WILDWOOD, FLORIDA — As the final seconds ticked off the clock Von Moreland couldn’t help himself.
His team was on its way to winning the Florida Class 1A state championship, but Moreland wasn’t thinking about that.
He was still in coach mode and was thinking of how his team could have done a better job closing out the game.
But as the buzzer sounded and players and fans alike started celebrating, Moreland, a 1975 graduate of Eaton High School, realized a life-long dream had finally come true. His Wildwood Middle High School boys basketball team had defeated Blountstown, 62-56, to give Moreland his first state championship as a coach.
It will also be his last as Moreland, having coached for almost three decades, is retiring from coaching.
He said he’s come a long way since his early days as a coach.
“I just enjoyed it and the last few years I was just lucky enough to get with a group that had a lot of that competitiveness in them that I’ve always thought was a good thing as long as you knew how to manage it and how to handle it. These guys were about as competitive as me and it was fun to be a part of it,” he said. “That’s why after last year I decided to go ahead and give it up even though I’m probably going to teach another year.”
Moreland said the timing is right to step away from the game he’s loved since he was a child.
“I felt like with the seniors I had, some really top notch kids, quality individuals, I felt like it was time for me to go out with them. I didn’t see how it could get any better,” Moreland said. “We’ve got a really good group coming back. We had a nice younger group that, I think, has a chance to do some good things again. I just thought, for me, its always been a dream of mine to win a state championship at the high school level. Even though it ended up being in Florida instead of Ohio I felt like that’s a dream come true.”
Moreland, who began his coaching career at nearby Tri-Village High School, played college basketball at Sterling College in Central Kansas.
Moreland said the lessons he learned while at Tri-Village helped him as he matured as a person and coach.
He spent five years as the Patriots junior varsity coach and two as the head coach before making what he called a “bad decision.”
“I had an experience, I guess, when I look back on it I was just too competitive. My team back in 1987, the years fly by, we lost in the first round of the tournament and I had an encounter with an official back at that time. That’s why I ended up giving up my job at Tri-Village,” he said. “I felt like I let the community down, let my team down a little bit. As a coach, I think you’ve got to learn how to lose as graciously as possible and at that point in my career, young coach, I think I made a bad decision to confront an official after the game.”
He’s glad he was given a second chance to coach.
“That was one of those mistakes you make that you hope you can bounce back from. I felt like the move to Florida was a good move for me. My parents were in the vicinity. I had young kids at the time and it was great for them to be able to spend some time with their grandma and their grandpa,” he said. “It turned out to be a good move. That was 30 years ago.”
Upon his move to Florida, Moreland said he was hired to coach the girls team at South Sumter High School. However, just before the season started the boys coach resigned and Moreland made the switch.
“I felt I was more suited for the boys job,” he said.
His teams at South Sumter, where he coached for seven years, were successful but Moreland said he felt the need to go into administration.
”I felt like toward the end of those seven years, I had a couple of pretty good teams I was pretty proud of. I kind of compare them to my Tri-Village teams. I felt like I was lucky I started out at Tri-Village with a really good group of guys. We had a good year and those guys have always been special to me. They were a great group there at Tri-Village. I had some good teams at South Sumter to,” he said.
His passion for coaching lured him back into the game.
“I kind of missed the coaching. That was always my passion and after a few years of trying the administration route I decided (to get back into coaching),” he said of getting back into coaching in 2005. “We’re a very small school. Comparable to Tri-Village. Over the years, we’ve always had competitive teams and a good bunch of guys.”
First state championship
“I think that’s what makes it even more special,” he said.
His team lost the state championship game the year before.
In the semifinal, his team rallied from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to win 65-63 over Madison County.
The previous week, Wildwood’s girls team won their respective state championship.
“It was something I always wanted to be a part of. It was a special group of kids,” Moreland said. “It’s always going to be there.”
Basketball was a first love from an early age
Growing up in Fairhaven, Moreland said he looked up to his older brother, Doug, who graduated from Dixon High School in 1963.
“He played basketball at Dixon and I can remember his teams. His coach at the time was Dave Augspurger and he coached Dixon and he had these guys and they were all buddies with my big brother Doug and I thought they were cool,” he said. “I was six-years old and I remember going to the games. I probably didn’t watch like I should have, but I was six-years old. That kind of instilled in me that I wanted to be a basketball player and as the years went on I realized I wasn’t going to be a big time basketball player so maybe I could be a coach.”
He said watching teams coached by Augspurger and Gordy White also played a role in his decision to be a coach.
“I think Coach Augspurger had a big part of it. Coach (Gordy) White, he coached our middle school teams at Dixon, he was somebody I looked up to.”
He fondly remembers the guys he played with.
“I grew up with a great bunch of guys around Fairhaven. Back then, Fairhaven was a pretty cool place to be from. We all played all the sports and we were all competitive. We loved to compete. It’s just been a part of me,” he said. “Now, my problem is what I’m left with is trying to compete on the golf course and I’m not just very good.”
Coaching with son
During the the past two seasons, Moreland said having his son, Caleb, on the bench as an assistant coach was special.
“That was pretty special. He played for me a couple years and when he decided to go into education and he was in the same school district, I had a chance to talking him into helping me out,” Von said. “Just having him there on the bench beside me. I wanted to make him proud. I wanted to do things in a way that he looked at me and say ‘hey, dad’s a good guy. He’s a good coach.’ It was pretty cool. He’s a good boy.”
Family is special
“The move to Florida had a lot to do with that my folks were here. My dad (Euie) passed away in 2006, but when he was still living they came to just about every South Sumter game or Wildwood game that they could come to. It was always special to look over there and see my dad and my mom up in the stands. My mom (Cynthia) is 90 now and she still comes to the games. She’s the one most shook up about me hanging it up. She just doesn’t know what’s she’s going to do when she can’t go to basketball games,” Von said.
“Doug is down here. He and his wife would come to just about all the games and they would bring my mom. My wife, Kay, she does my video. She runs the concessions. She’s just been a big supporter.
“It has been a family affair. It was great when sis (Cindy Klapper) and Mike decided they were going to come down this year and along with whatever ended up happening. Luckily, it went all the way to the final game. It was great having them here too.”
Von said his dad always encouraged him to play sports.
“He grew up on a dairy farm in Kentucky and had eight brothers and a sister. He never played sports because they were supposed to work on the farm. When I grew up, as a kid, he just always encouraged me to play. He wanted me to play sports because he never got the chance. As far as work, he worked in a factory over in Connersville, Indiana for 30-some years. I can remember him going to work, and he never missed a day, I don’t think. He would always say, ‘I’m going to work. I don’t want to, but I’ve got to go.’ He’d say, ‘whatever you do, do something you like doing as a job.’ That stuck with me more than anything — whatever I do I’m going to enjoy doing it and that’s way it’s been as far as the coaching.
A fun ride
“It’s been a fun ride here the last few years. I’m humbled by it all. I feel like sometimes I just feel lucky and I feel like I’ve been lucky to end up where I am and to have had the kind of coaching career that I’ve had. It’s ended the way I hoped it would,” Von said. “I’ve got great memories of Preble County and my time out in Israel and Dixon Township and also my years at Eaton High School. Those were good years. I’m pretty thankful for the time I had up there. It’s all been good.“
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-45056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH