WISE — For the second straight month, supporters of Zack Moore rose Tuesday on his behalf before the Wise County School Board and this time they got what they wanted — Moore back at the helm of the Union High School Bears basketball program.
After a roughly three-hour closed session, including time with the coach himself, the board voted routinely to accept the superintendent's list of personnel recommendations, making no mention of Moore or anyone else. They adjourned moments later and District 3 board member Donnese Kern, smiling, quickly carried the personnel documents toward the coach. Cheers went up from supporters determined to stay until the end, including his basketball team. It was almost 10:30 p.m.
Current and former players told the board during public comment what a positive impact Moore had and has on them, recounting specific moments and experiences that touched each of them. Supporters did the same.
The board heard moving testimony to Moore's leadership and character from several young men. One spoke of a troubled life in the foster care system, how Moore saw something in him he couldn't see in himself and how he has been there for him beyond just coaching. "I've not had someone to care for me like that," he said.
Their expressions are a hard act to follow, wife and Union volleyball coach Kim Moore told the players as she took the podium. Turning to the board, Moore said she approached them that night "humbled as a mother, wife, teacher and coach. This has been a very difficult situation for a lot of souls."
It also has been a poor representation of those involved, she said, adding, "One regrettable incident should not define them and trump a lifetime of good."
No one has identified exactly what put the coach in the board's crosshairs, although past public comment and some again Tuesday night made clear the problems involved behavior of some members of the basketball team. It is reported to have been misbehavior captured on video and posted to social media.
Speaking as a teacher and coach, "here is the problem," Moore said, motioning with her cell phone. "The cell phone and social media."
Cell phones have become nearly impossible to police, she said, and some students have a whole other life on social media of which teachers and parents are completely unaware. Part of it is a generation gap, she said, and kids know things a whole lot sooner than adults do.
Cell phones can be used for good, like keeping in touch, but also can also be used to destroy and ruin lives, Moore said.
Kids and some adults have too much freedom and too much temptation in the palm of their hands, she said, asking the board for help in bridging the generation gap.
Moore said proactive steps need to be taken to offer teachers professional development in how to manage cell phones at school. It also should be mandatory for students to take classes on etiquette and responsibility with cell phones, she said.
These are in students’ hands more than anything else, she said of cell phones, and schools need to teach classes on how to be responsible with that kind of freedom.
Speaking as wife, mother and coach, she continued, bad behavior is not isolated to boys’ basketball, with incidents across the board, many of them involving students and cell phones.
This is a cultural issue in general, she said.
Moore concluded with a fitting quote she had found: "Only God can turn a mess into a message, a test into testimony, a trial into a triumph, a victim into victory. I believe my husband is the right man to help God accomplish this."
There is a lesson in what has happened, she also said, adding, "Just like seed, we gotta go through the mud to grow."
Daily and over many years, Moore said, she sees her husband's conviction, his drive and determination. "I know the man and I know his heart, and I know he's the right man for the job," she said.
What a lesson already, Moore added, to not run from trials, to face them head on. She said her husband could lead the way, establishing a new culture, with integrity, grit and character.
"He will find a way to rise above and bring his team with him."
POINTED QUESTIONS, SHROUDED MYSTERY
As public comment opened, supporter Mike Allen said Moore, a native of Pound, is "what we preach about in this county. We want our brightest and best to stay among us and teach our brightest and best."
After speaking to Moore's history and strengths, Allen put pointed questions to board members. Has there been a failure to oversee? A failure to lead the program? Is there a lack of trust?
His team is sitting here, Allen said, having just finished a 30-game summer league schedule that carried them all over with near perfect attendance. Moore coached more games in the summer than he would in the coming season and someone trusted him, he said.
His question, respectfully, Allen said, would be, "Do you not trust him now? Did you not trust him then?"
Former Pound and UVa-Wise basketball coach Preston Mitchell told the board of his memorable experiences with Moore, starting as a 13-year-old in his basketball camp at the college. He would witness Moore again a couple of years later, when he stayed on the floor to shake hands with opponents after a hard-fought high school championship game when defeated teammates had left.
"To me, that goes beyond teaching the game. That's teaching life," Mitchell said.
The current situation seems shrouded in mystery, hanging around the room like an elephant, he said. "What is it that has caused this situation?" Mitchell asked. "Nobody wants to address it. I think that's a shame. I think transparency is real important."
When you cut through all that, he said, "you're going to find Coach Moore didn't encourage, condone or create a culture where there was a discipline issue."
Supporter Mark Hutchinson told the board he had heard Moore had not been allowed to have a private conversation with the board and said he is legally entitled to that opportunity. If that requires an invitation, Hutchinson asked for a show of hands of those on the board who would invite the coach behind closed doors. District 3 members Kern and Vickie Williams raised their hands. Moore would get that opportunity a couple of hours later.