Maybe you haven’t heard of Ed Murrell, but you might have heard him. He’s the voice of track and field in Utah — high school and college — and before that he was the voice of football and basketball for Cottonwood and Hunter high schools. That adds up to about 25 years on the mic.
He was on the job again last week — sharing the mic with PA partner Mark Wayment — during the three-day state high school championships at BYU. On Saturday alone there were 12 races for almost every event on the track — six for the girls, six for the boys, 1A to 6A classifications — spread over about 12 hours.
Murrell has become such a familiar voice that athletes actually stop by the press box to meet him and put the voice with a face. Sitting in the crowd, you’ll hear remarks such as, “This guy has been doing this a long time.”
What no one knew all these years is that he had a severe stutter well into adulthood.
The stutter was so bad that merely having a conversation with someone “scared the hell out of me,” he says.
Now he speaks to thousands of people. Murrell himself pauses occasionally to marvel at this ironic turn of events. “Who would have thought?” he says.
He had the experiences you might expect for someone with such an affliction. The other kids taunted him in grade school and junior high. He underwent a year of therapy in third grade, but it didn’t fix anything and that was the end of that.
“It’s just something I dealt with on my own,” he says.
It took him years to overcome it. It dogged him until he was nearly 30 years old. He recalls watching a televised interview with Lester Hayes, the former Oakland Raiders cornerback, following the 1984 Super Bowl.
“He had a horrible stutter,” says Murrell. “They kept talking to him, and I could see he was stuck. He couldn’t answer the questions; he couldn’t get it out. I felt so bad for him. I ached for him. They wouldn’t take the camera off him. They wouldn’t change to something else. I thought it was just so unfair.”
When Murrell decided to make a career switch to education and teach for a living in the public school system, he realized he would really have to conquer his stutter. Through sheer willpower he did just that. It pops up every now and then in conversation, but put a classroom or a microphone and a track in front of him and he’s Hot Rod Hundley.
Murrell taught history to high school students — talk about a tough crowd — for 18 years before he switched to counseling. He also coached the track and cross-country teams at Cottonwood and Hunter high schools. He retired a few years ago after 31 years in education.
Along the way he fell into — of all things — announcing basketball and football games. And then a decade ago he began announcing track meets for college and high school meets at BYU. He drives to Provo from his home in St. George and announces the meets for gas and hotel money.
During his introspective moments, Murrell will tell you how grateful he is for the life he has; he is grateful for the simplest things — a middle-class lifestyle, a car, a home, food, golf and of course his beloved wife, Karen. He grew up poor, one of nine kids living in an 800-square-foot home in inner city Indianapolis. Unable to make the school’s basketball team — ranked No. 1 in the state at the time — he searched for, as he puts it, “something to do with my life.”
He joined the school track and cross-country teams merely hoping to earn a letter sweater. He was not a natural runner; he was a grinder. He had the ability to overcome or ignore pain and push on. He was an also-ran until his senior year, when he found enough success to encourage him to take the next step. He walked on the team at Ball State University and by his sophomore year he was the team’s top two-mile runner. He continued to run competitively well into his 30s and was one of the top road racers in Utah. His crowning achievement was winning the St. George Marathon.
Having traded running and coaching for golf and Lee Child novels, he has retained one connection to the familiar world of running: announcing track meets. For the state’s track athletes, he has been part of the experience. Jaslyn Gardner, who set high school state records in the sprints and then set school records at BYU, stopped by the press box with her parents one day just to meet Murrell.
“I just wanted to come up here and thank you for announcing all my races in high school and college,” she said.
Anna Camp and Courtney Wayment, two former Utah prep stars who went on to become national champions at BYU, said much the same thing to him, noting that he was the voice that accompanied many of their victories.
“I’ve enjoyed being a small part of these events,” says Murrell, a genial man who makes friends everywhere. “I could never have imagined that I would do the things I’ve done, coming from where I did. I’m grateful for everything that I’ve been able to do in life and for everything I have.”
Deseret News columnist Doug Robinson has been coaching high school track for 30 years, most recently at Corner Canyon this year after 25 years at Alta.