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He thought of his mother again on Senior Night as he walked across the football field with his father.
When his accomplishments as a high school student-athlete were announced to the crowd, he knew that his mother would have hung on every word as she also held onto his arm.
Indeed, if he could have had one wish granted in that moment, he wouldn’t have hesitated in making his choice. It would have been for her—his biggest fan—to be there with him and his dad.
“It was hard,” said Casey Moorman, recalling the Senior Night on Sept. 30 for the football team of Cardinal Ritter High School in Indianapolis. “I tried to stay focused on the game, but I definitely was thinking about her a lot that night.”
He thought about the story she told him about his birth—how he was born without a hip socket on his right leg, and how doctors told his parents that he may never walk.
He recalled how she had always been there for him through the surgeries, how she had always encouraged him to never give up, and how she always had cheered loudly in the stands for him and his teammates.
He also remembered Feb. 3, 2011, when Shiela Moorman died unexpectedly in her sleep a few days after the mother of three had undergone surgery.
And just before he ran on the field as a starting linebacker for Cardinal Ritter’s football team, the 5-foot, 7-inch, 175-pound Casey did what he has done for every game this season: He dedicated the game to his mother.
The story of high school sports frequently focuses on the deep bonds that often form between players and coaches, and between players and their teammates. Yet, it can also be the story of the deeper connections that are created between children and their parents during a time when those bonds are changing and being challenged.
The story of Casey and Shiela Moorman began with the challenge of Casey being born without one of his hip sockets. But the true story starts with Shiela’s belief that the youngest of her three sons would overcome any limitations and any doctor’s lack of expectations.
“She was such a driving force in his life,” recalled Deb Swintz, a longtime friend of the Moorman family whose son, Matt, is a senior teammate of Casey. “She never saw him as a boy who needed to be coddled and treated as different. She told him to just try, keep pushing and never give up. And if it didn’t work out, keep trying again. When he didn’t do something right, she’d yell from the stands, ‘Casey Moorman, you pick up your feet and move.’ ”
Swintz’s voice softened as she added, “She couldn’t wait for this season to start. This would have meant everything to her to see Casey playing. This would be her time to watch Casey shine because he’s worked so hard.”
That work ethic has made Casey the person and the player he is, according to Ty Hunt, the head coach of Cardinal Ritter’s football team.
“I have an adage that when it’s time to go to work, roll up your sleeves so we can get things accomplished,” Hunt said. “Casey is one of those people I can count on to do that. Casey knows that God has blessed us with our talents, but when the time comes to put a little extra into it, you can achieve more when you do.”
Hunt also saw the connection between Casey and his mother.
“She recognized the things he had to overcome, and that he has overachieved,” Hunt said. “She wanted him to recognize that life is difficult, and that he would have to do things to overcome those times.”
In the eight months since Shiela’s death, Casey’s father, John, has continued to be there for him. So have his two older brothers, John and Matt. There has also been the support of friends, teachers, coaches and teammates.
Among his teammates, perhaps no one understands what Casey is going through more than Thad Starsiak, a fellow senior who plays linebacker next to Casey. Thad’s mother died when he was 12.
“For me, it was really hard at first,” Thad says. “Casey has been outstanding through everything. He has an awesome work ethic. He works hard in the classroom and on the field. He’s a real good role model, and he’s a great friend, too. He’s going to go far in life.”
Sharing the bonds and the dreams of a team through months of weightlifting sessions, practices and games has helped Casey. So has being a part of the faith communities of the high school and St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis.
“Their family is so close,” Swintz said. “Instead of being hurt and angry, they’ve clung to each other and their faith. Their hearts are breaking, but they keep picking up their feet every day.”
As Casey tries to keep moving forward, he also sometimes looks back.
He remembered that as soon as he recovered from his hip surgery when he was 4, his mom had him start running and playing sports “because she didn’t want me sitting inside playing video games.”
He recalled the family dinners they had together.
He thought about the times she didn’t like a referee’s call, and how she would stand up in the bleachers and shout her displeasure.
Most of all, he focused on her goodness.
“She would do anything for you,” he said. “She was a great mother. She raised all three of us to be great people. I think I’m a pretty nice guy, and my brothers are very good people. She was always smiling and laughing about something. And she loved football.”
Casey smiled through most of his memories of his mom. But his emotions surfaced at one point.
“She wanted to see me be the best I could be,” he said softly. “She really wanted to see me play this year. I have personally dedicated the season to her. I keep that to myself, but I do like to play for her.” †