Tom Southall has been a key figure in Aurora track & field for many years as a coach, but his exploits as a prep athlete at Steamboat Springs High School have landed him a prestigious spot in the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Hall of Fame.
Southall — who now teaches and coaches at Cherokee Trail — is part of the 12-member 2016 Hall of Fame class that includes a wide swatch of athletes, coaches, officials and administrators from across the country.
The NFHS Hall of Fame — started in 1982 to “honor high school athletes, coaches, contest officials, administrators, performing arts coaches/directors and others for their extraordinary achievements and accomplishments in high school sports and performing arts programs” — will add Southall and the rest of its 34th induction class to close its 97th annual Summer Meeting on July 2 at the Peppermill Resort in Reno, Nevada.
“It was nice of them to remember when I was up in Steamboat and for it to come to fruition like this, holy cow!” Southall told the Sentinel hours after the announcement.
In a press release, the NFHS lauded Southall — who was born without his right hand and wrist — for his performances in football, basketball, track & field and music at Steamboat Springs between 1979 and 1981. He was winner of the coveted Fred Steinmark Award, twice won Colorado player of the year honors in football and led the Sailors to the Class 2A state title in 1979, while he helped the school’s track team to three straight titles and set the 2A state long jump record with a leap of 23 feet, 4 1/2 inches in 1981.
Southall thought back fondly on his time as a prep athlete at Steamboat Springs — which had just around 400 students at the time — and has a different appreciation for it now that he is immersed in the coaching ranks.
“We had some really great coaches and then for a small community like that, we had some really tough kids and good athletes,” Southall said. “We had a perfect storm of coaches, athletes and community support.
“We had local kids and then every year for about six years, we had somebody move in that added either speed or some other element in track or football or basketball. It was a perfect melding of the elements you need to have a strong athletic presence in the state.”
Southall’s talents didn’t lie completely on the athletic field, however, as he also played trumpet and flugelhorn. He was in the band, but avoided marching at halftime of football games because he was playing. He said his siblings had more of the artistic talents.
“One of the advantages of being at a smaller school is that everybody has to pitch in different areas to make things work,” said Southall, who is a big believer in athletes playing more than just one sport if possible.
Following his successful high school athletic career, Southall went on to play football at Colorado College and led the nation in punt return yardage, while he was also the Tigers’ four-time MVP on the track.
According to the Colorado High School Activities Association, Southall will be the 22nd Colorado member of the NFHS Hall of Fame and the eighth from the state to be inducted as an athlete.
He was flattered to be included among the state’s athlete inductees, a group that includes Chauncey Billups of George Washington, Tracy Hill of Ridgeway and others.
Southall is a regular official at the state track & field meet working the long jump and he also works closely with paralympic athletes.The NFHS Hall of Fame class also includes some notables, including former NFL player and longtime NCAA football coach Steve Spurrier as well as Marlin Briscoe, who played quarterback for the Denver Broncos franchise in 1968 in the AFL.
After spending the last week of June in Salt Lake City helping out with the 36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games, Southall will head to Reno for a press conference on July 1. The NFHS induction ceremony is the following day.
“It’ll be great and hopefully we make a little bit of a family vacation out of it,” said Southall, who hopes to have wife Shannon and his two sons along with him for the ceremony.
— Sports Editor Courtney Oakes