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The Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week: John Thrasher

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Cathy Dobson

There’s no more Gym DE at Northern Collegiate.

It’s now officially named for coach John Thrasher who almost singlehandedly built all the Viking’s winning basketball programs during his long and remarkable career. In fact, he virtually built the gym that now bears his name.

“Anything that’s basketball here at Northern is John,” said the school’s athletic director Chris Jones. “He purchased the wooden floor, the bleachers – he literally built this gym with money that he fundraised.”

A special dedication ceremony was held Wednesday to hon

Coach Thrasher with the plaque that will be installed outside the gym doors. (Cathy Dobson photo)

our Thrasher just prior to the senior girls’ basketball game. About 200 students, parents and alumni filled the bleachers and applauded for the man they’ve called Coach for 40 years.

“He taught us about life, about winning and about being a team,” said Jason Kaul who played basketball for Northern from 1987 to 1991.

Thrasher started his teaching career with 12 years at Central before transferring to Northern as a physical education teacher from 1982 to 2001. He retired from teaching but continues coaching basketball even now.

Over the decades, he spearheaded the fundraising of more than $1 million for the school’s athletic programs. That money was spent to renovate the gym, pay for tournaments and even buy elite shoes for the athletes, Kaul said.

Kendel Ross, one of three of Thrasher’s players who went on to play professionally, said an effort to honour their favourite coach by renaming Gym DE started in 2016. Naming a gym is unusual, said Ross.

“It’s something you see in the pro leagues or at colleges, but not high schools.”

Naming it the John Thrasher gym speaks to how much the players love and respect him, she said.

“He’s someone who is so stable, someone you can really count on…he’s impacted generations of players.”

John Thrasher’s senior girls’ basketball team watching from the bench as their coach is honoured in the newly-named John Thrasher gymnasium at Northern Collegiate. (Cathy Dobson photo)

Ross and Morgan Clark helped present Thrasher with a cast iron plaque that will be mounted on the wall outside the gym. When they played for Thrasher, the two women were co-captains of the senior girls’ team.

“Coach has created community around Northern athletics,” Ross said. “I’ve been coached by hundreds of coaches on hundreds of teams, but never by anyone like John Thrasher.”

Thrasher’s coaching style may be loud but he doesn’t personally like being in the spotlight, said Jones.

“When I told him about this, he’d have none of it. That’s who he is. It’s never about him.”

Thrasher received a standing ovation during the ceremony and frequently wiped away tears. He thanked his wife, Adele, and his family for “sharing me with the hundreds of kids I’ve coached. “I’m so touched,” he said. “Thank you.”

The plaque to be installed reads: “This venue is dedicated in gratitude for John’s decades long commitment to the youth basketball program at Northern Collegiate and in the broader Lambton County community. As all who have been coached by John know, the basketball court is truly an extension of the classroom.”

JOHN THRASHER’S COACHING CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

• established the entire Valhalla feeder program that supports Grade 3-8 travel basketball teams and house leagues;

• coached senior boys and girls basketball (1982 – 2001) and continues to coach the women’s program;

• managed $1 million in fundraising for Northern athletics;

• referees and assists the elementary school basketball league;

• coached countless teams to victory at LSSAA, LKSSAA and SWOSSA championships;

• his teams perennially make it to OFSAA competition;

• coached numerous players who went on to play post-secondary basketball across North America;

• coached 2 players who went on to the Senior Women’s national team and 3 that played professionally.

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