FORTVILLE — In recent years, a tradition has been forged at Mt. Vernon.
Before departing, the outgoing boys basketball coach shares a small bit of wisdom with his successor: Make sure Lowell Thomas has a place in your program.
By Thomas’ own admission, he is not an expert game strategist. He is not a former hoops star. He did not even play basketball in high school. So why do Mt. Vernon coaches insist he remain a part of the team?
Because no one, Mt. Vernon coach Travis Daugherty said, is more committed to Marauders basketball than Thomas.
For more than 38 years, Mt. Vernon coaches have come and gone, but Thomas has stayed, serving as a volunteer assistant, as a statistician, as an equipment manager, as anything that keeps him representing the black and gold.
When Daugherty was hired, Steve Lynch (2006-13) carried out the tradition as Steve Doud (1996-2006) had done before him, and Larry Lael, and Jimmie Howell ….
“When I got the job, I think he was the first phone call I made,” Daugherty said. “Steve Lynch told me that coach Thomas was going to be imperative to my success here, and that was not an overstatement. … He is the backbone of our program.”
Daugherty was so impressed with Thomas that shortly after his tenure began at Mt. Vernon, he named Thomas, a man who has witnessed more then 700 Marauders boys basketball games, an assistant varsity coach for the first time in Thomas’ dedicated sideline career. To Thomas, it was a special honor and one that fulfilled a lifetime goal.
After he graduated from McCordsville High School in 1958, Thomas dreamed of one day becoming a high school basketball coach.
But life had other plans for him. He became a carpenter and served in the military. It was not until 1977 that he finally took the first step in realizing his dream.
As a Hancock County Sheriff’s Department reserve, he began serving as Mt. Vernon’s security officer, traveling with the team wherever they went.
From there, he never left Mt. Vernon’s side, taking on nearly every position available to someone not officially with the team.
The distinction of being named an assistant coach was long overdue, Daugherty said.
“He is a coach. To me, it’s about his commitment to our program. Every coach, like every player, has a different role and responsibility, and he as committed to his role as anyone else that is here or now or who has been here. (Naming him an assistant) is a small gesture that I’m glad he appreciated but really is a title he’s deserved for a long time.”
Thomas now functions as what he calls an “adult student-manager.” In charge of the Marauders’ four student-managers, he ensures the players have everything they need for practice and on game days.
He also tracks personal fouls and timeouts for Daugherty, constantly keeping the coach informed of who might need to come out and how many more times Mt. Vernon can stop the clock.
“He’s the guy who keeps all of us organized,” Daugherty said. “He’s a great mentor to our players, just a great example of a man devoted to service. He’s a servant in every capacity for our team. He’s a very humble guy.”
Five years ago, Thomas tried to retire. It lasted about four or five games.
“It didn’t take,” Thomas said with a chuckle. “I missed the game too much.”
As Mt. Vernon heads into sectional action in less than a week, Thomas is hopeful the Marauders can make a deep postseason run. Even if they do not, he said, the mostly sophomore and junior group and will have more chances — chances he expects to be around to see.
“We have an awfully good group of young men,” Thomas said. “And most of them are going to be here for another couple of years. So I’ll say I’ll be here at least two more years. I have to stay that long to see these kids through.”
Name: Lowell Thomas
Position: Mt Vernon boys basketball assistant coach
Years with Mt. Vernon: 38
Favorite memories: Mt. Vernon’s appearances in the 1986-87 and the 1990-91 semistate games played at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Favorite Marauders to watch: Mike Archer (1990), Daniel Turner (2010), Stephen Turner (2013).
High school: McCordsville (1958)
Job: Site mangaer, Skillman Corporation
Wife: Susan Thomas, married 48 years
Children: Kevin and Kerry Thomas