Eaglecrest High School track coach Tom Southall will be inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in April 2019. His fellow inductees are no less than swimmer and Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, skier and Olympic silver medalist Todd Lodwick, former Thomas Jefferson High School, CU and Broncos football player Daniel Graham, area wrestling coach Bob Smith and longtime Colorado School of Mines coach and administrator Marvin Kay.
“It’s very humbling to be included in that kind of company,” Southall said modestly.
Since 1965, the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame has recognized some 250 men and women who merit recognition for their accomplishments and leadership in sports and athletic endeavors in Colorado. Southall might seem like an unlikely candidate to be in the company of Olympians and Super Bowl champions, until you realize just how remarkable his accomplishments are.
Due to a congenital birth defect, Southall was born without his right forearm and hand. He was fitted with a prosthetic hook, but gave it up in third grade. He grew up in Steamboat Springs in a very active, very athletic family.
“My parents and my grandma and my siblings were all involved in theater and singing and athletics,” Southall recalls. He learned to play the trumpet and was a member of the marching band. “It was kind of a family expectation that you’d be involved in school and do well in school,” he added. “I grew up watching my older brother Richard play high school sports and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
And so he did. Southall ran track and played both football and basketball, so well, in fact, that he earned 11 athletic letters, was named Colorado High School Athlete of the Year in 1980 and was inducted into the Colorado High School Hall of Fame in 1999. He went on to become a nationally ranked, Division III collegiate athlete, participating in football and track at Colorado College. Enjoy this video about his outstanding high school and collegiate accomplishments.
After earning a business degree at Colorado College, Southall went on to the University of Denver where he earned a master’s degree in accounting. While at DU, he worked as a teaching assistant and discovered that he enjoyed working with students. After he got a job as an accountant, he taught Junior Achievement courses and started coaching little league teams. Five years into his accounting career, he decided to change course. He earned his teaching certification and in 1992, he began a 27-year career (so far) as an educator and coach. He spent 14 years at Eaglecrest High School, then 12 years at Cherokee Trail, before returning to EHS this year. He loves working with young people at such an important time in their lives.
“High school students and athletes are figuring out how good they can be and they start having long-term goals of getting a job or going to college or just becoming contributing members of the community,” Southall said.
Because of his own experiences, Southall is uniquely qualified to help his students achieve excellence in both academics and athletics, as well as helping them cope with adversity or issues such as exclusion or bullying.
“I was bullied, called ‘Captain Hook’ or the ‘one-armed bandit,’” he recalls. “I try to share that and encourage my students to be accepting of other people. I tell them to put themselves in somebody else’s skin and try to relate to things that may be going on in somebody else’s life.”
Southall also tries to show his students that they too, can overcome any challenges they may face.
“I tell them that I definitely didn’t learn how to catch a football or shoot a basketball or play the trumpet or type on the keyboard without a lot of practice and that they need to try to incorporate perseverance and grit into all aspects of their lives, whether it’s family or academics or athletics,” he said. “That’s part of what makes somebody grow… not giving up on themselves when things get a little frustrating or difficult.”
“He shows us what you can do with hard work,” said Eaglecrest junior Linken Witner, a student in Southall’s Accounting II class. “He worked hard and he was able to achieve things that some people who are two-handed can’t even achieve. He’s definitely inspirational.”
In addition to teaching and coaching track and field at EHS and CTHS, Southall has coached football, girls’ basketball and middle school track. He’s also done a lot of work with Paralympic and Special Olympic athletes, as well as Wounded Warriors and the Veterans Administration, coaching injured veterans as part of their rehabilitation process.
Army veteran Jeff Johnson, who sustained multiple injuries while in the service, has worked with Southall for the past six years. He says Southall’s guidance and support has been instrumental in his recovery. It has helped him regain the love of sport he felt as a collegiate athlete and enabled him to earn multiple gold, silver and bronze medals in state, regional and national competitions for disabled athletes.
“It was great to get back in the saddle, get back on mission, get back on focus,” Johnson said, giving Southall much of the credit for his accomplishments. “He has a lot of patience and a lot of understanding of the population he’s serving.”
Southall says he loves working with athletes like Johnson and seeing them gain strength, skill and confidence.
“They begin to look forward to coming to practice and seeing the improvement they are capable of achieving,” he said.
Whether he’s in the classroom teaching accounting principles to high school students, on the track working with sprinters or high jumpers, or standing beside disabled athletes or injured veterans helping them discover a new way to play or compete, Southall wants to make sure they all know one thing: “I’m invested in their success. That’s my passion and why I continue to teach and coach.”