To be humble and kind, to Olivia Morgan, is to make the big hits in softball, and to celebrate them quietly while cheering on teammates to do the same.
To be humble and kind is to play it serious but take the moments to laugh along to a goofy song with her sisters in the car.
To be humble and kind is put in the hard work to overcome adversity, but to always put others first in doing so.
These are the lessons and smiling memories Morgan has from her father, C.W. Morgan, who died in an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning just before her freshman year at Shawnee Heights High School.
But they’re memories that helped Morgan survive the grief of losing a father, and they’re memories that deeply molded Morgan’s character and drive to put her family forward no matter the adversity.
They’re lessons she used during her time in high school, in always persevering to do her best and to tackle challenges head on, especially as she became a standout in a sport she had never even thought about before.
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Olivia Morgan’s dad, C.W. Morgan, was her hero
A big smile and two thumbs up were C.W. Morgan’s defining traits as a loving father and friend.
He loved softball almost as much as he loved his three daughters, and Olivia and her sisters’ childhood memories are of traveling to tournaments every weekend. He was passionate about their successes in the sport, but he was always quick to remind them to stay humble and kind, and have fun with the sport.
“Despite your accomplishments, don’t think you’re better than everyone else,” Olivia Morgan said. “Keep working hard. You still have much more to do. Be humble, and don’t brag about your achievements — help others do the same.”
Morgan’s mother, Darlene Morgan, had divorced C.W. by the time he died in summer 2018. But she also never doubted the love and attention he gave his daughters.
“Even through our tumultuous relationship, the one thing I appreciated about C.W. is that he always tried to show his daughters that he would make good of whatever situation the best he could,” Darlene Morgan said. “He smiled, he joked with them. Everything could be good, no matter what.”
Life immediately changed for Darlene Morgan and her three daughters when C.W. died suddenly in a carbon monoxide poisoning accident. For Olivia, it was as if her childhood had ended when she stepped up to be almost like a “second mom” to her sisters, Darlene Morgan said.
“She did it to help me and her sisters, all while still putting herself through school and going to work,” Darlene Morgan said.
Grief was a hard thing to process for Olivia, though, and the high school freshman began to go through a rough patch and hanging out with the wrong crowd.
She had put her grief away.
“I told myself, I can’t have this grief because even though my dad passed away, I have to step up, along with my mom, to be the head of the family,” Olivia Morgan said. “I set my grief aside, and it got the best of me.”
How golf helped Olivia Morgan learn to breathe and take care of herself
Olivia still isn’t sure how or why golf called out to her.
In fact, it was stressful to her at first, in that first year she tried out a friend’s set of golf clubs and walked onto the range to join the Shawnee Heights girl’s junior varsity golf team, just months after her father died.
Despite no prior experience with the sport, Morgan felt blessed be able to quickly grasp the sport, and she was soon promoted to the varsity team, especially after showing skill as a natural hitter.
But Morgan, as a freshman and in the grief of losing her father, had built up a guarded personality. She had to, coach Jane Yi said, to protect herself when she was most vulnerable.
“She had the ability to hit hard,” Yi said. “But we just didn’t know where it was going all the time.”
Throughout her first couple of years on the team, though, and at the beginning of the pandemic, Morgan learned to clear her mind and to find focus in golf, lessons she’d also learn to apply to her life outside the sport.
She began opening up to her teammates and coaches, and as they helped her get better, she learned to relax and clear her mind — “to take a minute and breathe.”
“She had to be around these other girls, and she had to be around someone like me and Coach Gibbons who were all about being supportive,” Yi said. “It was about showing her that it was OK to be hurting, and that we were there for her. That’s what I think helped her a lot.
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In sports, a person can easily get lost, especially if they’re in a team-based sport, Yi said. While golf is also a team sport, its additional focus on individual performance allowed Olivia the space and team support she needed to excel.
As her golf performance improved, so did her drive in school when she began taking harder classes and college credits, all while helping out at her mother’s café Milk and Honey Coffee Co.
“I started taking care of myself,” Olivia Morgan said. “It was a blessing that if anything came out of COVID for me, it was that.”
Despite grief, Olivia Morgan became ‘a strong young lady’
As Morgan gets ready to head to Baker University on a golf scholarship, she reflected on how her life has changed in the past four years, and what has made her stronger.
This summer, she’s working with First Tee Greater Topeka — a new local chapter of a national organization to expose more children to golf.
Marcus Miller, director of First Tee, said Olivia has been a perfect fit for the program.
“She’s very calm and deliberate,” Miller said. “She has a very quiet confidence that a lot of the kids have picked up on and have found very easy to learn from.”
At Baker, she plans on studying criminal psychology, with the goal of one day helping people who are often the most in need of it.
“When I met her, she was a little girl, but she’s grown up to be an amazing young lady who has great support but has also found a way to be a strong young lady,” said Yi, the golf coach. “If you need help, she’ll be there, and if you need something done, she’ll get it done.”
“Anything she does, she puts all her effort into it,” her mother said. “That’s what she’s done in golf, and in softball, and in work. It moves my heart to know that I’ve had this girl under my roof, and that even though she lost her dad, she’s found a way to deal with it by taking care of what means a lot to her.”
In all Olivia does, she said she thinks about her father, and what he might say if he could see everything she grew up to be. He won’t walk her down the aisle or see any of her kids, but Olivia knows she keeps his memory going in that mission to always be humble and kind.
She beams every time she talks about him.
“She’s being that shining light that was meant to be,” Darlene Morgan said. “When you look at her, you have to see her not only for who she is, but who he taught her to be.”
Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.