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Original Issue

Been There, Done That Bea Thomas, 86, is in her 63rd year as a coach

After field hockey practice one recent evening at Moorestown
(N.J.) High, three teenage girls laden with backpacks and
equipment bags headed for the parking lot. One of them stopped
and shouted through the crisp twilight, "Hey, Mrs. T, we're
going for pizza. You wanna come?"

Mrs. T is Bea Thomas, Moorestown's beloved field hockey
goaltender coach, who has been mentoring high school athletes in
southern New Jersey for 63 years. In nearly five decades as the
freshman coach or a varsity assistant, the 86-year-old Thomas
has helped build a powerhouse field hockey program. The Quakers
have won 11 state championships in the last 22 years and have
lost just one Burlington Scholastic Athletic League title since

In July the U.S. Field Hockey Association named Thomas the
Developmental Coach of the Year. It was about time the rest of
the country caught up with this south Jersey legend. Thomas, who
taught physical education before she "retired" in 1976, began
playing intramurals at Temple in the 1930s. In those days there
were no women's interscholastic teams, but, says Thomas, "I knew
I wanted to be an athlete when I was young."

She first picked up a field hockey stick as a college freshman,
and by the time she graduated in 1933, was playing fullback and
goalie on club teams in the Philadelphia Field Hockey
Association. Two years later she took a job teaching and
coaching high school basketball, tennis, softball, swimming and
field hockey in Palmyra, N.J. After 10 years there and a few
years off to raise a son and daughter with her late husband,
Albert, Thomas began coaching and teaching at Moorestown in 1949.

She spent much of her storied coaching career ("I've had lots of
undefeated teams--don't even ask how many," she says) as one of
the country's top players as well, playing goalie on a club team
chosen to represent the U.S. on a tournament swing through
England, Scotland, Wales and Holland in 1953. In '64, at age 51,
she was named a field hockey All-America. Through it all, Thomas
stuck with the freshmen because she most enjoyed working with
younger players.

Despite a creaky knee that keeps her from running as much as she
used to, Thomas still barks, points and prods her way through
practices and games every day. Her current troops say she's best
at making field hockey fun. When Mrs. T is letting the girls
spike her hair at a team sleepover, singing silly songs at
parties and on bus rides, it's easy to forget she's the
octogenarian in the bunch.

On the sidelines Thomas constantly hollers "Sisu! Sisu!" at her
charges. "It's the Finnish word for 'spirit, determination,
fight, perseverance,' all that kind of stuff," she says. "It's
important that they learn those things from sports."

After 70 years on the field, Mrs. T should know.

COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE TIEDEMANNRole Model Thomas has even let her players spike her hair. [Bea Thomas talking to field hockey player]