When doctors discovered a malignant tumor in Rusty Moore’s brain on Feb. 10, an entire community rallied around the Mullen High School (Nebraska) head basketball coach.
Moore, who has led the team for the last eight years and guided them to a state championship in 2017, handed the clipboard over to his younger brother and assistant coach, Justin Moore, while he had surgery to remove the mass.
And, while their coach was away, the Broncos found their stride. They won their last game of the regular season and carried the momentum to subdistricts and districts. On Thursday night, they came up with a 58-49 win in round one of the Class D-2 state boys basketball tournament.
Yes, the victory was seen on the scoreboard, but it was felt when players looked to the bench and saw Rusty Moore sitting there. He didn’t resume his head coaching duties, but he did offer his support in the form of encouragement.
“Playing for him when he’s not there is one thing,” Mullen senior Tell Spies told the Lincoln Journal Star. “But with him being there you kind of saw what you were playing for and you play a lot a harder.”
Moore has missed four games and many more practices since his diagnosis, but make no mistake, he’s still the one in charge of this team.
“It’s still Rusty’s team,” Justin Moore told the Lincoln Journal Star. “He’s still the head coach, plain and simple. If it gets to the point we’re handing out medals, he’ll be the one doing it.”
Following his diagnosis, “Rally for Rusty” t-shirts were made, wristbands were designed and the small town of Mullen, which has a population of less than 500, made meals and collected money for the family.
As for whether Mullen will defend its state title, only time will tell. But, if they don’t, this season is already a giant win. They have their coach back.