When Dick Campbell inducted David Morse into the Bridgetown and Area Sports Hall of Fame in November, there was something the former track athlete wanted to tell his old coach.
But he couldn’t.
“I would have been a crying mess. But I did manage to get it out to you afterwards.”
He’s sitting in Campbell’s living room at his long-ago mentor’s Bridgetown home. The thing he wanted to say was about the bond between a coach and an athlete.
“I never realized until I became a coach myself,” says Morse. “I took it for granted that Mr. Campbell was always going to be there. He was going to walk up Centennial Drive with his clipboard. He would be there before practice started and would stay late if you wanted to work, and I appreciated it beyond belief.”
For Morse that relationship has in many ways shaped his life. He says there’s hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t think of ‘Mr. C.’ And if you want the truth of it, the story goes back further, all the way to Dick Campbell’s school days and the coaches who helped shaped him.
“I started at Bridgetown high school around 1957 in Grade 7 and I got involved in track right away,” Campbell says. “There already was bit of a legacy there because the school was built in ’51 and this was the only track in the area. Of course Bill Hirtle was involved, and Jack Walker. They had a bit of a legacy then.”
He was able to get involved and they had some really good teams over the years.
“We won a number of provincial titles,” he says. “I graduated in ’63. I was still very active and interested. I went to Acadia and I was on the track team there for four years.”
But he really wanted to come back to BRHS and was fortunate enough to return as a teacher in 1967 and got involved with the coaching aspect of it.
“I taught and coached there for 30 years,” he says. “So I had quite a connection with BRHS.”
To Morse the memory of that first brush with track is photograph-vivid.
“I showed up at the track as a Grade 6 person just to watch the practices,” Morse recalls. “So I’d walk up from the elementary school. Bill Hirtle’s son Dean saw me sitting in the infield just watching, and he said ‘would you like to run the warm-up laps with us?’”
Of course young Morse said he’d love to.
“I always say that was the act of kindness … that really started it,” he says. “And then Mr. C came over and he said ‘you’ve got a very nice, natural running style and I’d like you to join the track team.’ Even though I was in Grade 6. I was beyond flattered. That’s what started it. That one day and then about six or seven years from there.”
Coach and athlete had some great success together. “Mr. C always had a knack of, I’d say, knowing when to give you a push and knowing when to give you a pat on the back,” he says.
“I wasn’t a superstar or anything. All I had was the interest and some natural ability, and Mr. C knew how to take that to several more levels where I would never have been able to do it myself,” he says. “I just wouldn’t know how hard to push, or not to push. That, looking back, was probably the best gift -- that he could take an individual athlete and get the best out of them. Whatever the best was.”
Campbell believing in him allowed him to believe in himself.
Morse says in a way he took it for granted. “Because an athlete at times has to be quite selfish and focused and all the rest of it.”
It’s been years since Morse was a student in Bridgetown. He runs a successful wealth management company. But a lot of what his old ‘fair but tough’ coach taught him about respect, discipline, and belief in self has stayed with him.
“I’m at a leadership seminar with the company I was working with at the time – it would have been in the early 2000s – and it said besides your parents … name the three most influential people in your life.”
Mr. C was Number 1.
“I thought, ‘isn’t that something, that a person can leave that kind of a mark on someone.’ That’s what hit me. And that spurred me on to become a coach.”
A couple of years later he called the principal of Kings County Academy where his daughter was going and said “I’d like to be your head track coach. I had no coaching experience, but when he found out who coached me he goes ‘you’re in.’”
“I used a lot of what you showed me. To just be patient and say not everyone’s going to be on the podium,” Morse says to Campbell, “not everyone is going to set records, but maybe I can make an imprint on this person. Just by being kind to them and just getting the best out of whatever they have.”
And Morse coached a national champion. “I was really happy to do that. Mason Foote. I coached him for five years and he won nationals and that was wonderful – but it was also wonderful to have the kid who never ran track and put a decent pair of sneakers on him and he made it to Regionals. And I learned that from you.”
He’s sitting across from Mr. C. They’re years from Campbell’s track days. From Morse’s track victories in the 400 and 800. Medals are in a drawer and trophies are gathering dust. Somehow those weren’t really the point. It was who they became through that coach and athlete relationship that counts.
Bill Hirtle, Jack Walker, Dick Campbell, David Morse. A certain type of men who knew that passing the torch was what counted.
It came full circle a while back. Morse received a call from Mason Foote’s family. Mason was getting married. Would his old coach speak at the wedding?