Nyack High School
Class of 1971
Nyack High School’s lengthy list of talented athletes stretches throughout most of the 20th century and well into the 21st. On the Indians’ athletic timeline, the late 1960s was an especially fruitful period, yielding a bounty of multi-sport stars. Thomas “Tom” Sanders was one of them, taking his place in Nyack sports lore for his prowess as a speedy tailback and defensive back in football, a long jumper and relay lead-off man in track, and starter on the basketball team. Over his four-year career from the fall of 1967 to the spring of 1971, Thomas won an impressive 11 varsity letters, four each in football and track and three in basketball.
In football, Thomas, who also went by the nickname “Ceno,” started all four years at running back, and was the only freshman to make the varsity team in 1967. After nabbing an honorable mention berth on the All-County team as a frosh, Thomas made first team All-County running back in 1969 and 1970, and second team defensive back in 1969. Anchored by Thomas and a bevy of other skilled players, including Rockland Hall of Famers Dale Lydecker and Bob Corvino, Nyack captured three straight RCPSAL championships in 1967, 1968 and 1969. The 1968 unit was undefeated at 8-0 and voted the Rockland County High School Football Team of the Decade by the Bergen Record.
In his junior year in the fall of 1969, Thomas, a 5-foot-6, 155-lb. dynamo, led the PSAL in rushing with 625 yards and scoring with 68 points. That same year he was voted to the first team Daily News All-Stars, All-Metropolitan Team, and as a sophomore he was twice chosen as the WRKL Outstanding Offensive Player of the Week, back when the local radio station aired Saturday games and gave extensive coverage to Rockland’s scholastic sports scene.
The plays that bring back fondest gridiron memories for Thomas include his long punt return for a TD against Suffern; quarterback Dale Lydecker’s game-winning TD against Clarkstown on a keeper play after faking an up-the-middle handoff to fullback Donald Cooper (“Clarkstown had bottled me up all game”); and Thomas’s TD jaunt off a screen pass in a season opener at Nanuet. John Beake was head coach in Thomas’s freshman year, while Paul Lankau assumed the reins thereafter. Assistant coaches included Al Cann, Hall of Famer Mike Longuil, Gene Hassan, Max Rigsbee and Bud Springer. Teammates included Thomas’s older brother Isaac, Leroy Taylor, Greg D’Auria, Stephen Swann, Bob Eubanks, Donald Cooper, Dale Lydecker, Bob Corvino and George Askew.
In track, Thomas was the long jump gold medalist at the 1968 Rockland County championship meet with a creditable distance of 20 feet 3 ¾ inches. He also ran the lead-off leg on the Indians’ record-setting 880-yard relay team (1:31.2) at the 1968 State Qualifier meet. Jerry Jackson, Thomas Washington and Sheldon Hudson followed Thomas on the relay, which also excelled at the 440-yard distance. Tom made All-County twice in the long jump and achieved a third-place finish at the Hudson Valley Relays, one of the premier invitational meets in the region during that era.
At the Nyack Jaycees meet, an open competition in the summer that attracted some of the top track talent in the area, Thomas teamed with Hudson, Washington and Clarkstown’s Buster Keyes (a fellow Rockland Hall of Famer) to establish a meet record for both the high school and open divisions. In another edition of the Jaycees meet, he collaborated with Nanuet’s Frank Bria, teammate Noah White and the late Fred Hodges of Nanuet to eclipse the 880-yard relay meet record. Thomas enjoyed countless good times on the track with teammates Hudson, Jackson, Washington, his brother Isaac, Track Hall of Famer Jim “Butch” Pugh, Noah White and Robert Smith.
In basketball, under the direction of Coach Ed Matott, Thomas played a role in Nyack’s Section 9 Class B championship season in 1968-69. Thomas remembers the team losing only two games all season and both were to PSAL champion Clarkstown. Nyack’s team was led by Jim Mack, and other contributors during Thomas’s varsity years included Arthur Fleetwood, Emil Schwab, Calvin McCourty (whose sons, Devin and Jason, are defensive backfield stars in the NFL), Craig Dickerson, Harold Carter, Paul White, and Lonnie and George Leonard.
At the conclusion of his high school career Thomas was recognized with the Legion of Honor award for leadership by Nyack High School.
Thomas enrolled at Jackson State University in Mississippi, where he was met by future NFL Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton and his brother, Eddie. Concerns about adequate playing time prompted Thomas to transfer to Tougaloo College, a historically black institution in Mississippi. While at Tougaloo, an NAIA school, Thomas competed on the track team and wound up making the All-League squad in an event with which he had no previous experience, the triple jump, bounding out to an excellent mark of 49 feet, one-quarter inch.
After graduating from Tougaloo with a Bachelor of Science degree in health and physical education, Thomas served for 21 years active duty in the U.S. Army as a preventative medicine non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the Army medical corps, retiring with the rank of sergeant first class. He also served as master fitness NCO instructor. Thomas later worked for the Department of Defense as a behavioral health professional, and received certification as a full-service sanitarian while in the military, certified to conduct inspections of commercial establishments.
Thomas’s military responsibilities took him all over the world, to places such as Frankfurt, Germany; El Gorha, Egypt; Honduras; Bosnia; Bolivia; and Peru. He was stationed variously at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Eustis, Virginia; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Fort Stuart, Georgia. Among the many military awards he received were the Meritorious Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal for numerous deployments to Central America, the Middle East and Europe. He also earned a Joint Service Commendation Medal, three Army Commendation Medals, six Army Achievement Medals, six Good Conduct Medals, an Armed Forces Service Medal, Non-Commissioned Officers Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Rifle Sharpshooters Badge, Mechanic Badge with Driver Wheel Bar, and several other honors.
Thomas lives in Killeen, Texas, just outside of Fort Hood. His youngest daughter, Shanequa, 26, lives with him. He has another daughter, Keona Nicole, 32, and a son, Meredith, 31, as well as an adopted son, Donnie Austin, 33. Thomas, who is 66, comes from a large Nyack family that included his late father, Robert; his mother, Frankie Sanders, now the assistant pastor emeritus at Faith Temple Church in Spring Valley; older brothers Martin and Isaac of Spring Valley; younger brothers Joe of Jefferson City, Missouri, and Leo of the Bronx; and sisters Lilly Archer of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Frankie and Dorothy Sanders, both of Nyack.