CLEARFIELD – All great things must come to an end. The old cliche remains true, as truly, a great thing ended recently within the Clearfield Area School District. This great thing was the full-time teaching career and varsity head coaching career of area swimming legend Jackie Morrison.
“It was bittersweet,” said Morrison about the last swim in the pool she took back on June 3 before retiring as the Aquatics teacher and Head Swimming Coach for Clearfield High. “Every coach has that time where they just kind of know that it is probably it. But, more than anything, I will miss the people.”
Around these parts, there’s likely little to no debate about using the terminology of GOAT (Greatest of All Time) in Clearfield swimming history. On top of her own varsity swimming career with the Lady Bison over four years, she added 33 more years as a Head Varsity Swimming Coach for both the boys’ and girls’ programs. Over her run as head coach, neither program recorded a losing season, likely the most mind-boggling stat that is mentioned in this article.
On top of 66 total winning seasons between both programs, she was a 54-time District 9 champion between her three titles as a high school athlete and 51 more she added as a coach. Morrison also accumulated 20 Mountain League titles as a coach and won nearly 700 dual meets. She also coached four different individuals to win a combined nine individual PIAA state titles.
When she first started coaching, Morrison admits her competitiveness and will to win was one of the driving factors. But, as time went on, her approach changed and she realized that her love for the sport was even sweeter because of the people she helped in her life. From those state champions alluded to earlier all the way to swimmers who were happy to be on the team and improve even the slightest amount during their time in the pool; all of those student-athletes matter to her.
“I’ll be honest, when I first got to Clearfield as a young coach, my attitude was probably more about having to win and a winning attitude. As I leave, those (wins) don’t matter much to me, it’s the people. “When you enter coaching, it’s all about winning, but when you leave, it’s all about relationships. I changed a lot, and it was important then. I also won’t say that it wasn’t a great ride to have a few state champions and all the district titles.”
“I revel in the new swimmer dropping time or improving as much as state champions. It’s a measured sport, and that’s fun because you didn’t guess that you improved, you know you improved. To watch the kids improve and the relationships that I built with them, that’s what I’ll always remember most.”
The words of a coach who knows the best philosophy of coaching is to adjust themselves to the individual needs of each athlete. It’s difficult to do, especially coaching two entire varsity teams, but her philosophy and dedication speaks for itself.
After graduation from Clearfield High in 1981, Morrison headed to IUP to swim for the Crimson Hawks for four years while studying to become a Health and Physical Education teacher. She then spent a few years in the State College Area, beginning her coaching and teaching career while also earning a master’s degree from Penn State. In the summer of 1989, she couldn’t believe her luck as the coaching position for Clearfield varsity swimming opened up and an opportunity to become a teacher within the district.
After around 20 years of being a full-time health and physical education teacher, Morrison officially became the Aquatics teacher for the district, a position she held for 13 years before her retirement earlier this month. Truly, her life’s work has become serving the community and region she loves while working in the sport she loves.
“I love this area,” said Morrison. “I think there are some great benefits to staying in central Pennsylvania. People come here to have their vacations and it’s in my backyard. It was a blessing, and a dream come true for me to get through the educational system and have an opportunity to come back here to my alma mater and my dream job.”
With inspiration from her own high school coach and fellow Clearfield swimming legend, Robert “Baldy” Shearer besides her mother, Morrison did not let naysayers stand in her way from being an athlete or pursuing a career as a health and physical education teacher and coach. At the time, women being varsity athletes and coaches was still relatively new. With the development of Title IX, a lot of hard work, and a bit of luck to come back to a program and school she had some much love for, she truly became a trailblazer for women in sports for our region.
Now, moving into the next chapter of her life as semi-retired, her plans are to help a little more with Legends Sports Bar & Grill, a family business owned by her and her husband, Mike Morrison. She also plans to stay active in a variety of ways, whether that be running, hiking, swimming, or traveling. Her passion for sports and staying active did not just suddenly stop upon retirement, but it’s now more on her time how she partakes. She’s most definitely earned that right.
Now, taking a step away from being a head coach, she has a great perspective to share with the next set of coaches who will serve not just the area, but overall.
“Make sure it’s fun because if they are not having fun then you’re not giving them the environment to thrive in and grow in many ways. If you don’t have a passion for coaching, it will also be short-lived. The other thing is to get educated in your sport and get a good knowledge base in your sport. I went to many, many clinics and was fortunate because of my location that I went to the Eastern States Swim Clinic every year for almost thirty years or so. I highly recommend getting that solid foundation they can share with their athletes, community, and parents. It will help create a great atmosphere and culture for the program.”
While there were many amazing records and milestones that accumulated along the way, what Jackie Morrison can walk away from this chapter of her life knowing the community she loves and has called home for nearly all her life is better because of her contributions as a coach and educator. It’s not a goodbye, just a see you later for Morrison’s involvement with Clearfield swimming, even if it may just be as a fan from this point forward.