Gone too soon

Thirty years ago when the now funky, Santa Barbara Municipal Tennis Courts were the hub of the very energetic and active community, a pre-school age child could be found most afternoons playing with her toys in the dirt outside of Court One while her mother or brother were giving lessons. As each person walked by Court One, Little Moe would grab her sawed off racquet and offer to play a match. Usually eliciting a startled smile from infrequent visitors or a little verbal exchange and an explanation that they already had a game lined up from the regulars. Every so often the player would agree to hit for just a bit until their partner showed up. Moe would drop her trucks, grab the racquet, put on a huge, satisfied grin and run off to play.

At that time I was taking lessons from her older brother, Greg. As he would finish up his previous lesson, take care of phone calls and records, Moe would grab my arm and point to the other side of the court, meaning "get over there and hit balls to me." Or maybe she meant "get over there and I'll hit balls to you because I've seen you play and you need all the practice you can get." We'd hit balls until Greg was ready for me. Sometimes he'd watch us for a while. Maureen was a late child so she was doted upon by her older brothers and sister and the extended Santa Barbara tennis community.

As Moe grew into a teenager she became one of the more talented of Santa Barbara's competitive collection of hot junior players. Had an outstanding high school record, but didn't display the strong will to win common to the kids in these programs. Matter of fact towards the end of high school she seemed to decidedly back off quite a bit from her success while still achieving an enviable record.

Heard rumors she wasn't happy playing at college and was burned out. After several years Moe enrolled at City College and went back to playing competitive tennis with some success and apparent enjoyment. She especially relished doubles. Her partner? Rita, her 62-year old mother, who went back to school so that she could play with her daughter. They had a grand time from all appearances. And were quite a strong doubles team. Pretty sure they made it at least out of the Regionals of the State Community College Tournament.

Older brother Greg has had an outstanding college coaching career. Led very strong teams at UC Irvine and then won NCAA Coach of the Year while at Boise State. More recently he has been involved with developing tennis programs on a national level. I bump into him on occasions when he visits Santa Barbara. One time I saw him on State Street in late-winter. He invited me to Knowlwood Tennis Club to watch an exhibition match between his team, Boise State, and Harvard. Both teams were doing a mid-winter training tour while on their school's spring breaks. Great time visiting this man with such a zest for life, competition and sharing.

Brother Mark has been a sports writer at the Santa Barbara News-Press for many years as was his father until cancer took him much too early. Just months after Moe's birth. Mark's writing about the UCSB women's basketball team's community outreach programs first attracted me to their program. First article I had read was about Christa Gannon. Not about how many points she scored, rebounds snagged or even about her strong academics. The women give Saturday clinics for young people where they do some station drills, get to know the kids and give them the typical but worthwhile talks about respecting your opponents, parents, siblings and themselves. About setting goals, working diligently, and giving to others. After a particularly tough home loss that the gauchos felt they should have won Mark saw a small girl who had been in a recent clinic come up to 6-3 Christa as she was walking off the court, head bowed and not pleased with the outcome and her effort. As soon as Christa saw the young girl she smiled and asked her how she was doing in school. Picked her up and asked about her brother and how she was feeling. A nice lesson in what is important. I've been a gaucho fan ever since. The people involved in the program, from coaches, staff and players over the years have been great. And people like Mark who "get it" and have the ability to write compellingly about life and connections help us all in our quest to do better.

This morning Mark had to write what was probably the most difficult piece he's ever worked on. Moe passed away last week at the age of 32.

There were hints of deeper issues than just a disinterest in "beating" an opponent early in Maureen's tennis. We are all aware of the turmoil and challenges of getting through the teenage years. Those of us around the tennis world have seen plenty of players struggling to deal with overzealous parents and coaches and the curse of expectations. Playing any sport at an intense competitive level requires sacrifices and focus. Which can satisfy. Or hinder developing other interests and explorations.

While at City College it became known that Moe was dealing with substance abuse and self-esteem issues. In counseling it was revealed that she had been sexually abused by a family acquaintance years earlier and had been fighting those demons ever since.

A struggle with addiction is a lifelong journey. Good days, months even, but it is never easy. Or simple. Eventually alcohol touched off a genetic liver disorder. By her 30th year Little Moe was fighting for her life. Through the fight Mark feels that that Moe found some peace, strength and spirit. Now the fight is over but the memories and spirit live on.

-- Tom
January 8, 2004
Santa Barbara, California

  Sent to several friends 1-8-2004


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