Long-time Hope High School track and field coach Thom Spann announces his retirement
PROVIDENCE – Thom Spann stepped onto the top step of the podium on Saturday at Conley Stadium and looked down on a gathering of family and friends.
So many of his athletes at Hope High School and in the community have appreciated this vision throughout his coaching career. It seemed appropriate for Spann to give it a try on the day he announced his retirement.
Spann began coaching the Blue Wave athletic programs in 1983. His decorated career included dozens of state champions on the boys and girls side. As one of the driving forces behind the Providence Cobras club program, Spann’s reach extends throughout the metro area and into the elementary school ranks.
“I got out there to help kids,” Spann said. “Improve their quality of life, expose them to a sport they wouldn’t normally be exposed to, help them take it to the next level.
“I always used to say to my kids, ‘Use the track to go to college. Don’t get distracted by your friends and whatever is going on. Helping the kids has always been my number one goal. .
Spann took his own advice over four decades ago, and that’s what he ended up calling Rhode Island home. The Brooklyn native was recruited by the University of Rhode Island as an athlete in two sports. Spann was a four-year letterter on the track and field, playing both the wide catcher and the punt returner on the football field.
Spann graduated with the Rams, then went to work with the City of Providence – he will also be stepping down from his current role as director of the Vincent Brown Recreation Center. His niche in the community has earned him numerous personal honors and Hall of Fame inductions. The URI, the Providence Recreation Department, the RI Track Coaches Association and the RI Interscholastic League are among the organizations that have dedicated it.
“You certainly can’t sum up a man like Thom Spann and his legacy in a word or two,” said Tom Marcello, deputy executive director of RIIL. “It’s less words and more action.
Hope won eight state team titles during Spann’s tenure. The Blue Wave boys won the indoor and outdoor crowns in 1990 and 1992. The Hope girls scored the same indoor-outdoor double in 1992 and 1997. A quick review of Saturday’s state competition shows that the Former Blue Wave athletes still hold nine state competition records.
“What he represents to the community, even outside of athletics, is unusual,” said Rick Marshall, co-founder of the RI Track and Field Foundation. “He was separate and above so many people.”
Spann partnered with Kevin Jackson to build the Cobras into a local and regional powerhouse. The late Robert Howard, a native of Pawtucket and a former student, was a two-time Olympian in 1996 and 2000. Sophia Gorriaran could be next, as 16-year-old star Moses Brown competed in the 800-meters at the US Olympic trials last week. .
“I will always coach young people from the city of Providence and the surrounding area,” said Spann. “I just retired from Hope High School. I am retiring. I don’t see being a coach as a job.
“But when you have a head coach title, you have to be there. I have a few young coaches that I raised behind me who are ready to step in and take over.
Howard’s first trip to the Olympics as a triple jumper coincided with the event in Atlanta. The Torch Relay passed through all 50 states and Spann was one of the lucky few to get his hands on one of the most famous symbols in world athletics. He took the last steps to a cauldron at the State House and lit the Rhode Island Flame.
“I told them this was my Final Four, my World Series, my all-in-one championship,” said Spann. “It was fantastic.”
Spann is more likely to be found on a bike these days, a small concession to what a lifetime’s worth of miles on his feet has done to his hips, knees, and ankles. He traveled 45 miles on the morning of the state meet and still looked as fresh as a daisy on a scorching scorching afternoon. Spann was given a new Trek road bike as a retirement gift – a change in his employment status is not likely to change his lifestyle.
“I learned early on what effects a trainer could have on a teenager,” said Spann. “I wanted to do this for these kids.”
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