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Thomas, Jones role models

Late Cairo High School Syrupmakers head football coach West Thomas and retiring Decatur County School Superintendent Ralph Jones, two men I have always had the greatest amount of respect for, will be inducted Saturday night into the Grady County Sports Hall of Fame at the organization’s second annual induction banquet at the Grady Cultural Center.

During my years as a student at Cairo High School, Coach Thomas, who my brother, Tom, played for, was head football coach and assistant principal. His dear wife, Mrs. Elsie Thomas, taught typing. Her patience in teaching me the home keys for the one-hand typing system are the main reason I have been able to serve as sports editor of this fine newspaper for almost 40 years.

She and Coach Thomas, for whom the Cairo High School football stadium is named, touched untold numbers of high school students, both athletes and non-athletes, in a positive way through the years.

During his 15-year career as Cairo High School head football coach and athletic director from 1954 to 1969, Coach Thomas led the Syrupmakers to an outstanding 117-38-11 record, and was named Region 1AAAA coach of the year in 1963, 1964 and 1967. He was an outstanding coach, but if you look at him as just a coach, you miss a lot.

His great character and positive example as a coach, athletic director and assistant principal helped many Cairo High School students go on to live high character lives.

Ralph Jones, who I have been covering as teacher, coach, principal and superintendent since 1974 when, fresh out of Florida State University where he played for the Seminoles, he came to join the late coach Prescott Forsyth’s Bainbridge High School Bearcats coaching staff.

I covered the Decatur County Board of Education meeting in the spring of 1980 when Ralph was named Bearcats head coach.

Knowing how proud Coach Thomas always was of his successful former players and students, and remembering that the Syrupmakers were in spring practice, I figured he would be there watching.

With all that in mind, I decided to drive to Cairo and personally give him the good news about Ralph.

He thanked me and told me what a great move he thought the Decatur County Board of Education made in selecting Ralph as Bearcats head football coach.

Two years later, Ralph led the Bearcats a 14-1 record and the state Class AAA championship. He returned to Cairo in 1987 to take over as head coach of the Syrupmakers. In 1990, he led the Syrupmakers to a15-0 record at the state Class AAA championship.

After stepping down as Syrupmakers head coach, Ralph stayed on as Cairo High School athletic director until returning to Bainbridge and serving, first as Bainbridge High School principal, then as Decatur County School Superintendent.

I think it’s great that Coach Thomas and Ralph Jones are going into the Grady County Sports Hall of Fame together.

They have both been outstanding leaders of, and role models for, young people, and I am thankful that both of them touched my life in a positive way.