Professors you love

Leotus Morrison

Leotus Morrison

She got game: Leotus Morrison taught more than field hockey skills

By Donna Farmer Butler ('71)

Originally published in Summer 2002, this is just one of many stories from Madison magazine's award-winning Professors You Love series, written by JMU students and alumni, about the professors that have made the most impact on their lives — then, and now.

"When you're up to your neck in alligators, it is difficult to remind yourself that your original objective was to drain the swamp."

I had no business being a physical education major. On my best day, with all systems go, I was a mediocre athlete with few visible skills. As a bonus, I was slow. After wavering between guidance counseling and English as a major, I abruptly changed to physical education. My decision was based mainly on a happy summer job of directing a playground and on the belief that I could develop closer ties with my students in the relaxed atmosphere of PE classes. For four years at Madison College, I was compared to people who could run, throw, hit, shoot, catch and jump with excellence.

I was doomed — until I met Leotus Morrison.

She gave me hope. She broke the mold. She thought "outside of the box" and accepted those of us who were unable to match the ideal. She encouraged free thinking, welcomed ideas other than her own and set high standards for reasoning.

"She gave me hope. She broke the mold. She thought 'outside of the box' and accepted those of us who were unable to match the ideal."

Dr. Morrison, who taught health and physical education, never responded with the words "because I said so." She was more likely to ask, "What do you think and why?" If a student could produce a logical and well-planned alternative, Dr. Morrison was not afraid to let the student give it a try. Often her students discovered that Dr. Morrison's way was indeed the best, but what a learning experience she provided.

Her standards were high. Written assignments could receive an "Excellent, C+," part of a marking scale that none of us could appreciate at the time. Lee Morrison enjoyed and stimulated lively debate in her classroom. Her thought-provoking questions were ahead of the curve of current philosophy. She taught us to accept the special needs child in our classes long before that became common practice. She foresaw the falling of barriers for coaches to coach teams of the opposite sex.

She was always one step ahead. She exemplified grace under pressure, and she was the calm in the storm. She taught that the best decisions are made when emotions are not high. When I went to her with a sorority problem, she let me rant and then carefully directed my considerations to several possible solutions. She guided students to the truth, rather than dictating what was true or what should be done.

Yearbook photo of Leotus Morrison, Mary Beyrer and Celeste Ulrich
Yearbook photo of (L to R) Leotus Morrison, A.A. Advisor, with Mary Beyrer and Celeste Ulrich. Morrison, professor emerita of health and physical education, was inducted into the JMU Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.

A class partner and I decided to design a survey of drug abuse for an important project our senior year. It was, by our account, a failure. Few surveys were returned to us, and of those that came back, many had obviously not been answered in just. Dr. Morrison showed us the other side of our results and how to draw some interesting conclusions. We were invited to present our final report, possibly to serve as a bad example, but we learned how to see things in another light.

Students who were enrolled in Dr. Morrison's classes were exposed to dynamic lessons taught by an inspiring professor with uplifting convictions. If you paid attention, you left class with more than field hockey skills; you had skills for life.

About the professor 
Leotus Morrison, professor emerita of health and physical education, lives in Harrisonburg. Morrison was inducted into the JMU Sports Hall of Fame in 1992 for her successes as coach of both the field hockey and women's basketball teams. The professor and coach was instrumental in the formation (and later served as president) of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, the original governing body for college women's athletics in the United States.

About the author
Donna Farmer Butler ('71) says that she has "spent 31 years on the front lines battling the war on ignorance." She has taught every grade level from K to 12 and every subject, except science in middle school. Butler teaches for Hanover County Schools, where she has been named an Armonk Scholar and Teacher of the Year. She also earned the John Marsh Award for teaching the U.S. Constitution. She and Ray live in Mechanicsville with daughter, Sarah, a senior at JMU.

Back to Top

Published: Monday, February 10, 2014

Last Updated: Monday, February 22, 2021

Related Articles