As a LIFELONG sports fan, Thomas King of Vancouver, Washington, has a diverse interest in sports like football, tennis, golf, volleyball, and the National Cornhole Championship, to name a few. His knowledge is vast, and his experiences are many. Whether explaining the tennis scoring system to a friend, talking to his mom about The Masters, or devouring the sports statistics from the weekend newspaper, this LIFELONG sports fan adds to the memories he takes with him through life.

Tom’s love of sports began in the early 1970s when his family moved from Connecticut to Charlottesville, Virginia; Tom was in 1st grade at the time. Two of his biggest sports influences were his older sister Kathleen and growing up in Charlottesville, considered a small college town back then.

When it came to sports, Kathleen did everything with Tom, like tossing Frisbees, shooting hoops, or throwing a ball around in the yard. Tom said, “Family and sports – that’s what we did. We had fun together. Like church – it was a fundamental thing about growing up.”

In Charlottesville – sports were everywhere. Everything revolved around the University of Virginia (UVA), Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) basketball, and UVA athletics.

When Tom was in middle school, the ACC consisted of seven teams, which meant UVA was automatically in the quarterfinals. The tournament started on a Friday, with games at 10 am, 12 noon, 4 pm, and 6 pm. Many kids skipped school or were picked up to watch the tournament, never to go back to school that day.

Tom was one of those kids – his dad picked him up from school and took him to the country club where his parents belonged to watch the tournament on a wide-screen television. They’d watch games on Friday, the semifinals on Saturday, and the championship on Sunday. It’s what they did. Watching the tournament with his dad brings back some of his fondest memories.

In 1976, the UVA men’s basketball team was the No. 6 seed in the seven-team ACC tournament. Despite their ranking, the Virginia Cavaliers fought through several rounds to beat three nationally-ranked teams to win the ACC basketball championship for the first time. The Cavaliers made history in what was dubbed the “Miracle in Landover.”

“That was a big deal back then. I remember my dad coming through the back door with ACC championship t-shirts for all of us,” said Tom. To this day, Tom still has the orange t-shirt and follows the Cavaliers like a true fan.

Tom wasn’t just a spectator of sports in Charlottesville; he was also an athlete. He ran cross country and indoor and outdoor track in high school. His favorite race was the 2-mile run, which was right before the last race, the 4×100 relay.

Because of sports, Tom felt fortunate. Sports and being an athlete allowed him to have friends he would have never had. And in sports, your teammates cheered you on and looked out for you. He felt part of something, and his years in high school were some of his happiest.

His favorite sports are football (No. 1) and tennis (No.2), followed by others like horse racing and basketball. His family inspired his love of football. Sports like tennis and horse racing were passions he developed on his own.

On Sundays, the King family went to mass, came home, got a fire going, and watched football together as a family – that’s what they did. Everyone watched together, even if they had no interest in football.

On Mondays, the NFL was the talk at school between Tom and his friends. Although the Washington Commanders (formally the Washington Redskins) were the closest team to Charlottesville, most kids were Pittsburgh Steelers fans because they were so good. Not Tom – he was a Denver Broncos fan, influenced by his sister Kathleen.

Tom vividly remembers Kathleen saying that being a Broncos fan would be easy because they share the same colors as his beloved Virginia Cavaliers, orange and blue.

Tom finds the energy, nostalgia, and underdog some of the reasons he loves sports, but the relationships are what truly inspire him. His LIFELONG love of sports began because of his relationships, and through sports, he established and grew relationships of his own.

Sports have an intrinsic value, providing opportunities to get together with people, have fun, and have new experiences. Over 15 years ago, Tom met his now-husband, Mario. Through Tom, Mario experienced several sports firsts himself: his first NFL game (Rams vs. the Washington Commanders (then Redskins)) at the Los Angeles Coliseum; his first professional basketball game (LA Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers); and his first professional tennis event at the BNP Paribas Open (or the Indian Wells Open) played in Indian Wells, California, watching Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stevens – memories to add to their experiences in life together.

Tom began following tennis as a kid in Charlottesville. He played matches with his friends, running back and forth from home to the courts during steamy Charlottesville summers. Coincidentally, Martina Navratilova, a tennis legend, lived on his street, passing by in her car from time to time.

Tom watched tournaments, studied the game, and became a true tennis buff. His favorite player, Lindsay Davenport, won numerous tennis tournaments, was ranked singles world #1 for 98 weeks, and according to Tom, demonstrated exceptional sportsmanship.

Ojai, a quaint California town in Ventura County, is home to stunning views, shops and restaurants, arts and culture, and the Ojai Tennis Tournament (The Ojai). As Mario and Tom explored Ventura, Mario took Tom to the stadium at The Ojai. Mario recalled how Tom thought The Ojai would be some rinky-dink stadium until they discovered Lindsay Davenport on The Ojai Wall of Fame, which elevated The Ojai in Tom’s mind to a new level. A funny anecdote told by Mario demonstrates another shared memory through the world of sports.

Perhaps a new edition of Six Degrees of Lindsay Davenport is called for as Tom and Mario find connections with her on their travels. Not only was Lindsay an Ojai junior winner and Wall of Fame member, but Indian Wells was where she won two titles and made it to the finals there more than any other female player. Where will they find a connection with Lindsay next?

Tom went to St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA, where the motto is “The Hawk will never die.” And that’s where I met Tom – at St. Joe’s.

He chose St. Joe’s, following advice from his sister Kathleen. She told Tom to pick a school with a good basketball team because nothing is better than walking across campus to watch a basketball game when trapped inside on dark, cold winter days.

When Tom was a junior in high school, St. Joe’s was in the elite eight, meeting two of his requirements: a pretty good basketball team and a Jesuit school.

At St. Joe’s, Tom watched the Philadelphia Big Five play at the Palestra, located at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). He has distinct memories of taking cab rides with friends to watch St. Joe’s, Temple, LaSalle, Penn, or Villanova play in the historic arena. The Palestra was where rivals played exciting basketball, pounding the courts as they continued a Philadelphia tradition. Tom said it’s like going to Fenway – the same experience.

Horse racing and sports statistics are two of Tom’s passions. He can tell you the Kentucky Derby winners for the last four years, and I bet if he tried, he could name winners from The Preakness and The Belmont Stakes without breaking a sweat.

“And down the stretch, they come!” Tom considers the best six words in sports. While not said much anymore, these words remind him of his long-time friend, Connie, from the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. For over 20+ years, during the Kentucky Derby, Tom asks Connie what the best six words in sports are. This year marks the first time she got it right, proving this annual tradition Tom cherishes surprising just like the Derby winner.

The Preakness Stakes is one of the oldest horse races in America, beginning in 1873 with its first race at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. Steeped with history and tradition, the Preakness is called The Second Jewel of the Triple Crown, held on the third Saturday in May, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby.

In the 1990s, Tom and his Uncle Tom began an annual tradition of going to the Preakness Races. Their ritual started on Friday, watching the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. Come Saturday, Tom and his Uncle watched a series of early races before the main event, the Preakness Stakes, later in the day.

In total, they went to at least eight Preakness Races together. Tom vividly remembers these special moments, describing them as incredible memories especially given that his Uncle passed away in 2007.

Athletes require discipline and dedication to be the best at their sport, which Tom marvels at, inspired by their hard work and commitment. The challenges and obstacles some have overcome are rather incredible, let alone inspirational.

When Tom was doing post-graduate work at Notre Dame, he vowed to attend every sporting event, taking advantage of the fact that some of the top athletes in the country competed there. He attended popular sports like football, basketball, and soccer, but those with a smaller following, like fencing and women’s softball, captured his curiosity and interest.

Tom found fencing fascinating, specifically how the scoring system worked. Fencing was a co-ed sport at Notre Dame. The team was good, yet they did not get the same attention as other sports despite winning the national championship during Tom’s tenure there. Championing these athletes gave Tom a sense of pride and reminded him of the feeling of being part of something.

Tom proves through one example after another how sports allowed him to engage with others, create new friendships, and

WSU vs UCLA 2019

become part of different communities. His husband Mario, however, is not a sports enthusiast like him, yet Tom finds ways to create traditions and experiences with him through sports.

Mario’s first sports memory with Tom was a conversation they had when hiking early in their relationship in 2007. Mario remembers Tom mentioning that the quarterback from his alma mater, the University of Hawaiʻi (UH), Colt Brennan (who passed away in 2021), was nominated for the Heisman Trophy that year. Although Mario didn’t follow UH football, he recalled that memory quickly, clearly holding it fondly.

And to this day, Tom keeps tabs on Mario’s favorite sport and teams: the UH Rainbow Warrior and Rainbow Wahine volleyball teams. Mario’s a huge fan, and Tom’s grown to love the sport too. Tom keeps Mario up to date on team news and upcoming games they can watch together. Something Tom does for Mario and experiences they share together.

These are just some of the many stories and experiences that Tom told me. Sports influenced his life in many positive ways: cherished memories, the feeling of pride, and the determination to never give up. He takes the benefits from sports and applies them in his life. He creates comradery and communities through teamwork and dedication, where individuals feel special and part of something.

For Tom, memories are not just things of the past; they are opportunities to make the most of the present and the future. So please join me in celebrating this LIFELONG sports fan, who continues to build onto the string of experiences in life for himself and others around him.

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