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Still in the game: Former Warwick coach Ben Moore loves his new life

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NEWPORT NEWS — As it turns out, it wasn't for very long. But for a while, Ben Moore felt lost.

In order to be more financially secure and better set for retirement, Moore had taken a lead teaching position at Warwick High that forced him to resign after 24 years as the Raiders' basketball coach. Being out of the game just didn't feel right — to him, or to anyone who knew him.

"I'm going to get a little spiritual with you," said Moore, a devout Baptist. "I went to church that Sunday and I told God I had a hole, and I didn't know how to fill it. I cried, I really cried. (Basketball) was something I had been doing since I was 16 years old. I loved it."

Three days later, on a whim, Moore got in his car and drove to Virginia Wesleyan's basketball camp. Wesleyan coach Dave Macedo spotted him in the gym, called him over, and the two men chatted.

The game needs you, Macedo told him. And if you're interested, I have an assistant coaching position that has your name on it.

Just like that, eight days after getting out, Moore was back in the game.

"One of the best decisions I've ever made was asking Coach Moore to be on my staff," Macedo said. "He's worth so many intangibles.

Moore finished his prep coaching career two games under .500 (261-263), but those who know him — friends, former players, rival coaches — say that doesn't tell his true value. Moore mentored several young men from troubled backgrounds and provided a sounding board. And, many times, a way out.

"When I was little, we'd drive to downtown Newport News and actually go into the heart of what's called 'the hood,'" said Moore's son, Chris. "And he'd go get kids and make them want to do the right thing.

"I always aspired to be like my father. I don't tell him that a whole lot, but he really is my role model."

In the spring, Moore would drive players into the Carolinas to look at small college options. Whatever it takes for an education.

"It's hard to imagine somebody as close to the kids and as important in their lives as he has been," said Menchville coach Dennis Koutoufas, Moore's closest friend. "And I'm talking other than basketball."

Which brings us to Moore's day job. After spending one school year as the lead teacher in health and physical education at Warwick, he decided that wasn't for him. He now teaches health and PE at Enterprise Academy, an alternative school in Newport News for at-risk youths.

According to the academy's website, its students have been expelled or suspended from their regular school, are returning to the community from "the state department of corrections or other alternative settings," or apply on a self-referral.

In other words, kids who are headed down the wrong path and need to be redirected.

"I always wanted to be more than a coach," Moore said. "I want to be a leader and a mentor. That's why I came here. I feel needed. I feel wanted.

"You and I could say the same thing: There were things we did, and didn't caught for, that could have put us here. There are young people here who made one mistake, did one thing wrong, and they're here. I want to make sure if I can reach one, I'll do it."

His days are full. He usually arrives by 6:30 a.m. and is in the building — except for when he takes the kids to the gym at Snap Fitness — until 3 p.m. From there, he hits I-64 for the 25-mile drive to the Batten Center. He's normally home around 9.

Yet …

"I love it," he said.

Being an assistant coach again, for the first time since the mid-1980s when he was with Koutoufas at Denbigh, isn't without challenges. For one thing, he's unaccustomed to not being in charge on the bench.

"It's a big adjustment, and I think you have to work for somebody you totally respect to do that," Moore said. "Working for Dave Macedo has been easy for me. It's easy to work for somebody you respect that much.

"He's been very, very gracious to me and has told me to be myself. I'm also cognizant that I'm an assistant coach and there are some things I cannot do. But he allows me to be me, and that's important."

Macedo has known Moore since recruiting one of his former players, guard Ton Ton Balenga, who graduated from Warwick in 2004. Wesleyan has another guard who played for Moore on this year's roster: sophomore Breven Lyons.

"Coach is kind of a fixture in Hampton Roads," said Macedo, whose team was 13-4 entering Saturday. "He's somebody you enjoy being around, a positive man who cares about the kids. You want to surround yourself with good people, and that fits him to a tee.

"He's a people person. You could be in Bristol, Virginia, and he'll know somebody in the hotel lobby and strike up a conversation. He's that kind of guy. He represents our program the right way and in first class manner."

Interestingly, Chris Moore was supposed to play for Macedo at Wesleyan but, in his words, "messed up." He overslept, missed the tryouts, and was given no second chance.

"He gave my jersey away," Chris said. "That was a reality check."

Chris ended up at Chowan, where he's a junior and a student assistant on the basketball team. You guessed it: He wants to be a coach. Like father, like son.

At 56, Ben Moore remains excited about his future. He's not sure what the next chapter will be, but he is sure basketball will be a part of it.

"I feel great," said Moore, who underwent triple bypass heart surgery in 2001. "I feel I've got at least another 15 years of coaching in me. I still believe I have something to offer."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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