It is with a heavy heart that the NCHSAA announces the passing of a long-time friend and coach, Derek Thomas. Coach Thomas was a basketball coach at Brevard, Cherokee and Polk County before he became Haywood County's first African-American head coach since integration when he coached the Tuscola boys from 2005 to 2009. He retired in 2009 and left the bench with 415 career wins to his credit.
Thomas was named the North Carolina Coach of the year six times and earned the same award in Florida three times.
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said “Coach Thomas was a great guy! He loved life and his smile was contagious. I am blessed to have been his classmate at Mars Hill and to have been a colleague during our time in high school athletics."
In an interview with the Asheville Citizen-Times just before his first season at Tuscola, he is credited with saying, "Success can't be measured in wins or losses. My proudest moments are when I see that my former players are now in the education field or in the banking field. That's what makes me proud. Sure, you want to win games, and you want to win a state championship, but that's not how you measure success. You measure success by how many kids who've gone through your program go on to make positive contributions in society."
Thomas is a member of the Mars Hill University athletic hall of fame after his induction in 2008. He set the school record for assists, steals and free throw percentage when he was named the most valuable male athlete in 1976.
Thomas died on Saturday from a massive heart attack at age 62. A celebration of life will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 5, at Polk County High School in Columbus, NC.