Friends, family and the Murray State University community are saddened at the passing of Racer great Bennie Purcell.
Purcell, 86, died Feb. 12, 2016 at his home in Murray, Ky. He was born on Dec. 10, 1929.
Murray State Athletics offers its condolences to Bennie’s sons, Del and Mel and to the Purcell family and its many friends.
“Bennie was a legend. But even more, he was an incredible man.” said Director of Athletics Allen Ward. “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.”
“I am sad to hear we lost a great man and Murray State legend, Bennie Purcell,” said MSU men’s basketball coach Matt McMahon. “It has been an honor and a privilege getting to spend time with him throughout my five years in Murray. I am so grateful for his support and friendship. We could list Bennie’s accomplishments for days, but his true legacy is in all of the people he impacted at Murray State and in our community. He will be missed by many. I send my heartfelt condolences to Coach Mel Purcell and his family.”
“This is a sad day. Murray State lost a Racer legend and a friend in Bennie Purcell,” said Billy Kennedy, head coach at Texas A&M and at Murray State from 2006-11. “Bennie was a one-of-a-kind and I’m so thankful that he was part of my life. I could count on him being there not matter if we won or lost. Bennie was a true friend to me.”
“My family and I are extremely saddened with the passing of Bennie,” said Steve Prohm, head coach at Iowa State and at Murray State from 2011-15. “He had an amazing impact at Murray State both on the court and in the community. He’ll be forever remembered as one of the greatest ambassadors for one of the greatest college basketball programs in the country. He exemplified what it meant to be a Racer and he taught me those qualities when I arrived at MSU. I could not ever thank him enough for his friendship, advice and support during my time in Murray. Katie, Cass and I want to send Mel and his friends and family our thoughts and prayers.”
A native of Mount Vernon, Ill., Purcell proudly carried the Murray State University banner and was often called Mr. MSU.
Purcell’s legend was well known in collegiate basketball and tennis circles as a coach and outstanding player that started from his days of playing basketball for the Racers in the late 1940’s.
Purcell came to Murray State in the fall of 1948 and was one of its best ambassadors.
When the Ohio Valley Conference was formed in 1948, Purcell became one of the league’s superstars and helped the Racers win their first OVC basketball championship in 1951. He was a two-time All-OVC pick and in 1952, was named the most valuable player in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Basketball Tournament (NAIA). In addition, Purcell was an All-America by Converse, United Press International and Associated Press.
Purcell was the first Racer to reach 1,000 career points and was named to the OVC’s 40th anniversary basketball team in 1988. His No. 21 jersey was retired in 1952 and hangs in the rafters of Murray State’s CFSB Center.
After his college career, Purcell toured with the Harlem Globetrotters before returning to Murray to serve as assistant basketball coach under Cal Luther and later became MSU’s tennis coach in 1969.
Purcell was the right coach for the Racer Tennis program. His teams won the OVC title in his first year. It was the first of 11 championships. Purcell’s Racers did something that is still unheard of. They swept an entire decade by winning 10-straight OVC men’s tennis championships in the 1980’s. Purcell was named OVC Coach of the Year eight times.
Up to his death, Bennie was still very active in all things Murray State. He was always ready to share his experiences and memories of his time with the Racers. Purcell often wore his trademark blue blazer to many MSU banquets and gatherings. He was one of the speakers at the first Racer Hoopalooza, the men’s basketball reunion in August. In December, Purcell was on the court with Jeffery Moss, as the first Racer to make 1,000 points presented a trophy ball to the 43rd member of the MSU 1000-Point Club.
Purcell was a six-time hall of fame selection including: National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) (1969), Murray State Athletics (1969), Ohio Valley Conference (1990), Kentucky USTA (1994), Intercollegiate Tennis Association (1999) and Mount Vernon High School (2011).
Information on services for Bennie Purcell will be announced when confirmed.