The Class of 2013 has been at Elon University for four years. Bill Morningstar’s time at the school, both as a student and athletic coach, nearly multiplies that number by 11.
To put in perspective how long Morningstar has been a part of the Elon landscape, he arrived on the campus of what was then Elon College in 1960, three years after Earl Danieley assumed the president’s office.
While Morningstar graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1964, graduation day for the Class of 2013 will mark another graduation in its own right for the 41-year coach.
Officially announcing his retirement from the men’s golf program in December, Morningstar leaves a legacy decorated with more than just accolades and records on the links.
Elon College — round No. 1
Morningstar came to Elon as part of the first real recruiting class for second-year men’s head basketball coach Bill Miller in 1960. A four-year letter winner on the team, he helped the Fightin’ Christians to a 74-70 record, but had the most success in his final year in 1973-74, when the team finished 21- 7. The season included a 13-game undefeated streak.
“I came to Elon on a basketball scholarship in 1960,” Morningstar said. “Back then, Elon was basically a teacher’s college, so out of college I taught one year and coached in South Carolina before I went back to the high school I graduated from as the head basketball coach for seven years.”
In those seven years at his alma mater, Morningstar also coached the cross country program at the school.
In 1972, another alma mater came calling — this time in the form of Miller and Elon. Eight years after completing his undergraduate studies, Morningstar returned to the place he called home for four years in the early 1960s, but it wasn’t in the capacity he thought it would be.
Elon College — round No. 2
Agreeing to return to the Fightin’ Christians men’s basketball program as an assistant coach under Miller, another title came with his basketball title, one he knew nothing about.
“He went away and came back in 1972 as an assistant basketball coach,” said Elon athletic director Dave Blank. “But when he got here, Elon said, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re also going to coach our golf team.’”
Though he self-admittedly proclaims he didn’t know anything about golf, Morningstar would become a mainstay in the program.
“When I came back to Elon, they told me, ‘By the way, you’ve got the golf team,’” Morningstar said. “I said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ That didn’t matter though because it came with the assistant basketball coaching job.”
According to Morningstar, most of the assistant coaches took on what were called the “minor sports.”
“The football assistants, one of them had track, one had tennis, another had wrestling,” Morningstar said. “It just so happened basketball had golf.That’s how I got started with golf.”
While other “minor” programs had coaches come and go, Morningstar stuck around — for 41 years.
By no means did Morningstar start the men’s basketball program he originally entered at Elon. The team was formed in 1911, 49 years prior to Morningstar arriving at Elon. What he did have a hand in starting were multiple other programs competing at high levels today.
“He’s been the men’s cross country coach. He’s been the women’s cross country coach. He’s been the golf coach,” Blank said. “He establishes programs from the ground up.”
Instead of leaving his position with the men’s golf team when he took the head basketball coaching position prior to the 1979-80 season, he stayed on to coach both teams. Seven years later, his life with basketball came to an end to focus on what he thought would only be golf. Just a few years later, then-Athletic Director Alan White came knocking in an attempt to get him to coach the new cross country programs.
“When I coached the cross country team in high school, we were very successful, so when Dr. White asked me to do that, I said I would get it started,” Morningstar said. “I ended up in it 12 years.”
One of Morningstar’s favorite moments through the years at Elon was the first season in which the Fightin’ Christians cross country program ran. With nothing previously established prior to the season, Morningstar calls what the team accomplished at season’s end “more memorable than most.”
“They wanted me to get it started and in the first year, we had a bunch of kids that were just running,” Morningstar said. “There was no money and we won conference anyway. That was just a great experience to see the kids run across the mountains toward the finish line. We had a half-mile to go and at the point, we knew we were going to win the conference.”
In the fall of 2012, the women’s cross country program received its first national ranking, proving how far the program has come since Morningstar gave it roots in the 1990s.
When Elon started a women’s golf program, who was there to take the reins from Day One? It was Morningstar.
“I can’t imagine Bill Morningstar ever complaining,” Blank said. “He’s just that kind of person. It was just kind of one of those things, ‘Bill, we need you to do something else,’ and he just graciously did it.”
Replacing a legend
Instead of waiting for the 2013 golf season to start, Morningstar was proactive about announcing his retirement. The announcement came in December so as to not disrupt his players' midseason.
“We announced Bill’s retirement in December at his request,” Blank said. “Bill thought it was important to announce his retirement before the spring season so that the kids could say, ‘Okay, now I know. Now it can settle in,’ and then they can have a spring season rather than announcing it in the middle of the season and cause a distraction to the team.”
While Blank waited until the end of the season to search for Morningstar’s replacement out of respect for other programs, the search turned up Don Hill, a former standout at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to coming to Elon, he served as an associate head coach with the University of South Carolina men’s golf program.
While new to the Elon community, Hill was on campus prior to being offered the job. Even from one visit, he said he could tell the impact Morningstar had on the program through the first 41 years of its existence.
“I want to thank Coach Morningstar. He is a living legend and has meant so much to the university and the game of golf,” Hill told Elon Athletics. “It was easy to see when I stepped foot on campus why this place has been so special for him for so long.”
According to Blank, Hill had all the qualities he was looking for in a replacement to Morningstar.
“Most importantly, I liked his connection with our current players,” Blank said. “It’s important to me that our coaches connect well with our student athletes. I also don’t like hiring anybody that feels like they need to come in and make wholesale changes, get their own student athletes and stuff like that. I like his vision for the program and what we’re trying to do with scheduling and recruiting, which are two of the more important elements of building the program.”
Hill will arrive on campus to officially take over the program in June.
Finishing a legacy
Blank said it’s not the accomplishments in the record books that make Morningstar a legend to Elon athletics. After all, he has been a member of the Elon Athletics Hall of Fame since 1988 and a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Ath- letics (NAIA) Coaches Hall of Fame since 1989. To best describe Morningstar’s legacy, Blank used “friend.”
“He puts a lot into friendships,” Blank said. “Some people are friends, and some people work at friendships. There is a difference. Bill works at friendships. If he knows something is going on, he’s going to try and support that. He’s been to the middle school to see my kids play sports. Just stuff like that. That’s what you do when you work at friendships and Bill does that.”
Even Morningstar doesn’t want to make it about the records, or about himself as a matter of fact. Instead, it’s about the Elon community and all that inhabit it.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to serve that long for Elon University and back to Elon College,” Morningstar said. “Just the idea that I was very fortunate to be here 41 years to work with as many athletes as I did in all different sports, it’s been a great ride.”
Morningstar has been at Elon for three of the school’s eight presidents. Four years have passed since the Class of 2013 stepped foot on Elon’s campus, but 53 have come and gone since Morningstar arrived for undergrad. To serve at Elon for the amount of time he did, Morningstar knows one thing: “I’ve been lucky.”
“It’s been a great ride. It really has,” he said. “Elon let me do what I love to do and paid me for it. I’ve always said if you love the work you’re doing, you’re on break all the time. I’ve been on break since 1972, so I would say it’s been a great ride."