The amazing Wally
GARDEN – Most Americans don’t often think anything of their ability to read and write. For some, however, these otherwise simple tasks are made burdensome by dyslexia – one of which is Wally Morin of Garden. Despite the difficulties created by his condition, Morin was able to persevere and have a more than memorable childhood.
Those diagnosed with dyslexia have difficulty learning and processing language, a condition caused by atypical neurological development. Morin, at the age of 14, left school after becoming frustrated with his inability to read after spending three years in the fifth grade. At that time, Morin did not know he was dyslexic. It wasn’t until years later, at the age of 55, that he was diagnosed.
Despite his challenge with reading, Morin excelled in other areas. Whether he was driving 69 nails in a minute or sinking an astounding 97 percent of 2,000 free throws, he kept busy throughout his childhood.
Over the years, Morin has been the feature of several newspaper articles for his achievements, but his condition has prevented him from reading them.
“I had always felt a bit embarrassed and a little ashamed because I couldn’t read,” he said in a recent interview. “I hid it all those years.
Just reading the sports page would mean a lot to me,” he added.
His first job and claim to fame was at the Garden Fish Box Factory. It was there his speed and accuracy earned him notoriety. Morin set a record by averaging 30 boxes an hour, for a total of 240 boxes in an eight hour shift. He had a one-day record high of 325. For the year, he created an incredible 56,000 boxes.
Each box had approximately 45 nails and 10 pieces of lumber; that equates to 2,520,000 nails in a year.
After leaving the factory, Morin went to work in the construction field and gave many nailing exhibitions.
During a one-minute timed run, he drove 68 six-penny nails in 60 seconds. In another timed run with a handful of nails, he drove in 28 nails in 19 seconds.
To those around him, Morin’s hand-eye coordination was amazing. Beside his ability to nail at lightning speed, he was also an exceptional free throw shooter. In his prime, Morin made 361 out of 365 (98.9 percent) in 1960; in 1965 shooting in Newberry for the March of Dimes, he shot 119 out of 123 (96.7 percent); and in 1972 at the Union Hall in Iron Mountain, he shot 208 out of 209. The World Record at that time was 200.
His ultimate display of freethrow know-how was in 1974, when he sunk 1,940 out of 2,000 from the charity strip at an exhibition in the Big Bay de Noc gym. That equated to a 97 percent average, shattering the 90.45 percent record listed in the Guinness Book of World Records set by Ted St. Martin of Riverdale, Calif.
Morin never practiced – he credits his accomplishments to an uncanny eye, noting that the hoop always looks large to him.
In a previous Pioneer Tribune article, Don Chartier, who has known Morin for years, praised his friend.
“He’s unbelievable. From anywhere – three-pointers and hook shots from at least 20 feet out,” he said. “Put him against Larry Bird and there’s no comparison; I’d put money on Wally.”
As in his other sport, baseball, Morin could call shots.
“He’d say, ‘Glass or net?’ And I’d tell him glass or net,” Chartier said. “Twenty feet out, from the side of the court, I’d say ‘glass’ and he’d sink it off the backboard; I’d say ‘net’ and all you’d hear was net.”
The moment Morin is most proud of is his meeting with former Los Angeles Laker Earvin “Magic” Johnson in 1991. Those 15 minutes of fame came about after an interview Morin had with Detroit Free Press writer David Hacker. During the interview, Morin stated that Johnson was the greatest player who ever lived.
Hacker forwarded a copy of the interview to Johnson’s public relations person, and Johnson and Morin met soon after that.
Although the signature on the ball Morin had autographed by Johnson has begun to fade over the years, his recollection has not. Morin thoroughly enjoys the opportunity to reminisce over the “magical” meeting.
In one of Morin’s last exhibitions in 2004, he dazzled an astonished crowd; sinking 126 consecutive shots from the free-throw line in Escanaba while helping Wal-Mart celebrate the opening of its new super center. He was 70.
Morin was hurt last fall in a traffic accident and has not been able to shoot due to a shoulder injury, but he is confident in time he will be back at the line sinking his shot – the one place dyslexia is nowhere in sight.