November 11, 2015

Gaining Confidence, Special Friends Through Lacrosse, Morris Going From Midfield Into PHS Hall of Fame

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LAX BROS: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse stars, from left, Bobby Campbell, Chris Cahill, and Johnny Morris pose for the team photo before their senior season in 1978. The trio of Campbell, Cahill, and Morris were team tri-captains and formed one of the great midfield units in program history. This Saturday, Morris will be inducted into the tenth class of the PHS Athletics Hall of Fame.

As a kid growing up in Princeton in the late 1960s, Johnny Morris gave baseball a try but things didn’t go well.

“My father and brother would throw a baseball at me and I would put my head away,” said Morris. “I was scared to death of a fly ball.”

Having struck out at baseball, Morris turned to the more obscure spring sport of lacrosse and found a home.

“I think I started as soon as I could hold a stick, playing out in the field,” recalled Morris.

“It was something about the lacrosse stick; maybe not being so close to you as a mitt is. Lacrosse was just right. What was amazing was the middle school had a lacrosse team and I started playing in sixth grade.”

Morris went on to have an amazing time playing for the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team, starting four years at midfield and scoring more than 100 points in his career on the way to All-State honors. He combined with Bobby Campbell and Chris Cahill to form one of the best midfields in program history as PHS won the Pitt League title in 1978 during their senior year.

This Saturday, Morris will take a special spot in PHS sports history as he will be inducted into the tenth class of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

He will be joined in the class by Alan Ammerman
’58, Houston Webber ’68, Bobby King ‘74  (deceased), Teressa DiPerna ‘86, Dixon Hayes ’00, Dr. Natalie Gengel ’06; coach/athlete — Jim Beachell ’64; and the 1975 Field Hockey State Championship team.

For Morris, it is the relationships with his teammates and coaches that stand out when he looks back on his PHS career.

“It is always fun to score goals, it is always fun to win a game but I think it is all about the camaraderie, the bond, and the respect you have for the coaches,” said Morris, 55.

“You spend a lot of time out on the practice field, you spend a lot of time walking in and out of the locker room, you spend time getting your ankles taped. All those little conversations from place to place are the things that you cherish.”

Morris certainly cherished playing with Campbell and Cahill. “It was really great, the three of us had different skill sets,” said Morris of the trio, who served as team tri-captains in their senior year.

“We didn’t seem to come off the field very much. Bobby would get the ball up and down the field and he was faster than anyone. Chris Cahill was the doer; he would do the face-offs. He was at the center at making so much happen. My natural skill set was being creative and being a catalyst of things.”

Coach Bill Cirullo was
central figure to Morris’s growth as a person and athlete during his years at PHS.

“I would say he has had a gigantic impact on my life and I know on so many people’s lives; he should go into the hall of fame of hall of fames,” asserted Morris of Cirullo.

“His heart is so gigantic but he is so tough at the same time. He has touched people in so many ways. You talk about leaving nothing on the field, he puts everything into everything he does, that includes his wood working. He has a bunch of hobbies on the side and that is why he is the family man that he is.”

Under Cirullo’s tutelage, Morris took up football and emerged as varsity performer in that sport as well.

“There was the youth football and youth baseball, neither of which I was involved with; I spent a lot of time cutting grass and picking apples at our place,” said Morris.

“I was playing out on the fields in the neighborhood. I didn’t even know how to suit up. Bill Cirullo was an amazing coach. We had an undefeated freshman football team and he found a spot for me on the line. The next year was varsity. It was fun learning to play football, freshman year under Cirullo and then the next three years under Jim Beachell.”

In Morris’s view, his PHS experience gave him a solid foundation as he headed into life after graduation.

“You are in a little community and it is about your friends and you also had fun,” said Morris.

“You build your natural skill set probably the most at that time. For me, it was having the energy to get a lot of things going on, that is what I was on the team, being a catalyst. Family, friends and having fun, that is my foundation.”

After PHS, Morris took his skills to Bucknell University, where he was a four-year starter, a two-time team captain, and an All-Conference performer.

“It was great playing Division I lacrosse, we were playing against Syracuse, Maryland, and all these big schools,” said Morris, reflecting in his college career.

“It was the same as at Princeton High, it was building great friends. I have so many memories. Sid Jamieson was the coach, he was the only Iroquois coach back then in Division I. It was incredible.”

Over the years, Morris has played a big role in helping to build up the sport of lacrosse in the Princeton area.

In 1999, Morris, Cirullo and Cahill, established the Bobby Campbell Lacrosse Foundation in honor of their friend and teammate who died tragically that year in a car accident, to promote the sport of lacrosse in Central New Jersey. Through the foundation, Morris helped start the Trenton Bridge Lacrosse Program and participating in the Vail Shoot-Out with PHS alums allocating the proceeds to the Trenton program.

In addition, Morris was also a founder of PG Lax (Princeton Girls Lacrosse) which is a non-profit lacrosse program in Princeton dedicated to promoting the sport of lacrosse for young girls (K-8th grade). The program has now been running for over 10 years and has almost 150 girls participating.

“I might have moments of brilliance but I wasn’t a good student and I struggled with dyslexia,” said Morris, who resides at his family farm in Princeton with wife Suzy and has four adult daughters, Logan, Nellie, Catharyn, and Annie.

“Lacrosse gave me a lot of self confidence. That is something that is fun to see at Campbell, it is fun to see in the girls, it is fun to see the kids in Trenton. I couldn’t have done it on my own, it was  because I had the friends at the right and the left in Bill Ciruillo and Chris Cahill and others.”

For Morris, growing the game had been a labor of love. “I love the game, I have told my own girls when they were playing and it was competing against other things, don’t play because you want to be on the field, play because you love the game,” said Morris.

“The thrill of the game for me is the history of it, the growth of it and the democracy of it. You can be as slow as I was and still have an impact.”

Professionally, Morris has made an impact in financial services, working 24 years at Merrill Lynch, then as a co-founder of Clearbrook Financial and Snowden Lane Advisors and currently as Chairman and CEO of V2V Associates. In reflecting on his business career, Morris sees a clear connection to the lessons he has gained from lacrosse.

“I know how limited my skill set is,” said Morris with a chuckle. “You learn that on the field and you don’t try to be something that you can’t do. It is really obvious. I feel like way too many people try to do that in business. I can make some deals happen, I have the ideas and I get things started. I had a great career at Merrill Lynch and did a lot of entrepreneur stuff there. I am building my third company now. I can get it going but I always need people to do things. I am not the kind of person who can do it on my own so it is completely an extension from what I got from being on the field in lacrosse.”

It came as a great surprise for Morris when he learned that he has been chosen for the PHS Athletics Hall of Fame.

“I was shocked, getting the call from Bill Ciruillo was so important,” said Morris.

“If, for some reason, I am included in a group of people that is being recognized I think it should be used as an important vehicle to appreciate what Princeton High has done for me and the people who make PHS, the teachers, the coaches, and the parents.”