Legendary coach Wooden made his mark on local man

The death of legendary basketball coach John Wooden last week inspired a level of reverence rarely seen in today's sporting world, as a who's-who list of current star coaches, both pro and college, paid homage to the Wizard of Westwood.

For former Ashland superintendent Bill Moore, the news had a completely different, much more personal meaning. It also brought back a flood of memories as his mind wandered back, way back, to 1940, when Moore was an undersized center for the South Bend Central High School in Indiana, and Wooden was his coach.

"He was so far ahead of his time that it's almost foolish to talk about it," Moore said. "He introduced the fastbreak. When I played, we went like crazy and we won everything.

He was such a gentlemen and he had such an insight to what we could do and what we couldn't do."

Moore, 84, retired in 1990 after 16 years as Ashland's assistant superintendent and one as the superintendent. He played two seasons of basketball and baseball for the South Bend Central Bears in the early 1940s, and Wooden was his head coach in both sports.

Long before he led the UCLA men's basketball team to an unprecedented 10 national titles in 12 years, Wooden helped Moore iron out the mechanics in his free throw stroke. He also threw Moore for a loop by telling the 6-foot-1 forward that he would be converted into a post.

The move, like most others during Wooden's storied coaching career, panned out.

"I was only 6-1, but I was very aggressive and had a lot of capabilities of handling bigger guys," Moore recalled.

Moore wasn't able to complete his high school playing days as a Bear after his family moved to California during his senior season to head off the World War II gas crunch, but he found out later how committed Wooden was to his players. While Moore was away one day, Wooden paid a visit to Moore's home to talk to his parents. Wooden offered to let Moore bunk at his house in order to complete his senior season at South Bend Central.

When Moore found out about the offer years later, he was grateful that the decision was made for him.

"(My parents) never told me, and I'm sure that it would have been a very difficult choice," he said.

Moore didn't see or hear from Wooden again until six years later, in 1948, when a spontaneous trip to the UCLA campus led to an impromptu reunion.

Moore, then a student at Pepperdine, sought out his former coach, who was then in his first year leading the Bruins. His reputation was already on the rise. UCLA, picked to finish last in the conference, wound up with a 22-7 record. The next year they won the conference championship.

"He said, 'Bill Moore!'", Moore recalled of the boisterous hello. "And I didn't think he'd even remember me."

The last face-to-face meeting between Moore and Wooden proved to be an even bigger shock for Moore. It was in February of 1970, and UCLA visited the University of Oregon for what was supposed to be just another boot-stomping by the Bruins.

Moore was a student at Oregon working toward his doctorate, and had hopes of seeing his former coach again after discovering which motel the Bruins were staying at. Moore showed up at the hotel with his teenage son, Randy, and asked then-UCLA athletic director Elvin "Ducky" Drake for permission to see Wooden.

After hearing the history, Drake allowed Moore to hang around. Soon, the Bruins broke a meeting and started pouring into the hotel lobby. Wooden was surrounded by photographers.

"I even had a slight beard at the time," Moore said, "and I thought I'm sure he's not going to recognize me.

"Well, he looked in my direction, then he looked again. He had a big smile on his face and he left that crowd and he said, 'Bill Moore.' And once again, he clamped my hand."

After talking for a while, Wooden asked Moore if he was planning on attending the game that night. Moore explained that he didn't have tickets, prompting Wooden to reach into his pocket and pull out a pair.

The Moores had a pretty good view of the game that night at McArthur Court, right behind the UCLA bench, between Drake and Wooden's wife, Nellie.

They witnessed history. Oregon stunned UCLA, 78-65, handing the Bruins one of their two losses that season, which ended with UCLA winning its fourth of a record seven straight national titles (in a poll taken earlier this year by oregonlive.com, the game was later voted one of the top three "best games" in the history of Mac Court).

Seeing Wooden at work again that night was like stepping back in time for Moore. Nearly 30 years had passed since Wooden led South Bend Central, but his style had changed little.

"He was always the same," Moore said. "He never jumped off the bench, he never used foul language. If he disagreed with (a referee's call), he would say, 'Oh for goodness sakes.' He was always a gentleman."

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-482-3456 x224 or at jzavala@dailytidings.com

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