Thomas remembered for influencing youth

Published 6:59 pm Saturday, May 11, 2013

A man who was known in part for the contribution he made to Suffolk basketball was recalled this week by one of the coaches he worked with during the high point of his high school coaching career.

Ronald Thomas Sr. passed away recently, but friends said his influence on the sport he helped coach in Suffolk endures.

Thomas helped lead both John F. Kennedy High School and Nansemond River High School to state championships while serving as an assistant coach.


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Spencer Mayfield was the head coach of the Nansemond River team that won the school’s first state title in 1992 with an 85-62 win over Northside High School out of Roanoke. The team went 27-1 that year.

“Ronald was a very, very, very energetic person,” Mayfield recalled. “He’d command respect, and he controlled the kids.”

“He was the attitude-adjustment man,” Mayfield said. “He didn’t believe in any nonsense. He was a straightforward person and, well, I recognized that, so I let him be in charge of it.”

Thomas helped his players maintain humility so they could play their best.

“He did it in a very professional way,” Mayfield said. “He never embarrassed the children. He could talk to you in a way that, as the fellows say, takes all the air out of your balloon. You wouldn’t have any air in your balloon when he’s finished, and that’s how he was. His mannerism, to me, was top-flight.”

Mayfield taught Thomas when he was a high school student at John F. Kennedy, and his familiarity with him and the quality of person he was made Thomas an easy hire when he wanted to coach in Suffolk.

Current Nansemond River girls’ basketball coach R. Calvin Mason served as an assistant with Thomas on both the 1992 team and the 1983 John F. Kennedy team that claimed the state championship with an 89-69 win over Martinsville High School.

“He was a very strong disciplinarian, and he had a great knowledge for the game, but he also was a very good defensive coach,” Mason said.

Mayfield remembers Thomas not only for his influence on the game, but also on the kids.

“I love Ron for what he brought to the team, what he brought to the kids, and they loved him,” he said. “Oh, they loved him. He was phenomenal.”