Jeff Moody has covered enough miles as a runner in his lifetime to take him around the world five times.
Now the much-accomplished athlete, coach and educator from Southern Pines has an opportunity to blaze more trails as the coach of the new men's and women's cross country teams at Sandhills Community College.
Last week the Sandhills board of trustees voted to add the sport to the Flyers athletic program that currently includes men's basketball, volleyball and men's and women's golf beginning with the fall of 2017 season.
A graduate of Pinecrest High School and Pembroke State University (now UNC-Pembroke), Moody and his wife Nadine are parents of two daughters, Yarona and Jessica, and a son Jeffery II. He is currently serving as the boys' track and cross country coach at Pinecrest.
Highlights of a long coaching and teaching career include more than 15 years as a high school coach, 10 years as an assistant track and cross country coach at UNC-Pembroke and 27 years as a physical education teacher at Southern Pines Elementary School. As a runner he earned three national titles individually and one as a member of the team at Pembroke State.
"I'm excited about it," Moody says of the opportunity. "For one thing it's something from the ground up that you can kind of put your stamp on. And I think I can help a lot of kids, giving them a chance to see what running at the next level is all about and go on to four-year schools after that.
"One of the good things is all the trails there. I've been running them since 1970. They definitely played a part in my four national titles. I can't think of any college near here that has a better area for training."
Success of Current Athletic Programs at SCC Inspire Expansion
Starting with the introduction of basketball, volleyball and men's golf in 2008, the Flyer athletic programs have set a high standard for success. The walls of Heins Gymnasium that are adorned with banners in all four sports for conference and district titles, and NJCAA national championships for basketball (2012) and men's golf (2014) attest to that.
"We've talked about adding sports for a long time," says athletic director Aaron Denton, who has been in that position since 2008. "For a lot of reasons now is a really good time.
"Certainly cost is always a factor. It's a sport where we can bring in decent numbers of student/athletes, but with lower costs than some of the other sports. We are not allowed to use any state funds for athletics. The main source is student fees plus fund-raising and vending and book store revenues.
"We knew we had great cross country teams and great coaches in our area. Everything we do begins with serving Moore and Hoke Counties and this is a sport that can certainly do that."
Nearby Pinecrest and Union Pines high schools have nearly 150 athletes combined participating in cross country this fall. A recent middle school meet attracted well over 100 runners. Also encouraging to Denton is the success Louisburg College, a Flyer rival in the other sports, has enjoyed since introducing the sport two years ago in terms of participation and athletes moving on to four year colleges.
"When we looked at adding a sport we felt there were a number of them we could be successful at," he says. "One of the most exciting things about cross country is our facilities here. And now we have a coach we feel is fantastic."
Driven By a Passion for Running
At the age of 59, Moody still logs his miles daily on the trails that wind through Southern Pines and Pinehurst that he began using in his early teens. Some of the stories about his running exploits are of the kind legends are made of. He calls untrue a claim that while serving as the statistician for the Pinecrest boys' basketball team he once began a journey from Pinebluff with a head start on the team bus and beat it to the Richmond Senior gym in Rockingham 20 miles away.
"It was a simple training run," he says. "I should have beaten them. I've just always loved running. It's the most fun thing I've ever done. Sometime this week I will get to 124,000 miles so I'm still hopping along."
One of Moody's first coaches was Nat Carter who started the Sandhills Track Club in 1972 and is currently the cross country coach at Union Pines. The gymnasium at Aberdeen Elementary School is named after the teacher and coach who has impacted the lives of countless other students and athletes.
Carter recalls accompanying Moody to his first national competition at a Junior Olympic meet held in Manchester, Tennessee where the team stayed in a tent camp.
"The thing that impressed me the most then was his drive and competitive spirit," Carter says. "He always had that drive to be the best and seemed to enjoy what he was doing."
Olympic Hopes Dashed
While at Pinecrest Moody was a two-time state champion in cross country and also won a state title in the 880 meter run. In 1976 he toured Europe with the U.S. National Junior team.
He earned his first national titles as a Junior Olympian in the 880-run and in the three mile cross country event. He was a member of Pembroke State's 1978 national championship cross country team and was the NAIA national champion in the 1,500 meter run in 1979. He has also run the mile in under four minutes. Other accolades include multiple All-American honors in college.
Of all the races he won, nothing compares to the satisfaction that came with winning the national team title as a senior at Pembroke State in 1978. The team finished 20th the previous year.
"We committed to coming back and working as a team as opposed to everybody trying to finish as high as they could," he recalls. "We went out there ranked seventh and finished first by 20 points. I remember going up to get our award and I couldn't say a word. All the emotions were bottled up. We were all on the same page so it worked out.
"They say that running is an individual sport, but I don't know about that. When you get right down to it cross country is all about the team. It's the oldest sport on the planet."
In 1980 Moody made Olympic qualifying times in four events, but was deprived of the opportunity to make the U.S. team when President Jimmy Carter boycotted the summer games in Moscow to protest Russia's presence in Afghanistan.
"I look at it like this," he once said. "Had we gone to the Olympics, I knew I would have made the team."
Education Trumps Athletic Achievements
In 1996 Moody was honored as the Southern Pines Elementary School Teacher of the Year. In 2010 he was inducted into the Moore County Educator Hall of Fame. He has also earned numerous coaching awards and is a member of the Pinecrest and Pembroke State (now UNC-Pembroke) athletic halls of fame.
"The education definitely trumps the national championships and all of the accolades you get," he says. "If you get the education you can do whatever you want to do."
In selecting Moody the college is adding a coach in the mold of the current ones that have excelled as both coaches and teachers.
"What is impressive about Jeff is he's accomplished as a runner," Denton says. "He's been there and done that. He's coached a ton of successful runners at the high school and college level and he's an excellent teacher.
"It's a characteristic of all of our coaches that whatever they do they want to do it well. I think it speaks to our area that we can find an ideal candidate from our community as we have with our other coaches. And our longevity with our coaches is maybe unprecedented."
High Goals Set for New Program
Coaches Carter, Charlie Bishop (Pinecrest), Dr. Ed Crain (Pembroke State) and Larry Rodgers (UNC-Pembroke) are among those that have influenced Moody's philosophies as a coach.
He was an assistant to Rodgers at UNC-Pembroke. Both celebrated the 41st place finish in the marathon at the Summer Olympics in Brazil by a runner they coached in Zimbabwe native Pardon Ndhlovu.
Now the track and cross country coach at St. Andrews University, Rodgers talked about some of things Moody brings to the table in his new position.
"First of all, Jeff is a fantastic person and he certainly has a lot of knowledge," he says. "In addition to that he gets along very well with everyone – especially with athletes. He can take them in the right direction because of his experience."
In addition to Louisburg, some of the other junior colleges in the region that have cross country teams include Wake Tech, Patrick Henry CC and Spartanburg Methodist.
Denton's goal, as with all of the Flyer sports programs, is to get into a position to compete for a national championship. He made his first recruiting trip about four weeks ago to the annual Jungle Run high school meet held in Hope Mills.
Moody would eventually like to see a Sandhills runner make it to the Olympics. He is aware of some good running prospects that are already on campus. He would like to start training with them in January so the Flyers won't get behind established programs.
"Life is like a cross country race," he says. "It's up and down and all around. I hope the kids give it their best because I'm planning on giving it 100 percent. We're going to do it right."