KINGSTON, Jamaica – 23-year-old UTech graduate Monique Morrison is the head coach of the Jamaica College (JC) High School Boy’s Lacrosse Team. Laidback yet headstrong, Morrison considers herself to be “quirky.” Not having any set goals when she set out to College, she only “knew” that she wanted to play Lacrosse. Obviously gifted, Morrison labels her coaching style as “out there” and “eccentric.” She invents many of her own drills, saying “they come to me at night when I lie down thinking.”
While in high school at the all girl’s Alpha Academy, 17-year-old Morrison saw someone new on the school’s campus and approached him to find out what he was doing. He told her that he was going to start coaching Lacrosse on Tuesdays on the campus and invited her to join. Having only heard briefly about the sport prior to this chance meeting, Morrison’s interest was piqued. She attended the first training and “never looked back,” said Morrison.
At that time, there were no inter-school competitions, no training camps, no other incentives for participating in the sport, but Morrison, who at the time was facing personal challenges, saw it as a good opportunity for distraction. From there, Morrison met a member of the Lacrosse volunteer corps, Kevin Dugan, who had formed summer and winter co-ed Lacrosse camps. Morrison, now determined to improve her skills, signed up and attended the camps taught by volunteer coaches from the U.S., and one coach from Scotland. One year, the corps was planning to take a team on tour in Scotland, but unfortunately, that fell through and the momentum fell.
After leaving high school, Morrison, took a gap year and started coaching Lacrosse at Alpha. Now a very passionate coach, Morrison was hungry to learn as much as she could about the sport. She did her own research, learning drills, sourced equipment (from STGC), but initially, as an 18-year-old coach, found it difficult to keep the students engaged. By then, there were 4 high schools playing Lacrosse: 2 girls’ schools and 2 boys’ schools.
When Morrison started U-Tech, she made arrangements with former Alpha Student and fellow teammate, UWI student, Chantal Salmon, to take turns coaching 2 of the girl’s schools – St. Hugh’s and Alpha interchangeably with the help of Jamaica Lacrosse Coach Alix Baldini (who is now the Jamaica Women’s U19 coach).
As the years went by, Dugan invited Morrison and a couple other female coaches to board with other volunteers, to help train winter and summer camps. This lead to the coaches going out to the schools like Immaculate to actively recruit girls for the program. Participating with the Jamaica Women’s Lacrosse camps became difficult as school took priority and Morrison had to take a temporary reprieve from coaching but maintained her skills as she continued to play.
In March 2019, Morrison, during semi-final competitions at St. Hugh’s, met her current team manager, ‘Zeus’ while she took time off from her studies to volunteer as a game photographer. Watching JC vs. St. George’s College (STGC) high school, Zeus and Morrison struck up a conversation when Zeus noticed Morrison giving tips to the STGC boys on the sidelines. Zeus, impressed with Morrison’s knowledge and enthusiasm, mentioned to her that JC’s boys’ team (the team that he managed) needed a coach. Not having much experience with coaching boys at the time, Morrison was daunted, but very much interested. “Tell me more,” she said.
Zeus told Morrison that the JC Boy’s team was coaching themselves at the time, and they exchanged numbers.
That May, Zeus reached out to Morrison for her resume, and Morrison, who was by then Level 1 Certified, took a leap of faith. Zeus had Morrison revise and resubmit her resume multiple times before it was “good enough” to be presented to the school’s principal. During this time, she took the opportunity to research and study all of the boys rules so that she could be prepared to take on the position. In July, Morrison finally presented a suitable Lacrosse resume and received the response she had hoped for in September. On October 17th, Morrison met her team for the first time. Some of the students she already knew from the summer camps, but was new to the majority of her team.
Unfazed by her gender, the boys were very respectful, “they don’t see me as a ‘female’ coach, they just see me as a coach,” remarked Morrison, who stayed in the dorm for the first week on campus, and again during winter camp. Currently the only female coach for a boys’ team in Jamaica and the first female coach for JC for over 50 years (second only to the teacher who doubled as a Badminton coach in the 1960’s).
As a “likkle” person and still very young coach, Morrison doesn’t feel that she has been snubbed by any of the male coaches, “many people still see me as a student,” she remarked when discussing the reactions of the wider community. “I feel that I am looked up to,” continued Morrison. “There are a lot of girls who want to coach, but don’t think they can.” Many of the girls that Morrison coached at Alpha and St. Hugh’s are now members of the Jamaica U-19 team. “When I told them that – you know, I teach at JC now,” Morrison reflected, “they were kind-of like ‘JC? You know that’s a boy’s school, right?’ and I was like, yeah.” Morrison continued, “They were kind of skeptical if this was going to work out… but these girls are my biggest supporters.”
“At that time, JC wasn’t a ‘big side’ – it wasn’t a team the people were looking to do anything with, because prior to me coaching them, they were getting slaughtered,” Morrison stated. “They were winning against the smaller teams, but when it came up to [playing against] the bigger teams, like Calabar and Georges and KC, they were not faring well”.
“We made it to the finals!” Morrison beamed when asked how the team is doing now in the Taino Cup inter-school boy’s championships. “That was before this whole Coronavirus thing started – we are at finals now.”
“Georges were the defending champions, we had beat Georges. We tied with Calabar the first time, beat Calabar the second time to go to semi-finals. KC was the only school that we lost to – by one point. Every other school that KC has played, KC goes double digits to their one point – they beat Georges 12-1, they beat Calabar 4-1, they beat Hillel 25-0, Wolmers 7-3; we are the only team that scored 4 goals against them to their 5. That 5th goal was scored in the last minute.”
“The boys cried, they thought they had it because they were in the lead for a while,” Morrison continued, “I had to look them all in the eyes and tell them that we’re coming for them for finals.”
With the Coronavirus, the finals has been postponed until further notice. The team continues to stay in touch via WhatsApp, and each player has a fitness regime that they have all been sticking to. “Wall ball is never something that they can get tired of. Everybody can improve with wall ball,” says Morrison. “They check in with me because I asked them to.”
“These boys weren’t used to playing with a coach – they’ve played years by themselves, so I had to really work on my coach skills, and my voice,” said Morrison, “I had to work on yelling from my stomach.”
“People expect a different type of voice when they meet me,” Morrison beams, “but I’m like – that’s right, I’m a woman!”
“We have everything that we need to beat KC, the one thing that we need [to work on] to beat KC is mental fortitude. My boys are very hard on themselves, and they need to be a well-oiled machine. If one gear stops turning, the entire machine is going to fail.” Said Morrison.
Showing gratitude for Sports Psychologist and JC Alum, Dr. Scott Hamilton, Morrison said Hamilton spoke to the team about the voices in their heads that hold them back. Morrison uses those tips to keep the team focused.
Looking forward for more support from fellow students, parents, faculty and teachers, the P.E. department, the alumni, and the community, Morrison is asking for Lacrosse to be taken seriously as a sport. “We need this win, so that we can get the support we need.”
“This is not a sport that is trying to take away from track and football,” says Morrison, “trying to get gear just for the starting ten… [was] not a priority.”
There are crowds for intra-murals at the school for inter-class games, but to get support for the school’s Lacrosse team is hard work. Morrison wants the world to know that “we are not to be underestimated. We are a force to be reckoned with.
“For me,” Morrison continued, “me likkle, but me tallawah.”