By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When John Murphy and his daughter, Shannon, drove past a sign advertising sign-ups for the Somers Point Sharks football program about 10 years ago, he asked Shannon if she was interested in playing the sport he grew up loving and played in college. She said, “sure.”
Shannon Murphy played football — a girl playing a predominantly boys sport — all the way up until about fifth grade. She eventually gave it up in favor of soccer, basketball and softball, but it’s easy to see now why Murphy is one of the toughest athletes in South Jersey.
“People are always surprised when I tell them I played football for the Sharks,” Murphy said. “My dad played for Towson University. I remember sitting in the car with him one day driving past sign-ups. He asked me if I wanted to sign up, and I said, ‘yeah, why not?’ I didn’t really think too much of it when I was little, but looking back on it now it seems kind of crazy. I fit in with all the guys, though, and a few times I knocked a kid pretty hard. Nobody really wanted to mess with me. Nobody knew I was a girl until I took my helmet off.”
Murphy has used the toughness she learned on the football field to become a key member of three teams for the Cougars. She’s a goalie on the soccer team, a forward on the basketball team, and a catcher in softball. Fellow senior Dakota Hitchner, who recently scored her 2,000th career point and is the pitcher for the softball team, draws most of the headlines that come out of the small Christian school in Egg Harbor township, but basketball coach Pam Hitchner said Murphy is one of the most valuable athletes at the school.
“Murphy is so solid for us. I always call her our unsung hero. She gets rebounds for us, extra possessions. She hits threes for us,” said coach Hitchner, who also is Dakota’s mom. “She and Dakota started playing AAU together when they were 11 years old, and from then on the two of them been playing together. She ended up coming to our school her freshman year after going to Bel Haven Middle School (in Linwood). We’re really grateful she came here, she’s such a solid player.”
Murphy said it wasn’t easy to choose Atlantic Christian over her hometown school of Mainland, but she feels as though she made the right choice.
“I started playing AAU basketball in seventh grade under Pam Hitchner. I went away to camp with her high school team over two summers and got close with that group of girls, so I thought Atlantic Christian would be a great place for me. I’m so excited with where I am now. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’m glad God worked it out that I could go to a school where we are basically one big family. We all support each other, and that’s awesome,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t be getting as vigorous athletic competition going to ACS, but I just felt comfortable and I felt like that was the place God was calling me to go. It was a hard decision, but it’s been well worth it.”
Murphy’s siblings haven’t followed suit, however, as her younger sister currently is a sophomore at Mainland and her younger brother, now at Bel Haven Middle School, plans to enroll at Mainland as well. But ACS has been the right choice for Shannon, she said, and she’s already been accepted to a couple of colleges, where she plans to study social work and possibly become a school counselor one day.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to go and play (college ball), but recently I’ve stepped back from thinking about that,” the 18-year-old said. “I’ve gotten accepted to Liberty University and Eastern for academics. If I get to play, that would be awesome, but if not, that’s OK, too.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN