I was working the gate at a middle school basketball game a couple of weeks ago, and I found myself reminiscing about my first year in Thomson. The echoes of shrill whistles, loud screams, and stomps on the bleachers made me recall varsity games in the tiny gym on Main Street. Coach Michael Thomas was enjoying the efforts of some fine basketball players during that time.
One of those players was Charles Tyus. Not only did I know Charles from watching him play basketball, but he was also in my weight training class. A 1993 THS graduate, Charles was among the students that moved into the new Thomson High School in February of 1992. He was a senior on the team that christened the sparkling new gym on White Oak Road.
To say Charles was a jovial sort would be an understatement. He loved the sound of his own voice and had a robust Eddie Murphy laugh. He enjoyed practical jokes, especially those at the expense of his classmates or teachers.
I once heard Charles, in a crowd of guys, ask his friend Thomas C. Ivey why everyone called him Thomas C. "I don't know," replied Ivey.
"I don't know either," retorted Charles. "We all know you can't see!"
It was funny only because Charles Tyus said it and Thomas C. Ivey was his victim.
Charles went on to play basketball at the University of South Carolina-Spartanburg. On the first day of class of his junior year, August 28, 1995, Charles collapsed during a pickup basketball game. He was rushed to a Spartanburg hospital where doctors were unable to save him. There was speculation that he had an allergic reaction to a wasp sting. An autopsy showed that he had some previously undetected scar tissue on his heart.
When I received word that Charles had died I was stunned. I teared up at the thought of a young man that I had taught only two years earlier being gone from this earth. Charles' witful sense of timing made you figure he would live forever. One certainly never expected to lose him so quickly.
Tyus' college coach, Coach Waters, later became an assistant at Georgia. I had talked with him about Charles a few years after his death and he remembered him much like I did.
"There was never a dull moment with Charles around," said Waters. "Losing him so suddenly was just terrible."
I really don't need the prompting of the noise from a game in the old gym to remember Charles Tyus. When I think of him now though, I can't help but laugh. I really believe that Charles Tyus, the master of the wisecrack who happened to be a basketball player, planned it that way.