Bulldogs or Bears, if there’s a game, there’s Gary Thompson

Kevin Mays • Apr 1, 2020 at 1:00 PM

BIG STONE GAP — Don’t ask Gary Thompson about his favorite Appalachia or Union game.

He’s seen too many to narrow it to just one or two.

Thompson, a 1975 graduate of Appalachia, started working basketball games even before he got out of high school.

“My junior year I started running the clock for home games,” Thompson recalled.

That was just the beginning.

Thompson continues to sit at the scorer’s table, usually as the bookkeeper these days, some 46 years after he began his game clock duties.

When the season ended in mid-March, Thompson had tallied 1,111 boys games as either the official scorekeeper or clock operator.

And that’s just one sport.

“I know I’ve seen over 1,000 girls basketball games,” Thompson said.

Then there’s football. He started as the official clock keeper in that sport in 1977 and has missed only two games since.

But there’s more.

He’s helped with clock or scorekeeping functions for decades in baseball, softball and volleyball.

He’s been a track meet official for many years. He usually runs the high jump competitions. Before fully automated timing came about, Thompson was an official timer for running events.

And in 1985, Thompson’s responsibilities increased at Appalachia when he was advised by the school’s principal to get his license to drive a school bus.

“I always joked and said I didn’t think I really had a choice in the matter,” he said of his job driving the bus for athletic teams.

He’s driven buses for just about every sport at one time or another.


The answer to why someone would dedicate so much time to athletic programs is as simple as the question.

“I love it,” Thompson said. “I just really enjoy it. There’s nothing in the rule book that says you can’t be a scorekeeper or a clock keeper and not have a good time while you’re doing it.”

It’s about the people.

Thompson said he’s made friend after friend through his involvement with the athletic programs.

“I’ve got to meet a lot of people in the press and met a lot of officials and made a lot of friends with the athletes over the years and I’ve met a lot of coaches. So many coaches,” he said.

Coaches like Appalachia’s legendary Tom Turner.

“Not a whole lot of people remember this, but Tom Turner actually coached the basketball team before he took over the head coaching job in football in 1980,” Thompson noted.

Pat Jervis, Roger Austin, Barry Nelson and Steve Collins were among the coaches Thompson had long-term working relationships with at Appalachia.


Appalachia consolidated with Powell Valley in 2011 to form Union, and Thompson kept most of his athletic duties with the new school.

“I was just glad to be included as part of the consolidation,” he said.

He already knew the coaches at Union, but it was his first time working with most of them. It didn’t take the coaches long to realize the value Thompson brought to their programs.

Over the past decade, Thompson has developed more long-lasting, enduring friendships.

“J.W. Salyer treated me like I was a part of the family and he still does,” Thompson said of the former Union baseball coach now coaching at Wise Central. “To this day, he still treats me like family when he sees me.

“Zack Moore and Kim Moore are like family to me and have been great to me from Day 1,” he said. Zack Moore coaches boys basketball and Kim Moore coaches volleyball at Union.

Thompson also considers Union girls basketball coach Kory Bostic and football coach Travis Turner, son of Tom Turner, to be family.

“Really, everyone at Union is like family. There’s just so many people that have been so good to me over the years. It’s just impossible to mention all of them.”


Another reason Thompson has been around so long? He’s good at whatever duty he happens to be performing.

He has fun and enjoys himself but takes his responsibilities seriously.

“I just always tried to do things the best I could and in my own way help out,” Thompson said.

“Barry Nelson used to say you don’t have to be winning every time to have good hospitality every time.”

Thompson has worked several postseason events. Included on the list are games at the state tournament level in basketball, volleyball, football and track, along with numerous regional and district events.


While he loves just about every sport, Thompson admits to a favorite.

“I get excited every time there’s a game to be played,” he said. “But basketball is probably my favorite, especially during tournament time. If you don’t get excited around basketball tournament time, then I don’t know.”

Union’s young boys team this past season reaffirmed Thompson’s enthusiasm for the sport.

“They just don’t quit and I think they’re going to be pretty good for the next couple of years,” he said of Zack Moore’s Bears. “I was more excited this year about basketball than I’ve been in a long time.”


Thompson’s dedication requires lots of time and travel. He’s grateful he’s been able to keep working for nearly half a century.

“God has been with me. I’ve been so blessed,” he said.

He also has a wife, Faye, who supports him through thick and thin.

“We dated for two years and we’ve been married for 43 years,” Thompson said. “She knew I did this since the first time we met. And she has never said a word about me going to a ballgame.

“I just have a wife that goes above and beyond the word ‘understanding.’ ”

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