Bobcats’ Boys Basketball Coach Tom Lewis’ Shares Words Of Wisdom As He Rides Of Into The Sunset, Or To The Golf Course

Above photo courtesy of Stephanie Brinkley- Coach Lewis instructing his players

Before getting into this article proper, I’d like to share a brief bio on Coach Lewis’ records and achievements from his long basketball career. Here goes… Well, was that brief enough? At the risk of this sounding a bit like an obituary, as per Tom’s request no bio will be shared. More on the reason as the article progresses.

This article will take more than one rabbit trail, but it is absolutely necessary, as I try to share some classic “Tom Lewis.”

As so often happens, things take turns you don’t expect and that is how this article came about. I was at the Clarion Area gym, on Tuesday, March 8th, to cover the Bobcats’ PIAA State Championship Playoff opener against Southern Fulton, which would be Tom’s and his seniors’ last game ever on their home court, regardless of the outcome. The Cats did win the game to advance, to a neutral site.

Prior to the contest, I was chewing the fat with Clarion News Editor and Sportswriter Ryan Pugh next to the Clarion Student Section stands, just below where Mike Kalinowski, Lexis Twentier and others on the EYT broadcast crew were setting up.

Tom came over and got the practice ball cart out of the storage room and began talking with us. With a big Cheshire Cat smile, that we’ve all come to love Tom said, “It’s a wonderful life!” And was sharing how he loved the movie starring Jimmy Stewart and started to mention analogies to his own life.

Midstream, I stopped him, realizing this was too good to pass up on, saying something like, “Tom, stop right there, I’m going to get my recorder out and make you repeat this.” As I have gotten older, it is difficult for me to record and transcribe, so I usually get quotes sent on email. But, as I said this was too good to pass up on, so I made an exception.

Tom began doing the best he could, on the “second take,” but barely into it, he noticed someone at the entrance of the gym. “Hang on. I got to go tell that fella ‘Hi.’ He was on my first team.” It was Clarion-Limestone Athletic Director, Brad Frazier. So we “cut” for a bit.

After Tom came back, we finished the interview.

“Truly, I feel I’m the luckiest guy. It’s been a wonderful life. It’s still going on. I mean, I’m retired, coaching till I’m seventy-seven. My wife and I have been married fifty-seven years. We’ve got three wonderful children, five grandchildren, five great grandchildren. What more could you ask for in life?”   

“It’s been great! And continues to be great.  And the older you get, you realize that each day is not going to come back and you are going to need to make something positive happen out of that day.”

As to the Jimmy Stewart – It’s a Wonderful Life analogy, “I always liked that movie. He found how it’s; it’s a wonderful life!   

“You got to enjoy it. You’re not going to get another one.  At least I don’t believe in that.  So let’s make the best of this one. And that’s what we try to do. Everybody’s the same. You treat people with respect and you hope to get respect in return.”   

Tom continued, “I believe in building bridges and not burning bridges. And that’s just the way I try to do.

“We’ll quit coaching. It’s time.   

“And I may pick up the golf clubs again. It’s been since 2016 since I played golf. Hey, my wife told me ‘I could buy a new set.’ (Laugh’s) You can’t beat it right. So if my knees will hold up, I’ll do it.” 

It hit me as Tom mentioned not golfing since 2016, that would have been when we would travel together and Tom would scout and I’d record. Hard to believe it was eight years ago. One thing Tom could talk your ear off with, was his great golf stories; absolutely entertaining, listening to them.

He continued, “I know everybody doesn’t have that outlook and when I was younger, I didn’t either. But as you get older… I don’t want to use the word wiser, but you realize, the good Lord’s going to decide when. So you might as well make the best out of each day.”  Tom also mentioned that when he was younger, the ego came into play, but that, that all leaves as you get older, that it’s not about wins and losses. It’s about developing the players and more so, developing (along with parents, teachers etc.) upstanding adults and the lasting friendships developed with others along the way.

Another rabbit trail: As I was sitting in the stands, I noticed that Tom was on the other side of the basketball court, “Holding Court” with the Southern Fulton players, just reveling in and soaking in every minute of this wonderful evening. I never remember seeing anything like that. I asked a couple of fans near me, both who have attended a multitude of Clarion Area sporting events over the years, if they’d ever seen that. Neither could remember.

I got up and and lumbered down the stands, and went over to try to get a good photo, hoping everything wouldn’t conclude before I got there. But no worry there. The session went on quite a while after I headed back to the bleachers.

Tom, with Southern Fulton players

I asked the players if they had ever had an opposing coach come over and talk to them like this. The young man on the left, with his arms crossed, looked at me, with a kind of puzzled look and asked, “Is this he the coach?!” I guess unassuming Coach Lewis, never formally introduced himself and to that point they didn’t have a clue who he was. The players all agreed that this never happened to them before. Tom could have been a game manager, AD, parent, grandparent, fan. Who knows?

Photo by Stephanie – Coach Lewis with Bryce Brinkley after the game

Final rabbit trail:

I was in the chair getting my hair cut at Craig’s Barber Place on Main Street Clarion on Thursday, March 14th and who should wander in to get his haircut, but Tom. After the usual, “You don’t care who you let in here’s,” I asked Tom if Imani Christian, the team the Bobcats lost to, two nights earlier were as advertised. He said they were and just admitted that the defending State Champs who could very likely repeat this year, were. He made no excuses, just mentioned that they were the better team and shared about some of their strengths etc.

The two of us, along with the two barber/stylists had a good time discussing basketball.

Tom mentioned that he stopped in to get his haircut, before officially turning in his official resignation at the high school. I told him to make sure to get a photo for me. A comparison photo above and the one below with Clarion Area Superintendent Dr. Joe Carrico below, is a testament to the fine work done by the staff at Craig’s.

Photo by Clarion Area High School Principal Natalie Miller-Martini – Clarion Area Superintendant Dr. Joe Carrico (right) accepting Clarion Area Boys Basketball Coach Tom Lewis’ resignation

Dr. Carrico had some fine praise for this fine Pillar of the Community. “We are very grateful for Tom’s commitment to our students and basketball program over the past few years.  He was instrumental in keeping the team operating at a very high level during the time period of our coaching transition when Coach Fox resigned. 

“Tom has spent decades dedicating his time and efforts to the local communities and districts.  He has always done so with integrity and strength of character. 

“We wish Tom, his wife and their family nothing but the best on their next adventure!”

Ditto that, Dr. Carrico!!

So just what are some of Coach Lewis’ records and achievements? Who knows, who cares? Tom sure doesn’t. To him it’s all about the kids!!

(Congratulations and Happy Trails To You, Tom and family!!!!)

(Thanks to Stephanie Brinkley and Natalie Miller-Martini for their photos!!)