Fred Thomas was a groundbreaking multisport professional athlete who is best known today as one of Canada’s finest ever basketball players. He was an original inductee into the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame.
Thomas was born in Windsor on Boxing Day of 1923. He was the second oldest of eight children.
In his youth, Thomas’ early sports career owed much to “Matches” Jones and Ed Dawson. He attended J. C. Patterson Collegiate Institute, a downtown secondary school, where he competed in several sports. In track and field, Thomas entered the hurdles, high jump, sprints, and long and triple jumps. The finest memory of his school days was a victory over Ottawa Glebe Collegiate at Hart House in Toronto that brought the All-Ontario Basketball Title to Patterson.
Thomas starred for the Assumption College men’s basketball team, which he led to the Canadian Senior Men’s Finals in 1949, his senior year. Assumption fell at the final hurdle to Vancouver. On February 23, 1945, at Kennedy Collegiate, he played a sensational game to lead his Assumption College squad to a 49-45 victory over the Harlem Globetrotters. “His performance was amazing and the most amazed were the confused Globetrotters,” read the Windsor Star’s match report. Over the course of his sparkling four-year basketball career at Assumption, Thomas scored an astounding 2,059 points between 1945 and ’49. At the time, Thomas placed third in the NCAA record books. He remains the only Assumption College or University of Windsor player to score 2,000 points.
Thomas went on to play professional basketball with the famed Harlem Globetrotters, the same club he helped Assumption College so memorably defeat. He also played for the Toronto Tri-Bells, Canadian Senior Men’s Basketball Champions.
In 1950, the Canadian Press conducted a poll to determine Canada’s finest basketball player of the first half of the century. Thomas finished second to British Columbia’s Norm Baker.
Two years earlier, in 1948, Thomas debuted in right field for the Wilkes-Barre Barons, a minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. Little more than a year after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s colour barrier, Thomas became the first black player to see the field in the professional Eastern League. It was the Fourth of July.
Thomas also suited up for Kitchener and Waterloo in Ontario’s Intercounty Baseball League. With the Kitchener Panthers, Thomas won the league batting championship in 1951 with a .383 average. He also has one IBL MVP award to his name. In 1951, playing for Kitchener Panthers, Thomas was the League Batting Champion with a .383 average.
Thomas also played fastball for the Windsor Jets and Toronto Beaches. He memorably christened Windsor’s dearly departed Dayus Stadium by hitting the first homerun over the centrefield fence. That the mammoth swat came against well-known pitcher Art West only adds to Thomas’ legendary reputation.
Remarkably, Thomas also had a brief spell as a professional football player with the Toronto Argonauts in 1949.
Thomas became one of the original inductees into the University of Windsor Alumni Sports Hall of Fame in 1986. He also belongs to the Afro-American Hall of Fame (inducted in 1994) and the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame (’95).
Following his athletic career, Thomas became a secondary school teacher in Toronto.
Fred Thomas passed away on May 20, 1981, aged 57.