Zoey Moore writes the initials “AB” and “SM” on her socks before every game.
The initials stand for her sisters — Ashton Braden, 17, and Sofia Moore, 6 — who were killed in a car crash four years ago. Zoey, now 15, was the lone survivor of that wreck.
While so much for the Middleton freshman girls basketball player changed after the crash, two things have remained constant — her love of basketball and the ongoing love for her sisters.
For her incredible courage and perseverance, Zoey Moore is the 2016-17 Idaho Press- Tribune’s Sports Stars Inspirational Athlete of the Year.
“She’s just amazing,” said Sharla Moore, Zoey’s mother. “Not only that she survived the wreck, but that she’s been able to excel beyond anything we ever imagined.
“Emotionally, she’s kept herself together because of the love she has for not only the game, but for her sisters, as well,” Sharla added. “I know she’s doing this for them. It’s just an inspiration to me. She helps me because if she can do this after what she’s been through, then I can get through anything, too. The joy that Zoey brings to my world daily is how I make it through each day.”
THE LOVE OF THE GAME
As far back as she can remember, Moore, a starting guard in half of Middleton’s games this season, seemed to always have a basketball in her hands. As Sharla recalls, Zoey’s favorite toy as a toddler involved a toy basketball and a matching hoop.
She frequently tagged along to her older sister Ashton’s practices before officially playing organized basketball for the first time at the age of 5.
From there, she worked her way to club ball, starting with Boise Slam in fourth grade, and later with her current club team, the Idaho Flash. In sixth grade, Zoey participated in AAU basketball before turning heads in seventh and eighth grade.
Zoey led Middleton Middle School to consecutive championship game appearances, winning it all during her eighth grade year and leaving as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
In her first year playing for Middleton High, Zoey recorded the three highest-scoring games by any player this season. She scored 21 points in a victory over Mountain Home in January and 19 points in Middleton’s first-round 4A District III Tournament win over Emmett in February.
But Zoey’s defining moment of the season came in the semifinals of the 4A State Girls Basketball Tournament. With her team down by as much as 14 to Preston, she led a furious charge. Moore scored 17 of her career-high 29 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner on a 3-foot runner with five seconds remaining to lead the Vikings back to the state championship for the first time in five years with a 56-55 win.
“It was unreal. I don’t even know what happened in me,” Zoey said. “Hitting a game-winning shot to get my team to the state championship is something I’ve always dreamed of.”
Zoey averaged 8.7 points per game this season to lead Middleton in scoring and earn 4A Southern Idaho Conference All-League honors. She scored a game-high 16 points in the 4A District III Championship to lead the Vikings to their first district title in four years. Zoey then tallied 10 points in the 4A Girls State Championship game to help bring home Middleton’s first state title in five years in a 57-45 win over Bishop Kelly.
“Basketball has been her love her whole life,” Middleton coach Andy Jones said. “It’s served her well in a lot of things and has been a good escape for her. When she’s on the basketball floor at practice or in a game, she’s smiling and happy, and I can see every minute she’s on the floor, she’s happy to be there.”
In so many ways, Ashton was the perfect big sister for Zoey.
When Zoey was young, it was Ashton who helped teach the game of basketball.
Ashton mentored on every aspect of the game, from helping Zoey on her form to running passing drills — lots and lots of passing drills.
Off the court, Netflix was their favorite activity. “One Tree Hill” and “Hannah Montana” were among their favorite shows.
“She always made me laugh,” Zoey said of her older sister. “She was really funny, smart, spontaneous, sometimes sassy, but above all else, caring.”
Ashton had so much of an impact on Zoey’s life that when she needed to make a decision on the number she wanted on her jersey, only one came to mind, 13, the number Ashton wore when she played junior varsity basketball and volleyball.
It’s also a number that hadn’t been worn by anyone else on varsity since Jones began coaching the varsity team in 2002. The coach, leery of the unlucky superstition surrounding the number 13, refused to allow any of his players to wear it.
But at Zoey’s request, he made an exception. Based on the results of Zoey’s performance and the success of the team, the decision now seems like the right one. As far as Zoey’s concerned, she’ll wear 13 throughout her high school career.
“I was going to get a different number, but then I thought about it a lot, and I really wanted to get my sister’s number,” Zoey said. “I talked to my mom about it, and she was all for it. I love wearing that number. It feels good to always have it close to me as a way to remind myself of my sister.”
For younger sister Sofia, the relationship with Zoey was also close. Sofia adored her older sister and wanted to be just like her.
Sofia tagged along at basketball camps with Zoey and always shot around with her big sister when she got the chance.
They spent most of their time playing horse, Barbies, riding 4-wheelers around the house or hanging out with Zoey and Ashton’s friends.
Sofia also served as Zoey’s biggest cheerleader during games, and could often be seen dancing from start to finish.
“She loved being the center of attention,” Zoey said with a laugh. “She always wanted to be with me and my sister and our friends. She was like a leech that you couldn’t get rid of, but we loved having her around because she was just the cutest and everyone adored and loved her.”
THE DAY EVERYTHING CHANGED
On Jan. 3, 2013, the Moore sisters were on their way to meet their mother at a McDonald’s in Nampa when their vehicle was struck by a 32-ton farm truck. The crash occurred after the car driven by Ashton pulled away from a stop sign on Farmway Road and Old Highway 30. The truck hit the driver’s side, the side Sofia was sitting on in the back passenger seat.
Ashton and Sofia were pronounced dead on the scene. Zoey survived, and even let herself out of the car — a fact her parents didn’t know until they arrived.
“The moment the paramedic told me that Zoey survived, I remember in that split second after she said it was an 11-year-old girl, everything around me just became a blur and it went silent,” Sharla said. “Like the world stopped, I couldn’t hear anything. And all three of the girls came to my mind and it was the most bittersweet moment a person can have.
“I was sobbing, and there were tears of such gratitude that Zoey had survived — and also absolute gut-wrenching pain that Ashton and Sofia were gone,” she said. “It was two completely opposite emotions, joy and despair, in the exact same moment. I stayed in that state for a long time after that.”
Zoey was taken by air ambulance to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, then later transferred to St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital in Boise. She suffered a skull fracture and her nose had nearly detached from her face. She also had a gaping hole in her knee.
A day later, Zoey’s parents finally shared the news that her sisters had died in the crash.
“She really didn’t know what had happened. She knew she was in an accident, but didn’t know what had happened to the girls,” father Dave Moore said. “She kept asking, ‘How they were? Where are they?’
“Just telling her that they didn’t make it was the hardest moment of my entire life,” he said. “That changed Zoey forever. I saw it firsthand.”
Four days later, Zoey checked out of the hospital and the reality of dealing with her physical and emotional wounds began.
For the next two months, Zoey and her parents hunkered down in the house, isolated from the world outside. Their conversations were limited to each other; the only other interaction or stimulation came from whatever was on the television.
“I remember the first 60 days, we just sat there and rotted,” Dave said. “I didn’t know what we were going to do. I didn’t know how we were going to pull out of this. I knew God had a plan for us, and I knew something was going to change. But I didn’t know what that was going to be.”
Change came in the form of a simple phone call. In April, just three months after the crash, YMCA Homecourt in Meridian called to invite Zoey to play basketball at an event it was hosting.
Zoey told her parents she wanted to do it.
Even though Zoey hadn’t dribbled or shot a basketball in months, Zoey won the 3-point and free-throw competitions.
At that moment, Zoey rediscovered her love for basketball. Turns out, it was just the medicine she and her family needed.
“I just hadn’t done anything for a long time, and I missed it,” Zoey said. “It was good just to be back with my friends again. It was good just to feel normal again and escape everything.”
To Dave, what transpired there on that basketball court, enabled the family to move on and live once again.
“We all finally moved forward that day,” he said.
Zoey’s decision to pick up a basketball again was far from easy, and it came with its share of bad days.
There were days when Zoey broke down emotionally. There were days she wanted to leave basketball and the other aspects of her life behind.
But she didn’t, in good part because of the memory of Ashton and Sofia
“It was important for me to keep playing for my sisters,” Zoey said. “They always supported me when I played. It’s what they would have wanted.
“Basketball has been a great coping mechanism for me,” she added. “It’s like my escape. It’s been there for me my whole life.”
Zoey turned to basketball once again when another unexpected setback occurred.
During the summer of 2015, a bump suddenly appeared on the back top of her head. Shortly after, it disappeared and Zoey and her parents didn’t think much of it.
Months later, however, the bump reappeared, this time bigger. Zoey was taken to the hospital, and it was discovered that she had a cancerous hematoma tumor. The tumor was determined to be caused by the car crash nearly three years before.
Fortunately, it was quickly established that the cancer posed no risk. It hadn’t spread to any other parts of her body and doctors didn’t expect it to spread. So until the doctors could get Zoey in for surgery, she turned her attention to basketball, leading the eighth grade team to the championship.
The tumor was safely removed in Jan. 2016 with the news that there shouldn’t be any additional problems. Zoey just needs to have yearly checkups — just in case.
“I was kind of scared, but I had come so far already,” Zoey said. “My parents and doctors were always positive, so I decided to remain strong and not let this scare me.
“Once they took the tumor out and said it was all gone, I was really relieved,” she said. “This whole thing has just made me a stronger person. I feel like after going through all of this, I can get through anything now.”
In the days and weeks after the crash, the Moores received a lot of support from the Middleton community and beyond.
Bouquets of flowers and stuffed animals were placed at the scene of the crash. A moment of silence was observed before the Middleton girls basketball game the day after the crash. The team also sported wristbands with the names “Ashton” and “Sofia” written on them.
Approximately 1,000 people attended a memorial service at the Middleton High School auditorium, and many more sent cards, gifts and condolences to the family.
Still to this day, Zoey and her family receive a lot of support. Sharla and Dave said many people like to come to the girls’ basketball games to support Zoey and watch her play.
“When I go to the games, I can just tell there are people in the stands that love watching her just as much as Dave and I do,” Sharla said. “They love and support her just as much as we do.”
In fact, Zoey has become a role model and an inspiration to many, including her best friend and sophomore junior varsity basketball player Emmy Williams.
“She’s the strongest person I know and my biggest inspiration. She’s a great friend and my hero,” Williams said. “I knew her when the tragedy happened, and watching her go through all of that was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. But she’s been really strong through it all and everything she’s done has just been pure magic. I don’t think I could’ve done what she’s done.”
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
After Zoey writes the initials “AB” and “SM” on her socks, she takes a moment of silence just for herself to remember her two biggest fans. In that private space, she says she tries to remember the good times, the things that made her laugh, from cooking macaroni and cheese with Ashton to making a Justin Bieber music video with Sofia, a video she still has.
Ashton and Sofia live on for Zoey. They’re there each time she puts on her Vikings’ uniform, every time she takes the court. She knows her sisters are there every time she has the ball in her hands, those times she sinks a big-time shot. When she looks up into the stands, she thinks of her sisters cheering her on.
“Their memories are pushing me to be the best that I can be,” Zoey said. “They will always run through my mind and be with me on the court and wherever I go.”