CLINTON – “Before I got hurt, I was by far the best tennis player around. At camps, I could come out and hit, and the kids would come out to watch. I could show them how to hit a shot. They would absolutely buy into everything I told them.”
That was David Moore reflecting on his life before 1993, a period when, he said, “I was probably playing the best tennis of my life.” He was five years removed from conquering college, helping St. Ambrose University make it to the NAIA national tournament in 1988. He’d spent the following years dominating the Iowa adult circuit, rated consistently in the top five in the state.
In 1993, Moore was named the United States Tennis Association – Iowa Player of the Year, and in early August, he’d won a major tournament near the Quad Cities, playing “incredibly.”
Moore also had just revived a middle-of-the-pack Clinton High tennis program. When he took over in 1990, the River Kings finished below .500. In spring 1993, they had finished a 10-1 season, helping Moore earn Mississippi Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.
At the time, Moore was a driver for UPS, based in Davenport. He described long hours and heavy road miles. It was the kind of job that forced Moore to work late nights.
On Aug. 11, 1993, Moore said he was driving on one of those late nights home to Camanche from Davenport, when he drifted off behind the wheel.
Almost 20 years later, Moore is giving the latest in River Kings tennis lineage – seniors Jacob Kruse and Ryan Schroeder – final pointers at Clinton’s Max Lynn Tennis Courts. A day later, the pair will compete for the Iowa High School Athletics Association doubles crown. Moore watches with his daughter — Chelsea Moore, a 21-year-old member of the University of Northern Iowa’s womens team — as his duo competes.
He’s the winningest boys tennis coach in school history by a landslide, notching 135 wins in his now 24-year career. Moore considers himself “Bobby Knight without all the yelling,” a meticulous savant of the sport valuing the details and “the right way of doing things.”
At 52, he decided this season will be his last. Next fall, Moore will pursue an environmental engineering degree from Colorado State University; furthering his education is something he said has been in the back of his mind for some time.
Moore reflects on the night he drifted off: his car swerved off the road, into the ditch and flipped. The collision fractured the cervical 5, 6 and 7 bones in his spine. He was rushed to the emergency room in the Quad Cities, where he would spend weeks in recovery. Pieces of bone damaged his spinal cord, and when he awoke in the hospital, he was paralyzed from the neck down.
His days of winning tournaments, of amazing the young local tennis wannabes, of lining up shot after shot of technically precise strokes, ended.
“Before the accident, I was starting to get some big numbers,” Moore said of building the Clinton tennis program. “I had 50 kids out that year. I was starting to build kind of a dynasty. I don’t know if my accident set anything back or not.”
Moore also coached basketball for Clinton. Right away, he said, he gave that up.
“But I didn’t want to give up tennis. I really enjoyed coaching tennis.”
He decided to work harder than he ever had on the tennis court. Moore said he was “fortunate” his spinal cord wasn’t completely severed.
“The doctors said I would never regain anything. I’m glad they were wrong. It’s a combination of being fortunate and working hard at it.”
Through rehabilitation, he was able to regain some mobility in his arms, but the injury kept him confined to a wheelchair.
It presented a tough mental obstacle for Moore – how would others react to a handicapped coach? Before he could command respect through talent.
“I would lie in that hospital bed and I would think to myself, ‘How am I going to handle situations where kids confront me about my injury or I end up with problems with kids because of my injury?’ “ Moore said.
Whatever Moore lost in athleticism, others say he made up for in developing ways to communicate to young men.
After assuming the Clinton athletic director position in 2006, Gary Leuders said he knew Moore only by reputation. The following spring, the Kings finished second in the state team title, the best ever for the school.
“He’s obviously extremely knowledgeable of the game of tennis,” Leuders said. “How calm his demeanor is. How quickly he can point out tips that help out in the middle of a match. I think he’s very good at getting right to the point about what he’s seeing and communicating that.
“I think it’s pretty evident that our tennis kids are all pretty high-character kids. They learn at a very young age that if they’re going to play tennis for Clinton they’re going to have very high character.”
This is partially the result of Moore and his ex-wife Cindy Rasche’s development of Clinton youth tennis programs. (Rasche is coach of the River Queens tennis team, currently on its own bid for the 2013 state title.)
“All our kids we have since they’re 5,” Rasche said. “We’re now teaching some of their kids. (David) will pick at technique until it is flawless. He always has the right strategy to use.”
Two samples of the strength of this program are Kruse and Schroeder. Both said they’d known Moore most of their lives. Now they’re among the best high schoolers in the state.
Neither sees their coach as someone confined to a wheelchair.
“Basically, everything we’ve learned has been from him. He’s been coaching us all of our lives. Dave’s taught us everything we know about tennis almost,” Kruse said. “The fact that Clinton’s always consistently so far up in the MAC, and with our coach not being able to show us things but still being able to coach us so great... He’s really well respected in the tennis community.”
Kruse said there’s both pride and pressure with being the last Clinton players Moore will coach.
“Sometimes I wish I could’ve seen him play,” Schroeder said. “It’s been really fun working with him basically my whole life. I wouldn’t be able to do the things and know the things I do without him.”
Moore’s greatest student may have been his daughter. Chelsea Moore was 2 at the time of her father’s accident. This year, she compiled the second-best record at UNI, a clear show-and-tell of her parents’ upbringing. She also aspires for a degree in physical therapy, thanks in large part to her experience with her dad.
“I’ve learned when you have an obstacle, not to give up and to overcome it,” she said. “He got in his accident when I was really young. He could’ve just given up on tennis and not played it, not coached it. But he’s still out there coaching, and that’s inspiring to everyone.”
A singular moment serves as the fulcrum for Moore’s life and coaching career. He says he developed more empathy as a result, and spoke mostly about the positives that came of his life-altering collision.
“As far as coaching, being in a wheelchair, the biggest disadvantage is not being able to play with the players and not being able to demonstrate,” he said. “All of the teaching there’s really no difference. It’s actually probably helped me a little bit being in a wheelchair. They say when one sense is taken away, the others become strong. I think my sense of observation is better than it’s ever been.
“Sports can teach you a lot of good things,” he added. “Competition, teamwork, attention to detail. … All those things help in life.”
Moore used his life experience only sparingly as tools to teach with, and occasionally related to his past playing days. In years following the accident, his players could still remember what Moore could do with a racket.
The last few generations only had his words to go on.
With the last two players he’ll coach getting their last few reps in, Moore has no regrets starting a new chapter. Why now?
“I just need to do something else,” he said. “I’ve been teaching tennis since I was 18 years old. I’ve been around tennis now for 35 years. It’s just the time for me to do something different. I want to go back to school, get another major.”
Leuders said Clinton would hold an open candidate search for its next coach, and the legacy Moore is leaving behind will leave big shoes to fill.
“We want someone who’s going to be able to develop an excellent teaching relationship with our kids,” Leuders said. “When you have a guy that’s done what David’s done over the last 24 years — that gave us a huge leg up as a communicator — that’s something you want to try to look for.”