Inspiring Okeechobee: Coach Hollimon ‘made it about the kids’

OKEECHOBEE — Who are Okeechobee residents thankful for? Dionna Farmer was one of the first to jump at the chance to talk about which person from Okeechobee’s past she is most thankful for this holiday season. She said she is thankful for Coach Morris Hollimon. She said he went above and beyond as a coach to ensure that kids in our community were OK and had opportunities. Coach Hollimon was born and raised in Arcadia, but after he served six years in the Army, he and his wife, Jernice, moved to Okeechobee. When he first moved to town, he worked for Florida Power & Light as a meter reader and then started coaching.

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He could be hard on you, but it was tough love,” said Dionna Farmer about Coach Morris Hollimon.

“It was interesting,” she said, “because at the time, you didn’t see a lot of African-American men coaching ball, and it was not only basketball but it was football, softball, etc. in the 90s.” Ms. Farmer said she was in a weird situation where her dad was not around so Coach was coach. He taught her about self-worth. He taught her about personal space and the importance of keeping people out of her personal space. Before there were actual programs and mental health “whatevers,” Coach was the one who told the kids, “You can do it, and anything is possible.”

Ms. Farmer played softball for coach through OCRA but aged out at 15. She had just started JV at the high school, and he allowed her to coach with him. She said it was quite possibly one of the most rewarding albeit the most difficult times of her life. “At 15, no matter what, you’re selfish, and Coach made it more than being selfish. He made it about the kids and keeping them focused, letting them know they could do it,” she said. “He could be hard on you, but it was tough love, because a lot of us needed the structure he provided.”

Even while he was working full time and coaching, he played minor league football for a while. He would go from work to football to coaching, and when Shoney’s was here in town, he waited tables as a way to make extra money. He got Ms. Farmer her first job there. He always said, “You’ve always got to be busy doing something, and you’ve got to do it for your community, because if you aren’t giving back, then why are you here?” Ms. Farmer was an honor student and was headed to college, but she didn’t understand some of the basics of survival. He explained how to apply for a job and how to give notice when you quit.

Since he retired from FPL after 20 years, he moved to Georgia, and lives with his daughter. He is still coaching up there, and he has state level teams when he coaches, but it’s not without the tough love.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Coach Morris Hollimon taught the kids they could do anything if they worked hard enough.

“We live in a society now where everyone wants to enable and they all want participation ribbons, but with Morris Hollimon, you earn every little bit. At the same time, the respect you get is worth it. I could call him at any given time during high school, college, I knew where he lived. I could always stop and ask him what he thought, and he would give me his honest opinion. I’m thankful he never gave up on us no matter how difficult it was to see us make mistakes that could have been avoided,” she said. “When you coach, the kids don’t come with a label. You don’t know what background they come from, what family they come from. You don’t know if their family came from money. You treat them all the same.”

He believed in teaching them how to do things right, she said. “It was the only time you saw a bunch of 8-year-olds with play books.”

Ms. Farmer asked coach’s daughter to ask him some questions, and he told her he likes to coach because he is good at it. His mantra is to teach everyone to work as a team because too many people want to go rogue and just work by themselves. He feels he has a lot of knowledge and life experiences to share and that is why he likes to help people. He loves sports and all the life lessons they provide.

Not long ago, there was a an appreciation dinner held for Coach Hollimon and it was filled with people of all races, colors and creeds, she said. In a slide show at the dinner, several people expressed their feelings for him.

One man said, “Coach taught mental toughness and to never give up on ourselves. You taught us we can do it if we just believe. You did a great job as a father figure. Mr. Hollimon had my total respect. He was a man of great stature and he didn’t play about the rules. We respected you for that.”

One young man said Coach Hollimon did not coach him but coached his mom and it made such an impact on her that it affected the way she raised him.

Ben Wilcox said when he first met Coach Hollimon, he was in sixth grade, the only sixth grader on the team, and that year, they won the championship, but they had to work hard to do it. “You made us better men both on and off the field. I want to thank you for that,” he said.

One woman said she always loved the way he made her feel like an important part of the team even though she wasn’t very good at sports.

Jattorious Galloway, a player for Savannah State University, said Coach Hollimon taught him to strive for better things and never settle for less.

Ms. Farmer has followed in Coach Hollimon’s footsteps and coaches kids herself. She has been a teacher for 14 years. “Coach did everything he did for us kids for free. He never got paid a dime, but he was concerned with making sure we were all mentally OK. I’ve never met anyone else like that. In all the years I have lived here, and I was born and raised here, I’ve never met anyone else like that,” she said.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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