as humans were OK before he taught us. 

"It made it easier for us to learn; he didn't force us to learn, but we became better people as we were learning that history."

"When I think of tennis, it's almost therapy for me now," Craft said. "It's amazing that I even got involved. I didn't know anything about the game. 

"I had just finished softball and I wanted another sport to play and he said if you can swing a bat, you can swing a racket."

I have two memories of Toney McMurray, both etched in my brain forever. Though, to be honest, I wish they weren't there. Not yet, anyway. 

In the fall of 2019, Toney stepped into the press box at Airedale Stadium to share a bit of wisdom before an Alma football game. He talked about this chicken joint in Alma in the 1980s that everyone flocked to. His words were clear, though his mind often wandered. His body was ravaged by cancer. 

Two months later, I shook his hand while fighting back tears at his retirement celebration in the Alma High School library. Three months later, he was gone. 

Oh, how we loved Toney McMurray. 

"Who doesn't love Toney McMurray? I've known him most of my life, and his entire family, and I think this shows how much we care as a community," Alma principal Brian Kirkendoll said. "This is a community; it's not just Alma High School. You can tell by how many people are here ... they're here for Toney and his family."

McMurray spent 27 years as the school's tennis coach. He watched the program grow from practically nothing to the state-of-the-art facility that now stands next to Alma Water Park. 

It's a long way from where it all started.

"They had two courts, and because they only had two courts, they couldn't play tennis at home," his bride, Karla McMurray, said. "They were always having to play somewhere else."

Now, they play on a court that bears his name.