Ronald and Kathryn Moragne relax inside their Pine Bluff home. Ronald Moragne was head coach of the Pine Bluff High boys basketball team from 1991-2012. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
If Ronald Moragne had ever been sick a day in his life before last April, he couldn’t recall.
So, the series of health problems that began that month and kept him off the sidelines as Pine Bluff High’s boys basketball coach left him frustrated at first.
“I had never been in a hospital,” said Moragne, 54. “I’ve gone to doctors, and I never had problems or anything, but they’ve always said I was good, my heart was good, my blood pressure was good, everything was OK.
“When this hit, this was a shock. They told me how severe it was and how rare it was. That was another shock.”
A month had passed since Moragne completed his 21st season as the Zebras’ head coach when he went to the hospital complaining of headaches. He was diagnosed with aseptic meningitis, which according to medscape.com is characterized by a serious inflammation of the linings of the brain. Headache and fever are predominant clinical manifestations of the illness, the website reports.
Moragne’s health issues didn’t stop there. His ears started swelling and his eyes started turning red. He went back to the hospital later in the month and stayed for five weeks.
He was diagnosed with chronditis, an inflammation of cartilage. Then it was relapsing polychronditis, which is characterized by inflammation and deterioration of cartilage, and vasculitis, where inflammation destroys blood vessels.
“I hate to say this, but one of the doctors thought I was going to die,” Moragne said. “All I could tell them was, I’m not going to die because I know someone better. That’s God.”
Said his wife, Kathryn: “God just pulled him through.”
Moragne last visited a hospital in August. But his hopes of returning to the basketball sidelines for this season were in jeopardy.
“For something like this to hit me, it hurt,” he said. “I knew I enjoyed what I did. The teachers were great. The principals I had were great. The principals now, they really worked with me.”
This is the first season since 1984-85 Moragne hasn’t been on the Zebras’ sidelines. He became the head coach in 1991 and led Pine Bluff to a state championship 12 years later.
Early in his coaching days at Pine Bluff, he was an assistant on the football and track and field teams in addition to his basketball duties, playing a part on some other championship teams.
“It was a good ride,” he said. “It was a great ride.”
But he had to face the reality that this school year wasn’t time for him to return to the basketball court.
“The doctors told him it was best he take off the year right before Thanksgiving,” Kathryn Moragne said.
Ronald Moragne retired from the Pine Bluff School District, effective Jan. 31. But his desire to coach again is still there. When and where he’ll coach again, no one knows.
“A lot depends on how much I grow,” he said. “One of the things (the sickness) did was, I was working on computers and stuff like that, and it affected that. That’s what (doctors are) talking about. You’ve got to get to where you can function at 100 percent at what you did. And it ain’t there yet.”
Tonight, Moragne will be back at McFadden Gymnasium watching Pine Bluff take on Sheridan. It’s the Zebras’ last home game of the season, and he said he’ll award medals to seniors on the Zebras squad, getting to see players he misses coaching so much, those who he said played so hard for him.
“I’ve been around those kids, and they played hard for me,” he said. “We always had a great relationship. Now, they call and are like, ‘When am I coming back? What am I going to do?’ and I’ve been holding off from them. I don’t just want to tell them, I can’t go back.”
For someone whose body weight dropped from 220 pounds to 168, Moragne appears to be a healthy man in good spirits today. He says he’s doing much better, taking therapy in doing things around the house like reading, exercising, playing dominoes and anything else that keeps him moving.
“I started getting better because I had people who came up and saw me,” he said. “Teachers came up and talked to me, my family came up and sat with me all night long. From Pine Bluff, students called and checked up and stuff like that, everything that motivated me. Coaches called and came by the hospital, came by my home and brought us food and things.”
Even some coaches from the Little Rock area visited Moragne on Thursday and took him to lunch.
“You never know until you have something wrong how many people care,” he said. “It’s been so many people, it’s unbelievable.”