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Thornton LaMarr Thomas, who starred on the football field and basketball court, dies at 70

Thornton has produced more than its share of dominant two-sport athletes. LaMarr Thomas ranks near the top of the list.

Thomas, a 1966 Thornton graduate who starred in football and basketball, died Wednesday at age 70. He is survived by his wife, Christine.

Thomas had been battling cancer in recent years.

It was one of the few battles Thomas, who was 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds in high school, didn’t win.

Thomas started at running back and safety on the 1966 football team that finished 9-0. His combination of speed, power and elusiveness made him an impact player on both sides of the ball, according to his teammate, Ray Jakubiak.

“LaMarr was like a ghost,” Jakubiak said. “Now you’d see him and get ready to tackle him and then he was gone. He was tremendous. A leader by example. He was so strong and fast.”

Those traits catapulted Thomas to greatness on the basketball court, too.

Joe Banasiak, a two-way lineman on the football team, last saw Thomas on March 31.

“LaMarr carried himself like a champion and a winner until the very end,” Banasiak said. “A standup guy, an amazing athlete and a wholesome human being. A class act. As an athlete, you better bring your ‘A’ game against LaMarr. He’d run you over and you would never catch him.”

A day after Thornton beat Galesburg 74-60 in the basketball state title game, a pep rally was held in the school gym.

Banasiak recalled the moment the crowd erupted.

“LaMarr got up to speak and he said four words, ‘It feels so good,’” Banasiak said with a big laugh. “The place went wild.”

Thomas played football at Michigan State. A knee injury his sophomore season ended his career.

What never ended, however, was his love for Thornton.

“LaMarr inspired everybody to be a better than what they were,” Banasiak said. “He was so well liked and respected.”

Thomas was a founding member of the Thornton Alumni Legacy Fund which, according to its website, was formed to “create and sustain the school’s legacy and provide opportunities for students equal to the best public school districts in the state and country.”

David McAley was a teammate of Thomas’s on Thornton’s football team. He said Thomas’s impact on the Harvey school will live on for years.

“LaMarr devoted so much time and helped raise thousands of dollars for the Thornton Alumni Legacy Fund,” McAley said. “Like all of us, he took great pride in being a Thornton graduate. A humble guy. He was an incredible athlete who never put himself above any teammates. He was gracious.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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