Last season, Moore High School’s boys’ basketball team didn’t need to travel to the venues of opposing teams to deal with the torment of boos from home fans.
No. All they had to do was step foot within the four walls of their own school to hear the unwelcoming mockery of disgruntled peers.
“Our school spirit wasn’t where it used to be,” says senior forward Russell Vaden. “Students wouldn’t come to the game, and they would already be telling us we would lose. When we would come to school on game day, they’re already telling us we’re losing.”
Insult was added to injury for a program that went 10-18 last season. But to Head Coach Roy Sutton, the greatest pain was not the total in the loss column; instead, it was the attitude and character issues that plagued this program.
“I had some players on my team last year who we didn’t allow to play with us this year because they didn’t change from the inside,” he relates. “We had more talent in the locker room last year, but we had a lot of bad character kids.”
In two seasons as head coach, Sutton has turned the culture of this program around. He’s preached a message of attitude over aptitude, stressing the importance of the “character of the kids.” After being a part of the transformation process while being on the coaching staff at Fern Creek, Sutton settled in some soil as the Mustangs new head coach where he had to separate the wheat from the weeds.
“The changes we made over there [at Fern Creek] – I wanted to mirror the changes here,” Sutton says. “We started with the character of the kids. We wanted to put on their hearts and minds that outside of basketball and when it is over one day, we can say we made a difference in their life. I preach it all the time: Be a good person, be a good person. So we really preached discipline, being a good person, being a man with good character, and the guys have bought into that.”
The Mustangs have won with less talent this season than they had last season, but they’ve simply gotten better. They’re 20-10 on the season – the first time Moore has won 20 games since the 2012-13 season.
The players have been elated and are no longer exasperated by the discouraging opinions from their peers in school. In fact, their success has turned classmates’ frowns into smiles and their pessimism into optimism.
“Last year, they couldn’t go anywhere without someone joking on them,” Sutton adds. “But now, they get recognized as winners, and they’re putting that in their minds and hearts. We want them to walk around like winners, accept the fact that they have changed this program, and winners is who we are going to be.
“We talked about being professional in all that we do, and I’m a firm believer that you have to be a high-standing and good person all the time. From that, good things will come.”
While some have remained incredulous to the success, Coach Sutton has embraced the showering of compliments toward the work and turnaround to this year. As a Southern High School graduate of the class of 1989, Sutton recollects that during that era when you played Moore, you were playing a formidable opponent. And he wants to relive those past memories.
“Moore was tough in the late 80s and early 90s, and when you played them, you knew you had a game on your hands,” he shares. “That’s exactly where we want this program to be, right where it used to be. Knowing when you play Moore, you’re going to be playing a tough team.”
A foundation has been set to keep this program moving in the right direction. Sutton believes he can keep the success consistent the more he has standout players exhibiting the principles he’s established.
Russell Vaden is one of those guys, and Coach says that in the coming years, players will hear echoes of his name in the locker room.
“Russell represents the senior class because of his character,” Sutton affirms. “It isn’t because he jumps so high or dunks so hard; he has just been a great kid to coach. When he leaves, his name will ring loud in my locker room about how to work hard and how to be as a person and the results that come with that.”
The beauty of their relationship is that Vaden will be able to take invaluable lessons from his coach as he looks toward the future. As he finishes high school, he has his eyes set on Eastern Michigan University next year, where he will be playing football.
“Coach Sutton is like another father to me at school,” Vaden emphasizes. “He is like the help man. He tells me what I need to do and how to be a better person every day. So it is like a life lesson – you learn something new from him every day. So I just try to take it in as a person and as an athlete to do what I need to do to make myself better. I appreciate him being here for me and making our team who we are today.” VT