COLUMBIA — Give David Fox a moment to think.
"You're talking nearly 35 years ago, man."
The former Rock Bridge point guard played with Ray Nunnelly and Bill Frerking and Tony Crane, some of the best players to ever suit up for the school. Fox himself earned all-conference honors his senior year, and as a point guard he helped the Bruins reach the state semifinals in 1978.
But wait — Fox remembers a specific game, even the date of it. January 24, 1979. His mother, Pat Fox, says it was his 18th birthday. It's also the first time Rock Bridge and Jefferson City ever played.
Fox tells about playing a much more physical team and getting “beat up pretty good.” Mom tells about the picture of her son in the newspaper the next day.
On Thursday night, Rock Bridge and Jefferson City played again. This time, Fox is two-and-a-half weeks removed from his 50th birthday. Now, he devises strategies to stop the Rock Bridge point guards.
Judging by the scoreboard, it didn't work so well tonight. Rock Bridge pulled away in the second half to win 69-51. The Jefferson City boys basketball coach of 25 years couldn't pull off the upset against his alma mater.
Back in 1979, David Fox’s senior year, Rock Bridge played against smaller schools such as Versailles and Montgomery City. No ceremony surrounded that first meeting with Jefferson City. Fox said it just wasn’t that big of an issue.
“With Jeff City it was weird,” David Fox said. “That tradition, that rivalry, hadn’t started.”
Six years later when David Fox began coaching at Jefferson City, players on that ’79 Jays team gave him a video cassette of that first game. He passed it onto his coach at Rock Bridge, Bill Laurie.
After graduating from Rock Bridge, David Fox later played for Ken Ash, a former Hickman coach, at Central Methodist University. He led Central Methodist to multiple North Central Missouri Conference championships and he left as the all-time assists leader (a record that no longer stands).
David Fox always had wanted to coach when his playing days were over. He spent three seasons at Versailles before moving to the state capital. He’s been there since.
“I’m one of those guys who is living the dream,” he said. “I’m doing something I love, my passion, my entire life. I’m truly blessed.”
His parents still live in Columbia but support Jefferson City. Pat and her husband, Gary Fox, said the atmosphere in the Rock Bridge gymnasium these days is “different” than when David played there.
Gary Fox identifies with what his son has done at Jefferson City, though. Once upon a time Gary Fox taught and coached football at an Indianapolis inner city school, then called Wood High School. He also taught drivers eduction in the morning, and if his players didn’t show up to school, he would tell his driving student to drive to a player’s house to get him and bring him to school.
“We would literally go up and knock on the door,” he said. “We’d wait on them to get out of bed and eat breakfast. We did it because it was a necessity – these kids knew we would be there.”
On Thursday, Jefferson City (10-11) trailed Rock Bridge only 33-29 at halftime. Jefferson City’s best player, Paul McMahon, got hurt in the first half and did not play much afterward. He scored only two points. Yet David Fox did not let his team stop fighting against the Bruins (17-4).
“I have a lot of respect for the job he’s done,” Gary Fox said of his son. “You saw the talent comparison tonight, and we scared them for quite awhile.”
David Fox was president of the Missouri Coaches Assocation for one year and is involved in the Special Olympics. He coaches basketball and helps run the Special Olympics' version of Mr. and Ms. Basketball. Pat Fox remembers the night that her son was inducted into the Rock Bridge Athletics Hall of Fame and brought one of his players up onto the stage with him.
David Fox just laughs when you ask if he sees any of himself in Rock Bridge’s current point guard and leading scorer, Travis Jorgenson.
“The style of the game today is so different than it was back in the '70s,” Fox said. “There was no 3-point line, and 6-foot-5 was considered big. (Now) the athleticism is so much different.”