April 9, 2013 10:32:09 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Encouragement and unity are core components of Ben Moore's philosophy.
Those two aspects explain why the Columbus High School soccer coach believes so much in teamwork.
Nearly three years ago, Moore took over as coach of a Columbus High boys soccer program that had struggled to be competitive. Allowing seven to nine or even 11 goals was common for the Falcons, even in Moore's first season in 2010-11 in which the team won just one match.
But Moore didn't waver.
Years earlier, Moore might have lost his patience or his temper and relied on a high-volume approach on the sidelines. But Moore, a former player at Tupelo High and a former coach at Ridgeland High, said he realized a transformation after moving to Fort Worth, Texas. He said he discovered he didn't have to be a coach who yelled at officials and created a combative atmosphere on the sidelines. Instead, Moore opted for a positive approach that included encouragement and a team strategy that didn't discriminate based on the experience of his players.
The results have been impressive.
This season, Columbus made another step forward, going 11-6 and returning to the postseason for the second consecutive season. A 2-0 loss to Clinton ended the season but left Moore excited about the potential of his program, even though he is losing seniors like Ricky Hackler, who will play soccer in the fall at Itawamba Community College.
For his accomplishments, Moore is The Dispatch's All-Area Boys Soccer Coach of the Year.
After starting as the Columbus High boys soccer coach, Moore served as the school's girls soccer coach this season. While that team didn't advance to the postseason, three of its players -- Sophia Timm, Jessica Thompson, and Katelyn Hicks -- earned chances to play soccer in college later this year. Moore said those opportunities mean more to him than any number of victories.
"I don't know it is anything I have done," said Moore, talking about his work in building Columbus High soccer. "I have had great students and players, and they have built it up and gotten their friends to play. I don't know. I might even be just a product of those great kids and those students. The way the program has been building may also be a product of them and how excited and enthused they are about playing."
As much as Moore would like to deflect the praise for his role, former and current players give glowing reports of Moore's positive coaching and how it has created an atmosphere where players learn and improve. They also said they have learned how to become brothers.
Landon Williams, who is a freshman at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, was a captain on the 2011-12 Columbus boys team and advanced to the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State playoffs. Northwest Rankin eliminated Columbus 7-0. Williams, Hackler, Preston Taylor, and Clay Harmon were leaders on that team that helped set the stage for the program to take an even bigger step this season.
"He was every determined to see us succeed in his first year," Williams said of the initial one-win team. He was ready and revved up to get the team going. Soccer is not the most looked upon sport at the high school, but he was ready to give us a championship right off the bat."
Williams, who played on the team as a junior and as a senior, said "teamwork" was Moore's mantra. He said Moore stressed sharing the ball and pushed players to work with each other.
"He instilled teamwork in everything we did," Williams said. "He said, 'These are your brothers and you need to take care of them on and off the field and help them in any way you can.' "
Hackler helped push those lessons to greater heights this season. As one of the team's most experienced players, Hackler worked with younger players to help them develop their skills. He credits Moore's energy and passion for the game for helping him change his attitude and to work even harder for the program.
"He always kept a cool head," Hackler said. "We had seen other teams fall apart because their coaches were so discouraging. Even in the first year, which I knew was frustrating because we did not have as many skilled players, I would say if coach didn't stress encouragement all of the time some may have wanted to quit or not try. Because he brought in his attitude of teamwork, which was something totally new to us, we never really got discouraged. We would be a little disappointed, but we would learn from our mistakes and build on that continuously. We realized there always was another chance and next year, and I know they're going to improve and not fall back on it at all."
Chuck Yarborough, who helps Moore coach with the Columbus High girls team, said Moore "exemplifies the quintessential teacher - coach." He said Moore does that by developing the soccer skills and character of his players and understanding that improved skills and character lead to positive results on the field.
"He has taken two teams with hardly any 'travel team' or 'Select' players, taught them the game, and turned them into competitive teams that are the core of a program gaining increased respect throughout the state," Yarborough said. "When the CHS boys competed at perennial powerhouse Clinton in the playoffs this year, they lost a close match late in the game. The Clinton head coach praised the skills and team play of the Falcons, admitting Clinton was not prepared for the Columbus boys to be as solid as they have become under coach Moore's leadership."
Yarborough, who has been involved in the soccer scene in the city for a number of years, believes this year marked the first time Columbus has advanced to the playoffs for two consecutive years. He said Moore instills the same qualities with the girls as he does with the boys. Unfortunately, injuries hit the girls team hard.
"I've told many people in the community Ben Moore is the type of coach you really want your son or daughter to play for," Yarborough said. "We could not be more proud to have him selected as coach of the year. It is an honor richly deserved."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.