Five hundred is a significant number in John Moore’s life. Until the age of 14, he lived in Japan, where his father was Far East manager for Goodyear Tires. “We’d listen to the Indianapolis 500 every year,” he said. “It was a family affair. A.J. Foyt and Bobby Unser were our heroes.”
Goodyear also sponsored an amateur basketball team, the Wingfoots. In 1964, they were the AAU national champions and placed three players on the U.S. team at the Tokyo Olympics. Moore, then 9, met some hoop heroes. “My dad had all the players and coaches over to our house,” he said. “They included Bill Bradley, Larry Brown, Walt Hazzard, Mel Counts, Lucious Jackson ….” Needless to say, they continued America’s unbeaten streak in Olympic basketball.
That early inspiration led to Moore’s taking up basketball with a passion after his family returned to the States. While playing, he absorbed the methods of his great coaches — Don Johnson, John Wooden’s first UCLA All-American, at Cypress Community College, and Chet Kammerer, an NAIA Hall of Fame coach, at Westmont College.
Moore became a coach himself, spending five years at Fresno Pacific and then, in 1993, taking over at Westmont, where Kammerer left a winning legacy. Moore has meticulously continued that tradition. Last month, in his 25th season as Warriors head coach, he achieved a milestone — his 500th win at the college.
He celebrated the 83-74 triumph over visiting Alberta (Canada) with Jeff Azain, another former Westmont player who has been his assistant for all 25 years, as well as his wife, his two daughters, and his mother, Pat, who could be as rowdy as any fan. “She’s 89 and still cares a great deal,” Moore said. “She’s a Hoosier. I’ve got lots of Indiana basketball roots.”
Moore’s longevity at a single college is unusual in this day and age. “I care more today than I ever have because I love Westmont more than I ever have,” he explained. “I’ve had some opportunities along the way to go elsewhere. I’m glad I never did. Here I can be a teacher-coach. There aren’t many of them anymore. We believe that being a professor and coach is something worthwhile.”
Moore took a visitor into the classroom where he teaches a course on public speaking and kinesiology. Coaching is all about communication and contact, he said. “I love the idea that leadership is a contact sport. Basketball is a contact sport where you have to be synergistic with one another, and the game of life is a contact sport. We don’t want to sit in a room all by ourselves; we want to make an impact on other people’s lives.”
The closest he came to leaving Westmont was over a family connection. His brother-in-law, Steve Lavin, was being treated for prostate cancer in 2011 when he was head coach at St. John’s University in New York. After much consultation, Moore decided to stay put. “When you go through this process of seeing yourself at someplace else and you don’t do it, it gives you a whole new life when you come back,” Moore said. He took the Warriors all the way to the NAIA tournament championship game in 2015.
This year’s team, led by senior guards Sean Harman and Jerry Karczewski, includes nine freshmen. “I’m so energized,” said Moore, who recently turned 63. “I feel young.”
The Warriors were 12-3 through last week. They won their opener in the Golden State Athletic Conference, one of the strongest leagues in the NAIA, when Harman scored on a put-back in the final seconds to defeat William Jessup, 74-72.
That same night, UCSB lost at Cal Poly, 80-79, in a bizarre fashion that brought back memories of Westmont’s 54-53 upset of the Gauchos in the 1998-99 season. In both cases, UCSB took a two-point lead with seconds to play — in the case of the Cal Poly game, a mere second — and on the subsequent inbounds play, an official whistled a three-point shooting foul against the Gauchos. Corey Blick made all three free throws for Westmont, as did Cal Poly’s Luke Meikle last week. “As a coach, you feel like your team is playing at an optimum level if you stretch out a lead,” Moore said, “but the most memorable and exciting games are the close ones.”
As Moore’s Warriors pull out more wins — 502 and counting — he never tires in describing the beauty of basketball in holistic terms. “It’s a sport where you have to do everything: catch the ball, pass the ball, defend, shoot, rebound. You’re naked out there. People are on top of you; you only have four teammates to help you out. It’s a contact, connection, community sport.”
REMPE REVERED: George Rempe, a longtime attorney, was a volunteer assistant coach of Santa Barbara High varsity baseball for 30 years, and when he died this New Year’s Eve at 73, that unpaid job was his greatest legacy. The school auditorium was almost filled last Saturday for the celebration of Rempe’s life, and a large part of the crowd was past and present Dons baseball players. He taught them how to be men on and off the baseball diamond. He also taught his daughter, Stephanie Rempe, a deputy athletic director at Texas A&M, to be a strong woman. She said her father did not want to be called Grandpa by his granddaughter. He told her to call him Coach.
(Editors Note: Bishop Diego High’s public celebration of the Cardinals’ state football championship has been postponed because of the state of emergency in the Santa Barbara community. The new time for the free barbecue will be 4-6 p.m. will on Sunday, January 28. It was originally scheduled to take place this Friday (Jan. 12) afternoon.)
MEET THE CHAMPIONS: Bishop Garcia Diego High will host a celebration of the Cardinal football team’s historic state championship on Friday, January 12, in the school gym. There will be a thanksgiving mass at 12:15 p.m., followed by a free barbecue. The school welcomes all members of the greater Santa Barbara community. On Saturday, the Cardinals — football players and cheerleaders — will take part in the Milpas Heroes New Year’s Parade honoring first responders and volunteers who served during the Thomas Fire.