Editorial written by Bill Avington, Director of Communications at St. Joseph’s Prep.
Those four words were a rallying cry three decades ago as Philadelphia sports fans worked to gain momentum for Phillies legend Richie Ashburn into the Baseball Hall of Fame after he was overlooked for many years. They were rewarded in 1995 when he joined fellow Phillie great Mike Schmidt with induction into that hallowed hall. Now, 25 years later, a new group of Philadelphia sports fans hopes that another city legend receives a call, this time from the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
William 'Speedy' Morris, retired at the conclusion of the 2020 season as the winningest coach in program history at St. Joseph’s Prep, Roman Catholic High School & La Salle University - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Like Madonna, Cher, or Pele, William Morris is one of those celebrities known by one name: Speedy. The fact that the nickname is ironic (said derisively by a CYO coach when Speedy wasn’t exactly moving quickly at practice) sums up this incredible man. Humble, but with a desire for greatness. Pious but sometimes not so saintly when making a point to officials. Tough and demanding of his players but also incredibly loyal and the first one they called when they wanted to share good news. Speedy Morris is a true Philadelphia legend.
I have to admit, I was not inclined to be a Speedy fan. After all, I was a student at St. Joe’s Prep and he was the legendary coach of Roman Catholic. I went to St. Joe’s University and he was at La Salle. His antics on the sideline (especially in his heyday) were entertaining but didn’t endear him to me, especially when my teams were on the opposite and, often, losing end. This was despite the fact that my uncles, twin brothers Danny and Larry Avington, played on his first team at Roman and swore at the altar of St. Speedy.
Then I got hired at the Prep in 2005, three years into his run as the school’s head basketball coach. Not only would I be working at the same place but I would now have to work closely with him in my role of media relations. As I braced myself to work with this man, everyone told me I had him wrong. Turns out they were incorrect...I actually had him DEAD WRONG.
The crazy, sometimes maniacal, Speedy Morris that people see on the sidelines was a direct opposite to the person he was off the court. He is kind, thoughtful, incredibly giving and loyal to the fullest. He saw the best in people and would do whatever he could for a friend. Once you were in his circle, you stayed in. You were family.
And the on the court stuff, which is legendary (1,035 wins, 14 league championships, .659 winning percentage), doesn’t even scratch the surface of this Hall of Fame man. He spoke at hundreds of communion breakfasts and CYO banquets free of charge. He would offer small grade schools free enrollment to his basketball camp so they could auction it off for their school’s endowments. St. Joseph’s Prep is the largest contributor to Coaches vs. Cancer of any high school program in the area, thanks to his work, and he has been honored by the group for his service.
Bill Avington (right) presenting Speedy with his honorary 300th win ball from 2015. - Photo courtesy of St. Joseph's Prep
In his 19 years at the Prep, one of his highlights every year was to be an adult leader on the four-day, three-night Kairos Retreat that so many Prep students point to as a defining moment in their lives. I don’t know that you will find too many basketball coaches with that on their resume.
He attended every theatre production the school put on in his 19 years, including two cameo appearances. He attends daily Mass and often made the sign of the cross before big free throws (though I can’t tell you what the percent of makes were when he did that). All of this shows that while he is obviously a Hall of Famer in basketball, he is also one in life, where it really matters.
They say that converts can often be the biggest zealots, so maybe that’s why I feel so passionately about this cause. However, I can truly say that Speedy Morris is a complete Hall of Famer, on and off the court, and well deserves enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
So, Naismith Hall of Fame, I ask, “Why the Hall Not?”