By Joshua Weinberger
When curling fans across the country watch Canada’s top athletes compete for gold at the Winter Olympics, which start on Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, few will be eyeing the scoreboard more closely than Canadian Curling Hall of Famer and Ottawa Curling Club legend Earle Morris.
Morris, who is to be honoured at the Ottawa Sports Awards dinner on Jan. 31 for a lifetime’s excellence in coaching, has mentored two of Canada’s top medal prospects at the Winter Games: his son John, a 2010 Vancouver Olympics gold medalist and one half of the country’s mixed-doubles team with Kaitlyn Lawes; and Team Homan, the current national and world women’s champions and the pride of the historic O’Connor Street club.
No surprise Morris will be heading to South Korea to watch the action in person.
“They are so deserving, but we all know that high performance sport doesn’t necessarily reward you for all your work, so you just have to keep at it and they have — and I am just so proud of them,” said the 72-year-old Morris, a three-time competitor in the Canadian men’s championship tournament in the early 1980s.
In fact, Morris was the first person to appear at three Brier championships for three different provinces during his playing career. He is also the inventor of the stabilizer device widely used to as an attachment to curling brooms to assist in the delivery of rocks and to make the sport accessible to many more people.
Homan and her teammates qualified for the Games last month after beating Chelsea Carey 6-5 in the women’s final of the Canadian Olympic curling trials. The Roar of the Rings triumph capped a year for the history books, as Team Homan had swept to victory at the Scotties national tournament before winning a world title in Beijing.
While coaching his son’s Canadian championship-winning junior teams out of the OCC, Morris discovered Homan, then a passionate, independent curler who — although too young to play with the older kids — would hang around the rinks inside the downtown Ottawa club.
“She was noticeable because she practised on her own, and right from the beginning she had this outstanding curling delivery,” Morris recounted. “I coached her from the time she was 13 until she was 20.”
In 2013, Homan and her team earned their way to a bronze medal at the world championships. A year later they claimed silver and also won a second national title. Bringing home an Olympic medal would be the greatest accomplishment for the team, which includes Homan’s fellow OCC curlers Emma Miskew, Lisa Weagle and Joanne Courtney.
To Morris, Team Homan’s remarkable run this year isn’t overly surprising.
“High performance is not all that complicated. It has got about five or six components, no matter what sport you play; one is strategy, one is mental toughness, one is strong team dynamics, and one is healthy lifestyle (choices),” he said. “If you are good in all those areas, then you can be great, and if you’re really good in all of those areas, then you can become an Olympian.”
Coaching his son and being Homan’s early mentor were two very different experiences, said Morris, both of which he described as fulfilling.
“With John and the boys, my role was to be a cheerleader, to work on the team dynamics, and to run the training camps . . . Whereas with Rachel there was this strategic component because they were a younger team,” explained Morris. “You’re trying to help them figure out how to play strategically.”
Having officially retired from professional coaching, Morris is currently lending his expertise to those training the sport’s youth. “It’s the challenge of seeing what you can do,” he said, when asked what has kept him hooked to this kind of job.
In terms of Homan’s local stardom, Morris believes “the beauty of her success is that in a way it is saying to other people that, ‘Like her, you, too, can be successful if you put your mind to it.’
“Rachel, once upon a time, was just a little rock curler, and she had the burning desire to be a champion.”