Families never lose memories

10/02/2010 1:55 AM

10/02/2010 1:55 AM

It was a sunny day, weather right out of an autumn playbook. The wind barely moved a leaf, but the calm of the afternoon was shattered by news that an airplane carrying Wichita State football players, boosters and administrators had crashed into the Rocky Mountains 40 years ago today.

I was a sophomore at Derby High. One of our own, Steve Moore, was a Shocker linebacker and there was immediate concern for his safety.

Moore was the pride of my hometown, an All-America kid who lived an exemplary life yet managed to be one of the toughest son of a guns you could imagine.

Moore was a 1967 Derby grad. The guys in my class who followed sports knew all about him. He was on a different level, a college athlete who did just fine with the ladies and was known to light up more than a couple of running backs because of his aggressive style of play, sometimes cracking a helmet in the process.

Everyone in Derby admired Moore. His mother, Mary, died three years before the plane crash. It was a devastating blow to Steve, his brother, Bud, and his two sisters, Beckie and Colleen. And, of course, to his father, Milt, an aircraft worker who moved his family frequently because of his job.

A family that endures the loss of a loved one shouldn't have to go through another devastation so soon, but there was initial uncertainty over who was on the plane that crashed. Eventually, names were released. Steve's was one.

"You never detach from something like that,'' said his sister Beckie Hall, a 1971 Derby graduate who is married to another Derby guy, Mike Hall, and lives in McAllen, Texas. "I was a junior in high school and (the crash) completely changed things around.''

Derby was a much smaller town in 1970 than it is now. There was nothing much east of the high school, which is now the middle school at Woodlawn and Madison. The town hadn't expanded to the north or south, either. If you didn't know everybody in town, you at least recognized many.

Moore, even though he had spent much of his youth going from town to town, school to school, was well known. He was an outstanding wrestler and baseball player, too. Everybody wanted to be Steve Moore.

"He was the big brother I never had,'' said Jim Wilson, who sells insurance in Salina.

Wilson's sister dated Moore in high school and for a year or two beyond. While they were dating, Moore became a mentor to Wilson, three years younger.

"He helped so many young men develop," Wilson said. "Steve was an absolutely tremendous person, beyond his athletic prowess.''

Milt Moore will be 89 in one week. He lives just a block from the house, on North Westview, where he and his family lived when Steve was in high school.

"Something like what happened with Steve never leaves you,'' Milt said. "I think about my son practically every day. I loved him very much.''

Steve's older brother, Milt Jr., went by the nickname "Bud." He was ornery, a kid who refused to settle down. He was the opposite of his kid brother, who was well-behaved unless he didn't have to be. And he didn't have to be on a football field.

"I was a challenge, no doubt about it,'' said Bud, who lives in Medicine Lodge and works with behavioral disordered children across south-central Kansas.

It was, at times, a strange case of an older brother — five years older — looking up to the younger one. After a few years in the military and working, Bud Moore decided to try football. He walked on at Wichita State and became a reserve quarterback at 26. In fact, he thought he would be on the ill-fated trip to Logan, Utah, for a game against Utah State until starting quarterback Bob Renner, from Garden Plain, was cleared to play by doctors after suffering an injury.

"It was my brother who actually talked me in to going out,'' Bud said. "Because we moved so much when I was a kid, I never really had an opportunity to play much football.''

He's so glad he decided to give it a try at WSU. It brought he and his brother even closer.

"I can't even begin to describe the bond I felt with Steve,'' Bud Moore said. "It was like half of my world went away that day of the crash. I had so much respect for him and even though he was a lot better athlete than I was, he gave me that respect in return. I haven't really been able to come close to filling that void. I guess my youngest son, Nick, comes closest.''

What is the void exactly?

Bud said it's a void only brothers can understand.

"There's just nothing like it,'' he said. "I only had one and I can't explain the importance of having a brother. When Oct. 2 rolls around, you always wonder, 'What if?' That's the thing that always comes up.''

It amazes everyone, I'm sure, that 40 years have passed since the crash. It still feels so raw to those involved. The tragedy spawned so many stories, yet there are so many more to tell.

Recently, one of the eight players who survived the crash, Randy Jackson, died from pancreatic cancer. Seven remain.

Families of victims and survivors continue to be touched by the enormity of the event. For years, on that mountain in Colorado, rubble smoldered. The emotions of Milt, Beckie, Bud and Colleen Irvin — the oldest of the Moore children — still do.

Steve would be 61. He would have had a wife and kids, most likely.

"He would have been an English teacher and he probably would have become a coach,'' Bud Moore said. "And a very successful one, too. He was getting his degree in English and he had aspirations to coach. It's all speculation, but that's what I think he would have done.''

About Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz has been The Eagle's sports columnist since 1996. A native of Derby, he has worked for the newspaper since 1974 and covered a variety of beats, from high schools to Wichita State to pro sports. If you want to get in good with him, mention the St. Louis Cardinals. Provided they're winning, of course.

Contact Bob at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com

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