Hall of fame inductee Kelly Morda met challenges head-on for Ford City
Kelly Morda has been, and probably always will be, the grinning kid at the top of the sliding board.
Morda never backed down from a challenge. In fact, she embraced each one that came her way throughout a basketball career that was as successful as it was sensational.
Whether it was during her time as a star guard at Ford City or St. Vincent College, Morda's message always seemed to be, “Bring it on.”
Her exploits will be recognized May 17 at the Clarion Hotel when she and seven others are inducted into the Alle-Kiski Sports Hall of Fame.
Morda, the second all-time leading scorer in the A-K Valley (2,028 points) and at St. Vincent (1,776), said her mental toughness began to form at an early age.
“Instead of gymnastics and dance classes, I was doing YMCA soccer and touch football or playing boys little league,” Morda, 33, said. “I always wanted to play with the boys. My entire childhood, all my friends were boys. I appreciate that chance. It made me tougher.”
Morda helped put Ford City back on the map, leading the Sabers to the 1998 PIAA semifinals after a runner-up finish in the WPIAL. Her senior season saw the team finish 28-2. That team had Morda and three eventual 1,000-point scorers in Cassandra Cutts, Kristin Myers and Jess Thompson.
Her teammates won't argue that Morda put team first. So, it seems natural that Morda heads to the hall somewhat sheepishly.
“I always wanted to win and make memories you could hang on the wall,” Morda said. “I wanted that more than personal endeavors.
“I don't want to be up on a pedestal.”
Ford City hasn't missed the WPIAL playoffs since Morda left. She still lives there.
“The town really supported us,” she said. “We had a huge balloon release. We were the first big female team to go that far in sports. There were people in the streets wishing us luck. It all felt so surreal.”
Seton-La Salle could tell you what Morda's favorite highlight is. In the championship game of the 1998 Ford City Christmas Tournament, Ford City, ranked No. 2 in Class AA, trailed Seton-La Salle, the No. 2 team in Class AAA, by three points in the final seconds. Morda wasn't supposed to get the ball out of an in-bounds play, but when she did, she caught it, stepped behind the 3-point line and fired. The ball went in, the buzzer went off and the game went to overtime. Ford City won 69-67.
“I had the stomach flu pretty bad — it was crazy,” Morda said. “The stands cleared, and everyone rushed the floor.”
At St. Vincent, Morda played four years and helped the Bearcats reach the national tournament. She earned Small College All-American honors in 2002.
On-court memories often take a backseat to the bond Morda had with late coach Kristen Zawacki, who died of a heart attack in 2010 at age 52.
Morda said she wishes Zawacki could attend the induction banquet.
“Her and (Ford City coach) Pam Hobaugh were wonderful mentors, and they steered me in the right direction, both as a professional and athlete,” Morda said. “Kristen was great. Even when I came into the locker room (after my career), she made me feel like I was part of the team. She was a jokester, I am a jokester. She allowed us to have fun. You never want to have a dictator for a coach.”
Morda turned down a tryout for a semi-professional team overseas to pursue teaching. Now an assistant girls basketball coach and health and physical education teacher at Riverview, she still goes all out, fears aside. She runs with the team — and scores with ease — in basketball practices and even “competes” in gym classes.
Recently, she was diagnosed with a concussion after falling hard to the court during a gym-class hockey game. Still, she doesn't plan to cut down on participation any time soon.
Bring it on.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.