Olympics / Sports

Mother of Billie Jean King dies at 91 in Arizona

The parents of Billie Jean King never pushed the tennis icon to play the sport, but she might not have reached her goal if they hadn't supported her from the very beginning.

Betty and Bill Moffitt bought Billie Jean her first racket, and signed her up for her first lessons at a public court, and helped her get from park to park for practice and matches. It was Betty, too, who sewed Billie Jean a pair of shorts for one of her first notable age-group tournaments.

Friday, Billie Jean lost her mother. Betty Moffitt, 91, died in Prescott, Ariz., King and her brother, former Long Beach State and major league pitcher Randy Moffitt, at her side.

The loss comes as King was planning to attend the Sochi Olympics as part of the official U.S. delegation. In 2006, she lost her dad a few weeks before the U.S. Tennis Association's new center was named in her honor.

Betty Moffitt was born on May 26, 1922, in Taft. She married Bill Moffitt on May 17, 1941, and lived in Long Beach for more than four decades before moving to Arizona to be close to Randy and their grandchildren. Betty and Bill were married for 65 years at the time of Bill's passing.

"My dad and mom never really pushed us," King said in an interview a few years ago before an HBO special was filmed in Long Beach, an event Betty attended. "Randy said he wanted to be a major league baseball player and I wanted to be the No. 1 tennis player. Until the day my dad died, he was scratching his head, saying, 'Why?' And my mother still is. But they understood our dreams.

"(They) found a way to get me to sanctioned tournaments, and that could be very difficult. We had a tournament every weekend in Southern California. I swear, I played five events every weekend. I played my own age group, I played up, I played singles, doubles and mixed. I absolutely could not get enough tennis. My parents found a way to get me to these tournaments so I could move up the rankings and further my dream.

"My parents never came to (her tournaments) because they were homebodies and had a very structured life. If I would call, they would just say, 'How did I feel, did I try my best, are you doing OK?' They really did not live through my brother and me, which I could tell you was such a pleasure."

In addition to Billie Jean and Randy, Betty Moffitt is survived by two granddaughters, Miranda Harrah and her husband Rusty, of Fayetteville, Ga., and Alysha Gosse and her husband James, of Peachtree City, Ga., and four great-grandchildren, Evan and Cason Harrah and Byron and Derek Gosse.

Private services are planned by the family. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions be made in Mrs. Moffitt's honor to Hospice Family Care, 100 E. Sheldon Street, Suite 100, Prescott, Ariz., 86301.

(c)2014 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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