Lure of coaching keeps Earle Morris active in the game he loves
One of a series of stories of conversations with ex-cadets from Royal Military College, as they reflect on their time at the college, their sporting endeavours and what they’ve been up to since graduation.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
This was supposed to be a quiet winter for Earle Morris. After coaching the Team Canada women’s curling team through a grueling Olympic year, the ex-Royal Military College cadet was looking forward to stepping back from the grind.
Then, one day, the phone rang at his Ottawa home.
“There was this muffled voice at the end of the line saying, ‘Can I speak to Maureen, please,’” Morris recalled, so he passed the phone to his wife. “She talked for a while and she handed it back to me.”
This time, Morris recognized the undisguised voice on the other end as that of his son, John, a member of the 2010 Olympic champion Canadian men’s curling team. He’d recently been named skip of Team Canada for the 2014-15 campaign.
“He said, ‘Hey dad it’s John; I just talked to mom and she says it’s OK if you coach us.’”
The younger Morris no doubt recognized how tempting the opportunity to coach his son would be for his father, but he also understood the depth of commitment it was going to require and how that would impact his mother.
“He was really smart,” Earle said.
“I was going to try to take a year off because, though it’s always demanding, it’s really demanding in an Olympic year,” he continued. “You’re travelling a lot and the stakes are really high and you work so hard because there’s nothing more important than representing your country in the Olympics. We took it really seriously, I had girls who took leave of absence from their work and quit their jobs because we were trying to win an Olympic medal.”
Rachel Homan’s rink didn’t qualify for the Olympics—it was third at the Canadian trial—but it came back to win the Canadian championship and was runner-up at last spring’s world championship.
When John called he explained the men’s team would have a limited schedule and therefore would require a reduced commitment from its coach. “It was hard to say no, especially since it was my son who’s the skip of that team.”
Earle Morris was born in Rosthern, Sask. Raised by his grandparents until he was 13, he moved with his mother and stepfather, an NCO in the armed forces, to CFS Senneterre, in northern Quebec. From such unlikely origins the path to RMC began.
“I remember having lunch one day and my mom put a brochure in front of me, and said, ‘What do you think of this?’ I looked at the brochure and probably after about three minutes I said, ‘Looks good to me.’
“That was in Grade 9 and from that point on, I was going to military college. It was that simple. I’m from small-town Saskatchewan and pretty much anything would have caught my eye. It was a colourful brochure and there were guys in uniform. I’d just moved to the military base and I liked it because in small-town Saskatchewan you don’t have a whole bunch of facilities. The radar station at Senneterre had a gym, it had a pool, it had an outdoor rink. Life was pretty good. I said ‘Hey, if this is what it’s like, I’m on my way.’”
Morris began his studies in electrical engineering, but he quickly realized that wasn’t for him. “The marks were certainly indicating that,” he said, “and, truth be known, my interest always lay in fitness, sports and recreation.
“Not having done a bunch of homework, once I got there I realized, ‘Gee, I can’t get a phys-ed degree here,’ but I kind of liked the lifestyle. It was interesting; there was lots of sports and I was comfortable around the military so basically I saw that through.”
Morris graduated with a science degree, all the while doing what he could to position himself to be a physical education and recreation officer, an appointment he quickly managed to secure. “I did that for about 25 years and loved every minute of it,” he said. He later worked for Sport Canada and returned to DND as a reserve officer and consultant. He was part of creating the Forces’ personal support program and ended up as director of recreation and youth services.
Curling, he said, was always in the mix.
“My grandfather taught me how to curl,” he said. “As I grew up in Saskatchewan, I spent time around the curling rink, as most Saskatchewan kids do. He’d gone to the Brier so he was particularly good and I just developed a real keenness for it.
“I never got to play at Senneterre, then I moved to RCAF Station Edgar as a PMQ brat and I went to high school in Barrie. I only played one year in high school but that fire for curling never diminished.”
Morris was a varsity curler at RMC for all four years. It was there that his commitment to curling was cemented.
“When I graduated, I said, ‘You know what? There are curling rinks all across the country in the military, and I’m going to start skipping and really dedicate myself to this,’ because it’s something that I really enjoy.
As a player, Morris says he had “decent success”—he was the first of only two men ever to skip champions from three different provinces at the Brier—but where he ended up having his most success was as a coach.
“It all goes back to my love of the game,” he said. “Success can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it, but if you start by being passionate about something, and then you dream big as part of that passion, and you surround yourself with great people … and this is Canada. In Canada, anything is possible, especially in the curling area, because we’re the best curling country in the world. That was very apparent to me, that there could be good things accomplished.”
John Morris won a world junior championship with his father as coach, and Homan was a silver medalist at both the world junior and world women’s competitions.
There weren’t a lot of coaching mentors when Earle was in his competitive heyday. “Curling was late to get to coaching,” he allowed, “and there’s still a challenge in that area, because a lot of the great skips, the Jeff Stoughtons and Glenn Howards, they know more than most coaches. As a result, there aren’t a whole bunch of guys who do a whole bunch of coaching because these other guys know strategy probably better than most coaches.”
What led him to coach in a sport without a history of it?
“When I was a young phys-ed officer, I did a little bit of youth coaching in curling side, I coached some flag football in Chatham. I just enjoyed working with youth. As your family grows up, we were always proponents of being involved in sport. The next thing that happens is you say, ‘It looks like you need coaches,’ so you jump in and help.”
In that context, Morris found himself at various times coaching soccer, hockey, fastball—and curling.
“I found I really enjoyed working with youth and I found that I seemed to have a knack for it. I found that if you are passionate about the sport, and you’ve got relatively good people skills and then if you have played the sport at a high level, you are able to say the things and teach the things that are going to make a difference. It evolved that my teams would have success so I stuck with it.”
Morris recalls his time at RMC fondly.
“For the longest time it was easy to say it was the best time of my life,” he said. “There’s such an espirit de corps, a camaraderie that you get in the military, but also when you’re young and you’re involved in athletics, and you’re doing summer training and you’re socializing—man that was a nice package.”
In addition to curling, Morris was the goaltender on the junior varsity hockey team and he played intramural football. Later, a shortstop and pitcher, he was a member of two national Forces championship fastball teams.
“I had fabulous times playing sports and socializing in Kingston was great. RMC guys and the nurses at the nurses residence had a lot in common. We had uniforms, we had curfews, so we tended to socialize with them, and summer training in the military was a blast. I got to go to Europe one summer, for heaven’s sake.
“There are nothing but fabulous memories, especially for a guy who spent most of his life in a small town in Saskatchewan and northern Quebec. To come to a city like Kingston and live the kind of life that we lived—man, oh man, it was great.”
Morris and his wife, who have lived in Ottawa since 1983, have three children. Marie, the oldest, attended RMC and served as a health-care administrator. She recently retired as a major and now serves in the reserves. Sarah teaches high school phys-ed in Ottawa and John is a captain in the fire department in Rocky View, Alta., outside Calgary.
“As I’ve often said to anybody who would listen,” Morris said, “if I’m not the luckiest guy in the world, I’m tied for first place.”
Coming soon: My fresh, new site to follow club, high school and university sport in the Kingston area. Watch for http://www.sportkingston.ca, launching Monday, Dec. 1.