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Cooper Residents Willing to Give Morris Another Chance, If He’s Guilty

April 21, 1996

COOPER, Texas (AP) _ The talk around old Miller’s Pharmacy a few months ago was all about hometown kid Bam Morris, and how proud everyone was that he’d helped the Pittsburgh Steelers make it to the Super Bowl.

On March 22, pride turned to disappointment when Morris was arrested in Rockwall. Police pulled him over for a traffic violation and reported finding six pounds of marijuana in his black Mercedes. A gram of cocaine was later discovered, authorities said.

Pretty soon, the talk at Miller’s was back on Bam.

``We were astonished,″ said Marion Miller, whose family has run the drug store and coffee shop for 75 years. ``He’s the last person I would’ve expected to be involved in anything like that.″

It’s been a month since the news hit this East Texas town, and locals still find it hard to believe that Marie Morris’ son would be in such trouble. They know he was raised better than that.

``Most of us certainly are saddened. We hope it’s not true,″ said Fred Wilkerson, superintendent of Cooper schools. ``Sometimes when we’re young, we tend do stupid things. This may fall in that category _ with a capital stupid.″

Most everyone seems to be holding out hope that Morris’ innocent plea to two felony drug possession charges will be justified when his trial, scheduled for July 15, begins. Some family members have charged that the drugs were planted.

But even if a jury agrees with Rockwall County District Attorney Ray Sumrow’s claim that the evidence is ``unequivocal,″ many of Cooper’s 2,338 residents say they’d still give Morris a second chance. If found guilty, he up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each charge.

``His mother and I were talking about it, and we agree it could be the best thing that ever happened to him,″ said Lola Morgan, who has known Marie Morris since they were kids. ``If he’s guilty and he turns his life around, he could help others.″

Miller, who coached Bam’s eighth-grade baseball team, is just as forgiving.

``Hopefully he’s learned his lesson, and he can be a productive member of society,″ Miller said. ``Hopefully, one day he can return to being the role model he once was.″

Bam remains quite a symbol around town, which is so small that it’s only traffic light flashes yellow.

A few windows in the main square, where Miller’s can be found, still have ``Go Bam″ or ``Bam 33″ slathered across them. A two-way sign along the highway reads: ``Welcome to Cooper, Texas, the boyhood home of Ron Morris of the Chicago Bears and Byron `Bam’ Morris of the Pittsburgh Steelers.″

It’s pretty easy to figure out when Bam is home. As Wilkerson said, ``there aren’t many black Mercedes in Cooper.″

Morris recently switched colors, and now drives a white Mercedes.

When he’s in town, Morris often visits the schools. The kids love to see him, and he does his best to attend his nieces and nephews’ youth league games.

``He was never arrogant about what he attained,″ Miller said of Morris, a Texas Tech standout who fit right in with the Steelers as a rookie in 1994. ``He was always the same person when he came in here as when he was a kid.″

Some people suggested Morris’ problems began when he left this community 80 miles northeast of Dallas.

``Life doesn’t stay still,″ said Judy Falls, an English teacher at the high school. ``Only the people from small towns have to learn that life is a stage. Athletes especially live in glass boxes.″

Although Morris has taken a low profile since his legal woes began, Miller said the favorite son can always call Cooper home.

``They won’t hold it against him,″ Miller said. ``If he came back and looked at everyone eye-to-eye, admitted it and said, `I want your respect back,′ he’d get it.″

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