Jim Morton’s character was as tough as nails.
That was evident during his 20-plus years of military service (1947-1968) in the Marine Corps, and later as a drill instructor, football coach and athletic director at Harlingen’s Marine Military Academy (1969-1994).
He died in 1995 at age 64, one year after his retirement from MMA.
Morton, a longtime successful coaching figure in the Rio Grande Valley, will be inducted posthumously into the RGV Sports Hall of Fame today at the organization’s 32nd annual banquet at Pharr Events Center. In all, there will be nine new inductees, with two of them to be enshrined posthumously.
The event begins with dinner at 5 p.m., scholarship presentations at 5:30 p.m. and the program at 6 p.m. An informal reception for the inductees is scheduled at 4 p.m.
For more information, visit www.rgvshof.net.
Ken Morton, one of Jim Morton’s four sons, will accept the RGV Sports Hall of Fame honor on behalf of his family.
Ken Morton said the description of his father being tough as nails was pretty accurate.
“Yes, he took a hard-nosed approach, but he was a fair man,” the son said. “He had a soft side that was not seen too often, not even in the family all that much. It was maybe only seen by our mother (Miriam Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Morton, who died in 2007).
“My father helped kids at Sunny Glen (Children’s Home in San Benito) and did things like that,” Ken Morton added. “It was a side of him that wasn’t seen. He didn’t need any press (about it).
“They broke the mold after him.”
Before beginning his military career, Morton attended San Antonio Fox Tech, where he played football and graduated in 1947. He then enlisted in the Marine Corps and fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars. He was twice awarded Purple Heart decorations. While in the military, Morton played and coached football, with the opponents ranging from other services and U.S. bases to college teams.
Morton’s first high school football coaching job came in 1968 in Memphis, Tenn. His team was ranked No. 1 in the state at one time and finished the season 8-2.
From there, Morton was hired by MMA in 1969. Besides drill instructor, Morton eventually became MMA’s athletic director and the school’s primary coach for football, basketball and track.
Throughout his 25 years of guiding the football team at MMA, the Leathernecks compiled a 137-119 record. In 1974, MMA finished as the state runner-up in TCIL. In 1977, MMA won the state championship in TAPPS.
One season about that time, the Leathernecks produced three NCAA Division I recruits.
Many of Morton’s players went on to attend the three major service academies. Many others received NCAA Division I football scholarships and played at the pro level.
Five of them in particular were Dale Hellestrae (SMU, Dallas Cowboys), Bernard Parmalee (Ball State, Miami Dophins), Kevin Hickman (U.S. Naval Academy, Detroit Lions), Denard Walker (LSU, Denver Broncos) and Frank Ganz (The Citadel, special teams coach for Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, SMU and UCLA).
Two of Morton’s former players became admirals in the U.S. Navy and another a brigadier general in the Marines. Yet another former player, Mando Avila, a Texas A&M graduate, flew “Marine One,” a helicopter used by President Bush.
John Brown, another of Morton’s players, was a tight end who went on to play for the University of Pittsburgh. It was Brown who caught the winning touchdown pass from Dan Marino on fourth down with 42 seconds left as the Panthers prevailed 24-20 over Georgia in the 1982 Sugar Bowl.
Two of Morton’s sons, Mike and Ken, played for him at MMA from 1969-1972 and went on to play at Texas A&I (now Texas A&M-Kingsville). Jim, his youngest son, played at Harlingen High and East Texas State. Oldest son Tom played at Texas A&I and for the Atlanta Falcons.
Tom and Mike became coaches at MMA, and Jim coached at Harlingen High and Harlingen South. Tom died in 2014, also at age 64.
Some of the Morton grandchildren have played and continue to play various sports at Valley schools.
Throughout the years, the elder Morton became a mentor and father figure for many of the young men attending MMA and playing sports for him. While his grueling practice standards and hard-nosed approach to athletics were well-known, the legendary coach’s passion for sports and dedication to molding young men became his trademark.
“My father loved the Valley and the competition in the Valley from the other coaches,” Ken Morton said. “He loved what he did (while at MMA). It was exactly what he wanted to do. He was very content with that.
“The Morton fingerprint is still out there (at MMA) to a certain extent (with Mike Morton coaching track and teaching health there),” he added.