CLAIM TO FAME: Ricky Thomas broke barriers as a student, player and coach in Pasco County.
Growing up in Dade City in the days of segregation, Thomas dreamed of one day starring at halfback for old Mickens High, then the school for black students. But when integration came to east Pasco, Thomas' mother wanted her youngest child at Pasco High, then the school for white students.
"I wanted to go to Mickens High School because the football team was so good," Thomas said. "My mother said, "You're not going. You're going to Pasco High.' I cried and cried and begged and begged her not to send me, but to no avail."
Thus Thomas became one of the first black students to break the school's color barrier, on and off the field. In 1973, he ran for 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also played at Bethune-Cookman College.
Thomas became a coach in 1979, starting at Hernando High as a junior varsity football and basketball coach.
The local legend returned to Pasco County to coach football at Pasco and Weightman middle schools. He went 103-10.
In 1996 Thomas took the job of his dreams: varsity football coach at his alma mater, becoming the first black coach in the history of the county's namesake school. He is still the only black head coach in Pasco County after integration.
Thomas went 45-29 in his seven seasons at Pasco, which is tied for the longest tenure at the school. Thomas made the playoffs three times, reached the region semifinals and won district and conference titles before stepping down in 2002.
He said he won't return to coaching until his son, 4-year-old Ricky Jr., is old enough to help out at practice.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "He was the first black football coach at Pasco High School, that was a very exciting time," athletic director Willie Broner Jr. said. "The superintendent said he wanted the people at our schools to come back and make an impact on the kids that are here, to let them know there are careers in Dade City, like teaching and coaching."
DID YOU KNOW?: Thomas was a finalist for the Pasco coaching job seven years before he got it. The coach who did get it, Perry Brown, led the Pirates to a 1992 state championship.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?: Thomas lives in Wesley Chapel with his wife, Christina, and Ricky Jr. He teaches at Weightman Middle.
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "A lot of people sacrificed for me to have an opportunity, to be able to go to Pasco High, to be considered to be the first black football coach in this county. My advice to anybody would be to take advantage of your opportunities, because anything is possible. I'm a living witness to that."