Forty-eight head basketball coaches across six classifications — two dozen guiding girls teams and 24 more directing boys squads — led their teams in VHSL state semifinal games last Tuesday: from Daryl Rountree at Lakeland to Central-Woodstock’s Jeff Whittle; from the beaches of the Tidewater to the Washington, D.C., suburbs to the mountains of Southwest Virginia.
Yet none of them stalking the sidelines probably appreciated the opportunity more than Patrick Henry girls basketball boss Tommy Thomas.
It was eight months ago that Thomas underwent surgery in Durham, North Carolina, for anaplastic astrocytoma, an aggressive and rare brain tumor. World-renowned surgeon Allan Friedman carefully removed 100% of the tumor from the temporal lobe.
That can make a person change their view on things.
“I have always been a live-in-the-moment type person,” Thomas said. “With all that went on this summer, I now try to enjoy moments a little more. I put more emphasis on savoring the victories and striving to get what it is that makes me happy.”
Thomas endured grueling radiation and chemotherapy procedures following surgery but has not missed a game or felt ill over the course of the 2019-20 season.
“I am very blessed,” Thomas said. “God’s miracles never come up short.”
Basketball has provided a return to normalcy for Thomas, who has won more than 200 games in his 13 seasons on the job and whose team faced Honaker on Tuesday in a VHSL Class 1 state semifinal clash at Emory & Henry College’s King Center.
It’s been business as usual.
“He pushes us to be the best players we can be,” said PH sophomore guard Payton Monahan. “He’s not easy on us because he knows it won’t make us better players, but he’s not one to shy away from a joke or laughing in practice or anytime really. He inspires me because he could’ve easily given in to all of the treatments and everything going on, yet he’s still the same guy he was beforehand.”
This is one of the better teams Thomas has put on the floor.
The Rebels (25-2) haven’t lost since December, won the Hogoheegee District regular-season and tournament titles, claimed the Region 2D championship and cruised to a 51-30 state quarterfinal win over Galax.
An unselfish brand of basketball by a cohesive starting five has been vital for Patrick Henry, whose run ended on Tuesday with a 37-29 loss to the Tigers.
“These girls work so hard to be solid players that most people think they might have a me-first attitude,” Thomas said. “That’s not the case. I can’t recall a time that anyone has talked about personal stats. We as a team try to focus on the team.”
Members of the team are also playing for their popular coach.
“We don’t really discuss [what occurred over the summer] that often, but we still keep it in mind and want to do our best for him and continue to pray,” said PH junior Breanna Yarber, the team’s leading scorer. “I have known Coach Thomas since I was in elementary school, so when I heard the news about his diagnosis, I was devastated, and I knew from then on I really wanted to dedicate this season to him. He has always been there for me, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him.”
“I have been blessed over the years to be a part of so many lives,” Thomas said. “I never knew that a community could be so caring. Former and current players, along with this community, showed me so much support through this time. I am truly blessed in so many ways.”