Thursday, November 03, 2011

Roby Morris - 1964 Highlander - First EHHS Basketball District Championship Team

Roby was our quarterback on the 1962 football championship team and had by then established himself as probably the most accomplished multi-sport athlete at EHHS. I think he was on the varsity football, basketball, and track teams all 3-years he was at Eastern Hills, meaning that he may have accumulated something on the order of 9 varsity letters.

This will be the second article that is substantially written by one of Roby’s 1964 classmates; however, I had some of my own experiences with Roby I wanted to relate. When I arrived at Meadowbrook 8th grade in fall 1958, Roby was already getting quite a bit of attention for his excellence in sports. The picture above was somewhat typical of the coverage he was getting in our school paper. I don’t know about other 1963s, but as an older kid, I was getting my craw full of Roby by the end of our Meadowbrook days. Yep, unvarnished jealousy!

For me, that age was about the first time I had noticed that it was possible that someone younger than me could possibly be better at sports than I was. And at Meadowbrook, it was Roby. Of course, during 7th grade at Richland Jr., I had already been introduced to the notion that someone my own age might be better than I…you see, I was the best athlete in the 6th grade…and that was the last time I was ever the best athlete at any school!

To add insult to my bruised adolescent ego, Roby was also fawned over by the girls of all the classes, both older and younger. Girls were just then becoming more important elements in my life. Good gracious, what a predicament. From my personal perspective Roby got an excessive amount of local press attention which I always thought was coming from the coaches…perhaps that was so, perhaps not—I don’t know.

There was no denying the kid was good at sports; a bit better at basketball than football, but not by much. However, he was also good at carrying himself on field and off. It would have been difficult for other kids that age to bear the amount of adulation he received without becoming an insufferable twerp, but Roby kept his head and humility remarkably well. As the team QB, he was a solid leader and a stellar punter who earned All District Honorable Mention recognition. The following, somewhat more sympathetic paragraphs are from one of his Class of 1964 classmates:

Roby joined us at Meadowbrook Elementary in the 5th grade. His parents lived in a restored farm house way out in the country, in far east Handley, but his parents had a thing about Handley and transferred their three sons to Meadowbrook as soon as they could.

Roby had two older brothers, Jack and Phil. Jack was short but gutsy, and Phil was an outstanding athlete – but Roby was the cream of the crop. Roby’s real name was Robert White Morris III, named after his father (and, I guess, grandfather). Roby’s dad was a Continental Trailways bus driver who was a genius at investments, especially land, and he took an energetic and particular interest in Roby’s athletic achievements – sometimes to Roby’s detriment. I remember his mother as a sweet and generous lady who adored her sons.

Roby was the Babe Ruth of our class – anything which involved physical coordination came naturally to him. He also was smart and good-looking, had a natural charm, and cared about people. The most popular girls and the dorkiest guys got the same treatment from Roby – his full attention. He was very popular, but in a distant sort of way. He always had his own mind.

In 9th grade, in the big game against Handley, Roby played both ways, broke for a long touchdown, and passed for the winning touchdown on a down-out-down to end Randy Blake. As a junior in high school Roby uncorked a 94 yard punt against Carter that tied! the national record. As mentioned before, he led us to a stupendous upset of Paschal in 1962 and a district championship.

But, it was as a basketball player in his senior year in high school that I will always remember him. If you needed a clutch basket, he got it. If you needed a timely steal, or the perfect pass, he did it. If you needed leadership, he supplied it.

All this is leading to the Best Basketball Play I Ever Saw (and at this writing, 2004, it’s been 40 years!). As the prelude, though, I have to describe what was going on in the 4A-5 district in the winter of 1963-64.

Poly High was loaded that year. They had Ronnie Stevenson at point guard (although we had never heard the term at the time), Tommy Horn at the other guard, Don Ballew at forward, Randy Hyde at forward, and big Gene (I’ve forgotten his last name – but he was a glandular case…huge) at center. They should have run away with the district title. 
  We played in district competition that year in two halves – we played each other once for the first half title, and then played each other again for the second half title. The winners of each half, if different, played each other for the district title. Poly won the first half going away.

Our coach was Johnny Howerton --- an intense, intense man who was a superb coach. He had played for, ironically, Poly High in their championship season of 1952-53. Our starters our senior year were Roby Morris at point guard, Duane Williams or Ward Ericson at the other guard, David Richardson and Wayne Templeton at forward, and Roy Burklow (a genuine character) at center. The latter three were our tallest players, at 6’2”.

I was involved in all this because, although tall by this time, I was remarkably uncoordinated (I still am – tall and uncoordinated) and was the manager for the team. A manager in 1964 threw out towels and kept score.

Our team won the second half because of three remarkable events: we almost beat Poly with Howerton’s weave offense (giving us the idea they could be beaten), Heights beat Poly, and we beat Heights.

It was against Heights that I made my major contribution for the year. As I said, the manager always kept score of the game, although the official score was kept by an adult in the employ of the Fort Worth public schools. With seconds to go in the Heights game, we were ahead by one point; Heights got the ball, and called time out. I looked at my score book, and Heights was out of time outs. I alerted Jack Billingsley, the official scorer. The Heights coach, Joe Prater, heard me and wheeled around. Coach Howerton jumped straight up. Both referees came running over to the official scorer. Mr. Billingsley looked at his score book, announced “He’s right!” Too many time outs called for a technical foul. Roby sank the technical; we got the ball out of bounds, made another shot, and won the game. Howerton gave me a big hug, but I don’t think the team ever had any idea what role I played in that win.

So, it came down to the playoff game for the district championship between Poly and Eastern Hills.

Poly came out hot and jumped to a 14-3 lead, largely on set shots from the top of the key by Stevenson. It got so ridiculous that Tommy Horn ran out to Stevenson, grabbed the ball from him, and sank his own set shot – he wanted some of the action.

Coach Howerton called time out. I don’t remember what he said, but it was uncharacteristically low-key. It worked, and the team came out to rally to 14-13. Then came The Play. Don Ballew flipped a long pass to the near sideline which Burklow intercepted and tossed to the middle in front of an alert and streaking Roby. Burklow came back in to fill the left lane, David Richardson took the right lane, and we had a classic 3-on-1 break against Stevenson. Roby feinted to his right, passed behind his back to Burklow, who hot-dogged a right-handed reverse layup for the lead. The crowd went nuts. We were never behind after that, and won the game 52-43.

I should explain that passing behind the back was unheard of in those days and frowned upon as a low-percentage play. Likewise the reverse layup – we had been trained to lay up with the left hand from the left side. Burklow was just being Burklow, as was Roby Morris.

Roby received two athletic scholarship offers – one to punt for Darrell Royal at Texas, and the other to play basketball at SMU. His brothers were already attending Texas, so we figured he would go there, but he chose SMU instead. His college career was average, but he majored in Chemistry and ended up with some big oil firm. He lived for awhile in Venezuela, then moved to Houston.

He has never attended any of our high school reunions. 


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