Eddie Morris’ Dash to Fame Came Quickly at Huntington Beach
He’s one of the handsomest specimens you ever saw. Just under 6-feet, he weighs 175, has wide shoulders, a trim waist, magnificent legs that taper at the right place . . . . He has average likes and dislikes. He’s a big eater, prefers steak to any food.
Eddie Morris’ story is not unlike any other boy’s except that he can run faster . . . “
--Huntington Beach News commentary, May 9, 1940, the day before Eddie Morris, a senior at Huntington Beach High School, tied Jesse Owens’ world high school record of 20.7 seconds in the 220-yard dash.
Eddie Morris, a.k.a. the Blond Bullet, the Beach Bullet or the Human Bullet (depending on which publication you subscribed to), was big news in Southern California in the late 1930s and early ‘40s.
“He got so much publicity, he even got a five- or six-page spread in Pic magazine (a popular national magazine) ,” said Bob Clabots, a former teammate and longtime friend. “Everyone knew about Eddie’s running.”
Almost 50 years later, Morris’ achievements would still make him a sprint champion on most high school--and many college--tracks today.
But this is not something Morris, now 65, often thinks about. Though he attends a few track and field meets every year in Portland, Wash., about 25 miles northeast of his home in Washougal, Morris says he seldom dwells on the moments of his championship past.
“No, truly I don’t reflect too much on that sort of thing,” said Morris, who retired in 1981 after a 39-year career as a pipeline controller for a Long Beach oil corporation. “It’s been so darn long ago. And I had never paid much attention to all of that, anyway.”
But many others did.
Huntington Beach was a sleepy oil community of 3,500 when Morris was a senior in 1940. His father, Earl E. Morris, a wildcat oil driller, moved the family there in 1931 from Augusta, Kan., after accepting a job with a Long Beach oil company.
The Morris family lived in a single-story beach house at 624 9th St., now the site of an apartment complex. The next closest house, separated from theirs by an oil well and a lima bean patch, was more than 50 yards away.
In the spring of 1937, Morris, 14, joined a freshman after-school gym class. He was sprinting down the runway approaching the long jump pit when he was spotted by Huntington Beach Coach Harry M. (Cap) Sheue.
Sheue, a 39-year Huntington Beach High coach and teacher who died last June at 91, knew immediately that Morris was a gifted sprinter.
“I didn’t know who Eddie Morris was. He was just another freshman to me,” Sheue said in a 1974 interview with The Times. “But when I saw him running down the runway the first time, I knew he wasn’t going to be doing any more broad jumping.”
After one year under Sheue’s tutelage, Morris had become a track star and somewhat of a town celebrity.
In June of 1938, Morris, a sophomore, was advertised in a local paper as “the featured event” at an exhibition football game between Huntington Beach and Fullerton high schools.
Morris, who had never run a race longer than 220 yards, was to race the Oiler 440-yard relay team in a one-lap race during halftime.
He lost by less than a second. But his time--50.8 seconds--set a school record.
Jim Stangeland, a former teammate and longtime friend of Morris, said many people came to the Oilers’ track and field meets just to see Morris anchor their otherwise mediocre 440-yard relay team.
“We’d always be 20 or 30 yards behind the leaders,” said Stangeland, a former Cal State Long Beach football coach.
“Then Eddie would get the stick and with this great lean and tremendous burst of speed, he would just blow the others off the track. It was almost comical to the people in the stands. It looked like a cartoon.”
But Morris wasn’t laughing, at least not on the track.
“Eddie Morris was all business when he got going,” said Don Potts, editor emeritus of Track & Field News. “You could see it in his eyes he was dead serious.”
At Huntington Beach, Morris was a three-year state and Southern Section champion in the 220-yard dash, and a two-year Southern Section champion in the 100.
His best of 20.7 for the 220, set in a 1940 Southern Section qualifying meet, was four-hundredths of a second faster than the winning time of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. championships the same year. His best in the 100--9.6 seconds--would have tied the NCAA mark the same year.
Although making comparisons between past and present sprint marks is difficult because of several factors--including faster track surfaces, improved racing spikes, the use of starting blocks and automatic timing--Morris’ marks are considered by many to have been way ahead of their time.
“Eddie Morris was a very impressive runner,” Potts said. “Though with all the changes it’s difficult to compare, he’d probably have been one of the top 10 (high school) sprinters in the nation last year.”
Bulletin: Compton Invitational meet officials announced this morning that Eddie Morris’ starting time in the preliminaries has been set for 7:45 p.m. Those who plan to attend and want to be sure of a seat, may secure tickets from “The News” sports editor before Friday noon.
----Huntington Beach News, Page 1, June 1, 1939.
Morris was Huntington Beach’s main event during track season. People expected a lot from him. Every track season, Morris’ race results were printed, analyzed and scrutinized.
Charley Paddock, 1924 Olympic silver medalist in the 220, wrote a lengthy analysis of Morris’ sprinting form, criticizing his slow start but adding that Morris definitely had Olympic potential.
Sharkey Plumlee, sports editor of the Huntington Beach News, wrote about Morris every week in his “Scrambled Sports” column.
In the spring of 1938, Plumlee wrote: “If Morris can cut his furlong (220-yard) time down to around 21 flat, and we see no reason to believe he will not, he’ll board the boat for Tokyo (1940 Olympics) two years hence.”
The boat never boarded, of course, as the 1940 Olympics were canceled because of World War II.
After high school, Morris attended Santa Ana Junior College (now Rancho Santiago College) for 1 1/2 years. It was there that the end of his career began.
In an early-season practice meet between Santa Ana and the USC freshman team, Morris was entered in the 100-yard dash against Jack Trout of Bakersfield, a longtime rival. About 40 yards into the race, Morris pulled up and limped off the track.
“It was just horrible,” Stangeland said. “Eddie had a knot in the back of his thigh the size of a softball. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. It looked like the muscle just snapped, then rolled up into a big ball.”
The injury never really healed. Though Morris went on to accept an athletic scholarship at USC in February 1942, the injury continued to hamper his performance. His last race was in the Coliseum in a USC-Stanford dual meet. The hamstring gave out midway through the 220.
“I still have a great knot in it,” Morris said. “It feels like a big egg. They (athletic trainers and coaches) didn’t know what to do with a hamstring injury in those days, other than rest it.”
Morris enlisted in the Army, was summoned to active duty in 1942 and was stationed in the South Pacific. He was injured by shrapnel and flying coral in both legs, both arms and his back about a year later and returned to the States.
“After the war, I thought about running again,” Morris said. “I tried, but it just wasn’t there. It just wasn’t there. So I went to work. I had a semester to go, but I didn’t go back. If I couldn’t run . . . well, I just didn’t.”
Morris, who will be inducted into the Orange County Hall of Fame Monday night, says he’s sorry his running career ended the way it did, but he isn’t resentful.
“To tell you the truth, I was very shy in those years,” he said. “I wasn’t particularly interested in all that notoriety. It really didn’t do a whole lot for me. I just enjoyed running and having Cap for a coach and making some good friends.”
Including Clabots, who, in a few weeks will be Morris’ next-door neighbor. Morris and his wife, Linda, are moving to Lake Havasu City, Ariz., to join Clabots, his wife, Vivian, and the warmer weather.
EDDIE MORRIS Age: 65. Hometown: Huntington Beach. Residence: Washougal, Wash. Accomplishments:
Was a three-year state and Southern Section champion in the 220-yard dash.
Was a two-year Southern Section champion in the 100-yard dash.
Ran personal bests of 20.7 seconds for the 220-yard dash, and 9.6 seconds for the 100-yard dash.
Won national junior AAU titles in the 100 meters (10.4) and 200 meters (20.6) in 1940.