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Decades after his passing, Windsor native Fred Thomas honoured again.

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Decades after his passing, Windsor native Fred Thomas honoured again.

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Decades after his passing, the sports community continues to honour Windsor native Fred Thomas.

A multi-sport athlete, Thomas, who passed away at the age of 57 from cancer in 1981, has been selected to the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and will receive the order of sport.

“Receiving Canada’s greatest sporting honour – the order of sport – we as a family are extremely proud of his achievements and how he represented himself, his teammates and the City of Windsor during the adverse times of early sport integration,” Dennis Thomas, who is the son of Fred Thomas, said in a video release.

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Thomas refused to let prejudice define his potential and broke barriers to help end the era of racial segregation for professional athletes in North America.

A standout in track and field, football and basketball at Patterson Collegiate, Thomas won an All-Ontario Basketball title in his senior year. After the colour barrier was broken in the Royal Canadian Air Force in early 1942, Thomas enlisted after graduating from high school and received his wings to become a fighter pilot in 1945.

A multi-sport standout athlete, Fred Thomas would go on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. win

After World War II, Thomas enrolled at Assumption College, which is now the University of Windsor. He helped the Purple Raiders beat the Harlem Globetrotters, a team he would later play for, in 1945 while setting a school single-season scoring record with 639 points.

In 1948, Thomas, who was an outfielder, broke the colour barrier in the Eastern League with the Wilkes-Barre Barons in Pennsylvania. A year later, he became the first black Canadian to play football for the Toronto Argonauts.

The City of Windsor named a park in his honour in 1981, just months before his passing, and it was also the same year he was inducted into the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame. Thomas was inducted into the University of Windsor Alumni Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, the Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame in 1994, the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2021 and now Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame has come calling.

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Just months before his passing, Fred Thomas prepares to shoot while practicing the game at a downtown city park that was soon to be named in his honour.
Just months before his passing, Fred Thomas prepares to shoot while practicing the game at a downtown city park that was soon to be named in his honour. win

“As a family, we would like to thank the committee as well congratulate the class of 2024, but also thank the many advocates over the past 40 years that have documented my father’s achievements in books, newspaper articles as well as other media that has truly kept his spirit alive and made this day possible,” Dennis Thomas said.

Along with Thomas, five other athletes will be inducted. The class features Angela Chalmers, who won a bronze medal in the women’s 3,000 metres at the 1992 Olympic Games, figure skater Patrick Chan, who won multiple Olympic medals and was a three-time world champion in men’s singles, para swimmer Kirby Cote, tennis player Daniel Nestor, who won an Olympic gold medal in doubles along with titles at the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and hockey player Vicky Sunohara, who helped Canada to two Olympic gold medals and seven world championship titles in women’s hockey.

Dr. Guylaine Demers, who was a driving force in gender equity in sports across Canada, and Alex Nelson, who helped transform access to sport and recreation for Indigenous people in Canada, will go in the builder category. Women’s high jumper Debbie Brill, who was ranked No. 1 in the world at one time, will be recognized in the trailblazer category for her reverse jumping technique.

“(My dad) would also be extremely happy that his achievements have been recognized by Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and would humbly thank the committee for selecting him as well as congratulate the inductees as well,” Dennis Thomas said. 

The Class of 2024 will receive the Order of Sport and formally be inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 23 at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. during the 68th ceremony.

jpparker@postmedia.com

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