TEXARKANA, Texas Gerald Ross Morgan championed girls athletics but never allowed his female players to shy away from a challenge.
Coach Morgan would often say, "you're throwing like a girl, hitting like a girl, running like a girl, shooting that basketball like a girl," to his female athletes. He challenged them to be the best version of themselves, and that spilled out into their daily lives.
Morgan died Tuesday in a local hospital. He was 74.
Despite retiring 22 years ago after an illustrious teaching and coaching career which spanned three decades, Morgan still would be involved in youth and high school athletics. Whether coaching a youth team, like he did in the fall with his daughter, Missy Morgan Lyda, or officiating prep sports, Morgan's love for athletics and the kids lasted a lifetime.
He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Dr. Pat Morgan, his daughter, two sons and daughters-in-law, Dwayne and Karen Webb, and Bary and Amber Morgan, nine grandchildren and numerous other relatives and loved ones.
Morgan joined the Army in 1968, spending two years in Vietnam, and was a sergeant when he left the service in 1971. During his service he was awarded several accolades, including National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with Silver Service Star, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Civil Actions Medal, Expert Rifleman, and his most honorable award the Bronze Star.
He attended Texarkana College, received his Bachelor's from Henderson State University and a Master's in education and administration from East Texas State University (now Texas A&M University-Texarkana).
Morgan's coaching career started at College Hill Junior High, he went on to coach at Arkansas High School, at Bloomburg, Texas, and finally Hooks, Texas, where he remained until his retirement in 1998.
"Coach (Morgan) practiced tough love," Texas High head volleyball coach Melissa Hardy said about her high school coach. "He loved all of his kids, and he did everything he could to help all of his kids. He pushed us to the extreme; he believed in us when we didn't believe in ourselves.
"He came to talk to my parents about how athletics could be an avenue to get a college education. He helped build that character. I remember we went to a tournament at Henderson State, and we were losing in the morning bracket. He took us outside, right before we played, and we ran hills. Five minutes later, we were back on the court, and we didn't lose a game after that. We were mentally tough, playing for him."
Morgan had a unique talent of being loving and stern with his players. Many described how he made them laugh, would sling chairs across the gym floor, throw whistles, but they never doubted he cared for them.
"Coach Morgan taught all his kids more about life than sports," said Kerry Kirkpatrick Meredith, who played for Morgan at Hooks and had two children coached by him. "He loved God and wanted us to succeed in whatever we did, even more so than winning. He never gave up on anyone and pushed them to be their best.
"All the bear crawls, wall sits, crab leg, and bleacher workouts had a purpose and we all survived! We may have puked a whole lot, but we did them! He was the greatest coach and mentor anyone could ever have! He attended my daughter's first basketball championship game and coached both of my kids in basketball. I will truly carry all the memories of him close to my heart forever."
Sindy McJunkins Lunsford was a student at College Hill Junior High when Morgan started his coaching career. She remembers Coach Morgan was a football coach, and the only girls athletic programs at the school at that time were track and field.
"Before the first morning bell of school we would all meet in the gym. I would find my way to the basketball court and shoot hoops," Lunsford said. "He saw me one day and told me I needed to work on my form. He would jokingly tell me I shot like a girl. He would work with me almost everyday until I became a sophomore and attended Arkansas High school.
"The girls volleyball and basketball programs started my 10th grade year and I played both sports. I made the varsity team as a sophomore all because he helped me become a great shooter."
The next year, Morgan was named the girls head basketball coach at AHS.
"He was tough but encouraging, kind but firm, had high expectations but fair," Lunsford said. "He worked us hard. We might of heard a whistle or two sail by our heads if we were goofing off or not playing to our potential. He taught us that discipline and hard work would get us far in life and that actions had consequences. We have stayed in contact ever since I was in junior high."
Heidi Martin Cox has been a lifelong family friend of the Morgans. She recalled that Coach Morgan took the time to teach her how to hit a fastpitch softball after only slowpitch had been played in the state of Arkansas up to her graduation.
"He was one of my daddy's best friends, and so he's always been Uncle Ross to me," said Cox, who has been head coach at Arkansas High, assistant at Texas High and is currently head coach in Benton. "I never got the opportunity to be coached by him, per say, as he had left Arkansas High before I got there. But for a tryout at Texarkana College, he taught me everything I needed to know.
"All the success I have had in my softball career, from a player to a coach, it was jump-started from him. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to have been blessed by him."
The number of lives Morgan influenced reaches far and wide.
Tiffany Ruth Halter also played for Morgan at Hooks.
"There were times when I loved him dearly and there were times when I 'thought' I hated him," she said. "Usually the dislike was probably during a lesson that we were being taught which involved pain, sweat, and some screaming. Or maybe when he was right there in the gym yelling my last name RUTH because I had made a mistake and he would continue to yell it even louder over and over when I wouldn't turn and look at him! At the time, I didn't realize he was molding me into a disciplined young lady and teaching me values.
"He was the person that helped my mom give me some of the worst news I have ever been told. He grabbed me and held tight as I let out my physical emotions. He took care of me and he pushed me even harder to succeed and overcome sadness that last year of school. He has taught me so much about life and about myself. Self worth, integrity, team work, honesty, faith, perseverance, humbleness, family, hard work pays off, winning, commitments, are just a few I can name. Coach has left an impression in my life and I will be forever grateful for him."
Amy Davis also developed a lifelong friendship with Coach Morgan.
"This man laughed harder and had more passion for life than anyone I know," Davis said. "As I look back over the years from the first time I met coach Morgan, as a third grader playing pee wee basketball, until the last time I spoke with him as an adult, which was just a few weeks ago, the word that comes to my mind is mentor. We were coach and player, then friends for all these years. Coach Morgan was one of the greatest influences in my life and someone I sought advice from over and over because I could always count on him to tell me the truth. I loved him dearly, as I know so many whose lives he impacted feel the same way. He taught me to be tough and always fight for what I wanted in life.
"When I was 8 years old we were playing the last game of a winning season. He looked at me and said, 'It's the fourth quarter, 10 seconds on the clock, 2 points behind and the ball is your hands. What are you going to do?' He repeated those exact words to me many times over the last three decades as life took its twists and turns, gracefully helping me to transition from an unsure young girl to a confident woman. Those are the words that I live by and that have propelled me forward to reach my goals."
Even after retiring, Morgan never stopped teaching.
Taylor Hardin, a standout at Fouke High School over the last three years and recent signee with Texas A&M University-Texarkana, took lessons from Coach Morgan.
"Ross started working with my daughter about six years ago; We did privates one day a week to work on her basketball skills," Hardin's mother, Sabrina Henderson said. "His love and knowledge for the game helped her fall in love with the sport. He pushed her, mentally and physically. My husband believes that if he would have told her she could fly she would of started flapping her arms right then.
"They had a great relationship, he knew just how to get on her level to get her to reach her actual potential. Many times we would just go see him just to get a tweaking, he would say there's nothing wrong with your shot Taylor, it's the four inches between the ears that's causing your shots not to fall. Taylor learned so much from him, and it wasn't just basketball, it was life stuff. He never finished a session without giving her some sort of advice. How to be an athlete on and off the court."
Jan Shaw Grannis played for Morgan at Bloomburg.
"Coach not only taught us about basketball but he shared many lessons that carried over into life," Grannis, or Squeaky/,/ as he nicknamed her, said. "He was hard on us but only because he knew we could always do better than we were giving him. He was strict but loving at the same time. He taught us discipline and hard work is the only way you will get ahead in life and to never give up on your dreams."