Kittanning grad Terry Thompson headed to A-K Valley Sports Hall of Fame
Sunday, March 26, 2023 | 7:28 PM
When asked to reflect on his more than six decades in basketball, Terry Thompson was quick with a clarification.
“I’m still coaching, so my career isn’t over. I’m only 80 (years old), you know,” he said with a chuckle.
Thompson serves as an assistant boys coach at Conneaut (Ohio) High School, a 20-minute drive across the state border from his home in Girard, Pa. He also runs an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) program — featuring 10 teams under the Achieve Your Dreams name — based in Edinboro.
“I have grandkids now playing on my club teams,” he said. “It just doesn’t end in our family.”
Thompson began his long and illustrious basketball career as a standout player at Kittanning High School and Clarion State College. He went on to amass 400 victories over 22 seasons as boys head coach at East Brady, Knoch, Butler and Fairview high schools.
In recognition, Thompson is among 10 honorees scheduled for induction into the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame on May 20 at The Shrine Center in Harmar.
“It’s been my life,” he said. “I grew up in Kittanning, and we won the section (title) in 1960 way back when Kittanning wasn’t that strong in basketball.”
In those days, Thompson noted that neighboring Ford City was a WPIAL basketball powerhouse.
“Every night, I’d go down to Boulder Park in Ford City and play under the lights,” he said. “That’s where I really learned to play.”
Thompson developed into a prolific scorer, playing at Clarion from 1961-65. According to the school website, he still ranks seventh in career points (1,457); second in career scoring average (20 points per game) and field goal percentage (1.198); sixth in career free throws made (343); and third in single-season scoring average (23.9 per game in 1963-64). A four-year starter, he earned all-district honors three times and honorable-mention All-American status once.
“It’s funny because I had the reputation of being a defensive-minded, half-court coach,” he said. “If someone would have seen me play in college, they would have thought this guy was a real hypocrite with the way I coached my teams. But we were successful.”
After college, Thompson taught and coached at East Brady, posting a 77-19 record. His teams won two District 9 titles and finished as the PIAA Class B runner-up in 1968.
“That year, we were scheduled to play Tarentum, which won the WPIAL title, but they got upset by Homer Center,” he said. “We ended up beating Homer Center and getting to the state final.”
Leading East Brady was center Pat Kelly, the older brother of eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.
“I always said that Jim Kelly was on the team, but I stretch the truth a bit,” Thompson said with a laugh. “Jim was in junior high at the time. He was constantly on the bench and around the gym.”
From 1972-81, Thompson coached Knoch to a 137-73 record. The Knights won section titles in 1976 and 1981, advancing to the PIAA quarterfinals in his final season.
“I remember the support of the community, as well as the administration and parents,” he said. “We put together a real good elementary program.”
After a short stint at Butler, Thompson headed north to coach at Fairview High School, southwest of Erie. From 1983-90, he compiled a 124-56 mark, including a league title and a District 10 championship.
For all of his head coaching success, Thompson’s most memorable experience might have come as an assistant girls coach at Girard High School. During that time, he helped to direct the 1997-98 squad — featuring his daughters Terri Lynn (known as “T.L.”) and Courtney — to the PIAA Class AA crown.
“This is the 25th anniversary of that team winning the state title,” Thompson said. “I wasn’t head coach when they played, but it was the greatest thrill of my life.”
Despite leaving the A-K Valley in the early 1980s, Thompson kept in touch with local colleagues over the years. He described former Highlands, Valley and Burrell coach Tom Myers as his “best friend.” A 2012 A-K Hall of Fame inductee, Myers passed away in 2016.
“I miss him dearly,” Thompson said. “I picked his brain, even when I moved to Erie. I’d drive to Pittsburgh to talk to him about basketball constantly. He was the most knowledgeable coach I’d ever known, and I thought the world of him.”
Thompson is no stranger to hall of fame inductions, having already received Armstrong County, Clarion University and Fairview High School honors. But he admitted to still getting emotional when he received word of his A-K selection.
“It just really meant a lot to me,” he said.
Thompson said he has no plans to stop coaching, even though he’s joined the octogenarian club.
“I don’t even think about my age,” he said. “My health has been really good for the most part. I just don’t think about it. It’s just another day of basketball.”
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