When the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association announced last week that all high school activities were cancelled for the remainder of the school year, it dashed the dreams of many boys and girls basketball teams still clinging to the hope that they might get to play for a state championship.
It was a disappointing, yet necessary decision; one that has taken many students, teachers, coaches and administrators on an emotional roller coaster ride.
No one has had to overcome more emotional hurdles the past few months, however, than those affiliated with Moore High School.
“This was the biggest up and down season I’ve ever been a part of,” said girls basketball coach Brent Hodges. “And it wasn’t really about anything that happened on the court.”
The Lady Lions were expected to be one of the top basketball teams in a loaded 6A division. They had a talented roster, including eventual Gatorade Player of the Year Aaliyah Moore.
After winning their first two games, Moore suffered a tough, triple-overtime loss to Edmond North. Just four days later, senior swimmer Emily Gaines was killed in a car accident on her way to take the ACT test. The Lady Lions played that same night and lost to Choctaw in the finals of the Harrah tournament.
Winter break provided an opportunity for the girls to clear their heads and compete in the prestigious Tournament of Champions in Tulsa.
“We lost to Booker T. Washington in the finals,” recalled Hodges. “That day, one of our starting forwards slipped and fell at Woodland Hills Mall and broke her arm. It was one of the freakiest deals I’ve ever seen.”
Those mishaps were just a precursor to the tragedy that befell the Moore community on February 3rd. Three members of the cross country team were killed and several more seriously injured in an automobile-pedestrian accident near the high school.
The Lady Lions found themselves grieving again.
“It was the toughest week I’d ever experienced in public education,” admitted Hodges. “We really drew from the community support. We dedicated the remainder of the season to the victims. It was really special to see our kids play for something bigger than themselves.”
“It really brought us closer together,” said senior point guard Ashanti Day. “You never know when it may be your time.”
“It made us realize that we have to be grateful for everything we have,” added Moore. “Our mentality after that was to play for them and to let their legacy live on.”
Hodges believes his team was playing its best basketball of the season heading into the state tournament. The Lady Lions rolled through regionals and earned their first state tournament appearance in 22 years.
Once again, fate stepped in. Hours before it was set to begin, the championship event was postponed due to the coronavirus.
“There was a lot of emotion, especially with our juniors and seniors,” claimed Hodges. “We just told them, ‘It’s not over, it’s just not going to happen today.'”
“It was devastating,” claimed Moore. “We could tell by Coach Hodges’ face when he walked in that it was cancelled. There was a lot of emotion.”
“It hurt,” admitted Day. “We had worked so hard for that moment.”
They continued to hold out hope that the state tournament would eventually be played, but that came to an end March 26th with the official cancellation announcement.
“I told my seniors first,” recalled Hodges. “I told them not to let this take away from their special season.”
“It was a terrible feeling,” claimed Day, whose hoops career will continue next year at Newman University. “I really feel like we had the opportunity to do something big.”
“I felt terrible for our seniors,” added Moore. “We were so proud of how far we’d come and what we’d accomplished.”
Despite the tragedies and incomplete season, the Moore Lady Lions can look back and remember this season fondly.
“Making the state tournament was a big deal,” said Day proudly. “It’s something that all of us as a team can be proud of.”