Pancho Moore stepping away from coaching to 'get back to my first love' of filmmaking

Apr. 2—CHAMPAIGN — If you've been to a Champaign Central athletic event in the last nine years, odds are you've seen Pancho Moore.

Of course, if it was a girls' basketball game, he'd be loudly pacing the sideline as the head coach. But when he wasn't coaching, he was at seemingly every other Maroon event with a camera in his hands, capturing the moments some of their student-athletes will remember forever.

On Feb. 22 at the Central girls' basketball team banquet, one week after its season-ending loss to Mt. Zion in a Class 3A regional title game, Moore let his players know his decision to step away from coaching and "get back to my first love."

"It was very quietly kept, and it was a hard thought process at the end of the year," Moore said. "Just having time to sit back and reflect on how far I'd come with basketball and the why I got into it: my daughter and my mother. My mom has passed, and my daughter has been at ORU for a couple years. I need to get back into (film) because that's what I believe my purpose is from God is to create films and tell stories."

Ten years ago, Moore was living in Los Angeles, looking for any film project he could be a part of. His first gig was on a barbershop.

"I was walking down the street, saw the crew working and asked them if I could be part of the set," Moore said. "They let me be part of the team, and I started working on props. I shot a lot of behind-the-scenes things, and that's where my passion was."

After "countless" years of that, his daughter, Aija Gwin, started getting serious about playing basketball. She was about to enter her sixth-grade year at Franklin Middle School in Champaign, and Moore moved back just for her. Gwin didn't make the team that year, but she worked to get better and started just about every year after that, including a few years later for her dad at Central.

Moore took over the Maroons' coaching position prior to the 2015-16 season, where the team went 4-23. He admitted that first year was hard, but just three years later, the record improved to 18-13.

The 2018-19 season wound up being Moore's only winning season with the Maroons, but his goal from the beginning was always about more than the game. He developed relationships with his players that went beyond the court. If his girls ever needed advice, support at other events or anything at all, he was there.

"Helping these ladies become better women in life, not just on the court but off the court, was a goal of mine," Moore said. "You just want to see them succeed. You have the ones who go on to play D-I ball and everything like that, but it's more so the education they get from playing basketball, what they're doing with their future and how I can help them. They become family to me, and that's what it's always been."

Central Athletic Director Jane Stillman said Moore has played a key role in changing the program's culture for the better. She knew he would be resigning midway through the season, but "he didn't want any hoopla." In other words, he didn't want to make the season about him. Still, Moore's animated antics on the sideline will be missed.

"I don't know anybody who can match that," Stillman said of Moore's energy with a laugh. "I really don't. He's fired up at every game."

Despite the constant grind of trying to eclipse .500, Moore became the program's all-time wins leader this season with 98. He also jokingly took credit for having the most losses in team history.

He'll miss patrolling the sideline. He'll miss the rush of pulling out a close win. He won't miss the referees. He made sure to add that, noting with a laugh that "They've had enough of me anyway."

But the thing Moore will miss most is the time spent with his team. Radiating energy to everyone, talking basketball with his assistant coaches and seeing the girls have fun.

"That's what this game is about," Moore said.

He's not going anywhere, though. Moore may have given up his spot at the head of the bench, but he'll still be cheering on and filming the Maroons from a few rows back.

"I resigned from coaching, but I'm still going to be here all next year as much as the next coach will have me around," Moore said. "I'll be in the stands cheering just as loud but not coaching. I'm excited to see where they go next year and what the next person brings, their style and how they continue the culture and make it even better than what it is. I hope my record gets broken incredibly fast."

His wins record, of course.