Hillsboro hosted the 64th Gene Steighorst boys basketball tournament last week. Moreno worked in his office while the tournament raged to a climax between the Hawks and Eureka. His letterman’s jacket from his time as a Hawk hung by the pennants and banners displaying decades of Hillsboro’s success on various playing fields. Football helmets, from the old egg-shell model to the sleek state-of-the-art certified ones, show the progress of player safety.
A 1996 graduate of Hillsboro, Moreno was the head coach of the baseball team for six years, an assistant coach for the football team for three and has been the activities director for 11.
Moreno’s loyalty to the Hillsboro Hawks “brand” was spotlighted last month when he was voted the Missouri Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Southeast athletic director of the year. Aside from the Southeast, there are seven other regions: Central, Kansas City, Northeast, Northwest, South Central, Southwest and St. Louis.
Each region’s athletic directors vote within their boundaries to decide the eight winners. The Southeast region runs from Windsor to Poplar Bluff and encompasses the Bootheel.
“I’m humbled and honored. I’m thankful that my peers recognized me,” Moreno said.
Crystal City’s Jeff Klos for the 2014-2015 school year was the last athletic director from the county to be recognized for the award. Frank Schultz represented Hillsboro in 2000-2001. The other two regional winners from the county were Jack Morrison (Northwest, 1998-1999) and Bill Stotler (Herculaneum, 1992-1993).
From the eight regional winners, an athletic director of the year for the state is voted on by the MIAAA. Schultz won that in 2000-2001, Morrison in 1998-1999 and Ron Sauer won it for Fox in 1988-1989.
Besides day-to-day scheduling of athletic events, scheduling officials and evaluating coaches, Moreno is also an assistant principal for student activities from grades 7-12. He’s the Jefferson County Activities Association president, a member of the Missouri Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, is on the National Athletic Director’s Conference Committee, National Teaching Panel and sits on committees for the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
Right across the hall from Moreno’s office is Mark Groner, assistant principal at Hillsboro. Groner was the school’s AD before Moreno. Groner held that title from 2005-2009. He might still be doing it if he hadn’t had to slow down professionally to beat colon cancer.
“I’ve had a great mentor in Mark Groner,” Moreno said. “Because he’s across the hall, I can bounce things off him.”
I often see Groner staying after school to help Moreno with big sporting events.
“Eddy bleeds blue. He cares about our kids and community,” Groner said. “The athletic office is the public persona of the school. People don’t see what goes on in math or science classrooms but they do out on the basketball court. There’s a high attrition rate for ADs. Some people don’t stay long. He understands how to promote our athletics and he’s moved our facilities forward. He cares about how things look.”
When the state calls, Moreno’s always been there to answer. Even when he’s helping work at a school dance. One of his favorite stories is the night the lights went out in Hillsboro.
Jefferson College was hosting the Class 3 boys basketball quarterfinals between Caruthersville and Whitfield on March 5, 2016. There were 18 seconds left in the game when suddenly the college fieldhouse lost power. An official from MSHSAA called Moreno. Hillsboro High and Jeffco are less than three miles apart.
“I told them I thought we could pull it off,” Moreno said. “We opened the side gym doors to let people in. The dance went on. We get everything set up and it goes overtime. I can’t believe we pulled it off.”
After a delay of about an hour and a half, Whitfield beat Caruthersville 67-63 in overtime.
During a Hillsboro girls basketball tournament several years ago, Moreno loaded a CD to play the national anthem and it didn’t work. He casually picked up a microphone and led the fans in an impromptu singalong.
Once Moreno traveled to Springfield for a Hawks football game and a severe storm forced it to be moved to a separate school in the southwest city. Kickoff wasn’t until 10:45 p.m. and he and the team didn’t get home until 4 a.m.
That delay was nothing compared to the Hawks baseball game against O’Fallon at Busch Stadium on April 17, 2010. The prep game was played after the St. Louis Cardinals hosted the New York Mets. The pro game started at 3:15 p.m. and took 20 innings and 6 hours, 53 minutes for the Mets to beat the Cardinals 2-1. Moreno said the first pitch of Hillsboro’s game wasn’t until 10:45 p.m. The Hawks didn’t pull out of Busch until 1:15 a.m. Luckily, it was a Saturday night.
On March 7, 2017, a tornado damaged Hillsboro’s track and football field. About two months and a half-million dollars later, the Hawks hosted Class 4 District 1 and Class 2 Sectional 1 track and field meets and a district baseball game on the same day. Moreno inspected the field the day after and worked feverishly to get the stadium ready for a busy spring.
The activities part of Moreno’s job requires he oversee the band, choir, speech and debate, drama club and every other activity at the high school.
“I want to treat them all the same. I like to let them know they’re just as important as the athletic teams,” Moreno said.
In the last three years, Hillsboro has won plenty of district championships. In 2019, the Hawks grabbed district titles in baseball, boys basketball, boys soccer and softball. Last year they won them in softball, boys basketball and boys track and field. And in 2017, the football, softball, boys basketball and girls soccer teams all advanced out of districts.
But not all teams win enough.
“You have to be accessible and be able to have tough conversations with your coaches,” Moreno said. “You have to have honest conversations with parents sometimes. We’re not always going to agree and you’re not always going to like what I say, and that can be a blessing and a curse.”
One ubiquitous topic of discussion between Moreno and parents is the subject of playing time, he said. How do you tell a parent their son or daughter isn’t good enough to get off the bench? The answers are not found in a training manual.
“It’s easy to see with their hearts and not their eyes,” Moreno said. “I do the same thing with my 11-year-old son (Parker). He’s the best at everything. In reality, it’s not the case. In a funny note, my son dislikes sports in every shape and form. He’s my nerd. He’s in the chess club, book club, all the things I never was.”
Moreno said if you want to be an AD, especially in this age of social media, grow some thick skin. Last winter, he thought about leaving his job for a permanent assistant principal’s job in the school district. He’s staying for the long haul now.
“You have to take criticism. It’s a spotlighted position,” he said. “If I make a mistake, everyone knows about it. If I forget to get officials or make a scheduling error, everybody sees that. Other people who work in the school district can make a mistake and nobody knows about it.”