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"Rookie" rocks Summit stage
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Posted on 09/24/2010

Article from The Optimist. View full article here or continue reading below.

Jim Morris has always believed in others and second chances. A minor league baseball pitcher turned high school baseball coach and science teacher, Morris knows a thing or two about the curveballs life tends to throw our way at the most inopportune times.

Morris dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player since he first set foot on a baseball diamond at the age of three. A left-handed pitcher, Morris was drafted fourth overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1983 amateur baseball draft. Following a short stint in the minor league system, he suffered several arm injuries that hindered his progression. Six surgeries on his left shoulder later, the Brewers released Morris in 1987, ending his chance at achieving his dream.

But he never stopped believing in others and second chances.

After his dismissal from the Brewers, Morris a science teacher and the head baseball coach at Reagan County High School in Big Lake, Texas.

Taking the reigns of the Owls baseball program was no easy feat. As Morris puts it, the program was in dire need of some help.

“When I took over, we had eight guys on our team,” Morris said. “Those that know baseball know that poses a problem. I had to recruit three players from the football team in order to cover all the positions and have a sufficient team.”

But Morris was not just a baseball coach to this group of high school students. He became a mentor to them, teaching concepts of self-discipline, honesty, integrity and good citizenship. Baseball was just the foundation that allowed him to connect with his players.

Prior to his arrival, the Owls had won only one game in each of its past three seasons. Under Morris’s direction, they won 10 games his first season of coaching. The next season, he had 63 players come for baseball try-outs. Morris turned the program around by believing in his players and giving them an opportunity to become all they wanted to be.

Morris’ players believed in him too. Before practice one day, the story goes, a player turned the tables and asked Morris what his dream was and why he wasn’t chasing it. The team then offered a deal to its head coach: if it won a district championship, he had to try-out for a major league team to prove he still believed in himself.

We all know the story, depicted in Walt Disney Picture’s The Rookie: the Owls win a district championship, and Morris tries out.

Ten fastballs clocked at a smoking 98 miles per hour combined with the power of grace and second chances, the 35 year-old Morris lived out his dream of playing professional baseball when he signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999.

Believing in others is a two-way street.

When he retired in 2000, Morris felt a calling to provide a platform to others in need of direction and second chances.

Morris contacted Arms of Hope, an organization based in Medina, Texas, that ministers to disadvantaged children, expecting mothers, and single-parent households.

Kevin McDonald, president and CEO of Arms of Hope, said there are more than 350,000 homeless children in Texas, and that 35 percent of children born in Texas today are born into single-parent households.

“When we looked at this substantial number of children in need who have lots of odds stacked against them, we feel that it’s our true calling to reach out and improve the quality and course of their lives,” McDonald said. “These kids need something to have hope about.”

Arms of Hope’s Medina campus has residential areas that provide children and single mother families a safe, positive and Christian environment.

Arms of Hope has four programs that minister to children and mothers alike. The outreach program sponsors youth sports leagues and allows any child to be a part of a team no matter his or her circumstances. By participating in sports, children learn moral values and engage in devotionals.

The group residential care program takes children who come in alone and places them in cottages with families in a residential setting. The Together program takes in single-mother families and their children and provides a safe, caring place to live while teaching them important life skills. The Lifestart program takes in soon-to-be single mothers and provides a smooth transition into the Together program.

The root of all of this work comes from a simple curriculum that McDonald calls the “3 B’s.”

“First, you’ve got to make people feel like they belong,” McDonald said. “Then, you must believe in them. Finally, understanding and adjusting one’s behavior comes along. Helping students realize their dream is our primary concern. If you don’t have something to work toward, these kids won’t go anywhere.”

Arms of Hope has housed more than 300 residents in the past two years and mentored more than 100 children last year alone.

Morris visits Arms of Hope on a regular basis and is a household name in the organization. He has been on several speaking engagements to promote the organization and share the impact it has had on so many children.


Article from The Optimist. View full article here.