Tommy Thompson Gives All to Tulsa Sports Charities
By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
HALL OF FAMERS: Tulsa Sports Charities Executive Director Tommy Thompson with Hall of Fame baseball players, from left, Goose Gossage, Lou Brock and Rollie Fingers at the Legends in Sports Dinner held at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Sept. 28.
DANIEL C. CAMERON for GTR Newspapers
Tommy Thompson is living the dream of every sports fan.
He’s the quarterback on an all-star football squad.
He’s the catcher of a Hall of Fame pitching rotation.
He’s the saddle pal of larger-than-life rodeo cowboys.
Thompson is building memories faster than a Goose Gossage fastball.
He’s lunched with Steve Owens. Joked with Jim Shoulders. Deliberated the human spirit with Bob Gibson.
Cell phone numbers of at least a dozen Heisman Trophy winners clog his BlackBerry.
His autograph collection of sports legends would make many a museum curator consider retirement.
Thompson is director of Tulsa Sports Charities, a non-profit charitable organization with a track record for hosting blue-ribbon events and gold-medal athletes.
He created Tulsa Sports Charities five years ago with a single-minded mission: Make money, have fun doing it, and give it all away.
His goal is being reached on all fronts, in all months.
Thompson said earlier this month that Tulsa Sports Charities has delivered in excess of $400,000 in scholarships and donations to area universities and charitable activities.
The organizations that have benefited from Tulsa Sports Charities include the Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges, the Metropolitan Tulsa Urban League, Hutcherson , Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Special Olympics.
And the 61-year-old Thompson has accomplished this without drawing a salary, without assembling a staff.
He is a one-man band.
He is bookkeeper and travel agent, secretary and gofer. He is schedule maker and schedule keeper, public relations master and goodwill ambassador. He is research specialist and head librarian, salesman and closer.
He’s also coach and general manager of a team of volunteers that make up committees to drive the two major fund-raisers under the Tulsa Sports Charities umbrella.
Tulsa business leaders and state sports celebrities volunteer on his committees for the Legends in Sports Dinner and the Heisman Trophy golf tournament.
Dan Roberts, president of Premier Staffing and Trak-1 in Tulsa, provides Thompson with a rent-free office and access to business equipment.
Thompson does accept a $50 monthly stipend from Tulsa Sports Charities for his telephone needs.
“Most non-profits have a staff,” Thompson says. “We have volunteer committees of committed individuals.”
Thompson twists a lot of arms, shakes a lot of hands.
“It’s a sales job is what it is,” he says. “You have to sell it. And you have to believe in it. You have to go out and ask. And I ask an awful lot.”
Thompson might ask a lot, but he has produced a lot.
In five years, he and his Legends dinners have brought together such sporting luminaries as rodeo’s Jim Shoulders, baseball’s Bob Gibson and Lou Brock, college football’s Steve Largent and Steve Owens, pro football’s Bob Lilly and Randy White, basketball’s Eddie Sutton and Billy Tubbs and Marques Haynes.
In September, Thompson gathered National Baseball Hall of Fame members Brock, Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers in one banquet room – the largest collection of baseball Hall of Famers in Tulsa in more than three decades.
In the spring, Thompson’s Tulsa golf tournament hosted a dozen Heisman Trophy winners, the most sizeable gathering of its kind outside of New York and the annual Heisman Trophy presentation itself.
At each of the two marquee events, Thompson adds a fascinating fillip – auctions that feature items ranging from the unique to the over-the-top.
A four-day trip for two to the Heisman Trophy presentation went for $11,000.
The last hat worn by Jim Shoulders fetched $4,000.
Thompson, with his tireless persistence and bulldog-like demeanor, stalks the Internet and shadows the individuals in search of trophies to stock the auction tables.
Planning and producing two annual events of such sporting – and civic – significance also can be time-consuming, and, at times, almost chaotic.
But then, add to Thompson’s work portfolio his monthly luncheons to promote Tulsa Sports Charities and his role as director of the Tulsa Public Schools’ basketball showcases, the Tournament of Champions and Oklahoma’s Best tournament.
Thompson invites sports headliners to address over lunch his monthly get-togethers that serve, as he likes to say, “to keep our name out in front of the corporate community on a regular basis.”
His lineup of speakers has included coaches and directors of athletics from the state’s four major universities, Hall of Fame rodeo announcer Clem McSpadden, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, high school executives and media panels.
Thompson tours the state high school scene during the winters sizing up potential teams to fill the brackets for the boys Tournament of Champions and the girls Oklahoma’s Best tournament.
One of the threads of consistency that is woven into the fabric of Thompson’s sports-charity tapestry is Cherokee Nation Entertainment.
ONEOK, SpiritBank, Williams and Cox Channel, among others, have aligned themselves with, and remained with, Thompson over the years.
“Tommy has been around the Tulsa sports scene for a number of years, and he knows everybody,” Gary Bartlett says.
As president of Bartlett Equipment Co., in Tulsa, Bartlett has been a member of Thompson’s inner sanctum from the beginning. He is Thompson’s “go-to guy,” the chairman of the Legends in Sports committee.
“Tommy loves sports, and he loves giving back to the community,” Bartlett says.
Thompson’s infatuation with sports began, as with many, at an early age. He was an all-conference high school athlete in Bristow, lettering in football, baseball and basketball.
He entered the field of education and coached football and basketball in Tulsa at Edison and Hale high schools before returning to his alma mater as a high school counselor.
After 21 years as an educator, Thompson moved on to the private sector and also worked as an executive with the Tulsa Oilers and the Tulsa Talons.
Seven years ago, he launched the Tulsa branch of the Oklahoma City-based Jim Thorpe Association, where he first worked with Bartlett.
After two years, and at Bartlett’s urging, Thompson started up Tulsa Sports Charities.
Thompson has nurtured his organization and watched it grow and mature into a formidable – and fun – player on the Tulsa sports scene.
He takes a parent’s pride in his organization’s mission to make money, have fun, and give it all away.
There also is a hint of satisfaction in his voice when he acknowledges that Tulsa Sports Charities has no paid staff, no payroll, and bare bones expenses.
“You can’t give it all away if you have to pay a staff,” he says.
Thompson’s compensation comes from living the dream of every sports fan.
- — Charles Hall Jan 15, 11:31 PM #