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Basketball (M)

Men's Basketball: Sam Moir Left Baseball to Become Legendary Basketball Coach

by Mike London, The Salisbury Post, salisburypost.com

Sam Moir's dream was to play big-league baseball.  The flyball that broke his nose in the minors and the 95 mph inside fastballs that broke his bats convinced Moir to take a serious look at his backup career choice.  Basketball coach.

Moir, still spry, articulate and hilarious at 82, was decent at that vocation.  He coached 546 victories at Catawba from 1960-94 with gentlemanly class seasoned with bursts of fire.  At Catawba's recent basketball reunion, former assistant Tom Bonebrake recalled Moir could get agitated in a hurry when the proper fundamentals of basketball were ignored.

Take the case of Floyd Perry, a good player who finished his career in 1973.  Perry had the misfortune of whipping a behind-the-back pass that ricocheted off a banner on the wall of Goodman Gymnasium.  Even before Perry's pass had completed its doomed flight Moir had seized the nearest reserve, flung him to the scorer's table and instructed, "Get Perry's --- out of the game!"  Moir employed a three-letter word that rhymes with gas, grass and glass.  "Coach didn't care who he'd sent in," Bonebrake continued, "just so long as Perry's --- was out of the game."

Current coach Jim Baker, has a story from the days when he played for Moir.  Moir called timeout late in a tight struggle and couldn't locate his chalkboard.  Undaunted, he diagramed Catawba's final possession with items found in his pockets.  One player was a dime; another was a nickel.  The resourceful Moir used an orange seed to simulate a basketball and used a paper cup as an imaginary goal.  He moved his assortment of items from place to place until a referee said it was time to play. 

As the Indians broke their huddle, star guard Eric Harris asked with a straight face, "Uh, Coach, was I the dime or the nickel?"  Moir exploded and bellowed at his team, "Just give Harris the ball and get the hell out of his way!"  We'll never know if Harris, who finished his career in 1978 with more than 1, 500 points, was the dime or the nickel, but he calmly drilled the game-winning shot.

Moir also got the last laugh.  In Horace Billings' game story in the Salisbury Post the next day, Moir commented, "I'm real proud of the boys.  They executed that last play to perfection."

Moir grew up in Francisco, a hamlet north of King, east of Mount Airy and crowding the Virginia line.  "Francisco had no population," Moir said.  "There were 13 in my class at school and two stores in town. My dad owned one of them."  Moir went to Oak Ridge Military Academy then served in the Air Force in World War II as a teenager.  "Guam, Okinawa. Radio operator and tail gunner on a B-24," Moir said.

Moir married Betty Winkler in 1946. By 1950, he'd exited baseball.  He'd earned a degree from Appalachian State and plunged into his basketball coaching career with Mount Airy High's Granite Bears.  Moir lost his first season but had winning teams the next nine, capped by a 3A state championship in 1960.

Ten from that team played in college, including North Carolina starter John Yokley and future Pfeiffer coach Tom Childress.  "When you've got players like that, the only one who can screw things up is the coach," Moir said.

The late Earl Ruth, who was ready to give up coaching Catawba's basketball team for administration, remembered Moir from his basketball-playing days at Appalachian and hired him.  Guilford also pursued Moir, but Catawba got him.

His first basketball victory came against Pfeiffer.  His first Catawba team went 14-13, one of his 23 winning seasons.  Moir could judge talent and evaluate character.  His players graduated, so he managed to recruit quality even when Catawba had to play its 1960s home games at local high schools.

The first of Moir's 10 20-victory teams was the 1968-69 squad led by Dwight Durante, Dave Snyder and Garland Davis.  He brought home seven championships.  "God knew I needed help, so he blessed me with lots of good players," Moir said.

Moir's most satisfying win came when reserve Cy Alexander's free throw knocked off No. 1 Gardner-Webb.  There was also the 108-107 1977 overtime victory over another No. 1 Gardner-Webb team.  Most schools ran and hid from Gardner-Webb's talent.  Moir enjoyed taking on a school that shared his "Let's score 100 and let them catch us" philosophy.

Like all coaches, Moir remembers losses more than wins.  The two that stung most were season-ending setbacks in the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City.  Analyst Billy Packer declared Moir's 1982 team the second-best team in the state (after UNC's champions), and it wasn't just idle chatter.  Catawba, with a senior class of Dwayne Grant, Dwayne Brewington and Matt Weber, was tall, deep and good.  Seeded seventh in the 32-team field in 1982, Catawba (26-7) fell to Moorhead State (Minn.) in the first round. 

Seeded eighth in 1983, Catawba (29-4) lost to Liberty Baptist in the first round.  That Catawba team had Mark Simpson, Maurice McDaniel and Bobby VanNoy.  All were at least 6-foot-8.  All were drafted.  Conference player of the year in '83, Simpson wasn't healthy either trip to Kansas City.  A scratched eyeball idled him in 1982.  A thigh injury limited him in '83.

Changing rules factored into Catawba's demise in 1983.  Catawba's league played the season with an experimental 30-second clock and 3-point shot, but neither was used in the national tournament.  Moir stayed humble through those great seasons.  He and little brother Charlie, head coach at Virginia Tech 11 seasons, worked all the basketball clinics.  One clinic produced memorable Moir one-liners.

"I'll turn things over to my brother now," Sam informed his eager audience, "and he'll tell you all he knows about basketball in two minutes."  "Give me three minutes," Charlie retorted, "and I can tell you all both of us know."  Sam knew enough that Catawba's floor is dedicated to him and the high school Christmas tournament at Catawba bears his name.

He's been inducted into the North Carolina, NAIA, Catawba, SAC, Rowan County, Mount Airy and Oak Ridge halls of fame.  That adds up to several generations of lives influenced for the better.  Lots of young men molded. Lots of valuable lessons taught.

"While you're coaching, you're always worried about, 'Are we winning?' " Moir said.  "But once you get out, you can feel really good about how well all your players are doing."

This is the first in a series on Catawba basketball legends.


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