Former Sailor star to be inducted into National High School Hall of Fame Saturday
Steamboat Springs — In his 34 years as head coach of the Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball program, Kelly Meek can’t think of any athlete more well-rounded or more deserving to be honored by the National High School Hall of Fame than Tom Southall.
“I arrived in Steamboat Springs in 1972, and he is still the best all-around athlete that I’ve ever seen come through the school,” the Sailors’ former head coach said, as he traveled through Utah Thursday on his way to the induction ceremony, which will take place Saturday at the Peppermill Resort in Reno, Nevada.
The Hall of Fame, which was started in 1982 by the National Federations of State High School Associations, recognizes high school athletes, coaches, contest officials and administrators.
Southall is one of 12 individuals who will be honored after a two-level selection process that included screenings by a committee comprised of active high school state association administrators, coaches and officials. A second group — composed of coaches, former athletes, state association officials, media representatives and educational leaders — made the final cut of the selection process.
“I’m very honored,” Southall said from Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday. The Steamboat Springs graduate was keeping track of goals scored in a power wheelchair game at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games — an organization he has been involved with for more than eight years. “It just hit me that I was going to be inducted last week, and, to tell the truth, it’s pretty overwhelming — it’s hard to grasp the magnitude of it.”
Southall said he was humbled by the selection, and, while he will be the one being honored Saturday, he said much of the credit belongs to Steamboat. He thanked his teammates, coaches, teachers and the community who came out and supported him, whether on a football field in the state championship in 1979; on the basketball court, where his team finished fourth in the state playoffs in 1981; or around the track, as Steamboat raced to consecutive team titles in 1979, 80 and 81. He was also selected as a member of the all-state band for his skills with a trumpet.
Since 1992, Southall has been a teacher and coach at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, but he remains a prep sports icon in Steamboat, where his successes on the field, court and track are still remembered by many.
His accomplishments earned him a spot in the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Sports Hall of Fame. He has earned many other individual honors, as well, including the Fred Stenmark Award as Colorado Male Student-Athlete of the Year in 1981; he was also named the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame High School Athlete of the Year in 1980.
After high school, Southall continued to excel in sports, running track and playing football at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where he led the nation in punt return yardage and set an NCAA Division III career mark for kickoff return yards. He also was track MVP all four years and set school records in the long jump, 200-meter dash and 4×100-meter relay. He was inducted into the Cherokee Trail High School’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Just looking at Southall’s list of accomplishments during his time at Steamboat Springs High School would amaze most people, but to learn he was born missing most of his right arm below the elbow, makes his accomplishments even more impressive.
Southall was twice named the football player of the year and helped lead his team to the 1979 Class 2A Colorado high school state title. He set the state’s single-game rushing record in 1979 by rolling for 412 yards in a single game and finishing the season with 2,184 yards. He rushed for 4,556 yard during his high school career.
But Southall’s story didn’t end on the football field.
On the basketball court, he was the team captain and set team records for steals and assists. He was part of the 1981 Sailors basketball team that placed fourth in the state playoffs.
In spring, Southall could be found on the track, where he set the state’s 2A long jump record in 1981 with a 23-foot, 4 1/2-inch effort. Today, his name can still be found on the records wall inside the high school.
“He might have been one of the greatest athletes this town has ever seen, and he was an even better person,” Meek said.
These days, Southall continues to set the bar high with his involvement in Paralympics as a coach, official and leader.
While Southall is honored to be included in the Class of 2016, he said his accomplishments are secondary to the experiences he had in high school and the friends he made while he was playing games, adding that many of the individual honors he received came about from being part of the special group of athletes who were students in Steamboat at the time.
“Every season, I would set goals,” Southall said. “I would work hard to make the football team, or I would work hard to make the basketball team or work hard to be the best at a track and field event. Every year, I entered the season with clear goals and just worked to accomplish them. I didn’t see myself as special. I was just an athlete trying to reach my goals.”
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