By Elliot Denman // Photos by John Nepolitan
As the Chicago Bears’ fortunes lag, the Bloomfield Bears’ outlook brightens.
The NFL team is a pro football original but its players are no longer “The Monsters of the Midway.” Just check the standings.
But the New Jersey school’s NCAA Division II track and field team — ready to launch just its second year in the sport — is already off and running. And winning. Just check the bio of the coach.
Do it and you knew this was going to happen.
When Bloomfield College, located in the hotbed of the sport that is Essex County,
New Jersey, lured Lisa Morgan out of the high school ranks — where she’d been the incredibly successful coach at Columbia High School in Maplewood — you knew that its teams would be hugely successful, too, and in short order.
So when you see Lisa Morgan’s Bloomfield Bears doing big things in the immediate future, do not be surprised. Just say, “we told you so.”
However, as Coach Morgan says her goodbyes to the scholastic branch of the sport, she isn’t being allowed to get away without proper recognition of all that she achieved there, either.
Saturday at the New Balance Track and Field Center, for instance.
There she was, gathered with seven other of her coaching-colleague legends, being inducted into the AT&T Coaches Hall of Fame at the meet specially designed to salute these great mentors — the AT&T Coaches Hall of Fame Invitational.
The official ceremony began with a great flourish — the introduction of The Marching Cobras drum team, who danced and pranced and percussed and got their audience into the swing of the celebratory mood.
And then Armory CEO Dr. Norbert Sander reminded the crowd how coaches continue to represent the very essence of the sport and how these special eight represented the pinnacle of them all.
Alphabetically, they were A.P. Randolph’s Phyllis Anderson (now of St. Peter’s University); Fordham Prep’s George Febles; Mount Vernon’s Walter Hall; Christian Brothers Academy’s Tom Heath; Philadelphia’s Tim Hickey; Uniondale’s Dennis Kornfeld; Stuyvesant’s Mark Mendes….and Lisa Morgan.
So revved up by it all that it seemed she seemed ready to run a quality 400 meters — all spiffed up and wearing high heels – Coach Morgan said, “I am truly humbled, this is phenomenal.”
“Oh my gosh, this is it, to be recognized by the Armory, and the legacy this place has….wow.
“I love track and field, and this sport is my life’s work, my life’s dream…to be honored and recognized for it, at a place that means so much to all of us, and to see my name go up on that (Hall of Fame) wall, and in such great company, well, as I said, I am just humbled.”
Growing up in the Ivy Hill neighborhood of Newark’s West Ward, she’d seen big brother Jerome and big sister Michele excel in the sport before her, and grew into the sport running for such junior teams as the Mighty Midgets and the Newark YMCA.
She emerged as an excellent 800-meter runner (usually in the 2:12s) in her own student days at Columbia High School (teams made famous by four-time Olympian Joetta Clark and coach Len Klepack) but her career at the University of Kentucky was cut short by injury.
From 1993 to 2003, she was an assistant to head coach John Moon at Seton Hall University, but returned to Columbia High and lost little time restoring her alma mater to the sport’s heights.
NJSIAA State, Penn Relays, National Scholastic honors — indoors, outdoors everywhere — piled up in seemingly uncountable profusion. And the best of her best pupils – most famous of them all, Olivia Baker, now at Stanford — went on to collegiate acclaim.
If there’s a single memory that tops her long list of golden Armory honors, it may be a famous win in the girls invitation scholastic 4×400 relay one year (in a heralded match race with Tim Hickey’s West Catholic team) at the New Balance Invitational.
“We were running late because of heavy traffic, and they were waiting for us…and waiting for us. Whenwe finally got there, our warmup, literally, was running up the stairs to the track.
“Well, we popped a 3:47.13 to win it. That was a miracle. I’ll always remember Coach Hickey (whose own team featured future internationalists LaTavia Thomas, Nicole Leach and Nia Ali) saying to us, ‘my god, when you show up, you really show up.’ ”
In addition to all her coaching achievements at Columbia High and Seton Hall University, Morgan gained acclaim for the superb jobs she’s done on the staffs of five different USA teams at major internationals- the IAAF World Youth Championships of 2011 (at Lille, France), 2013 (Donyetsk, Ukraine) and 2015 (Cali, Colombia) along with the World Junior Championships of 2014 (Eugene, Oregon) and 2016 (Bydgoszcz, Poland.)
One of her regrets – and it’s shared by many in the global track community – is that the IAAF has declared that its 2017 World 18-Under Championships (formerly known as the World Youth Championships), set for Nairobi, Kenya, this summer, will be the last in the series.
Ostensibly, the IAAF wants to emphasize continental, rather than worldwide championship meets for these 18-unders.
But Morgan laughs it off when it’s suggested that the young American teams she’s led (with superstars Candace Hill and Sydney McLaughlin, et al, on the 2015 Cali team) were just too fast and too talented for their contemporaries around the rest of the planet.
The Bloomfield Bears, men and women, compete in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference and will be seen in an array of meets this 2016-17 campaign, the school’s second in the sport.
Featuring such talents as hurdler-sprinter Sydney Scruggs and jumper-hurdler Brionna Singleton, the Bears gained considerable attention their rookie campaign.
With Lisa Morgan at the helm, the track world knows that Bloomfield is “a team of the future.”
Remember her words: “This sport is my life’s work.”