Health and fitness is not just a concern for the physical body, but for the whole person. That’s what Ron Morrow ’78 believes, and he has built a 30-year career on that principle. An educator and administrator in the field of health and physical education, Morrow has advocated for diversity and against obesity, and his achievements have led to receiving the 2012 Academic Achievement Award from Western Carolina University.
His passion began at a young age, inspired by his family: brothers Jack Morrow III and twin Donnie Morrow Sr. ’79, mother Mary Louise, and especially his dad, the late Jack Morrow Jr. “My father was the aquatic director for the YMCA in Charlotte for 50 years,” Morrow said, “I began early, learning different sports well enough to teach them. I was teaching swimming when I was 6 years old, and I saw the proud and excited reaction of children who learned a new skill.”
He grew up participating on the swimming and diving teams, and also played racquet sports, gymnastics and martial arts. “I wanted to learn to do everything well enough to teach it,” he said. But becoming a star athlete wasn’t in his future.
“My older brother and my twin brother were natural athletes, whereas I was not. I was not the last pick on the team; I just wasn’t picked, ” Morrow said. “I wanted to make sure the children I taught never had to experience that harassment due to their lack of skill and a lack of empathy from their teacher.”
Following his brother Donnie to WCU, he signed up to study health and physical education – and met another source of powerful inspiration, Otto Spilker. “Not only did Dr. Spilker provide excellent subject knowledge and expertise, but his professionalism and personal example raised the standards for everyone,” Morrow said. “Dr. Spilker never had to tell you how to be a good teacher; he showed you.”
His mentor encouraged Morrow in coaching/training roles in gymnastics, cross country team and swimming at WCU. A yearning to teach led him to earn his master’s degree in kinesiology and physiology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1984. During that decade, he served in various positions at Charlotte and Gaston County YMCAs and schools. From 1990 to 1998, Morrow was swimming-diving coach and later instructor of physical education at Davidson College.
Serving in those positions made him aware of the problem of inclusion in health and physical education settings – people being socially disfranchised. The experiences took him back to those of his childhood. “As a teacher, I saw very clearly that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students were being excluded, not included,” Morrow said. “The focus was on the natural athlete. The other kids were doing their homework in the bleachers.”
He returned to UNCG and earned a doctorate in exercise and sports science in 2000, focusing on creating a safe, inclusive climate in physical education for all participants – especially those in the LGBT community. In 2011, he established the Ronald G. Morrow Scholarship at WCU for health and physical education majors who intend to research in the area of diversity. “Although racial and gender issues have been researched and investigated, very little to no research has been done on the inclusiveness of LGBT students – not to mention the LGBT professionals who are teachers,” he said.
Morrow’s career also continued to emphasize inclusion and healthy lifestyles. While he served as executive director of the North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance from 2001 to 2011, the organization grew from 800 to almost 3,000. There he launched a fitness testing program for 1.4 million K-8 schoolchildren in 2008 to address childhood obesity. Later, Morrow founded the nonprofit North Carolina In-school Prevention of Obesity and Disease, tracking student data and delivering “fitness report cards” to parents and physical education teachers at nearly 500 participating schools.
He has published articles in The Journal of Homosexuality, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, Journal of Sport Management and Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. He has presented at meetings of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity; Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; and the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sports Psychology – often about inclusiveness. “This issue is not even being addressed in teacher education classes’ textbooks,” Morrow said. “If you teach, you teach LGBT students, and more than likely have more than one colleague who is LGBT.”