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Kecoughtan AD retiring after 24 years
Leonard Thomas spent 37 years at Kecoughtan High School. Photo by Dave Bowman/Daily Press
Thomas retiring as Kecoughtan's athletic director
By Dave Johnson | email@example.com
HAMPTON — Leonard Thomas has been Kecoughtan’s athletic director for nearly a quarter of a century, but he had never received a voicemail quite like this. It was from an angry parent, which was nothing new — especially after final cuts.
But hold on … wait for the plot twist.
“They said they couldn’t believe we picked their son over somebody we had cut,” Thomas says. “They said, ‘That person you cut is a heck of a lot better than my son.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, what do you want me to do? Cut your son and put the other kid back on the team?’ First time I ever got one of those.”
Well, there’s a first time for everything, especially when you hang around a while. And after all this time, Leonard Thomas is ready for retirement.
He first came to Kecoughtan in 1970 (Nixon was president, and the Beatles had just broken up) as a 22-year-old biology teacher. He didn’t know a soul in Hampton Roads, so he passed the time by becoming a sports junkie. When Kecoughtan needed an athletic director in 1983 (Reagan was president, and “Flashdance” was the hot movie), he was a natural choice.
At the time, Kecoughtan offered 15 varsity and junior varsity sports. Today, the Warriors offer 32 — including debate, cheerleading and academic challenge, which fall under the athletic director’s umbrella. In the 1983-84 school year, there were only four sports for girls. Now, there are 14 (four more are co-ed).
Twenty-four years is a long time.
“That’s the part that astounds me,” Woodside AD Al Dorner said. “It’s not easy being an athletic director — not because you have a lot of paperwork, but because you never have any free time. There’s always something going on, there’s always problems to solve. And Leonard’s done it for 24 years? I mean … wow!”
To think that when he came to Kecoughtan High 37 years ago, he didn’t know the second thing (and barely knew the first thing) about sports. His high school in rural West Virginia competed in one sport: boys basketball. He went to Marshall University, where he earned his biology degree in 1969.
Right out of college, he was hired to teach English, reading, spelling and girls physical education at Coal Mountain Elementary. He was one of eight teachers, and his was the lone college degree in the bunch.
In the summer of 1970, he visited Hampton with his cousin. On a rainy day, he called up the school board office and asked about employment. When he mentioned his biology degree, they asked him to come in for an interview.
When he began his trip home a week later, he had a job offer.
“I thought, I can do it for one year rather than teaching spelling and PE and all,” Thomas said.
The problem was, he didn’t know anybody in Hampton. So instead of sitting around doing nothing in his off hours, Thomas began watching sporting events. Eventually, he found himself keeping the scorebook for baseball games. Then he was selling tickets, operating the clock, and whatever else needed doing.
He became the right-hand man to Larry Waddell, Kecoughtan’s athletic director at the time.
“I got to learn the trade,” he said.
When Waddell decided to hand off his AD duties in the fall of 1983, Thomas was ready to assume them. (He initially served as co-AD with then-football coach John Pauls). In a unique way, his upbringing in West Virginia helped him out.
“An athletic director has to know a lot about sports, but really you’re more of a manager,” Thomas said. “You’ve got to get the schedules set, you’ve got to get coaches, set up officials, buy uniforms, get equipment, and do a budget. My dad owned a grocery store, and I grew up there, so I was real good with money and budgeting.”
Another talent, those who work with him say, is his temperament.
“He never gets all bent out of shape and goes off the deep end,” Dorner said. “When a situation comes up, he handles it. Sometimes at our AD meetings, things get going on and he says, ‘We’ll handle it.’ There are some people you don’t like dealing with, but I’ve never felt that way about Leonard.”
Arnold Baker, Kecoughtan’s principal since 1996, admires the way Thomas has treated all sports as equals.
“Sometimes you’ll see the high-profile sports wanting more money because they’re generating the most revenue,” he said. “But Leonard has always been very fair and equal.”
Along with his AD responsibilities — eligibility, discipline, budgets, scheduling, etc. — Thomas also taught biology classes. In fact, teaching is how he met his wife.
In the fall of 1978, Thomas was part of a program that sent teachers to hospitals and homes when students were too ill or injured to attend school. When he went to Hampton General to tutor a girl named Faith Watkins, who had broken her leg in a car wreck, he met a nurse named Barbara Carwile.
At Faith’s encouragement, Thomas asked Barbara out (they went to a Hampton Gulls hockey game). On Dec. 15, 1979, they were married. They have two sons (Curtis is 26, John is 23) who are both engineers.
Though the final day of school is today, Thomas’ last day on the job is June 29 — and Lee Martin, the Dean of Boys, takes over as AD. Thomas is still relatively young at 59, but he’s aware that boredom is a distinct possibility.
“He’s already making play dates for golf,” Barbara said. “He’s a little nervous about it, but he’s looking forward to it. His father passed away at 54 from a heart attack and I think Leonard is looking at it like, ‘I’ve made it past 54, I need to enjoy it.”
Not that he didn’t enjoy his time at Kecoughtan. After all, he was only there 37 years.
HRvarsity administrator / firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: Kecoughtan AD retiring after 24 years
He will be missed. I have been coaching in the PD for 18 yrs now. I have know Mr. Thomas for that long now. He was in charge of Baseball which I coached and Golf which I still coach. He is a MAN of true words and honor It will be hard to replace him. He is an honest person who represented the coaches view at the AD and Principals meetings. He always listen to the PD coaches on what we wanted and told us if we could get it done. Whoever takes his place has their hands full. Oh by the way dont play golf against him and Curt Newsome they cheat. Just kidding. I will see yu on the links. enjoy your retirement, you deserve it
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