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One late May day about 10 years ago, when I was covering the Chambersburg baseball team and it lost a game to end its season, I got up the nerve to ask coach Bob Thomas, "So, how many more years are you going to be doing this?"

His answer was simple: "Basically, as long as I feel good enough and still have the desire, I guess I'll keep coming back."

Keep in mind that at the time, Thomas was around 70 years old and had already been coaching for over 40 years.

That's extremely rare, especially in this day and age.

But Thomas kept coming back.

He did miss a big chunk of one season for health reasons, but was still going strong this past spring when his team went 15-10, reached the District 3 championship game and lost in the first round of states.

It was inevitable that some day Thomas would coach his last game for Chambersburg. He just kept putting off that day.

Until Tuesday.

He decided that he would not be able to give enough of his time to the baseball program while tending to the needs of his wife Bonnie, who recently came home from a nursing home.

"I still feel good enough myself to continue coaching, and hopefully I'll continue to feel that way," Thomas said. "But it wouldn't be fair for my family."

Thomas did not want anybody to know of his decision until after he handed in his letter of resignation and called his coaches and others close to the program. But word leaked out on social media Monday night, and – not surprisingly – it traveled pretty quickly.

"He still called a lot of people today to tell them in person," said Dave Etter, an assistant coach for 37 years with Thomas. "He wanted to do that on his own."

If you don't know Thomas, don't be surprised that he was still a head coach at 80 years old. He may talk a little more slowly these days, but his mind is still as sharp as a hard-running slider.

When I prodded him to tell me one of his favorite games, he told me the story of a PIAA playoff game against Tunkhannock in 1999. I went back into the P.O. archives to verify the details, and they were exactly as he told them (see the story on Page A1 for an account of that game).

Several years ago, I was given a large of box of scorebooks, programs and other memorabilia by the wife of former P.O. sports editor Vaden Richards. Most of it was from before I was born. I invited Thomas to come into the P.O. one evening to take a look at the stuff.

I was astonished by how much detail he remembered. He would pull out a program of, say, the Franklin County adult baseball tournament, look at a team photo and rattle off the names of all the guys in the photo. Then he'd tell me something about a few of the guys – maybe what they were doing now, or where they lived – and sometimes would tell a story of a certain game he remembered.

For those still alive who remember those days, you probably remember that Thomas was quite an athlete, too.

But coaching is what he'll be known for, and for good reason.

Not only was Chambersburg almost always good, but the fact that Thomas stayed on as long as he did was newsworthy by itself. I remember quite a few chats with other sports writers who were shocked at how long Thomas had been coaching.

So, why were the Trojans so good?

I can't count how many times I witnessed Chambersburg rally in the last inning to win a game. Batters would start taking pitches and make the pitcher throw strikes. He would get rattled. And the Trojans would cash in.

Thomas, as usual, had a simple answer: "If anybody tells you that you can win a lot of games without good players, then they don't know what they're talking about. I was lucky to have a lot of good players over the years."

Two former Trojans made it to the Major Leagues. Another 19 signed professional contracts.

His teams went 833-279, won three state titles, 11 District 3 crowns and 22 league championships.

Only two of his 51 teams did not have winning records. Let that stat sink in. Incredible.

That is a legacy we will not see topped in our lifetimes.

Trojans in the pros

Reached Major League Baseball (2): Ike Brookens, Tom Brookens.

Played in the minor leagues (19): Dave Etter, Barry Carter, Dave Myers, Jeff Brookens, Bob McDonald, Tim Brookens, Sam Snider, Brett Wise, Rudy Serafini, Steve Young, Andy Shreiner, Andy Brookens, Brad Martz, Casey Brookens, Ryan Folmar, Alex Hart, Andy Dangler, Adam Witter, Jared Olson.

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