A headline accompanying a story about Bob Murray, a swimmer at the University of Michigan, in yesterday's editions of The Washington Post identified him as a Wilson High School graduate. Murray graduated from the School Without Walls but since the Northwest Washington school had no athletic program, he trained with and earned four varsity letters with the Wilson swimming team.
Last week Bob Murray was selected as the Big Ten Athlete of the Week. The news caused barely a ripple on the University of Michigan campus since Murray is not a basketball or football player.
"I thought it was a great deal but it hardly got a word in the school newspaper, much less anywhere else," said Murray, a sophomore. "Swimmers don't get much recognition anyway until the Olympic year."
Murray, who learned his water skills at Takoma Swimming Pool in Northwest Washington, Wilson High School and with the Capitol East Sea Devils under the auspices of Jane Stafford, is used to being overlooked. Throughout his swimming career, the 19-year-old Murray was noticed mostly because he was black, not because he was a good swimmer.
"I know one of the main reasons I got any publicity was because I'm black. But I've worked hard and I think I'm becoming a good swimmer," said Murray. "I don't want to be recognized as a black swimmer but as a swimmer."
Murray, who holds the Potomac Valley AAU 15-18 age group 100-yard freestyle record (45.84), is well on his way to being just that. He established a school record as a freshman in the 50-yard freestyle (20.64) and led off the victorious Michigan 400- and 800-yard relays in the Big Ten 1978 championships. He finished second in the 50-yard freestyle final last year.
This season the Wolverines, who have not won a Big Ten title in 15 years, served notice they are no longer willing to play the role of also-swams when they beat always tough Indiana (58-55) in a dual meet. Michigan is 10-1 in dual meets.
Against Indiana, Murray won both the 50- and 100-yard freestyles and helped the 400-yard relay team to the clinching points in a pool record 3:02.38.
"He has that desire to be great," said Wolverine Coach Gus Stager, who has won three Big Ten and four NCAA swimming titles in 25 years at the school. "This is my last year and it would be nice to win the title. But Indiana is very tough, although we beat them. This is definitely my best team in a long, long time."
Once again, Murray is the only black on the team but he says he doesn't feel uncomfortable.
"I'm used to that now. It seems like I've always been the only one since I've been swimming competitively," said Murray, laughing. "I don't think I've ever felt uncomfortable."
Murray, a pre-med student and a National Scholarship recipient, has set only two goals: to lower his times in both the 50- and 100-yard sprints and earn a gold medal in the Big Ten championships. The Olympics, he says, are not that important.
"Right now, I'd like to just swim to my potential. I hope to go 20.1 in the 50 and 44.2 in the 100."
No black has won an individual title in the conference meet. The last black swimmer to compete in the Big Ten was in 1962 when freshman Nate Clark helped Ohio State win the NCAA title.
Stafford, who came out of retirement to help another black youth, Fred Evans, to stardom, says Murray has all the tools to make the Olympic team.
Evans, who attended Chicago State, won both the NAIA and NCAA Division II 100-yard breaststroke, thus becoming the first black to win a national title.
"Fred is working on his master's at Chicago State and wants to go back in training," said Stafford. "He is still one of the fastest sprinters I've seen and he could make it."
Stafford said Evans, Murray and Roy Lewis, a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase are the three top-level swimmers she has coached.
"She did a lot for me. She was very instrumental in me being here," said Murray.
Murray, the son of Dr. and Mrs. Robert Murray, developed tendinitis in his shoulders last summer and spent half of his vacation resting, but he came back stronger than ever.
"That was a low point for me but the rest did me a lot of good," said Murray. "I guess my high point came when we beat Indiana. It was the first time in 12 years."
Slager says one reason Murray is so strong is his willingness to work with the distance men in practice.
"He gets in there with them and goes tough. Most of your sprinters don't do that," said Slager. "I watched him play paddle ball once and I saw how quick he was. Right now, he has a good 200- and 500-yard race in him."
But Murray will stich to his specialties and feels he has an excellent chance to win a gold in either the 50, the 100 or both.
"That would be worth all the work," said Murray. "I know you can't make a living from swimming but it's always been fun to me. It still is."