Jared Lankford: The dash between the numbers

Saturday, November 7, 2020

On Tuesday, a shockwave was sent through the community as word of the passing of Monett Superintendent Russ Moreland began to spread.

As tributes and fond memories were displayed on social media platforms, my thoughts turned to what poet Linda Ellis once opened her verse of The Dash with:

Lankford

“I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end.

“He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.”

My first encounter with Russ came a decade ago when I was ushered into his office at Pierce City to discuss the sudden passing of Doug Weatherly.

What could easily be observed about Moreland is that his was a man passionate about his job. He spoke candidly about Weatherly’s impact upon the students and upon himself and said that no amount of training ever prepares an administrator of a district for the sudden loss of a beloved faculty member.

Over the next decade, Moreland became a valuable source for me at the sports desk. We built up a trust over the years, and he was a source that would give information off-record to aid in story creation and development.

At Pierce City, he wore many hats other than just superintendent. He was a devoted father, and you could always count on seeing him attend his children’s games. He kept the book for the softball team while his daughter, McKenzie Moreland, played.

In 2013, the Lady Eagles faced No. 1 seeded Purdy for the district title. I sat next to Moreland at the game. About the fifth inning, I looked at my stat sheet and looked at Russ’ book. I then committed the immortal softball sin by mentioning that his daughter had a perfect game going.

His reply, in a joking manner, was swift, “Good grief, don’t you know you can’t talk about that. If this batter gets a hit, you are going to need to move.”

Luckily, McKenzie did get the out, as well as the next five after that to preserve her perfect game. Russ was no doubt a proud father that day.

When his son Mason Moreland played, Russ volunteered to handle the public address duties for all the baseball games. He made sure to serve as the administrator on duty, as well, so he could be sure to be in attendance.

He gave the first $100 donation to purchase the inflatable tunnel that the Eagles’ football team runs through to this day.

Moreland was the lone source of information regarding guiding the Pierce City district from the Spring River Valley Conference into the newly formed Southwest Conference. At each step of the way, he would call with updates of the progress.

When Moreland was named superintendent at Monett, it was a relief to know that there was an individual in charge with whom I had a relationship established and could count on.

He was an instant supporter of naming the turf at Burl Fowler Stadium after Kenley Richardson and helped push that measure across the finish line.

Additionally, he showed a willingness to listen to opposing views and the courage to follow the public wishes.

When Monett was considering a potential logo change, after receiving public input, Moreland tabled the idea altogether.

Moreland was a Kansas City Royals fan, and five years ago we texted congratulations when the crown finally came home.

As I reflect upon the dash of time that I got to know and interact with Russ, I can smile because I knew him and his dedication. We are saddened about this loss, but we must cherish the memories we made.

Ms. Ellis concluded her poem like this:

“For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

“For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

“So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

“To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

“If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

“So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?”

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of The Monett Times. He may be reached at sports@monett-times.com or 417-235-3135.

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