Passion for the Game

On May 18, 2013, my dad was elected into Roxbury High School’s inaugural Athletics Hall of Fame. Since my parents were in Florida, they were unable to attend. Michael, my younger brother, and I presented and accepted this incredible honor on his behalf. The following two posts are the speeches written for the occasion. 
 

As a history teacher at Dover High School, I thought it might be fitting to start with the words of President Calvin Coolidge, who said, “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Roxbury Athletic Hall of Fame committee, and Gael’s fans everywhere, my name is Michael Morgan, and I am honored to introduce the next nominee, my father: Bob Morgan.

Physical activity and sports were always my Dad’s passion. From as early as he can remember, he loved being a student of whatever game was in season. Through discipline, hard work, practice, outstanding coaching and great teammates, my father became a “triple threat,” excelling at football, basketball and baseball during his time as a player at Roxbury High School from 1958-1961.  

His accomplishments were impressive at the time and seem even more so in retrospect. As a three-sport athlete myself, I’m in awe reading the list of my dad’s achievements. Let me brag a little about him: My dad earned 12 Varsity Letters during his four years at Roxbury, playing varsity football, basketball, and baseball as a freshman all the way through to graduation.

Football 

Football was my dad’s lifetime love – from playing to coaching to cheering me on, to watching college and pro ball on TV. There isn’t a fall weekend that goes by that football isn’t front and center. My dad played quarterback, linebacker and punter during his days as a Gael. When he was a sophomore, he led his team to win the Group II Section 2 title. He was also named 1st Team All Morris County in both 1960 & ‘61 and second team all Group II, as well.

While these accolades were impressive, that isn’t what sticks in my dad’s mind when he talks about his Roxbury football career. Instead, it’s his coaches and the support that they gave him. These men made a tremendous difference in my dad’s life and served as the models for his own style as a coach. Bob Schiffner, his head coach and mentor, was a father figure and lifetime friend. Rich Mirschak, the backfield coach, was relentless with his conditioning and “peeloffs.” My Dad never forgot Rich’s adage, which served him well throughout his life: “Perfect fundamentals result in perfect execution.”

He remembers beating the Gael’s archenemies – Dover and Hackettstown – with thousands of fans cheering his team on. On a personal note, I want to share a little irony with you: my dad was very supportive of my own athletic career with the Hackettstown Tigers, and rarely missed one of my football, basketball or baseball games. He also rooted me on when I served as head coach of the Dover Tigers’ football and basketball teams. Underneath it all, though, I knew he had to fight through his own hatred of both of those former rivals to cheer me on. And while I don’t think he would list tiger as his least favorite animal anymore, Blue and Gold always pumped through his veins and still does.

My dad went on to play football at Syracuse University for Coach Ben Schwartzwalder, where he was linebacker. As a senior, he started during six games, and his team went on to play LSU in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. My Aunt Judy remembers watching the game and seeing my dad on television. He played with a pretty special group of teammates at Syracuse. My parents enjoyed watching the movie The Express, which featured the Hollywood-version of his teammate Ernie Davis’s life, tragically ended too soon. And my dad cheers as his teammate Coach Tom Coughlin leads the Giants to victory each Sunday afternoon – that is when we’re lucky.

Basketball

Even though football was my Dad’s lifetime love, believe it or not, basketball was his favorite sport. Don Manning was his coach, as well as his fifth grade teacher. When he was a senior, their team won the championship, and he set the high school scoring record with 1,029 career points. He remains Roxbury High School’s second leading scorer. He credits his unselfish teammates with this accomplishment. Scoring over a thousand points was something of a family tradition, which my cousin Lisa Fiorello, Jim’s daughter, and I both followed during our high school basketball careers. My dad would tease the two of us that while our numbers were impressive, when he did it, they only played 18 games a season and there were no three-pointers. While it annoyed me at the time, of course he had a point, and now that I’m older, it helps to put his record into perspective. He had to average nearly 16 points a game every game for four years to break that record! Pretty amazing. When my dad was teaching me the fundamentals of basketball, we were competitive with one another. We would play tough games of one-on-one, horse and any other game you could think of. When he would win, my mom would often shake her head and mutter under her breath, “Bob – you really are the Great Santini.”

Baseball

My dad was darned good at Baseball too. He pitched and played third base and his team won the Jersey Hills Conference in1958. He was so good that he drew the attention of pro scouts at an early age and they followed him throughout his high school career. His coach, Andy George, taught my dad discipline in hitting and fielding, as well as how to handle the pressure of the game.

Teaching & Coaching

In addition to being an excellent baseball coach, Andy George also changed my dad’s life when he hired him to teach Physical Education and Health at Roxbury High School. He was honored work alongside his good friends and his former teachers and coaches. He also coached football with Jim Fiorello. He fondly remembers their long meetings, which resulted in great success. Their coaching philosophy was on always doing things the right way and never taking the easy path. Teaching great players and athletes always made coaching challenging and enjoyable for my dad. Beating Montclair with a curl/pitch and going to state finals twice against Union are two vivid memories for my dad. I can still remember him wearing a “Beat the Farmers” t-shirt when he mowed the lawn years after those big games.

In closing, I come back to Coolidge’s quote, “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” My dad got so much out of being a Roxbury Gael. And, while I know there are lots of Gael’s fans here tonight, I would be challenged to find a bigger Roxbury fan than my dad. He gave his life to the Blue and Gold – as a player, a teacher, and a coach. On behalf of my dad and my entire family, thank you for recognizing and honoring his tremendous achievements and commitment to Roxbury High School.

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