Jamaica’s pioneering coach, Victor “Poppy” Thomas, was officially inducted into the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) National Coaches Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Gaylord Rockies Resort Hotel and Convention Center in Denver, Colorado. His induction marked a peak in his 20-year coaching career at Lincoln University in Missouri.
Coach record of “Poppy Thomas”
In his career at Lincoln University, Thomas won 14 national team titles – five indoor and nine outdoor titles – in the NCAA Division II women’s track and field, and he has brought his athletes to over 140 individual national titles and 950 All-America honors. Along with the 14 national team titles, Thomas’s Blue Tiger teams finished in the national Top 10 a total of 66 times, 52 of which were in the Top 5. His teams have been named USTFCCCA NCAA Division II Scholar Team of the Year seven times, and four of his athletes received Scholar Athlete of the Year honors. Since he began at Lincoln in 2002, taking over the men’s and women’s track and field programs, at least one of his teams finished in the Top 10 of the NCAA Division II Championships, indoor or outdoor, every year except 2020 when the championship competitions were not held because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the greats
Thomas has claimed his position among the top American collegiate track and field coaches of all time, and he is the first Jamaican coach to be so honored. Commenting on how surreal the moment was for him, Thomas shared that some 23 years ago, he was in Jamaica when he first heard about legendary coaches like Pat Henry and George Williams, “and now I’m in the same Hall of Fame, the same league as the great American coaches” he had only heard of at that time. Thomas recognized the significance of his achievement and expressed his appreciation for his American coaching colleagues who congratulated him backstage at the award ceremony. “That alone felt so good,” he said, noting the camaraderie that exists among coaches. Thomas said that, with his induction, he is smoothing the way for a new generation of Jamaican coaches as several young Jamaica coaches also came on the stage. “It seemed like I was flying a flag for Jamaican coaches, Black coaches, in some way,” he said.
Disappointment and Pride
Thomas said he did feel some disappointment at the ceremony because he felt that his home country of Jamaica might not understand how great an achievement his Hall of Fame induction represented. He noted that the average person who doesn’t follow track and field would never know he was inducted, adding that the kids he used to coach at Trinity, Camperdown, STATHS, wouldn’t even know. Thomas said his proudest coaching moments at Lincoln relate to the graduation of his athletes and how they have made successes of their lives after their university careers. “That, for me, is the crème de la crème of all my achievements,” he said.