Every now and then, when his Tompkins boys soccer team is down during a game or not playing as hard as he thinks it should, coach Tom Jones will dig deep and recall a memory that brings forth personal pain and inspiration.
Jones will remind his team about his late daughter Morgan, who passed away in August 2015 at the age of 11 following a year-long battle with cancer. Jones will tell the Falcons how on the day before she passed, Morgan walked on her own to the restroom. She wasn’t supposed to walk; it was deemed practically impossible. But for her last trip to the bathroom, she was persistent that her final steps were hers, and hers alone.
“Every single time we’re down or we’re not giving our best effort, he always compares it to how Morgan never gave up when she was in the hospital,” junior midfielder Jovan Prado said. “They were going to take her, but she was insistent on walking, to the restroom, by herself, for her last time. She did it. And if she can do that, fight like that, we can push and go hard every single minute we’re on that field.”
Morgan lives on at Tompkins and Katy ISD. Last weekend concluded the fifth annual Katy ISD boys soccer tournament, and the third annual Katy ISD MOJO Showcase. Under the recommendation of Seven Lakes coach Jimmy Krueger, the tournament was renamed in 2016 in Morgan’s honor. “MOJO” was Morgan’s nickname, consisting of her first and last names, and Jones speaks emotionally about Morgan’s “positive mojo.”
Tompkins players wear warmup shirts, navy with white lettering, with the motto “POSITIVE MOJO,” an idea brought forth last semester when junior defender Al Peynado suggested the team needed shirts to acknowledge Morgan’s influence.
“I didn’t know much about her, but what I heard about her is she was a really special girl,” Peynado said. “She fought and gave it her all. You look at that day before she died, she wasn’t supposed to be walking. On paper, it wasn’t possible. But she ends up walking, and that shows anything’s possible. There’s no excuses because of the positive example she set.”
The Falcons certainly played like it during the showcase last weekend. Tompkins went 3-0 and outscored opponents Kileen Ellison, Ridge Point and Galveston Ball by a combined score of 22-4.
“We saw her at the games, and I just remember she was very positive all the time,” senior defender Josef Schmidt said. “Doing what we’re doing as far as the tournament and memory is good as far as honoring her. Whenever you have a tournament like this that means so much, it really inspires us and gets us fired up.”
Morgan was diagnosed with a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor in September 2014. The cancer started in her spine and wrapped around into her chest cavity.
Morgan went through three surgeries, chemo and radiation. Nothing helped. But during the whole time, no matter how much pain she was in, she always had a smile on her face.
“She was one of those people that just had a happy, easygoing personality,” said former assistant coach Jason Meekins, who spent three years under Jones at Tompkins before taking the boys head coaching job at Ridge Point this season. “People received her very well. Everybody was her friend.”
Jones and his coaching staff were open with his players about Morgan’s situation from the start. Players understood that Jones would not be around all the time, and that was true. After some doctors appointments or during hospital stays, Meekins would run practices or game days. It wasn’t long before Jones’ and Morgan’s story began to spread around the district, beginning at Seven Lakes and Cinco Ranch.
During a district game between Seven Lakes and Tompkins, Spartans players and coaches presented gifts to Jones, Morgan and his family. At the state semifinals in 2015, Cinco Ranch girls players wore wrist bands adorned with “MOJO” on them.
Cinco Ranch coach Mason Whitfield’s wife sang at Morgan’s funeral.
Meekins asked for his team to compete in this year’s tournament since he had a first-hand understanding of what it meant. He uses it as a teaching tool for his players.
“It’s a great teaching point to tell that story of Morgan and her fight and grit in fighting her battle,” Meekins said.
With wife Amy and 11-year-old daughter Reese, Jones hopes to make the tournament more of a charity event in the future. They already have started their own charity, www.mojosmiracle.com, to help kids with cancer. The charity is two years old.
Meanwhile, Morgan’s influence continues to grow. Pictures of Morgan hang in Tompkins’ locker room. After every team huddle, players cry out, “Positive Mojo!”
“She was a very positive person, from what I’ve been told,” junior defender Paul Summerford said. “She had a very harsh cancer, but even through that, she was positive and always had a smile. We implement that light and positivity into our game. There’s no negativity with this team. We want to pick each other up and keep playing as a team through anything.”
It’s a lasting thought that Jones starts to tear up at as an endearing memory of his beloved first child.
When Morgan Jones is remembered, it’s not the cancer that comes to mind. It’s the infectious smile, so bright it would make the sun blush. It’s the plentiful, colorful bows that were placed so carefully in her hair. It’s her passion for cheerleading, a true coach’s daughter.
It’s her fight, taking on any and all circumstances that were thrown her way.
“The crazy part about it is she was born at 28 weeks and weighed one pound,” Jones said. “From the very beginning, she was a fighter. Everything was stacked against her. She just fought and fought, and when she got sick, she just kept fighting. She never complained. It was never about how much pain she was in. It was about how she was going to put a smile on her face and make it better for everyone else.”