Joseph F. Thomas
Joseph F. Thomas was born in 1915 and grew up in Philadelphia where he attended Immaculate Conception Grade School and Germantown High School. The Great Depression interrupted his education and, after his sophomore year, he went to work, underage, delivering fresh milk before daybreak, among other jobs. When he decided to return to school, he was persuaded by Brother George Siegwarth, S.M., to attend St. John the Baptist High School, a Marianist school where Brother George was principal. Neither knew at the time that they would later become colleagues at Chaminade High School in Mineola, Long Island, New York.
A gifted and versatile athlete, Mr. Thomas attended the University of Dayton on a football scholarship. There he majored in education and met his wife, the former Mary Kathryn Herold, who passed away in 1996. “Kay,” as she was called, and Coach Thomas have three children, Katherine Mary Thomas Cybriwsky, Joseph F. (Jeff) Thomas, Jr., and Michael Thomas, as well as eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. After graduation, he taught at North Catholic High School in Pittsburgh until World War II, when he served in the U.S. Army’s Eighth Infantry Division. He was twice awarded the Bronze Star, the fourth-highest combat decoration of U.S. Armed Forces, for his courage and leadership in combat in the European Theater.
After the war, Coach Thomas returned to North Catholic where he coached football and basketball. One of his football players there was Dan Rooney, who became the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the new U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.
Another of his players at “North” was Barney Joseph Thomas Otten. According to him, “the tragedy of World War II hit the nation and Coach Thomas was called to service. The only consolation for us was, because of Coach’s teaching of the basic skills and ingraining of team spirit and enthusiasm, the teams fared very well. The football team went 5-2-2, beating several well-established teams. Basketball was a dream. We went 28-0 and won the first State Catholic Championship. (Our opponents) still had not figured out Coach Thomas’s [zone] defense. Our new coach reluctantly permitted us to use it, (he said,) until we lost. So, we didn’t lose!”
In 1948 Coach Thomas was recruited by Ed Flynn, athletic director at Chaminade, which then had 500 students, compared to more than 1,700 today. There he taught English and physical education.
As Chaminade’s head varsity football coach from 1948 to 1969, his record was 120-46-7, including an 8-0-0 record in 1961. Of that first undefeated and untied championship season, Chuck Mansfield, a player on that team, has written, “That unforgettable thrill produced a deep and abiding sense of pride, not only in us players but throughout the entire student body, (as) everyone knew that the achievement would simply not have been, were it not for Coach Thomas’ leadership and motivational skills. In the last analysis, regardless of the rigorous conditioning and precision drills he put us through, the key to our success was that he enabled us truly to believe in ourselves.”
His teams were Catholic High School Football League champions seven times, and he was named CHSFL “Coach of the Year” seven times. As varsity spring track coach from 1948 to 1961, Coach Thomas compiled an even more impressive winning percentage, and his team record was 76-30. Moreover, he coached junior varsity basketball from 1948 to 1967, and was Chaminade’s athletic director from 1961 to 1979.
From 1967 to 1972 Mr. Thomas served as CHSFL president, and from 1969 to 1972 as president of the New York Catholic High School Athletic Association.
When Chaminade’s Olympic-scale swimming pool was completed in 1979, he became the school’s first pool director, a post he held until 1985, although he continued to teach swimming to students through June 1988 when he decided to retire after forty years at Chaminade.
Mr. Thomas is the recipient of awards too numerous to cite here, among which are the Chaminade Founders Award and the Crimson and Gold Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Chaminade Alumni Association.
Every Chaminade student from 1948 to 1988, as well as parents, faculty, friends and many others, has recognized that Coach Thomas’ qualities as a human being have touched the entire Chaminade Family. Indeed, Mr. Thomas has taught or coached more than half of Chaminade’s nearly 20,000 alumni. His dedication, caring, patience, sense of balance and positive outlook are his hallmarks. While he always demanded a great deal from all those he coached or taught, underlying all his expectations were compassion and concern that virtually no Chaminade student, or anyone else for that matter, could fail to discern. And before and after every game or meet, win or lose, Coach Thomas and his team knelt and prayed together.
It is perhaps ironic that, although he never attended Chaminade as a student, he has so long been regarded as such an outstanding role model for Chaminade men. Indeed, it may be said that Coach Joe Thomas is The Chaminade Man.