BY JAMES HARPER
Fred Morrell has been coaching others ever since he was a teenager.
Thirty-five years ago, he came upon a job that would allow him to be paid for what he enjoyed doing the most – working with and coaching children.
Last week, Morrell retired as an employee with the Daytona Beach Leisure Services Department where he had the opportunity to touch the lives of thousands of youth through his work at the former Cypress Street Recreation Center and now at the Midtown Cultural and Education Center and the John H. Dickerson Center.
Morrell, 59, said though he is retiring as a city recreation specialist, he will not be retiring from working with and coaching children.
“I may now not be getting paid. I’ll get my rewards other ways,” said Morrell, who was honored and recognized recently by friends, coworkers and several of the young men whose lives he has touched over the years.
Keith Willis, recreation coordinator for the Midtown Cultural and Education Center, spoke at a Dec. 13 dinner held at the center in Morrell’s honor.
Willis credited Morrell with helping him make it through college in Atlanta back in the early 1980s.
“Fred took me under his wings and said he would work with me every day. He was my only father figure,” Willis remarked.
“He gave me his telephone number when I went away to college and told me to call him every Saturday. He was the only one I called every Saturday. That was 28 years ago,” said Willis, who said that while in college Morrell would continue to help him financially, allowing him to eventually graduate with an engineering degree.
Willis chose to follow in Morrell’s footsteps and got a job with the city.
Taught wise lesson
Terry Johnson, also a recreation leader with the city, said Morrell also helped to raise him.
Morrell taught him a good lesson, Johnson related, when he wouldn’t allow him to go play with a team he was coaching because he was the youngest on the team and would have another opportunity to play in the future.
Johnson said he was upset with Morrell at the time because he knew he was better than some of the other players and vowed he would never play for Morrell again.
Johnson said the incident motivated him to work harder and made him an even better player.
“He saw something in me. He pushed me. Taught me a lesson,” Johnson noted.
‘Learned from the best’
Dwayne Myer, now a coach at Warner Christian Academy, and a former city employee said everybody called him “Little Fred.”
“He was my coach. I didn’t want to coach against him. I learned from the best. I keep my car full of kids today,” said Myers, remembering when Morrell used to transport him and others to different games to compete.
Orlando’s Recreation Department Division Manager Rodney Williams, who once worked as Morrell’s supervisor in Daytona Beach, traveled from Orlando to honor Morrell.
“Fred is a pioneer. I never met anyone else who is as passionate about what he does. He takes kids and exposes them to them to things. His motivation is not the dollar. He wasn’t motived by money. This is the house that Fred built,’’ Williams said, referring to the Midtown Cultural and Education Center, which was completed this year to replace the Cypress Street Recreation Center where Morrell worked most of his time as a city employee.
Started coaching at 16
Morrell considers himself a dinosaur in the department, noting that “a lot of changes didn’t set right with me” in explaining why he decided to retire at this time.
However, Morell said he has no regrets and is grateful he has worked with the city the past 35 years.
Morrell said one reason he loves coaching is because he also didn’t have a father figure growing up.
“When I was 16, I volunteered doing little league as a coach. Coaching got in my blood and I couldn’t get it out. The job became my life,” he said noting that he already has a track and field program waiting for him which has been running without city help.
“Kids got in my heart. Couldn’t get them out. I gave up going to college, hung with the city,” said Morrell, who has never married or had children of his own.
Vincent Terry, who worked with Morrell at the Dickerson Center, said his friend and coworker is dedicated to the people of the community.
“I have not gone anywhere in this city and not ran into someone whose life he has not affected,” said Terry.
Linda McGee started with Morrell at the same time 36 years ago when the city had a Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program.
McGee recalled when she and Fred each only made $99 a week.
“Back then he would take money out of his pocket and spend it on coats, bicycles, food for the kids. He would sometimes only have enough money left to buy a $1 chicken box at Wimpy’s (restaurant) for himself. He gave everything he had to the children,” said McGee, adding that she couldn’t imagine how much money Morrell has spent on children while working for the city.
“He gave from his heart. He didn’t ask for anything back. He is a true hometown hero,” concluded McGee.
Called Daytona’s MVP
Wilma Hawkins, who retired in June after 35 years with the city’s Leisure Services Department, said they were always concerned about the children.
“He would take care of them at his house. He would help parents with children that were having a hard time. It’s going to be hard on him (retiring). Whatever he is doing now, he will keep on doing it without being paid,” Hawkins said.
Daytona Beach City Commissioner Patrick Henry called Morrell the city’s most valuable player.
“He is our good Samaritan. Fred touched children’s lives daily. He was down in the trenches. He was a protector of children,” said Henry, who also remembers being coached by Morrell as well as his children coming under his watch.
Hilary Rowley, Daytona Beach’s Leisure Services athletic manager, said of Morrell, “We are losing a very valuable employee. Gaining a valuable volunteer.”
Impact on mayor, others
Leisure Services Director Percy Williamson remembered Morrell as one of his first coaches.
“He was 14, I was 11. I tell everyone this is my coach. Even then he would go into his pocket to buy things. He has been doing this his entire life,’ Williamson recalled.
Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry said Morrell had an impact on his life and noted he was one of the reasons he became a coach at Mainland High School.
“Fred coached me in the seventh grade. We went to the state playoffs that year. He served as a father figure for thousands of men.”
Henry said Morrell inspired many young men to believe that “from this gym you can go anywhere in the world you want to go.”
Morrell was presented with a money tree, a gold clock and autographed Troy Aikman memorabilia because he is a big Dallas Cowboys fan.