Column: High School Hall of Fame honors Colorado legend Tom Southall
The Aspen Times
I was lucky.
I saw Tom Southall play football. And play the trumpet.
Even more, I saw Tom Southall on the long jump runway, breaking Colorado high school records wherever and whenever he jumped. I even saw him play basketball.
Southall, one of the premier high school athletes in Colorado history, will be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame next summer — an acknowledgment of his unsurpassed impact on high school sports.
The National Federation of State High School Associations announced Southall’s selection to the hall of fame last week, rekindling vivid memories of the once-in-a-lifetime student-athlete-musician from Steamboat Springs.
Southall earned 12 varsity letters in four sports at Steamboat Springs High School, leading the Sailors to the state football championship in 1979.
A two-time Colorado high school football player of the year under legendary coach Mark Drake, Southall set what was then the single-game rushing record in Colorado — 412 yards.
But the track was where many remember Southall.
He led the powerful Steamboat Springs track-and-field program to three consecutive Class 2A state championships. As a senior in 1981, Southall set the Class 2A state long-jump record of 23 feet, 41/2 inches.
But there’s more.
The talented Southall was an all-state trumpet player.
Seriously. He played in the concert band and the jazz band.
And the pace he set in high school was accelerated at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
Southall led the nation in punt-return yardage and broke the NCAA Division III career record for kickoff-return yards.
But he never was far from the track.
All four years at Colorado College, Southall was voted the track-and-field MVP, setting school records in the 200-meter dash and the long jump. And he ran on the school-record 400-meter relay team.
From there, Southall turned to his teaching and coaching career — now at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora.
I was a lucky one. I saw Tom Southall play.
I saw Tom Southall again just last May.
He was where I see him every May, running the long jump event at the Colorado High School Track and Field Championships at Jeffco Stadium in Lakewood.
The athletes who reach the state championships in the long jump revere Tom Southall. Always have.
He calls out their names and their schools: Who’s up, who’s on deck. He calls out the measured jumps. They share the joy of special jumps and the frustration of a scratch.
From Grandview to Grand Junction, from Burlington to Battle Mountain, those state track athletes share a special affection for Tom Southall — a man who’s devoted a selfless career to teach and coach.
My favorite memory still is watching Southall play basketball.
I was sitting with a friend, a former Indiana high school standout who played college basketball at Evansville. He’d never seen Southall before and didn’t know of his prep highlights.
We watched the first half in the old Glenwood Springs High School gym. At halftime out in the hallway, my friend said he couldn’t believe the quickness and speed of that “Tommy Southall kid.”
And the hustle. The ball handling.
I didn’t say a word. Not a word.
It wasn’t until midway through the fourth quarter that my friend looked at me in amazement. He finally realized Tom Southall was totally unique; he had no right arm below his elbow. No right hand.
The basketball standout — the all-sport standout — had been born without his right hand and wrist.
Southall will be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame on July 2 in Reno, Nevada.
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