Jack Moore Day Poignant for Family, Coaches, Best Friend

By NU Athletic Communications
The Huskers will celebrate Jack Moore Day at the Devaney Center on Saturday.
The Huskers will celebrate Jack Moore Day at the Devaney Center on Saturday.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

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Next month, it will be 25 years since Jack Moore died in a private plane crash on a ranch near Cozad, Neb.

Saturday, Nebraska’s athletic department and men’s basketball program will honor Moore’s legacy. The Huskers’ 1 p.m. nationally televised game against Texas at the Devaney Center will officially be called Jack Moore Day.

At halftime, Nebraska will honor the memory of Moore, the Huskers’ consensus All-Big Eight point guard whose name is attached to the NU men’s basketball annual Most Valuable Player award.

“I’m so proud that Nebraska has chosen to honor Jack,” said Vivian Moore, Jack’s mom who now lives in Indianapolis near her two daughters and their families, including four grandchildren.

“We’re going to Lincoln to celebrate what Jack meant to the Nebraska basketball program and what he meant to all of us he left behind,” Vivian said. “More than being a good player, Jack was a young man with character. He seemed to approach everything important with great respect.”

Vivian Moore’s two daughters, Jill John and Jane Ann Giles, also will be in Lincoln for the festivities. So will Moore’s widow, Dorothy; Nebraska Hall of Fame player and former assistant coach, Tom Baack, who helped recruit Moore; and Jerry Shoecraft, Moore’s best friend since fourth grade and his former teammate at Muncie Central High School and Nebraska.

“This means so much to our family,” Vivian Moore said. “We still follow Nebraska, and this will bring back so many fond memories of Jack.”

Last March, Moore was enshrined in the Indiana State High School Hall of Fame, 15 years after he had been inducted posthumously into the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame.

Moore Was Named Nation’s Best Collegiate Player under 6 Feet

At Muncie Central, Moore led his team to the 1978 Indiana state high school championship, winning in three overtimes in the sectionals, double overtime in the regional and overtime in the state championship game. In Indiana, state champions play the semifinals and the finals on the same day, and Moore scored 61 points in those two games. He also grabbed 17 rebounds and had 11 assists and five steals.

“Jack would have been named ‘Mr. Basketball’ in Indiana if they voted after the state tournament instead of before it,” Shoecraft said. Still, at the state finals, Moore accepted what Baack considers an even more prestigious honor – the Trester Award – for mental attitude, scholarship, leadership and athletic ability.

At Nebraska, Moore became the school’s first three-time Academic All-Big Eight basketball player. The 5-foot-9 guard also won the 1982 Francis Pomeroy-Naismith Award as the nation’s most outstanding senior collegiate basketball player under six feet tall.

“It all started when he was about two years old,” his mother said. “We had a long, tiled hallway in our home in Centerville, and Jack would dribble down that hall with his right hand and then come back that same hallway with his left hand. He’d do it all day long if you’d let him.”

By fourth-grade, the Moore family had moved to Muncie, where they poured a 15-by-15-foot slab of concrete in the backyard. “Jack could put his toes just on the edge of that slab, and that was the free throw line,” Vivian recalled. “I bet he’d shoot a hundred free throws a day, even in grade school.”

No wonder Moore’s .901 career free throw percentage (446-495) at Nebraska still ranks sixth in NCAA Division I history. Ironically, Moore’s marksmanship beat the Big Eight career free throw record previously held by Nebraska Coach Moe Iba, who played at Oklahoma State. Moore also supplanted Baack as the Nebraska school record-holder for career free throw percentage. “Couldn’t have been replaced by a better player or nicer young man,” said Baack, the fellow Indiana native who spent almost as much time recruiting Moore in Muncie that season as he did coaching at Nebraska.

Bill Harrell, who was an assistant coach at Nebraska under Joe Cipriano in 1968-69, was Moore’s high school coach at Muncie Central. “He helped steer Jack to Joe (Cipriano) and Moe,” Baack said. “I had a great time watching Jack play his senior season. They’d pack 5,000 or 6,000 people into that gym. Every game was like watching scenes straight out of the movie ‘Hoosiers.’

“Jack was the catalyst behind everything – great ball handler, great passer, could hit the open jump shot, great free throw shooter . . . he could absolutely control the game,” Baack said. “He had such a low center of gravity that you couldn’t steal the ball from him. The best part about recruiting a guy like Jack was he was also a straight-A student, and he had principles, values and morals. Very personable and well grounded . . . the best young man in every possible way.”

Moe Iba: Moore Was One of Nebraska’s Best Players Ever

“Jack was a player that any coach in the country would have enjoyed having on his team,” Iba said. “He knew so much about the game and how to play it. I think it’s wonderful that Nebraska is honoring Jack and his family. I’m sorry I’m unable to come this weekend because of a prior commitment. I just hope the fans support Jack Moore Day. He was one of the best players who ever played at Nebraska.” 

No one could eat the clock and play to win like Jack Moore, who finished his Husker career with 1,204 points and 382 assists. “If you were ahead in the last four or five minutes, the game was over,” Iba said. “I mean, Jack could run a team. He was never wild, and people just couldn’t get the ball away from him. When they tried, they fouled, and when they fouled, he’d make every shot. He was a playmaker . . . as good as any point guard in the country.”

When Moore graduated, he decided to take a job with Gary Johnson, a stockbroker in North Platte. “Jack was an excellent young man in college, and we became good friends after he graduated,” Iba said. “Gary was my best friend. He was the one piloting the plane when it went down.”

A former basketball coach at Cozad, Imperial, McCook and Ralston, Johnson was 47 and Moore 24 when they died in the plane crash.

“They had flown to Muncie to watch a sectional game involving Jack’s old high school,” Iba said. “They flew back after the game, stopped in Des Moines to refuel and got a weather report that everything looked clear. They ran into some weather near Grand Island and never made it home.”

Johnson radioed Kearney’s airport about 3 a.m. on that fateful, March 3, 1984, Saturday. “It was their last contact,” Vivian Moore said. “They were in heavy fog, and Gary was not instrument-rated. Because of poor visibility in North Platte, they tried to go back and land in Kearney, but they never made it. Investigators told us that vertigo was involved. When they went down, they probably thought they were going up.”

A snowstorm moved in shortly after the crash, and it was another 36 hours before a Custer County rancher discovered the airplane and informed the sheriff’s department.

The death hit both families and their friends hard, and the news stunned basketball fans in Indiana and Nebraska. Jean Johnson, Gary’s widow, gave Iba her late husband’s personal money clip. “I remember Gary and Jack almost every day,” Moe said. “That whole thing was hard to understand then . . . still is.”

Her Small Piece from the Plane Represents an Inner Peace

Jane Ann Giles, 38, still has a small piece of the crashed plane. She found it when she visited the ranch near Cozad a few months after the accident. “Jack was 11 years older than me, and I idolized him,” she said. “I was born with a disability, and he was always my protector. We never, ever, had words. The only time he thought about getting mad at me was when we were playing tackle football in the house, and I busted his lip.”

Even then, Jack couldn’t get mad at his little sister, who almost died three times before she was in kindergarten. “I was in third grade when Jack left Indiana for Nebraska,” Jane Ann said. “I cried myself to sleep for a couple of months after he left. Whenever he’d call home, we’d all grab a phone, so we could talk to him. I still remember telling him goodbye at the airport the night he left Muncie for the last time. It was hard then, and it’s still hard now because Jack was just a really, really good guy and a very, very special brother. He was a true role model – the kind that we all looked up to and tried to model.

“This sounds strange, but it still makes me laugh – I still have Jack’s wisdom teeth in a little memory box,” Jane Anne said. “He mailed them to me after they were pulled in college. He joked that I would always have at least some of his wisdom.”

It’s a memory still cherished. “I know it will be emotional, but I’m excited to come back to Nebraska for the first time since the year Jack died,” said Jane Ann, who will bring 2-year-old son Jackson (named after Jack) to Lincoln while her husband, Rob, stays in Indianapolis to support their 17-year-old daughter, Jessica, at an important cheerleading competition.

Jane Ann’s last visit to Nebraska was with her mom, sister and two aunts, who drove from Indiana to Central Nebraska for closure. Jane Ann remembers it being a beautiful Nebraska summer day. She also remembers looking at the indented hole in the ground caused by the crash and how it was filled with the most beautiful sunflowers she’d ever seen. “They were the only ones in the whole field,” she said, choking back tears. “When we saw those flowers, it gave us all an incredible sense of peace.”

Jack Loved Nebraska So Much, He Decided to Stay Here

Jack’s mom and sisters always knew how much he loved Nebraska. “That’s why he chose to stay there, even though we all wanted him to move back to Indiana,” Jane Ann said. “Jack was such a role model, not just for our family, but for so many others in both Indiana and Nebraska.”

On that serene, reinforcing summer day a quarter century ago, even though Jack was gone, the Moore family was able to appreciate and understand his legacy. More than ever, they were able to pause, reflect and fully comprehend how dedicated he had been as a student, athlete, son, brother and husband and therefore, how he would always live in their hearts and minds despite the tragic way he died.

For his youngest sister, the tiny 2-inch piece she kept from the plane’s wreckage represents the peace that’s still in her heart.

His mom said Jack had a heart for everyone.  “He spoke to you, and he listened to you,” she said. “It didn’t make any difference if you were very old or very young. Jack just enjoyed talking to people, and he enjoyed helping them whenever he could.”

The oldest sister, Jill, is four years younger than Jack. She believes her brother got his empathy from his mom, who taught special needs children for 27 years before retiring. “Through her faith and her belief, my mom is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known,” she said. “When Jack was killed, it was just devastating for all of us, but she held us together. I don’t think I ever fully appreciated how hard Jack’s death was for my mom until I had kids of my own.”

Jill, a network analyst, and her husband Rich, an electrical engineer, will take their two daughters – 14-year-old Jaci and 7-year-old Ryli – to Lincoln for the first time, even though Jill spent her first two years of college at Nebraska in 1983-84.

Once Moore Saw Nebraska, There Was No Place Like It

“It’s a tribute to Jack that the university continues to hold him in such high regard, especially given all of the great athletes who have gone there,” Jill said. “For us, this kind of recognition after all these years just solidifies the decision he made to go to Nebraska in the first place. He was heavily recruited, but he made Nebraska his first and only visit. He loved the university, the community, the coaching staff and the facilities. The first thing he did when he got back to Muncie was cancel his visit to North Carolina. That’s how much he wanted to be a Husker.”

It meant so much to Moore that he convinced Shoecraft, his best friend and Muncie Central teammate, to join him as a Husker. A former Lincoln City Councilman for eight years, Shoecraft lettered the same four years (1979-82) at Nebraska that Jack did.

“I probably would have gone to Purdue if Jack hadn’t convinced me to visit Nebraska,” said Shoecraft, a 2 ½-year Husker starter at forward. “Growing up, Jack Moore was my inspiration, and he still is today. Everything I’ve ever accomplished in my life was because of him and the way he inspired me. Even now, whenever I’m down, tired, angry or staring adversity in the face, I ask myself the same question: ‘What would Jack do?’ I’ve never seen a better player, role model, friend, student or citizen. His impact was amazing.”

Sister Jill agrees, recalling her experience as a high school freshman at the same time Jack became a college freshman. “When he went to Nebraska, that’s when we really became friends,” she said. “Growing up, we went all over following his basketball and baseball teams. But until I had the same teachers and the same administrators and met the same kids that Jack had known, it really didn’t hit me what kind of impact he had – not only on our school, but on our community and throughout the entire state.”

Moore was the MVP of Muncie Central’s first state championship team in 15 years – the same Muncie Central that was portrayed in the upset loss to tiny Milan in the movie “Hoosiers”.

Before Moore was inducted into the Indiana High School Hall of Fame last year, Jack’s mom asked Jill if she would give the acceptance speech on behalf of the family. “I was honored,” Jill said.  “He was my big brother, my role model, my friend.”

‘Jack Was a Better Person Than He Was a Basketball Player’

In her speech, Jill talked about Landon Turner, the 6-11 star of Indiana’s 1981 national championship team, and how much he respected Jack, the little guy whose high school team beat Turner’s team out of the 1978 state championship. “Landon was paralyzed four months after Indiana won the national championship,” Jill said. “He’s a motivational speaker now, and it means something when he tells you how Jack helped inspire him.

“As his family, we’re obviously partial about Jack, but honestly, we’ve never heard a negative thing about him, before or after he died,” Jill said. “It was kind of cool being his little sister and not having to be compared to him, on or off the court. He welcomed me coming to Nebraska and helped me learn how to focus on academics. He’d even sit down and help me with accounting whenever I needed it.

“He took the time not only for me, but for others,” Jill said. “Since he’s been gone, there are many people – people we never knew – who come up to us and tell us how Jack had talked to their kids and how much he had inspired them.”

That very thought still chokes up a sister who closed her acceptance speech for Jack’s Indiana Hall of Fame honor with a simple, declarative point.

“If you don’t remember anything else about Jack,” she said, “what I want everyone to remember most is that he was a much better person than he was a basketball player.”

The Voices of Husker Nation

"I used to go to all of the home Husker basketball games in the late 70's through the early 80's, and I admired the character of those teams more than anything else. Jack Moore had the heart of a lion, and I always thought he accomplished more with less than any college basketball player I ever saw. He was such a gritty, brilliant tactician. It seemed like he never made a mistake, and he always made the shots that we needed. I remember the end of those games like they were yesterday, when Jack would dribble all around the half-court, driving the hapless opponents mad, forcing them to foul him. And then of course he always made the free throws. The heart of a lion, but with ice water running through his veins." - Greg Dawson, St. Louis, Mo.

"I remember following Jack Moore his senior year of high school in Indiana. I can still remember where I was when I read about his tragic plane crash. That resonated with me because I had also gone to high school in Indianapolis with a smart and talented basketball player who perished on the University of Evansville plane crash in 1977. A year or so ago I was sitting in the staff lounge having lunch with another teacher. Somehow our conversation shifted to the subject of high school basketball . When she mentioned she was from Muncie that jogged my memory a bit, and I responded to her comment by telling her I that I use to follow the career of a basketball player from Muncie. I had remembered how tough a player he was and that he had won the Trester Award during the state finals in 1978. When she asked me who that player was I mentioned that his name was Jack Moore. She responded by telling me that Jack was her brother. It's interesting to note that this fellow teacher is as good a person and teacher as you will find. After all the warm thoughts expressed about Jack Moore the irony did not escape me. Jack was obviously a great brother and mentor to his little sister. We should all be so lucky." Jack Monninger, Indianapolis, Ind.




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