Posted: 12:00 a.m. Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Talawanda AD has ‘big shoes to fill’

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New Talawanda AD has ‘big shoes to fill’ photo
Talawanda High School’s new Athletic Director John Thomas (left) and THS Principal Tom York appear at last week’s school board meeting.

By Bob Ratterman

Contributing Writer

OXFORD —

State Route 73 connects Talawanda and Edgewood high schools and now there is another connection.

John Thomas, the new athletic director at THS, is a former Cougar athlete who is leaving the AD post at Edgewood to take on the same duties at Talawanda.

Thomas is familiar with Talawanda at least from the outside and said he likes what he sees of the district, the athletic program and the people. He expects a smooth transition into the job, which he actually started immediately on his hiring last week.

The appointment came on a unanimous vote of the Talawanda Board of Education at its regular May meeting last week and Thomas was in Oxford for meetings starting on Wednesday, May 22.

He replaces Jason Grunkemeyer, who served in the position for less than a year, leaving recently to accept a job as assistant men’s basketball coach at Ball State University.

Thomas also has some college playing and coaching in his background, having attended Maryville College in Tennessee where he stayed on to coach a couple years after graduation.

He comes to Talawanda with some major work on the horizon.

First will be filling three coaching vacancies, although Thomas said an announcement on one of them was expected this week.

“I need to validate the scheduling and make sure it’s all in line and meet with coaches about the summer programs and get ready for fall sports,” he said.

There’s also the issue of several sports fields at the new high school complex that are not yet finished. Field hockey, softball and baseball have played the 2012-13 seasons on the fields at the old high school.

“That’s the 1 o’clock meeting,” Thomas said of finishing up the new facilities. “Any time you build new facilities, there will be challenges. We want to get it done and be financially responsible.”

Thomas said several things appealed to him about the Talawanda job, even though he grew up in Trenton and graduated from Edgewood.

“The people and community,” he said, when asked about what makes the job appealing. “It is just a great community that values education. I thank the board for giving me the opportunity. The facilities are gorgeous. Talawanda has a great athletic tradition.”

Looking back at previous athletic directors — Grunkemeyer, Chris Weaver and Dave Churchman, Thomas said, “I have big shoes to fill.”

After college, Thomas worked in the private sector in sales and found the travel took him away from his family too much. He jumped at the chance to work in education at Edgewood, filling the roles of director of communications and extracurricular activities, as well as athletic director. He was responsible for athletics from grades 7 to 12.

“I was gone a lot. I traveled a lot. We had kids and I decided to get more grounded,” he said, noting that he now has 12 years in the education area after leaving the business world.

A 1975 graduate of Edgewood High School, he was familiar with some outstanding Talawanda athletes like Greg Sullivan and Josh Claytor.

“It all seemed so exciting,” Thomas said of the Talawanda-Edgewood rivalry, which he said was enthusiastic but did not include much animosity. “Both communities would turn out. Gyms would be filled. Football fields would be filled. I think that’s what high school athletics should be. It’s been done right.”

Thomas and wife, Jenny, have two grown children, both Edgewood graduates. Daughter Brittany is a Miami University graduate. Their son, Nate, has an undergrad degree from Brown University, where he played football and is now in medical school at Lincoln Memorial University in Harragut, Tenn.

Thomas praised the work of Athletic Department Secretary Ann Hoskins for her work orienting him to the position.

“I was told before I came here there would be a lot of challenges and that Ann would be a tremendous help, helping me through those challenges,” he said.

Thomas expects a busy summer adjusting to the new job and meeting those challenges, but said he is confident it will be done well.

“There are a lot of good people. We’ll do it right. It’ll get done,” he said.

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