Welcome back for another multi-part entry here at the blog! I’ve been putting in overtime lately, it seems, with recent entries on country musicians and rock stars, but today we leave the stage for tracks and fields. More directly, today’s entry highlights three reader-suggested athletes with possible connections to Churches of Christ: track stars Bobby Morrow (1935-2020) and Jim Ryun (1947-), and famous MLB pitcher Jim Morris (1964-).
First, Bobby Morrow, a Texas native, was one of the great sprinters of his generation. Morrow is perhaps best known for winning three Olympic gold medals in 1956, becoming the first sprinter to do so in twenty years. (Jesse Owens was the last sprinter to win at least three prior to Morrow, putting Morrow in some pretty rarified air.) (1)
A pair of articles from TexasMonthly provides us some helpful information for our investigation. The first, written by William Martin and published in 1984, speaks at length about Morrow’s decision to attend Abilene Christian College (now University), an institution affiliated with Churches of Christ. “Bobby could have attended any college he wished,” Martin notes. “But because he was a member of the ultraconservative Church of Christ and sought a wholesome environment… Bobby went to Abilene Christian,” where Oliver Jackson’s track team had also achieved a high level of success in previous years. (2) The second, Joe Holley’s 2020 memorial for the sprinter, adds that “When it came time for me to choose a college in the mid-sixties, Abilene Christian College was at the top of my list.” Religious factors played a role in Holley’s decision (“We were a Church of Christ family”), but so too did the track program’s prestige: “a decade earlier, the fastest man in the world had put the obscure West Texas church school on the map.” (3)
Next, Jim Ryun, who would later spend more than a decade as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Kansas’s 2nd district, was also a silver medalist at the 1968 Olympics and the first high school athlete to cross the four-minute-mile barrier. (4)
More directly relevant for our purposes, in 1964, Tom O’Leary wrote for Sports Illustrated that Ryun “does attend the Church of Christ faithfully, twice on Sunday and every Wednesday, but unlike many youths he goes to church solely as a matter of faith, having no interests in church-centered secular activities for young people.” (4)
Finally, we have Jim Morris, a baseball pitcher who played for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 1999 to 2000. Although Morris’s statistics are not particularly remarkable, Morris’s overall story is, as he overcame several surgeries to make it to the majors at the ripe old age of 35–quite unusual for a professional athlete. Morris’s story served as the basis for the 2002 movie The Rookie, which starred Dennis Quaid.
Whereas TexasMonthly gave us our key information for Morrow above, the Christian Chronicle serves as our main source for Morris here. A September 2010 feature by Bobby Ross Jr. tells us that Morris is “A member of the Kerrville Church of Christ in Texas” and “among the speakers this week at Abilene Christian University’s Summit Bible conference.” (6) Another piece published three months later mentions Morris’s “special relationship with Arms of Hope, a ministry associated with Churches of Christ that serves at-risk children and single mothers on two Texas campuses.” (7)
Three up, three down, all with confirmed connections to the Churches of Christ. I have one more entry planned for this time next month before I take another hiatus from the blog, so check back then, and thanks for reading today!
(1) Kevin Sherrington, “Bobby Morrow never quite recovered from fame and an Olympic-caliber snub, but how he ran will always be remembered,” Dallas News, June 2, 2020, accessed May 24, 2021, https://www.dallasnews.com/sports/other-sports/2020/06/02/bobby-morrow-never-quite-recovered-from-fame-and-an-olympic-caliber-snub-but-how-he-ran-will-always-be-remembered/.
(2) William Martin, “The Fastest Nice Christian Boy in the World,” TexasMonthly, August 1984, accessed May 24, 2021, https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/the-fastest-nice-christian-boy-in-the-world/.
(3) Joe Holley, “Remembering Bobby Morrow, the Texas Sprinter Who Was Once the World’s Fastest Man,” TexasMonthly, June 5, 2020, accessed May 24, 2021, https://www.texasmonthly.com/arts-entertainment/remembering-bobby-morrow-texas-sprinter-world-fastest-man/.
(4) Robert Pruter, “Ryun, James Ronald (‘Jim’),” Encyclopedia.com, accessed May 24, 2021, https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ryun-james-ronald-jim.
(5) Tom O’Leary, “A Kansas Boy with a Man-Size Task,” Sports Illustrated, September 14, 1964, accessed May 24, 2021, https://vault.si.com/vault/1964/09/14/a-kansas-boy-with-a-mansize-task.
(6) Bobby Ross Jr., “‘The Rookie’: The rest of the story,” Christian Chronicle, September 21, 2010, accessed May 24, 2021, https://christianchronicle.org/the-rookie-the-rest-of-the-story/.
(7) Bobby Ross Jr., “Life of ‘The Rookie’ Jim Morris takes more extraordinary turns,” Christian Chronicle, December 1, 2010, accessed May 24, 2021, https://christianchronicle.org/life-of-the-rookie-jim-morris-takes-more-extraordinary-turns/.