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As a one-of-a-kind runner and coach, Charlie Thomas made his mark in Texas track and field at the high school, college and Olympic levels

As I have grown older, I think back and wish I had done some things I should have done, but didn’t.  Does that sound familiar to you? There are people I once knew, but didn’t really realize or understand their life story at the time.

When I first arrived at East Texas State Teacher’s College in 1957, we had a football trainer who was also the track coach. At the time, this young man was just 26 years old and was just starting out as a track coach. Charlie Thomas was just a couple of years older than some of the upperclassmen on the team. His athletic interests and career were cultivated both at Cleveland and Splendora high schools in East Texas not far from Houston.

While in high school, Thomas developed into a very special sprinter. During his high school career, between 1948 and 1950, he won five gold medals in the sprints at the State UIL track and field meet in Austin. After high school, he entered the University of Texas, where he displayed his talent by never losing a race in the 220-yard dash. In 1952, he ran the anchor leg on the world record-setting 440-yard relay team.

In 1954, Thomas was the top-ranked 220-yard runner in the world. He made it to the Olympic trials in 1952, but just barely missed making the Olympic team by an inch or two. He then went into coaching which later disallow him from trying out for the 1956 Olympics because he was a “professional.” Even years later, I heard tales that he could still outrun the college athletes he was coaching.

While at East Texas University (1956-1958), Thomas led the Lions to three straight Lone State Conference track & field titles and served as Coach J.V. Sike’s football trainer. He was the first one to ever tape my ankles, and he was masterful. I often wondered how many miles of white adhesive tape he had used over his career. I remember him as being very knowledgeable about the care and prevention of athletic injuries. I took his athletic injuries class. I remember him taping up Jerry Davis’s knees, ankles and shoulders. Jerry looked like a mummy when Coach Thomas finished with him.

The year we played Sul Ross State, he drove the school station wagon to Alpine along with training equipment and assistant trainers that didn’t fly with the team to Alpine. Coach Thomas was always there when you needed him. I have vivid memories of him passing out salt tablets and stem-o-stam tablets before each practice. He was a good fit among the team members.

Coach Thomas left East Texas State for Texas A&M in 1958, where he became head track coach in 1959. He served in that capacity for 32 years. During those years. he coached eight World and American Records; three Olympic Gold medal winners; two silver medal winners; nine Olympic qualifiers; twenty-two NCAA individual championships and seven collegiate record holders.

Charlie Thomas made his mark in track and field as a runner and as a coach. Charlie was inducted into the University of Texas Hall of Honor in 1981, the Meet of Champions Hall of Fame in 1985, and The Border Olympics Hall of Fame in 1990, and The Texas A&M Hall of Fame in 1996. He passed away on January 26, 2015, at the age of 83. He was one of a kind.


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