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Rod Morgan in Elkhart Truth

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Athletics plays big role for longtime multi-sport official Morgan



Steve Krah






Sometimes a lifetime pursuit boils down to one encounter.


For Rod Morgan, it was one mischievous moment that set him on a different path.


It was 1975 and Morgan, then a Central High School sophomore, looked like he was on his way to two weeks detention unless he accepted Blue Blazer coach Rollie Hoover?s invitation to come out for wrestling instead of the punishment.


Morgan took the Hall of Famer?s advice and gained another athletic love.


?After football I had too much free time,? says Morgan. ?That one decision (to wrestle) got me down the right road. Football and wrestling kept me out of trouble and kept me competitive. It kept me focused.?


Morgan, who transferred to Memorial in the middle of his sophomore year (the same year he joined Jim Rice, Archie Norris and Tim Flora to set a track school record in the mile relay ? 3:20 ? that stood for 30 years), graduated as a Crimson Charger in 1978.


After placing fourth in the state at 167 pounds for Memorial wrestling coach Al Reames as a senior, Morgan went on to play football and wrestle at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa.


During college, Morgan was introduced to the official?s whistle ? a natural progression for the dedicated athlete.


Decades later, he?s still blowing whistles and making calls.


Morgan?s ?love of the game? keeps him around scholastic athletics as an official of five different sports: football and soccer in the fall, wrestling and basketball in the winter and softball in the spring and summer, all while joining wife Jeanette to raise nine children and working third shift then first shift at Parker Hannifin Corp. (formerly Goshen Rubber Co.).


He worked varsity football with Dale Tafelski?s crew before taking this fall off so he could attend games with Jeanette and granddaughter Makaya Young (who plays freshman volleyball at Central).


Morgan, a longtime member of the St. Joseph Valley Officials Association, credits mentors like Hall of Famers Jeff Colborn (wrestling) and Bob Kania (football) as well as Roger and Anne Griffith (softball) for pushing him in the right direction.


He has watched wrestling change in the last three decades. Overtime periods were three minutes when he competed and are now three 30-second periods and there is a real emphasis on action.


?We want to see more action,? says Morgan. ?We didn?t come to see dancing bears. We came to see wrestling.We want to see the kids take chances. We reward kids that stick their nose in there.?


While it is rewarding in many ways, Morgan also learned long ago that officiating can be a thankless job.


He recalls working one junior high wrestling meet and found himself being pelted by a purse and a mother screaming, ?Let my baby go!? when one kid had another in a ?guilotine? but could not finish off a pin.


Then there?s ?The Call That Woke Up The World.?


It happened a decade ago. To avoid being asked to umpire because he wanted to just enjoy the game, Morgan purposely arrived three minutes late for a District 14 Little League baseball championship game involving his son. Sean Morgan was playing for Cleveland, and the sons of his boss and a friend were representing Concord.


The strategy did not work. When nobody else made themselves available, Morgan was begged and he agreed to work the bases.


?I regret every minute of it now,? says Morgan.


On a play at first, Morgan admits that he got caught being a spectator and did not make any call at first.


He relaxed for a split second.


When he snapped out of it, he made a safe call he immediately knew was wrong but figured his partner would bail him out. The other man made it unanimous.


Then who should be the batter with Cleveland trailing by a run with that runner on first but Sean Morgan. The boy clouted a game-winning home run and sent his team to the regional and wrath came down on his father.


?You don?t think the crowd went berserk?? says Morgan. ?That?s one call that haunts me to this day.


?But what can I do as the umpire but just take it? When I put on that shirt, I know I?m going to take criticism. You?ve got to have deaf ears. You pay attention to your partner and keep your eyes on the coaches and players. Once you start paying attention to the crowd, it takes you out of the game.?


Career officiating highlights for Morgan include the IHSAA State Finals in team wrestling and six ASA fastpitch nationals, but he gets just as much satisfaction from working a junior high event.


?I love to be involved,? says Morgan, who turns 53 in October. ?I love to see the young boys and girls participate and show their athleticism.?


Seeing the wide-eyed expression of a junior high player making an interception excites Morgan because ?that one play might change that kid?s whole life.?


He should know.




Steve Krah is a sportwriter for The Elkhart Truth. Contact him at skrah@etruth.com.

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