William F. Thomas Sr., the "dean" of lacrosse coaches who led his Towson High School teams to 14 Baltimore County championships, died of complications of diabetes Wednesday at Holly Hill Manor Nursing Home in Stoneleigh. He was 83.
Mr. Thomas, who coached for 42 years on the high school and collegiate levels, retired in 1980.
In 1987, Mr. Thomas, who coached 63 All-American lacrosse players, was inducted into the sport's Hall of Fame on the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University.
Mr. Thomas was also credited with helping develop the Maryland Junior Lacrosse League, the prototype for junior programs throughout the nation.
"I now feel that I have achieved everything that I had ever hoped to achieve in the sport," Mr. Thomas said at his induction.
"He was the dean of high school coaches during his years at Towson, and lacrosse was where he made his mark," said Bill Tanton, retired Evening Sun sports editor and currently senior associate editor of Lacrosse Magazine.
"His players revered him, and he was a strong presence in their lives. He made them live for lacrosse," Mr. Tanton said.
Mr. Thomas graduated from Western Maryland College in 1939 and began his career coaching soccer, baseball and basketball at Denton High School in Caroline County on the Eastern Shore. One of his players was future Maryland Gov. Harry R. Hughes.
He went to Towson in 1952, where he also taught social studies, he was responsible for beginning the football program in 1967. His record in lacrosse included 14 county championships, 13 in a row from 1962 to 1974. His record at Towson was 354-37-1.
After retiring from Towson, he returned to his alma mater, Western Maryland College, and compiled a 37-18-0 record in lacrosse, winning two Middle Atlantic Conference championships and being named MAC Coach of the Year. He was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.
Mr. Thomas, who had lived with his son Mike Thomas of Carney since 1988, resided for many years on Fair Hill Drive, three blocks from Towson High.
"My mother always said that when she heard his whistle stop blowing that it was time to fix dinner," said Mike Thomas.
"It wasn't uncommon at dinner time to have players sitting around the table with the family while dad used the salt and pepper shakers to explain offensive or defensive plays," Mike Thomas said.
"He was a Knute Rockne or Vince Lombardi-type with a commanding presence and booming voice," recalled Sam Englehart, who played for Mr. Thomas during the 1960s.
"He was short, stubby and barrel-chested and looked something like a fireplug," said Mr. Englehart, an attorney in Towson. "He had many nicknames and was called "Bulldog," "Pork Chop" or "The Bear." But make no mistake who was in command. He bridged no foolishness. Towson High's teams are called the Generals, and Mr. Thomas was the school's five-star general."
Mr. Thomas had a sign on a wall of his office that read: "I'm the meanest bear in the valley." He believed that such signs and drum music motivated his players.
"One of his favorites sign was, 'If you get hurt, lay down and bleed a little, and then get up and run,' " said Mr. Englehart.
Another son, Jack Thomas of Columbia, was an All-American lacrosse player for three years at Johns Hopkins University and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989. "His greatest talent was getting kids to get more out of themselves and to dig a little deeper," Jack Thomas said of his father.
Four other students of Mr. Thomas went onto lacrosse greatness lTC and were eventually inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame: Lloyd Bunting, Jay Connor, Skip Lichtfuss and Skeet Chadwick. Mr. Thomas was born in Baltimore and attended Forest Park High School and City College.
No services are planned. An open house will be held from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at 9 Graveswood Court, Carney.
In 1939, Mr. Thomas married Phyllis Gross, who died in 1975.
Other survivors include another son, William Thomas Jr. of Towson; two daughters, Pat Kaplan of Reisterstown and Debbie Riley of Towson; and 10 grandchildren.
Pub Date: 8/15/97