Bert F. Morris, who died on Christmas Day, may be remembered as a retired Kanawha County schools administrator or as a Dunbar city councilman. I knew him as "Coach," a humble man who made a difference in many young lives.
Morris was head basketball coach at Spring Hill Junior High School, which I entered in 1963 as a little squirt. I loved basketball and tried out my first year. I was promptly cut by the seventh-grade coach. Height was a major problem.
I was disappointed and figured basketball wasn't in the cards. But the following spring Coach Morris came to me and asked if I would go with him during gym class to an outdoor basketball court near Chestnut Street. He rounded up some eighth and ninth graders to play some 4-on-4.
I didn't know what was going on, but I could tell Coach was evaluating me. Well, in the eighth grade, I made the team and sat on the bench all year. In the ninth grade, I started.
I never saw Coach Morris again after junior high. I never understood what happened in the spring of seventh grade. He really didn't know me, so why did he pick me for this?
A couple of years ago, a very clear realization came to me that fully explained that experience. My understanding is a remarkable testimony to Coach's open mindedness and propensity to encourage others. It is because of Coach Morris that I was able to play basketball in junior high and high school. I still play to this day.
Basketball has been a blessing. Throughout my adult life, basketball enabled me to gain close, lifelong, personal friends. It also substantially helped me in my working career, with many relationships built on the court.
Coach Morris went out of his way to encourage me. He single-handedly built my confidence to play a sport that positively influenced me for the rest of my life.
My story is just one example of how this fine man's touch and light had a long-lasting impact on so many students who were privileged to know him.
Keith D. Roberts