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Jeff and Kay Morris receive state and national Coach of the Year awards

For Jeff and Kay Morris, the 2012-13 Minnesota State Cross Country Head and Assistant Coaches of the Year, awards are recognition for the success their teams have had during the season. Jeff was also named the National Head Coach of the Year in the same week. Robert Williams/FOCUS

Former Activities Director Fred Sailer related a story in May about the first year Jeff Morris coached in Perham. It was a less than flattering opine from two members of the cross country team.

The two told Sailer, “This guy (Morris) can’t coach.”

If not already, after the last week, those two former Perham runners will have a decent helping of crow to munch, as both Kay and Jeff Morris were recognized at the state level and Jeff Morris again at the national level to conclude what was an incredible 2012 running season.

The National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) announced July 1 that Jeff Morris had been selected as the National High School Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year. Morris will have his own place of honor in the National High School Sports Hall of Fame along with 20 other NHSCA Coaches and Senior Athletes of the Year, which are honored annually. Jeff was also selected as the Minnesota State Coach of the Year and Kay the Assistant Coach of the Year by the Minnesota Coaches Association. Both are accepting these awards for the second time.

“The Coach of the Year stuff is really more a reflection of the team,” Jeff said. “To me, that’s just saying, ‘Hey, we’re recognizing your team for what you did as a team.’”

“Jeff has always had such a vision and knew he was going to be successful because in North Carolina he took a team that got to state right away, too,” Kay said. “I knew he’d be successful but I didn’t realize he’d be that successful.”

The Perham boys cross country record is indicative of Morris’ continuing quest for success at the state level. Since 2003, Perham has been the state champion (four times) or runners-up (five times), with the only blemish being 2005 when Perham finished fourth in the state. That’s a result nearly every school in Class A would be happy to achieve.

Perham won back-to-back state championships in 2006 and 2007, along with titles in 2010 and this past season. Last season’s team was also named the NHSCA Division II National Champions.

The girls team is still questing for a first state championship after back-to-back runners-up finishes in 2008 and 2009. The girls team has plenty of top state finishes: 2004 - fourth; 2005 - third; 2006 - fourth; 2007 - third; 2008 - runners-up to Adrian by 10 points; 2009 - runners-up to Waseca by 11 points; 2010 - 12th; 2011 - 10th and seventh this past season.

The boys program gets a lot of credit for bringing titles back to Perham but both squads are the epitome of consistency in Section 8A. 11 straight section titles and state trips for the boys; 10 of the same for the girls. That’s the sign of coaches who know how to coach. Not only consistency, but consistent success.

“They’re always fighting for second and we used to look at Staples like that, but now it’s nice to have everyone looking to you,” said Kay.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Jeff said. “I think what’s been really cool after winning state titles is never settling. The kids have always pushed me to dream bigger and dream more. That’s kind of been the theme for the past couple years.”

There is an overall theme about Perham’s cross country program and that is family, friendships and working together for common goals and the appreciation of individual efforts that make up the complete team mindset and ultimately, victory.

“At first, the trophies and making it to state, and winning state titles, that’s kind of the goal and then something happened after winning the first two state titles,” said Jeff. “The first one was awesome and the second was a little bit disappointing because we didn’t run very well. That’s when it didn’t seem right. If we win, then why am I disappointed? I realized, there had to be something more and we really started to create the culture of hey, this is more than just winning trophies. We want you guys to develop friendships and relationships and learn three big things: Hard work is really hard. Have a positive mental attitude and if you do those things you’ll enjoy the journey. If you learn those three things regardless of what you do in life, you’re going to be successful and look back at these experiences and draw from experiences and leverage for life. That’s what we really teach and that’s the goal.”

To do that, the couple take a good cop/bad cop approach to handling the many situations that can come with two complete teams of two different genders and the fluctuating goals of each squad.

“I have the job of just encouraging and talking to the kids and Jeff tells them what to do,” said Kay. “He’s more in their face about everything and I’m more encouraging. I do the settling down. It works really well, because when I’m not around the kids text me, ‘Where are you? You’ve got to calm Morris down! It’s kind of a balance that works out really well.”

There is a deeper bond that has developed among all of the Morris’ success and that is the mutual admiration to and from their teams.

“We love the kids so much,” Kay said. “That’s the main thing. It’s more than just the winning. You love the kids like they’re a family and give them a purpose. It doesn’t matter if you’re first, seventh or top 20 on the team. We want to give them a chance to be a part of something. It goes hand in hand. They start to believe, believe in each other. They realize that each person has a special, important role.”

“I realize now in five to 10 years nobody is going to remember what year we won,” Jeff said. “I think you have to make it so much more and the biggest thing for us is making it about the family and so they can look back at a practice and remember a big breakthrough they had or maybe it’s not the personal best but the first time they risked it in a race. Those are the things they’ll take with them. I know I make an impact on these kids but they make an even bigger impact on my wife and I and that’s what so special about it is that they really change our lives too.”

Current and former team members echo those sentiments expressed in memories from childhood that stretch a long way to a senior or recent graduate and say far more than any editorial comment could.

Dalton Dahms

As a little fifth grader I was out for cc, and these two coaches, with more energy than the entire fifth and sixth grade, had me hooked by the first day. Jeff and Kay were the best at getting everyone fired up and with dreams and expectations that no kid would be able to think of themselves. As a seventh grader, I remember Morris telling our grade that one day we would be champions. Throughout my entire career, he pushed us and stayed with us, and look where we ended up. Champions.

Jeff and Kay didn't only teach me how to be a successful runner; they taught me how to be a leader, a man of character, and how to respect everyone no matter what. I am unable to express how great of coaches Jeff and Kay truly are. They mean the world to me, they have always had our backs and always will. Jeff and Kay Morris, I don't know where I would be without you two. I am unbelievably grateful for the two of you. You guys are like family, and I cannot thank you enough for all you have done for me.

Ciarrin Covington

I cannot express in words how much Morris and Kay mean to me. They have not only been amazing coaches, but are also the most genuine people outside of coaching. They are always willing to go out of their way to make another's day better. They give everything they have to help others. I have known them both now for what seems like forever, and I could not be more blessed to have had the opportunity.

Throughout these years, I have formed incredible bonds with them that I will have with me the rest of my life. Kay and Morris have helped and guided me to overcome many obstacles in my life and have taught me hard work will get anyone anywhere. Although I am now graduated and won't be on the cross team physically anymore there will always be a part of the cross family. These two have inspired me to chase my dreams and have taught me that anything is possible with a positive attitude. I cannot thank them enough for everything they have given me and done for me. Kay and Morris thank you for allowing me to be a part of your family and let me experience what it is like to be a part of a true team.

Brady Speicher

Jeff and Kay Morris are the reason the Perham Cross Country team is where it is at today. I feel very fortunate that I was able to run under those two for the last six years. They know so much about running, both from experience and by the countless hours they spend researching. What I think makes them such great coaches is that they truly care about you as a person, they really emphasize the family aspect of a team and how everyone makes a difference.

It doesn't matter if you are the first runner across the finish line or the last, they both see the value in everyone. They both don't take enough credit for what they have done for the program here at Perham and the words "Thank you" just aren't enough. Ever since I was a seventh grader they have been there for me and I know that they will continue to be there for me in the future. They are more than just two coaches to me, they are two individuals that have helped shape me into who I am today.

Keeghan Hurley

I think that the value of their coaching is crucial to the cross country program; they are incredible coaches and people. Both of them give so much of their time to the sport and to the kids who are in it. I am very thankful to have both of them as my coach. To be honest they're the reason I transferred back to Perham. They go above and beyond what any other coach does. They are not just our coaches but our mentors in life. Most coaches try to get the most they possibly can out of a kid in high school. Instead, they train us to be prepared for college level sports, so that we have our best times in college instead of high school.

They have created a culture on the team, not only to succeed on the course, but also in the classroom. They are the reason why Perham has become not just a dominant cross country program in Class A of Minnesota, but one of the best in Minnesota, regardless of classes, and one of the best in the country. I am so thankful to be a part of such a great program and to be mentored by these great two people.


While Dahms, Covington and Speicher move on to college and post-high school pursuits, Hurley leads the cross country program into what should be another very successful season. At current pace, this coming season’s team has every chance to surpass an amazing 2012 record. That begins this week in Bemidji at cross country camp.

“This is a great chance where I can really bond with the kids and it’s about goal-setting,” said Jeff. “We can look forward to the season. Our goals are we definitely want to take it to the next level. The girls, obviously, getting that state title is the goal this year.”

For the boy’s team, following up a state and national title season, the Morris’ have a simple way of expressing the loftiest of goals.

“Do it again.”

Don’t be surprised if they do.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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