Bridge Street Middle School health and physical education teacher Rick Thomas has been an educator for nearly 40 years, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be hanging up his whistle anytime soon.
Thomas loves introducing new ideas to his students, and there are several youngsters he looks forward to welcoming into his classes.
“My grandson, Tyler Parsons, is one of my students now,” he said. “He’s wanted to be here at Bridge Street since he was 4 years old. He wants to be a teacher like his grandfather. My twin granddaughters, Paige and Olivia Parsons, are in kindergarten at Elm Grove (Elementary School). I feel great now, so I’ll probably still be here at Bridge Street to teach them when they get here.”
Thomas graduated from Wheeling Park High School in 1977 as a member of the school’s first-ever graduating class. He then graduated in 1981 from Oklahoma Christian College with a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education and a minor in history. Thomas was an educator in Oklahoma until 1998 when he returned to Wheeling. He became a substitute teacher for Ohio County Schools until he was hired full-time at Bridge Street in 2003. Being hired at Bridge Street was quite special for Thomas.
“I’m a Red Devil,” Thomas said. “I went to school here – sixth-through-ninth grade. I went undefeated in wrestling in my ninth-grade year.”
Bridge Street Middle School Principal Joseph Kolb said it is a pleasure to have Thomas on the Bridge Street staff. He said Thomas’s commitment to his students is clear.
“It would be difficult to find a teacher who is more dedicated than Rick Thomas,” Kolb said. “The students like him, and they respect him. He cares so much for his students. He is truly dedicated to their health and wellness.”
In addition to teaching, Thomas is also Bridge Street’s athletic director. He is known for his energy and enthusiasm, and he works tirelessly to secure funding for new improvements and equipment at the school. Thomas has represented Ohio County Schools on several local and state committees. Last year, he worked with 20 teachers from throughout West Virginia to create new wellness standards adopted recently by the West Virginia Board of Education.
Thomas has been recognized for his extensive efforts. In 2012, he was named the West Virginia Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (WVAHPERD) Middle School Teacher of the Year. In 2013, he was named the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce Middle School Teacher of the Year.
One of his proudest achievements is the Bridge Street Middle School Fitness Center, which has been in existence since 2013. Thomas secured more than $100,000 in grant funding for the creation of the center, and its opening was attended by then West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Thomas. The fitness center continues to be a source of pride for Thomas to this day.
“It’s the finest fitness center of any middle school in the state,” Thomas said. “We are adding to it all the time. We’ve put in monkey bars, punching bags, resistance bands, and this year we’re adding medicine balls and battle ropes for strength training.”
Thomas has always emphasized nutrition and healthy choices to his students. For that reason, he led the creation of the Bridge Street Middle School Healthy Kids Club. The club works to promote healthy choices for students and staff members through presentations and other efforts, and it led to the creation of the school’s “Re-Think Your Drink” campaign and enhancements to the school’s salad bar.
“Last year, we were able to purchase water bottles for everyone here,” Thomas said. “We were able to purchase two, three-gallon water dispensers, which we try to have fruit-filled water available for the students and staff. We want to have fruits and vegetables available for the students, and the kitchen staff does a tremendous job in making sure that it is always available. We are striving to make our students’ cafeteria experience like a restaurant experience. Our fruit is displayed in decorative baskets on tables with table cloths.”
Thomas strives to create new opportunities for his students, and a program he created in 2017 continues to grow in popularity today. He took 42 students to at least one archery tournament in 2017, and 72 Ohio County Schools students took part in at least one tournament this past spring.
“We started it, and the kids really liked it,” Thomas said. “We’re having our first ever Ohio County Archery Tournament on Jan. 26 at Wheeling Park High School, and we will have schools from West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Ohio take part in it. We are providing training for parents, so they can help with events, and I’m working on grants to provide equipment that can be used throughout the county. My goal is to work to get the elementary schools involved so we have more students on board. We’re going to keep growing.”
For the past two years, Thomas and Bridge Street Middle School Prevention Resource Officer Sgt. Don Miller have created an “Ultimate Frisbee Team” at the school. The team meets twice a week in the fall, and more than 20 students participate.
Thomas said the current school year is off to a great start, and he hopes for excellent things from himself and his students over the course of the year. He said he loves teaching, and he plans to keep things exciting at Bridge Street Middle School for years to come.
“I’m still working to be a better teacher,” Thomas said. “I love what I do, and I want to continue to improve. If didn’t love it, I’d move on. I love finding new things and exposing kids to fun activities that benefit them and their overall wellness. If I’m making a difference, that makes me happy. I still love getting up and going to school. Every day is a great day for me.”