MOORE — Tommy Noles was browsing around a sporting goods store a few days ago when he ran into an old friend.
Noles, now retired, was a longtime football coach at Moore High School. His friend had been a coach at Westmoore, and they both still live in the area.
They chatted about life and football and family. And like many conversations around Moore over the last three months, the discussion turned more serious.
“It always leads to, ‘Well, did your family survive the storm? Did you have any damage?'” Noles said, referring to the tornadoes that ravaged Moore and other Oklahoma towns in May. “It's been a topic of conversation for three months, and it'll continue on.”
The massive tornado of May 20 caused horrific death and destruction in the Moore area, and left the community searching for a way to make life seem normal again.
Fifteen weeks later, maybe this can bring some solace: high school football season has begun.
And in September, Friday nights watching football at Moore Stadium are as normal as life gets.
The season began with Carl Albert vs. Southmoore on Thursday night, and then, Moore's classic rivalry game — Moore High vs. Westmoore in the Moore War — will kick off at 7 p.m. Friday.
Two decades ago, the Moore War was the state's premier big-school rivalry game. It was Jenks vs. Tulsa Union before those two schools redefined what a high-school football rivalry was.
Former coach Carl Franks, who now serves as the district-wide athletic director for Moore schools, remembers coaching in front of as many as 15,000 fans during the peak of the series, when both teams were expected to — and often did — go deep into the playoffs and play for state titles.
“At its height, it was probably the biggest rivalry game in Oklahoma, as far as attendance and all of that,” Noles said. “The Moore War had become quite an extravaganza, so to speak. Every year, in our preparation for that game, I told our kids that there were thousands of kids and hundreds of coaches who would love the opportunity to participate in it, because it was so much fun.”
The game itself has slipped in stature a little, partly because other rivalry games have grown, and partly because Moore and Westmoore aren't the powerhouse programs they once were.
But the Moore War is still woven into the fabric of the community. And never has it been quite as important as it will be Friday night. For the players and coaches, there's still a game to be won, and bragging rights up for grabs. But they know the game means a little more this year.
“This game will mean a lot,” Westmoore coach Billy Langford said. “People will get a chance to see their friends' faces and check on them and make sure they're doing well.”
The game will be the central focus Friday night. But before and after the game, at halftime and in between plays, conversations will turn to the community. Friends and family. Those who've received help, and those who still need it.
“The people around here are just looking for something positive to hang their hat on,” Franks said. “It'll give us an opportunity to start the school year out with something that the kids and the people in our community can really get involved in. I think the community is just looking for something that will give them a positive direction, and something they can look forward to.”
The term “rivalry” doesn't immediately trigger thoughts of unity, but outside the white lines of the football field, that's exactly what this year's Moore War will do. It's a positive and uplifting event in a community that deserves all the good vibes it can get.
“These are the kinds of events that bring people together,” Noles said. “I've been so impressed with how this community has supported one another. As many bad things that happened, there have been some truly great things. This'll be another example of that.
“There will be a lot of things said about the football game, and the band performances and how the cheer and pom squads did. But there will also be lots of stories told about ‘where were you when ...'
“It really will be a unifying event for the community. It's gonna be a great night.”