Just under 5,000 people from all over southern Illinois played in a basketball tournament during the weekend for a local hero.
The Mike T Basketball Tournament hosted teams from Mount Vernon, Du Quoin and Marion to play alongside members of the Carbondale community as about $1,100 was raised in honor of Michael ‘Mike T’ Thomas, a Carbondale native, avid basketball fan and a fixture in the community. Thomas, who was a construction worker, was known to help friends with car problems and enjoyed coaching youth sports as well.
When he died in a car accident in Sept. 2010 at the age of 43, friends and family decided to honor their fallen friend by hosting a basketball tournament in his honor.
The tournament was held at Crispus Attucks Park in Carbondale and hosted by the Mike T Foundation and was financed by both the foundation and former NBA player, Carbondale native and SIU alum Troy Hudson. The foundation mentors youth and provides services such as supplying children with back-to-school supplies and also hosts several events to raise money for the Mike T Scholarship Fund, which gives a student in the Carbondale-Murphysboro area money towards their college education.
Tournament organizer Eddie Payne said sports represent a great way to help guide the kids’ lives.
“We started out playing basketball, and once you’re done you have to come back and give back to the community. Without some adult guidance kids could run wild around here, somebody has to be a father and a mentor,” Payne said.
The Tournament consisted of four divisions separated by age groups with eight teams in each division. The youth played Friday and the adults played Saturday as the tournament concluded Sunday with the championship game.
To understand the impact that Thomas had on the community, one would look no further than Attucks Park. On hot summer days, kids can be found playing basketball on the multiple basketball courts, jumping in the water system and playing on the playground.
The park is where Thomas and other members of the community watched the children and kept them active in sports. Bobby McBride, friend of Thomas and one of the main organizers of the tournament, said Thomas always had the kids’ best interest in mind.
“He kept them accountable, he’d run them down when they weren’t doing right … if they called us and needed anything we made sure they got it,” McBride said. “He was always a pillar of the community, like all of us he had some stumbles along the way but he was a hard worker… fixed peoples cars and houses on the side, bought kids tennis shoes… he was a modern day hero.”
Giving back was a huge theme in Thomas’s life, said Sally Dedecker, tournament organizer and grandmother of Thomas’ son. Dedecker said Thomas wanted children to realize that basketball could be a way to better their lives.
“Mike was a big (Carbondale High School) Terrier basketball fan and in a community such as this, anyone who is a supporter just pulls for that kid to make it, to realize their dream,” Dedecker said.
One person who received Thomas’ guidance was Hudson, who unfortunately couldn’t appear at the tournament due to a family illness. Dedecker said that if Hudson ever needed shoes or other things, Thomas and other community figures would help him out. Another local legend that was influenced by Thomas was Carbondale High School product and University of Washington star Justin Dentmon.
Dentmon, like Hudson, was a long time friend of Thomas, and remembered him for his outgoing personality.
“He was an unbelievable man, he would always come over to my house when I was in town and every time he’d see me he’d tackle me, we’d be laughing and giggling,” Dentmon said.
Dentmon credits Thomas, Hudson and Carbondale High School product Rashad Tucker (who played overseas in Australia) as role models who inspired him to give back to his community.
Dentmon, who will be hosting his own basketball tournament at Carbondale High School called the King of the Court Classic Friday through Sunday, is another example of what basketball and proper guidance can do for the life of a young person, McBride said.
“It’s one thing to give back, but they need to feel, touch and see us. To be hands-on and they can recognize that these guys made it out, these guys are on TV and I can do it too,” McBride said.
Among the crowd of people at the tournament was Mami Thomas, Michael Thomas’ mother. When asked what the turnout of people meant to her, Mami Thomas said she almost couldn’t believe it.
“It makes me feel good … I’m enjoying myself, I can’t believe it, this is really nice,” Thomas said.