TJ Thompson Biography – 2013 FCSHOF Inductee
TJ Thompson was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of Fannin County and the Copper Basin area. His hardwood wizardry has earned him a place in the 2013 inaugural class of inductees into the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame.
T.J. Thompson was something of a basketball and baseball prodigy growing up in McCaysville, Georgia. He entered West Fannin High School as a freshman in the fall of 1957. When he arrived, he found a basketball program suffering from growing pains.
The school opened in 1955 and began competing in high school basketball competition during the 1955-56 season. West Fannin basketball teams would not have an on-campus home of their own for 4 and one-half years. It was not until the middle of the 1959-60 season, January 22, 1960 to be exact, that a West Fannin basketball team was able to face an opponent in a gymnasium that they could call home. Until that time, ‘home’ games were played in one of the elementary school gyms in the county (Epworth, Blue Ridge or McCaysville).
Finding an effective head coach was another challenge at West Fannin during the early years. The school had 5 different head coaches during the first 6 years of competition. T J Thompson had a different head coach each season that he played basketball for the Yellow Jackets. Thompson credits Phillip Seymour, who was the coach for Thompson’s junior season in 1959-60 for laying the foundation for the future success of basketball at West Fannin.
Seymour had been a better than average player at Berry College in Rome during the late 40s and had been the head coach at Cass High School for eight years before coming north to Fannin County. His Cass teams had won two state championships, so he obviously knew how to run a program. Thompson feels that Seymour was a good teacher who was the first to establish a program of summer workouts at the school. One of Seymour’s most important contributions was teaching his players how to move without the ball, creating more scoring opportunities.
Seymour moved on after one year at West Fannin and was replaced by Tom Foster. Foster continued to build on Seymour’s foundation and led the school to 14 years of success at the highest level of high school competition.
During T J’s junior year, he led the team to a 14-7 record while averaging about 12 points per game. It was his senior year of 1960-61, however, that T J Thompson enjoyed the kind of season that most players can only dream about.
Thompson was elected as a co-captain of the 1960-61 team. He averaged 22 points per game and led West Fannin to a 21-9 record. Along the way, he was named to the Rossville Shootout All-Tournament team, the Region 3AA All-Tournament team and the State AA All-Tournament team. Obviously, that means that he led his team to the class AA state tournament in 1961, the first time that a West Fannin team ever advanced that far. Only one boys team, the 1942-43 Blue Ridge High School Class C team, had ever appeared in a state tournament.
West Fannin was defeated 63-60 in the first round of the 1961 tournament by Headland High, the eventual state champion. Thompson’s performance got rave reviews from the Atlanta sports writers who referred to him as ‘completely sensational’ and ‘as great as they come’. T J scored 18 points in the Headland game in a memorable performance. Other highlights of his senior season included a 30-point, 30-rebound performance against Copper Basin, a 29-point outburst at Rossville, and a 25-point barrage against East Rome in the 3AA tournament at Cedartown.
In recognition of his stellar season, the Atlanta Tip-Off Club named T J as the outstanding Class AA player in the state for 1960-61.
After high school, Thompson continued his basketball career at Truett-McConnell Junior College and then at Lagrange College. He continued to perform at a high level, averaging close to 30 points per game at Truett-McConnell and 15 points and 10 rebounds per game in his senior season at Lagrange. Thompson received the Team MVP Trophy for the 1964-65 season. He was also elected as permanent captain of the 1964-65 Lagrange team and was named to the All-GIAC team.
After college, Thompson returned to Fannin County where he joined Tom Foster on the coaching staff at West Fannin. He remained there in various coaching positions until the school closed in 1976. He also reintroduced a baseball program at the school in 1968-69. While at West Fannin, he met fellow teacher Kathy Curtacci. They have been married for 40 years.
After West Fannin High closed in 1976, Thompson remained at West Fannin Middle School until his retirement from the school system in 1996. He and his wife continue to make their home in Fannin County.