Kenton Ridge coach, who kept coaching after cancer diagnosis, dies at 65

Duncan Thomas
Duncan Thomas

Dayton native Duncan Thomas coached at a number of Miami Valley schools over the years

Duncan Thomas coached with cancer throughout his second season with the Kenton Ridge girls basketball team. He never missed a game.

“He was just focused on the girls,” his wife Sheri Thomas said.

That dedication continued even as the cancer spread this year and Thomas’ health declined. He verbalized a letter of resignation to Sheri on Oct. 10, and she gave the letter to Kenton Ridge Athletic Director Kris Spriggs the same day. That happened just five days before his death on Friday at 65.

Thomas, a Dayton native who lived in Huber Heights, loved coaching so much he kept preparing for the 2021-22 season in recent months even though Sheri said he was sick as a dog. His love for the girls on the team and his hope to continue coaching led to him putting off his resignation.

“He was still on the internet looking because he was getting ready to implement a new offense and defense,” she said, “and he was figuring them out, running stuff by me. We thought he was going to turn and still be able to coach.”

Thomas graduated from Fairview High School in Dayton in 1975. According to his obituary, he served in the U.S. Navy from 1976-80 and then earned a degree in bachelor’s degree in accounting from Wilberforce University, a master of education degree from Antioch University Midwest in 2011 and a master of education from Wright State University in 2016.

Thomas had a long coaching career. He started at Meadowdale High School, his wife said, and later coached at Dunbar, Yellow Springs, where he met Sheri, and then Springfield and Northmont. He also coached AAU basketball with the Dayton Surge, Dayton Nets and Dayton Metro.

“When he wasn’t coaching girls basketball in the winter months, he was coaching AAU boys,” Sheri said. “The only time he had off was June to July unless he did summer leagues.”

Thomas worked 21 years for Montgomery County Courts as an accounting supervisor.

The cancer diagnosis came the day before Thanksgiving a year ago. Sheri was extremely protective of him last season because she was worried he would catch COVID-19, but Thomas kept coaching. He had surgery in March to remove the cancer from his stomach.

“The whole season he went through chemotherapy and treatments,” Spriggs said. “Basketball was the one thing that kept his mind off what he was dealing with individually. He’d miss a day here and there because of the treatments and stuff, but he was a trooper. They thought everything was going better, and then here last few months, things escalated and got worse. The cancer became pretty aggressive when it returned.”

“According to his doctor,” Sheri said, “the cancer got smarter than the chemo and it spread.”

Kenton Ridge will start practice Friday with Jeff Volbert taking over as head coach. He was offered the job Wednesday. He has coached at the middle school level in the school district and spent the last two years on Thomas’ staff.

There will be a visitation for Thomas at Harris Memorial CME Church in Dayton from 5-7 p.m. Thursday. A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at the same location.

Thomas is survived by: his wife; his parents, Robert and Elva Lois Thomas; his sister Sheila Bruce, Cedric; one daughter, Candace Pitts (Raoul); four sons, Jedidiah Piersoll, Jonathan Piersoll, Dwight Thomas, and Christopher Brown (Nina); three nephews, Andre Bruce (Ashley); Aaron Bruce; Liam O’Dowd; three nieces, Caitlin O’Dowd of Texas, Fallon O’Dowd of California, and Roisin O’Dowd of Virginia; and six grandchildren.

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