“The race is not one for the swift, but he who endures until the end.”
On an afternoon like any other at Holly Park in South Los Angeles, it was these words that were imparted from an old man to a boy entering his second year of playing football. The man’s identity will forever be a mystery, but that boy was Caylin Moore. He’s been enduring, and achieving, ever since.
At 6:30am on the morning of Sunday, November 20, Keith Johnson began screaming as he drove down the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles. Johnson, the executive director of Falcons Youth and Family Services, a nonprofit that provides free or low-cost football programs to at-risk children in South LA, has received one-too-many somber phone calls about the tragic fate of a former player. But this was different. This news came on the radio, and it was that Moore had been named a 2017 Rhodes Scholar.
For Moore, a senior safety on the Texas Christian University football team, the achievement is momentous. Life-altering really, as Moore will head to Oxford University in England for the next two years to study public policy. For Moore, it’s not just an opportunity to learn among the world’s best and brightest, but the next step in paying it forward to the Southern California community he calls home. “When you take the elevator to the top, you make sure you press the No. 1 button to send it back down,” Moore said. His words are anything but hollow; few know the struggle on the proverbial ground floor more than the soft-spoken 22-year-old.
Moore grew up encountering domestic abuse. When he was 6 years old, his mother, facing tireless verbal abuse and constant threats of violence from her husband and Moore’s father, was forced to move he and his two siblings out of their five-bedroom home in the eastern Southern California suburb of Moreno Valley and to the South LA city of Carson.
From there, Moore and his family of four still lived in fear from his father, who would stalk and intimidate the family long following their physical and legal separation. That chapter only came to an end when Moore’s father killed his live-in girlfriend in 2009. Louis Moore is currently serving life in prison.
In Carson, Moore grew up in a neighborhood where gang violence, drugs and poverty were often simply a part of everyday life. Every day became a constant reminder of the nearly impossible path out. “The trials and tribulations we went through were insurmountable,” said Moore’s mother, Calynn (CJ) Taylor-Moore. “Any one of these events would have killed a lesser person.”
In 2004, another event turned Moore’s life on its axis. This was when Taylor-Moore brought Caylin and her younger son Chase to the park to sign them up for football with Falcons Youth and Family Services, an organization that has been a grantee recipient of the LA84 Foundation.
“He was a skinny little kid,” said Johnson, the co-founder of Falcons. “Very quiet. Very reserved. But man, was he determined.”
From Day One, the program fueled Moore’s relentless drive to succeed. His first year was also the team’s first participating in the Snoop Youth Football League, run by the famous rapper and actor. Moore not only played two years above his grade level with a group that hadn’t played together before, but he also happened to be the team’s quarterback. “I said ‘his coach has lost his mind. Caylin has lost his mind. His mother has lost her mind,’” Johnson recalled about the first year. “They got beat badly, but he learned so much. By the end of the year, my nickname for him was ‘Big Heart.’”
At the same time he flourished on the field, Moore still faced the problem so many youth in low-income communities must grapple with: life without a father. While Falcons provided almost all of its participants with jerseys, cleats, equipment, post-game meals and other items they would otherwise be unable to afford, the true value was in the life lessons Johnson and his staff taught through sport.
Moore soon became involved in Falcons’ MIT (Men in Training) program. Falcons staff would take the football players to Dodgers games, the beach and on other activities to show the youth a world outside the insulated streets of South LA and give them goals to achieve through academic success.
“It was such a great environment to be around positive male role models. Seeing how they interacted with others and conducted their lives was quite impactful for my masculinity and manhood,” Moore said, recalling his early Falcons experiences. “It is extremely difficult in the inner city for a single mother to take a young boy from boyhood to manhood,” added Taylor-Moore. “That’s where the Falcons came in. They had men of honor that mentored my sons.”
For the Moore family, Falcons soon become a family affair. Chase followed his brother onto the football field. Moore’s sister, Mi-Calynn, became a cheerleader for the youth football teams. Ms. Taylor-Moore started a summer conditioning camp for the teams in order to keep the kids active and safe during the months they were out of school, and later became the first female coach in the history of the Snoop League.
After his time playing for Falcons, Caylin attended Verbum Dei High School as his football star continued to shine. As a high-schooler, Moore balanced quarterbacking the Verbum Dei Eagles and returning the Falcons to serve as the offensive coordinator for his mother’s football squad at Jackie Tatum Park. Even as a teenager, Moore not only prepared himself for life through the power of sport, but took the lessons he learned to give back to his community. “Being involved in sports expands and enriches your life,” Taylor-Moore said. “You serve a purpose. You keep burning the torch.”
After graduation came a full scholarship to play football at Marist College, and in 2015 Moore transferred to TCU for a chance at playing college football on the highest level. In the classroom, he earned a scholarship in 2014 to attend the Fulbright Summer Institute in England before being named a 2017 Rhodes Scholar in November, with Johnson writing letters of recommendation for both awards.
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With the Falcons, Moore not only gives back with his time, but continues to make an impact through his story. “Pain does one of two things: It paralyzes you or it empowers you,” Johnson said about Moore’s path. “Caylin’s story is one we continue to tell to kids from hard, abusive backgrounds. If you want to give up, you just can’t give up. This is not the end-all for Caylin; this is just another step in his journey.”
As the reality of moving across the pond for the next two years sets in, Moore can now reflect on how youth sports has changed not only his, but the lives of hundreds of teammates and classmates he’s met along his journey. “I wish that programs like LA84 had even more funds and people working with them to show them where their funds can be allocated to be the most effective,” he said. “I think it’s so important, especially in communities where I come from where people don’t always have those opportunities. Youth sports are invaluable. Life-changing, actually.”
With a father in prison for life, a mother being a victim of domestic abuse, and a daily environment filled with drugs, gangs and crime, Caylin Moore was almost set up to become a statistic. Yet, sports and the support it brought helped flip the narrative. “In an environment where we had gangs and crime and poverty all around us, we had a diamond in the rough at that park during the hours of six to eight o’clock during football practice,” he said.
Twelve years after a mother looking for a healthy place for her children showed up at Holly Park, the next youth sports difference-maker is well on his way to building lives ready through sport for the thousands of future Caylin Moores in Los Angeles and beyond. “Be unrealistic,” he says. “In your expectations of yourself.”
Learn more about Falcons Youth and Family Services here.