By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
For any high school athlete, there really is no higher honor than having your jersey number retired by the school you put out all your effort for during the span of a four-year career. Decades after you have graduated, your accomplishments live on as current students walk past your plaque every day.
Blake Morgan, a 1999 graduate of Holy Spirit High, had his No. 4 retired by the boys basketball program on Monday night prior to the Spartans’ win over visiting Mainland Regional. He joins just seven other players in the long history of Holy Spirit basketball to have their numbers retired. They include Dennis Horner (2006 graduate, No. 41), Brian Pruitt (1993, No. 3), Anthony Farinelli (1991, No. 10), Chris Stoll (1989, No. 44), Patrick Pruitt (1987, No. 31), Fred Dalzell (1970, No. 34) and all-time leading scorer Chris Ford (1969, No. 42). Morgan fell just 23 points short of tying Ford’s scoring record.
“It’s a nice accomplishment. It’s more of a testament to the coaches and to the guys I played with. Basketball is a team sport, and I don’t make the shots without somebody passing me the ball, setting the screens or coaching me how to do it,” said Morgan, who netted 1,483 points during his illustrious career as a Spartan.
Morgan heaped praise on Ford, saying he probably wouldn’t have even been close to Ford had Ford been able to shoot 3-pointers. The 3-point line in high school basketball was put in play well after Ford graduated.
“The (all-time leading scorer) record wasn’t important to me, records are meant to be broken,” Morgan said. “Chris Ford was a fantastic player, and when he played they didn’t have a 3-point line — so, if he had a 3-point arch, who knows how many points he would have scored. The record would have been nice, but I just really loved my time here. My fondest memories I have are the times I spent with the guys I played with and the coaches. It’s nice to be remembered.”
Morgan is probably much more well known around the Holy Spirit campus in Absecon for his family’s business rather than his basketball accomplishments. Current students may not have any idea who he is, but flock to his “Mad Dog Morgan’s” food truck parked just outside the football field on Friday nights to grab a cheesesteak, burger or fries.
Morgan did a post-graduate year at the Lawrenceville School after losing much of his senior year at Spirit because of a torn ACL. But his career at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., didn’t quite go as planned due to injuries, including more ACL trouble. Still, he was part of the 2003 Williams team that went 31-1 and won an NCAA Division III national championship.
“I got to Williams and promptly tore my ACL twice and had a major elbow surgery. I played four years, but a good chunk of that was on the injured list, unfortunately,” he said. “But I still love the sport, I just can’t play it anymore. I love this (Holy Spirit) program and the school. I grew up in Brigantine, my father went to Holy Spirit as well (1976 graduate), so we have a long history here.”
After college, Morgan went into the corporate world but soon tired of that and returned to Atlantic County. He now is the Director of Food for an international festival company and also helps run the family food truck business while living in Brigantine.
“It’s a nice thing because we are from this area, and hopefully my kids and all my sisters’ and brothers’ kids go here. There are a lot of names that if you are involved in this school — the Fords, the Marczyks, the Pruitts — and even some of the guys I played with who you still hear about, like Wayne Nelson, guys like that, if you played basketball in this area everybody knows each other and I still know a lot of names of guys who I looked up to when I was playing in high school,” Morgan said. “In that sense, it’s nice, but again, basketball is a team sport and I’d give it all up to be able to play again, have good knees and get some wins. The solo recognition is nice but at the end of the day I just really miss playing the sport.”
Morgan said he could never have dreamed when he was attending Holy Spirit that one day his jersey number would up on the wall with other Spartans legends.
“Certainly, when you are 17 years old you don’t know (what your high school career will mean to you). I still thought I was going to play basketball for the rest of my life,” he said. “In retrospect, this is a nice thing because I did put a lot of time and effort into the sport. But, it’s more important to me because I love the program, I love the school, I love the kids who go here — we’re still very involved with the school (with Mad Dog Morgan’s). I look back and think of my time here fondly. I don’t have a single bad thing to say about any of the guys I played with.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays