Tom Foster Biography – 2013 FCSHOF Inductee
His players affectionately called him Coach Tom. To everyone else, from 1960 through 1974, he was known as Coach Tom Foster, leader of the North Georgia powerhouse boys basketball teams from West Fannin High School.
During his 14 years as the head coach of the West Fannin boys basketball teams, Tom Foster’s teams won 256 games and lost only 111, a winning percentage of 70%. In recognition of this outstanding record, and his other athletic achievements, Tom Foster has been elected as a member of the 2013 inaugural class of the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame.
Foster is a native of Lenoir City, Tennessee, where his multi-sports talents earned him a place in the Lenoir City Sports Hall of Fame. He was elected to that group in 2005, the third member of his family to be so honored. His Uncle Henry and father Tom Foster Sr. were elected to the LCSHOF as charter inductees in 1970.
Tom Jr. played basketball, football and baseball during his high school days, excelling in each sport. He was named to the 1953 Knoxville Journal All-East Tennessee football team as an end and was also an All-State Honorable Mention selection. He was co-captain of the 1953-54 Lenoir City basketball team, leading that team to the District 11 Championship. Foster was a District all-tournament selection as the team earned a berth in the State Tournament.
Following high school, Foster was awarded a football scholarship to Mississippi State University of the SEC. He stayed there for one season before transferring to East Tennessee State University where he played end on the Buccaneer football teams for three seasons.
After graduation from college in 1958, Foster accepted an assistant coaching position at West Fannin. He and fellow Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame member, Raymond Montgomery, both joined the coaching staff at West Fannin in the fall of 1958. Foster was promoted to the position of Head Coach of the Yellow Jacket basketball team beginning with the 1960-61 season, and continued to serve as an assistant coach for the football squad through the 1964 season.
The basketball program at West Fannin had a history of mediocrity, but Tom Foster changed that immediately. His first team posted an impressive 21-9 record, finished as runners-up in the Region 3AA Tournament and advanced to the state tournament in Atlanta. It was the first state tournament appearance for the school and, although they were defeated in the first round, Foster’s team made a lasting impression on Atlanta fans and sportswriters. The Yellow Jackets fell behind eventual state champions Headland early in their game, but rallied behind senior co-captain T.J. Thompson before losing by a score of 63-60. Atlanta sportswriters were effusive in their praise of Foster and his team.
After the Headland game, in an interview with Charlie Roberts of the Atlanta Constitution, Foster was quoted as saying “we’ll be back”. Those words proved prophetic as the Yellow Jackets returned to the state tournament the following year and also came back on five more occasions during Foster’s career. His seven state tournament teams would lose out on the big stage by a total of 16 points in those seven elimination games. They lost out by three points on four occasions, by one point twice and once by 5 points. The Yellow Jackets were always very competitive at the state level showing that they indeed belonged in that rarefied atmosphere of play.
During his career at West Fannin, Tom Foster’s teams won eight sub-region championships and three region championships. While in region 3AA with the likes of Dalton, Rockmart and Murray County, the Jackets won the region tournament in 1962 and 1964. The 1972 team won the region 6A tournaments, by defeating powerful Murray County High two times in postseason play.
Murray County High of Chatsworth was the perennial power in North Georgia basketball circles before and during the Foster years at West Fannin. His teams faced Murray County on 32 occasions and won 19 of those encounters. Foster’s teams went 21-8 against arch rival Copper Basin, 7-1 against region football bully Rossville, 14-13 against Dalton and had a spotless 22-0 record against Gilmer County.
In asking his players and foes about the reasons for Foster’s coaching success, words such as ‘discipline’, ‘organization’, ‘conditioning’ and ‘dedication’ are often used. Foster always had the respect of his players and was able to get them to do what he wanted on the court. His teaching skills were unparalleled. Thirteen of his players went on to play collegiate basketball at some level.
He was also flexible and eager to learn new techniques and approaches to the game of basketball. Foster’s early teams were primarily a man-to-man team defensively and a run-and-gun team when they had possession of the ball. As the years went by, however, and perhaps as the skill-sets of the players evolved, he began to use more half-court offense and zone defense (primarily patterned after the 1-3-1 zone popularized by Ray Mears at Tennessee). But whatever approach he took to the Xs and Os of the game, Tom Foster always produced a winner. His fellow coaches elected him as region coach of the year on several occasions.
Foster was the ultimate team player himself. He was called upon to coach the West Fannin football team in 1967 and coached the Jacket girls basketball teams to winning records in 1965-66 and 1966-67. The gymnasium at the Fannin middle school is named in his honor.
Foster decided to retire from the coaching profession after the 1973-74 season and moved into the administrative area of the Fannin County school system. Tom Foster devoted his entire career of 36 years to Fannin County as a coach, teacher and administrator.
No man can devote his entire life to his work, however. Some of his players noticed Foster talking earnestly to one of his players named Wallace Pruitt one day at practice. What was said between the two is not known, but what is known that Coach Tom Foster soon met and convinced Pruitt’s sister, Joyce, to become Mrs. Tom Foster. The pair have been married for over 50 years. Joyce still refers to Coach Foster as ‘my special guy’.
Tom and Joyce Foster continue to reside in McCaysville, Georgia. They enjoy travel, church activities and gardening. Reportedly, Coach Tom has also been spotted on the golf course a time or two.
Tom Foster Bio Video at FCHS HOF Game
Tom Foster Banquet Video