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"Every year, it's kind of like, 'Holy cow, Bob is still at it.'"

One of Chambersburg's most successful baseball players, Tom Brookens, uttered the sentiments that many people around the community have thought year after year.

Bob Thomas was the Trojans' coach for a staggering 51 years. The next-longest tenured coach in the area is Forbes Road's field hockey leader Carol Cline, who is more than a decade behind Thomas at 37 seasons.

"To see someone stay at it for that long, you just don't see that," Brookens said. "Bob's health has been good, and he's been fortunate enough to stay in one place and do this. It's so rare to think of someone sticking around that long in the same position. Chambersburg has been lucky to have him."

Three-generation coach

For coaches who have been in the business for many years, it's considered an accomplishment to coach the son of a former player.

For Bob Thomas, it was an accomplishment to coach a former player's grandson.

Just this season, Colten Brookens and Manning Brookens played for the Trojans under Thomas. Their fathers, Andy and Travis had been through Thomas' regime, and their grandfather, Denny, was also a Bob Thomas product.

"My whole family shares the same stories," said Casey Brookens, a cousin of Colten and Manning and a former player of Thomas'. "Any time we're sitting around talking about Bags (his nickname), we all have similar stories. His coaching style has stayed the same throughout. We can relate to whatever the games were like for everyone else, and we can put ourselves in each other's shoes."

Former Chambersburg athletic director Don Folmar had the pleasure of watching all four of his sons, Ryan, Drew, Eric and Scott, come up through Chambersburg's program under the direction of Thomas.

"He played a big part in all of my sons' lives," Don Folmar said. "I have four sons that played for him, and they've always been just so amazed with what a successful coach he's been and how long he's been at it."

And for Don, who was the Trojan AD for 24 years, he never had the headache of having to hire a new baseball coach.

"He was just outstanding to work with," Don said. "He's a great person, and so easy to work with. He was tremendously organized, and it was just a lot of fun to always have him."

Coaching players to coach

Not only did Thomas coach a number of players to pro contracts — 21 former Trojans played either in the minor leagues or in the MLB — he also has had a huge influence on former players becoming coaches.

Just look at Don Folmar's family — all four of his sons are in coaching. Ryan and Eric are both college baseball coaches, Drew is a football coach at Lehigh and Scott is the head of James Buchanan's baseball team.

"The big thing that sticks out to me is his passion and respect for the game," said Ryan Folmar, who has been the head coach at Oral Roberts for three seasons. "That was contagious and rubbed off on everybody that played for him. If there's one thing I try to emulate, it would definitely be that passion."

Scott Folmar said, "The biggest thing I noticed when playing for him is he's so even-keeled. He never got too high and never got too low. When things were going well, it was good, but when things weren't going so well, he just kept going. That's what I try to take away."

Casey Brookens was the Greencastle-Antrim baseball coach for eight years.

"He definitely had an influence on my coaching style," Casey said. "When I started at Greencastle, I wanted to establish what the kids needed to do from the get-go. Like Bob did, you want to establish the level of play you expect from your players, and if you set high expectations, kids will usually rise to reach those goals."

Current Blue Devil coach Eric Shaner said, "He is a legend of the game. As coaches, we owe him a debt of gratitude for his accomplishments and the example he has set for us to follow."

Not only has Thomas affected the baseball community, but his reach even extends to area softball.

"Whenever he'll send me an email and he refers to me as 'Coach,' that means a lot to me," said Max Laing, the Gettysburg softball coach and former scorekeeper for the Trojans. "He just has such a respect for the game, and he puts in so much time, coaching fall ball, open gyms, all of those pieces. I try to do all of that with my softball program, and I'm just proud to be a part of his coaching tree."

A sharp mind

One thing that has allowed Thomas to stay in the game for more than a half-century is a nearly photographic memory.

"I know one thing about coach Thomas is that he doesn't forget anything," Tom Brookens said. "He'll bring up things that happened when I was playing, and I don't even remember what happened that year, and he's sitting there talking about a particular one of my at-bats."

Don Folmar said, "Bob was a great storyteller. There were a lot of great games, and a lot of great memories, and he can relay them all."

When his retirement was officially announced, Thomas was asked by Public Opinion to reflect on one of his favorite games — he recalled a PIAA playoff game from 16 years ago in minute, exact details.

"He had so many stories over the years about past players and games," Shaner said. "He spoke so fondly of his players. Even when I tried to push for his opinion on the best player he had ever coached, he wouldn't budge. He could vividly talk about details of games that happened 20-plus years ago. You can't help but to be captivated by him."

A tradition of success

While it's impressive to say Thomas stuck it out for 51 years, it's even more impressive to say how successful he was for 51 years. Forty-nine of his seasons ended in winning records, and he compiled an 833-279 record.

And that was just at Chambersburg.

"Back when I played in high school from 1969 to 1971, we were an independent, so we never really were able to win (league) championships," Tom Brookens said. "But at that particular time, Bob was also the American Legion coach for Chambersburg, so we carried over all of our success. Legion was our chance to get into regional and state tournaments, and we did that. There were a couple of years that we were the runners-up in the state playoffs."

Just this year, the Trojans scratched and clawed their way to second place in the District 3 Class AAAA playoffs and lost to the eventual state runner-up in the PIAA Tournament.

"We had such a great run this year, and I just remember being in the dugout and always hearing him motivate everyone," said Austin Suders, an upcoming senior for the Trojans. "If someone was down, he would come up with a tip or something to pick them up. I know he's helped me that way plenty of times, so it was really nice to have someone like that around."

Now, Chambersburg is tasked with the seemingly impossible duty of hiring its first new baseball coach since 1965.

No matter who gets the job, those are going to be some very big, very worn-in shoes to fill.

A BELOVED COACH

"Truly a legend! He is Trojan baseball. The years of sacrifice his wife and family made over those many years should not go unnoticed."

— Mike Brown, via Facebook

"Trojan baseball will lose the greatest coach ever."

— Dan L. Wagner, via Facebook

"He is a legend of the game, and as coaches we owe him a debt of gratitude for his accomplishments and the example he has set for us to follow."

— Eric Shaner, Greencastle-Antrim baseball coach, via email

"Legendary career, and a class act all the way"

— Max Laing, Gettysburg softball coach, via Facebook

"Sad to see such another great coach step down. Coach Thomas was respected across ALL sports at CASHS."

— Dawson Peck, former Chambersburg wrestler, via Twitter

"Wonderful man, coach and leader. I am from the Class of '77 and remember him well."

— Cindy Mark Hutchison, via Facebook

"It's definitely going to be a different feel down at Greene Township park, that's for sure."

— Austin Suders, current Trojan pitcher/first baseman

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