I’m writing this in memory of someone who left our world not long ago. He was remembered Saturday at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa, with an emotional celebration of his life. It was a moving tribute to a man who was a mentor to me, as well as scores of others. He was a great man. Not because of the money he amassed, or the sky-scrapers he built, but because he helped teach young people how to become better human beings. He taught about working hard and doing the right thing. He taught the beliefs he felt were truly important: the importance of family, faith, treating others with respect. And working together to accomplish goals that no individual could accomplish alone.
His name was Paul Moro. He was many things to many people, but I knew him as Coach Moro, Head Football Coach of the Lakeside-Blue Ridge High School Yellow Jackets. He was an outstanding football coach and his record speaks to that, 13 State football championships and 336 wins, both all-time Arizona records. In spite of his vast accomplishments on the field, Coach Moro would always give the credit to his players and his coaching staff. He was never coaching for personal accolades, it was about working to help the kids.
My connection to Coach Moro started in the fall of 1993, when I began making the three-hour plus drive from the Valley up to the White Mountains to follow this 3A football powerhouse. I somehow talked Coach Moro into letting me tag along and film the team, working on a documentary about this unique football squad. I traveled all over Northern Arizona following Blue Ridge football. For five seasons from 1994 – 1998, I filmed nearly every game, as well as camps, practices, in the locker room, even during half-time, where the real half-time show goes on, and at Coach Moro’s home after the games.
I learned many things from this man, so much, I can’t begin to encapsulate here. It wasn’t the X’s and O’s of how to build a powerhouse football program, although that would certainly have been observed. What I really learned, is how to treat people with respect and how hard you must work to achieve your goals.
Paul Moro allowed me to interview him regularly over those five years. Early on in my interviews he told me about a dream he had, where his team won 5 straight State titles.
The 1994 Blue Ridge squad plowed through opponents going 13-0 and winning the State championship. They did the same the following year, then the next, and the next. They just refused to lose. Sometimes you can feel when you are around something, or someone, special. I felt that way around Coach Moro, his teams and coaching staff.
During that stretch of wins, Blue Ridge played the Arizona Boys Ranch for the State 3A title – and won -three straight times. The Arizona Boys Ranch was a residential school for at-risk students from around the country, and was also an exceptional football team at the time. AZ Boys Ranch football was mentored by former legendary Arizona State Sun Devil, Head Football Coach, Frank Kush. So much so, that AZ Boys Ranch adopted the team name and colors after Kush’s college alma mater Michigan State.
By the third State title go-round between the two teams, the game was dubbed “Clash of the Titans III.” Of course I was there filming the game at Mesa Community College’s John D. Riggs Stadium, where it was packed and standing room only.
I produced a 23-minute feature on the 1997 title game and a 12-minute season highlight film. I was surprised to learn recently that one of the former Blue Ridge players had put the videos up on YouTube. If you are interested in watching, I’ve posted it here. The YouTube video starts with the title game and then the season recap video starts at 23:35. I hadn’t seen these in probably 20 years. In the season recap, I was trying to use some of my creative artistic editing skills and music, the championship game is more of a play-by-play piece of that exciting game. What I noticed in watching again, is the high quality of football being played. Which brings me back to Coach Moro.
Coach Moro loved his players, he loved teaching them and helping them grow as people. One of the things I’ll always remember Coach saying to his team, “we aren’t working this hard to beat other teams, we are working this hard to be the best we can be.” That is something I try to remember in my everyday life. Because it’s not just about the winning, or accomplishing the goal, it’s about growing and improving yourself and others along the way. That message seems to get lost at times in our world today, but it’s certainly one of the key things this incredible man and mentor passed along to me.
Back to the football story, as it’s intrinsically interwoven into Coach Moro and all the people he influenced. This Yellow Jacket football team in 1998 was on it’s way to fulfilling that dream Coach had told me about years earlier, of winning five straight State championships. Not only were they playing for a fifth straight State title, his team had won 63 straight games along the way! Another AZ state record, and at the time, in the top 10 of all high school football win streaks ever in the country.
I’ll save the drama, Coach Moro’s dream fell one game short of coming to reality. Blue Ridge lost the championship game to a very strong Payson team, 29-20. Being in that locker room and filming the team after the loss was a surreal experience. Think about it – those players had never lost a football game in their whole high school careers! The emotions were overwhelming for those kids.
After the devastating loss, I saw Coach Paul Moro deliver some of his best teaching and life lessons. He told the boys they played an incredible game, one of their best, but sometimes the other team is better on a given day. What’s more important now, he said, is how you respond and what you take from this. Because this is where character is built, from loss, from adversity. When you are winning things seem to come easy, but loss is part of life and you will know it again. The emotions you are feeling right now are difficult, but you will get through this and be stronger because of it. I couldn’t ask any more from you all and I love you, he finished.
I’ll never forget those incredible seasons and the experience of tagging along with those Blue Ridge teams. More importantly, I’ll take with me the life lessons I learned from Coach Moro. Thank you Coach!