Home Local Sports Longtime former RCS educator to be inducted into R.J. Reynolds’ Sports Hall...

Longtime former RCS educator to be inducted into R.J. Reynolds’ Sports Hall of Fame

Coach Thomas Beach (with trophy) led the 1948-49 R.J. Reynolds boys' basketball team to the program's first state title. (Contributed by the Beach family)

WINSTON-SALEM — A framed black and white photo of a smiling Thomas Beach, draped in a basketball net holding a state championship trophy and surrounded by his first high school team, serves as a reminder of the man and educator he was.

The photo of Beach and the R.J. Reynolds boys’ basketball team is nearly three-quarters of a century old, and now one of the proudest moments of his career will be recognized later this month.

Beach, who spent 39 years in public education in North Carolina, will be inducted into R.J. Reynolds’ Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 27.

Serving as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent, Beach closed his educational career as the principal at LJ Bell Elementary School in Rockingham. He led the school for the final 15 years of his career before retiring in 1987.

That photograph of the 1948-49 North Carolina Class AA state champion R.J. Reynolds basketball team is displayed in the homes of Beach’s three children. 

Debbie Lancaster, one of Beach’s two daughters, said the snapshot serves as a treasured memory of her father, who was also “one of the biggest (Richmond) Raiders fans.”

“Dad was so proud of that game and of that happening,” Lancaster recalled. “He was an educator and worked with students and faculty all his life. Even though it happened early on, it was the climax of his career. He would always talk about that team and that win.

“He was a very kind, loving, caring and compassionate person, like you see in the photo,” she continued. “We are very ecstatic and proud about his induction. Dad would be really happy.”

A student of the game of basketball his entire life, Beach played college hoops at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1942-43. 

Called into military service during World War II with the United States Marine Corps, Beach returned to play at Appalachian State University from 1947-48.

While a Mountaineer, Beach, a native of Boone, N.C., was named to the All-Carolinas Conference team in 1948. 

A year later, with a degree in education, he would coach R.J. Reynolds to its first ever state championship in boys’ basketball during his first year in the classroom.

No easy task, Stuart Beach remembered his dad telling him that the team almost didn’t make the state playoffs that season. A late-season change aided in the eventual title run.

“Dad’s philosophy was to run the triangle and two or the box and one,” Stuart explained. “He knew that there might be one or two kids on the other team who could beat his team, but if they could stop the other three players, they’d win a lot of games.

“That year they had three good guards and a couple good post guys, but Dad knew he needed to be creative,” he said. “He added the Globetrotter weave late in the season and used that to win six or seven games in a row to beat High Point.”

Coach Beach and his team played at Cameron Indoor Stadium and defeated reigning state champion High Point High School 38-23 to bring home the hardware.

Since 1923, R.J. Reynolds’ Sports Hall of Fame has recognized student-athletes, coaches, administrators and sports journalists for their commitment to the community. Beach is one of nine inductees in this year’s class.


Zack Beach has always had the same interest and love for the sport of basketball as his father and grandfather, which he said was passed down through the generations in his family. Zack went on to play and coach college basketball before becoming an educator.

Following Coach Beach’s death in 2008, Zack started corresponding with the Sports Hall of Fame and inquired what it would take to get Coach Beach inducted.

“I remember as a kid I didn’t see him a whole lot, but when I went to his house there was all kinds of sports memorabilia and a big picture with him with the net around his neck and holding the trophy,” Zack shared. “I didn’t hear all the stories like my dad and aunts did, but I do know that his best memory from everything he did in education was winning the state championship.

“Being a high school coach and teacher, I decided to look into it,” he continued. “I submitted a form and did some research to track down all of his records and accolades.” 

Through his research, Zack discovered that Coach Beach was a letterman basketball player during his time at both UNC and App State. 

Wanting to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, Zack became a teacher and high school coach. He currently coaches cross country and track and field in South Carolina and has also coached basketball.

While the roots run deep in the Beach family with basketball, Zack said it was his grandfather’s nearly four decades of public service that impacted him the most.

“My connection with him, sadly, came after he was gone,” Zack said. “I played college basketball at The Citadel and did two years of finance, but because (Coach Beach) was in public education, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.

“I felt like that was where I always needed to be. Both of my grandparents and my aunts were teachers, so it all kind of fell into place.”

Tommie Sue Johnson, Beach’s other daughter, grew up with her father telling the family stories and anecdotes from his time as an educator and coach. One thing that always stood out was how close-knit the state championship team remained over the decades.

A large photo of the 1948-49 state champion team hangs in the gymnasium at R.J. Reynolds, something Johnson said she can’t wait to see in person.

“It was such a proud moment for him and he thought so much of that team and that school,” Johnson remembered. “Several years before his death, Dad’s team got together for a reunion. The players paid for Dad to go and he was just so blown away that he still meant that much to them all those years later.

“Our family is looking forward to being all together (at the induction) because family was so important to Dad,” she said. “He always cared so much for everybody and wanted to help his students, players and faculty be and do their best.”

The induction ceremony will be held next Friday during halftime of the Demons’ home game against Parkland High School. Coach Beach will be inducted along with one other coach and seven former student-athletes.

“Dad was such a humble guy that many people in Rockingham may never have known he won a state championship,” Stuart said. “I remember he told us stories about winning the championship, but more importantly, he was an educator who was loved by so many and touched a lot of lives.

“This is so deserving of the man and coach he was. Dad was such a wonderful man who was a players’ coach. It means the world to our family that he’ll be in Reynolds’ history forever.”

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Kyle Pillar is a 22-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on X @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.