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All coaches have teams and players that they’ll never forget—no matter how many years pass.
And when tragedy strikes a former player, a coach often feels the heartbreak deeply because of the dreams they once shared, the triumphs they celebrated together, and the disappointments they endured together.
Roncalli High School head football coach Bruce Scifres had that feeling when he first heard the news that Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer David Moore had been shot four times while making a traffic stop on Jan. 23.
To help deal with the heartbreak of knowing that Moore was fighting for his life, Scifres pulled out a copy of the football yearbook that he made in 1999—the season when Moore was one of the four co-captains who helped lead Roncalli’s football team to a 15-0 record and an Indiana State High School Athletic Association championship.
“As part of the yearbook, I always ask our seniors to write a reflection about what their football experience means to them,” Scifres recalled. “His reflection was short and profound. To understand it fully, you have to know that still today, David, pound for pound, is the strongest player to ever walk through Roncalli. As a senior, he was 195 pounds, and he bench-pressed 400 pounds and dead-lifted 600 pounds. Still, his primary strength was from within.”
Scifres then shared Moore’s reflection: “The amount of success you have is dependent on the amount of faith you have. In order to achieve this faith, one must understand that no amount of iron in the weight room is equal to the iron nails of the cross.”
Tony Hollowell witnessed that faith and dedication every day he spent with Moore as a co-captain on that 1999 Roncalli football team—along with the other two co-captains, Greg Armbruster and Ryan Brizendine. Their bond was tight, the bond that develops when people make a commitment to a goal and each other. (Related: Father John Hollowell's tribute at Officer Moore's funeral)
When Hollowell learned the news that Moore had been shot, he remembered those 15 games in 1999 when he walked on the field, “knowing David was right by my side.”
He also remembered the last time that he saw Moore.
“I told him, ‘I am so glad that a man like you is protecting our families,’ ” recalled Hollowell, now a first-year seminarian for the archdiocese at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology.
The full extent of the heartbreak for Hollowell and Scifres—and everyone else who knew Moore—came on Jan. 26 when the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer died.
When Roncalli had a school Mass to remember and celebrate the life of Moore, Roncalli’s president, Joe Hollowell, who is Tony’s father, asked Scifres to share his thoughts about Moore with the current students.
Scifres read Moore’s quote from the 1999 football yearbook. He then shared the remarkable prayer that Moore wrote and delivered at Roncalli’s all-sports banquet in the spring of 2000.
“We are gathered here tonight in your name to honor those athletes who have not only taken the field for Roncalli, but who have taken to the battlefield for you.
“It is not always on the sports field that we do our battle, but on the field of everyday life. We do not battle for the goals nor the touchdowns, or the blue rings, but for the cross that we will carry to you.
“Allow not our memories to be filled by the highlight tapes or the dazzling plays, but instead by the prayers that began our games and the huddles we made to praise you after our victories and even our defeats.
“Let us not only think it was the weight of the iron in the weight room or the long hours at practice that made us victorious, but the weight of the cross and the hours on our knees that made us great.
“As for the seniors who have taken off their Roncalli jersey for the last time, help us remember that the competition has just begun. For the real battle is not with the pigskin or the round ball, but with the crosses that you have laid upon us.
“Allow us to be coached by your love, and let all of us give you, our true coach, 110 percent. That is where we will find the true meaning of a champion.
“In the name of your Son, Christ Jesus, we ask this blessing. Amen.”
For Scifres, that prayer tells people everything they need to know about Moore. It’s why Moore’s high school football coach mourns his loss and celebrates his life.
“It was just heartbreaking on so many levels,” Scifres said. “He was such a good person who had given his life in service to others. Maybe where it touched me the most was in knowing his family—knowing how much he meant to his parents, knowing how much he cared about his parents.
“As much as any kid I ever coached, he always had a keen sense of honor. He was always going to do the right thing.”
Tony Hollowell saw that character trait again in the final act of Moore’s life—when his organs were donated to save the lives of people he had never met.
“After learning about the gift of his organs to so many people, I suddenly realized something I know to be true. David just fulfilled his greatest dream, which is to lay down his life for others,” Hollowell said.
“I was watching the news conference of his parents at the hospital shortly after the announcement that he would not recover, and his mom stated, ‘If David had known that an officer was going to be shot by this man, he would have wanted it to be him.’
“It is not that he might have wanted it to be him. He wanted to be the one who stood between the bullet and our families.”
The legacy of Moore’s approach to life will endure, Hollowell said. It’s a legacy that is intertwined with the prayer that Moore wrote as a high school senior—a prayer about “the crosses that are laid upon us” and “the true meaning of a champion.”
“His legacy is that there is more to life than being alive,” Hollowell said, “and that in our death, other people may learn the purpose of our life.” †