Murray State Athletics legend dies at 86

Bennie PurcellBennie Purcell

Story by Alicia Steele, Staff writer

Bennie Purcell, Murray State Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, record setting basketball player, former assistant basketball coach and former head tennis coach died at his home in Murray on Friday at the age of 86. He was born on Dec. 10, 1929.

Bennie Purcell

Bennie Purcell

“Bennie was a legend,” said Allen Ward, Director of Athletics. “But even more, he was an incredible man. Always so kind, unconditionally supportive, Bennie loved his Racers. I’ll miss him dearly. It won’t be the same without him watching the games from ‘his corner’ at the CFSB Center.”

Men’s basketball Head Coach Matt McMahon said he is grateful for Purcell’s support and friendship, but his true legacy is in all of the people that he impacted at Murray State and in the community. He sends his condolences to coach Mel Purcell and his family.

“I am sad to hear we lost a great man and Murray State legend,” McMahon said. “It has been an honor and a privilege getting to spend time with him throughout my five years in Murray.”

Purcell left his hometown of Mt. Vernon, Illinois in 1948 for Murray State, where he would make history.

 

MURRAY STATE STUDENT AND ATHLETE

While a student, Purcell led the Racers’ basketball team to their first OVC championship in 1951. That season, Purcell was also named to the All-Ohio Valley Conference basketball team and again the following year, according to Southern Illinois Sports Connection.

In 1952, Purcell was named MVP during the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Basketball Tournament. During the same season, Purcell became the first Racer to score 600 points in one season.

That year, Purcell graduated with a bachelor’s degree and received his master’s degree in 1961, also from Murray State.

To this day, Purcell still holds the school record for most games played (118), most games started (82), the most field goal attempts in one game (45) and is tied for most games played during one season (34), according to Murray State Athletics.

During his time at Murray State, Purcell played in every game for four years, scoring a total of 1,108 points for the Racers, “the fifth most ever scored by a Murray player,” according to Murray State Athletics.

Since, Purcell’s No. 21 jersey has been retired and hangs in the CFSB Center.

 

POST-MURRAY STATE

After leaving the university, Purcell went on to spend two years serving in the U.S. Army and five years of professional basketball touring with the Harlem Globetrotters and playing for the Washington Generals.

Purcell also spent six years serving as a high school basketball coach, before he returned to Murray State to teach in 1963.

 

BACK ON THE COURT

 When Purcell returned to Murray State, he served as the assistant basketball coach under Head Coach Cal Luther, where he remained until 1971.

During that time, in 1969, Purcell took the head-coaching job for the Racers’ tennis team.

“The promise his teams held was demonstrated immediately as his squad won the OVC title his first year, the first of eleven such championships,” according to Murray State Athletics.

Purcell is an eight time OVC Coach of the Year and dean of OVC men’s coaches, holding a 222-93 record, and he is in the top five on the active collegiate coaches’ list for career wins, according to Murray State Athletics.

“In 22 seasons he has led his teams to a record of 459-202 in dual matches, including an NCAA record 59 straight conference wins during the 1980’s,” according to Murray State Athletics.

 

REMEMBERING BENNIE

Until his death, Purcell stayed involved with Murray State and often wore his trademark blue blazar to many banquets and gatherings, serving as one of the speakers at the first Racer Hoopalooza.

In December, Purcell was on the court with Jeffery Moss, and as the first racer to make 1,000 points, he presented a trophy ball to the 43rd member of the Murray State 1,000-point club.

During his lifetime, Purcell was a six-time hall of fame selection including:

  • National Association of Intercollegic Athletics (NAIA) in 1969
  • Murray State Athletics in 1969
  • Ohio Valley Conference in 1990
  • Kentucky USTA in 1994
  • Intercollegiate Tennis Association in 1999
  • Mount Vernon High School in 2011

“A true gentlemen and Racer,” President Bob Davies tweeted Friday morning. “On behalf of Murray State we offer our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced after they are confirmed.