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Stanley Thomas Stanley Thomas
Inducted: 2010 - Graduated: 1979

Stanley Thomas III

Track & Field

Class of 1979

Stanley Thomas went from being an academic risk at West Point to earning a highly competitive berth teaching engineering courses at the academy. He went on to a distinguished 21-year career as an Army officer, serving as a combat and construction engineer who helped develop technologies to keep the nation safe in a volatile global climate.

Oh yes, he also was a pretty fair athlete – pole vaulters invariably are. Stanley captured the 1979 New York State indoor pole vault championship, the ’79 Eastern States outdoor title at rainy Randalls Island, two New York Relays crowns and four Rockland County championships – two each in the winter and spring. He also paired with teammate Dave Newman to set a Nanuet Relays record in the pole vault relay (27 feet 3 inches) that stood for 25 years.

Stanley is one of only four Rocklanders to clear 15 feet in high school. His top outdoor mark of 15-0 ranks fourth on the all-time Rockland list, as does his indoor personal best of 14-6, which he jumped at the Eastern States championships.

Athleticism is a hallmark of vaulters, and Stanley combined a muscular build – 6-foot-2, 185 pounds – with all the physical attributes needed to excel in sports. “What I ended up appreciating about the pole vault is that is makes you an all-around athlete,” says Stanley, who was coached by Dave Hanson and assistant Ed Denton at Nanuet. “It takes strength, speed, coordination, flexibility … if you don’t have the total package, it’s tough to succeed.”

As a seventh- and eighth-grader in the Nanuet Middle School, Stanley was groomed to be a hurdler, learning the fundamentals from Nanuet varsity hurdlers Don Berich (a fellow Hall of Famer) and Robert Jacaruso. When he reached the high school as a ninth grader, Hanson had him try the vault to broaden his value to the team and he immediately scaled 10 feet, stamping him as a future threat in that event.

Balanced and well-rounded performance would emerge as a recurring motif of Stanley’s career, both athletically and vocationally. He was a major point-scorer for Hanson’s depth-laden Nanuet teams as a consistent 6-foot high jumper, 15-second outdoor high hurdler, 7.8-second indoor hurdler and 20-foot-plus long jumper. Because of his versatility, Hanson entered him in the decathlon at the U.S. Junior Nationals in Indiana during the summer between his junior and senior years.

Stanley finished ahead of Army’s entrant in that 10-event test, which proved significant the following winter at the Section 9 championships held at West Point. Stanley soared high to win the vault – he even made three attempts at former Tappan Zee star Lance Arietta’s then-State record of 15-4 ¼ – and placed well in the hurdles and long jump. All of it was done in the presence of Army’s coach – who had witnessed the decathlon the summer before – and Army’s athletic director. On the spot, the AD offered Stanley an opportunity to apply to West Point, contingent on his being accepted. “I said sure, I would go there if he could help me apply at that late date to the application process,” Stanley remembers.

It turns out it helps to have the AD on your side, as with an 85 average at Nanuet and a 1050 SAT score, Stanley was accepted to West Point but was labeled an academic risk and put on athletic probation due to his modest high school grades. Stanley justified Army’s faith in him, making the Dean’s List six out of eight semesters, reaching a personal best of 16-3 in the vault and never losing in four years to a Navy vaulter in the Army-Navy dual meets, all of which Army won. He and teammate Blake Hawkey – another heavyweight at 6-2, 200 lbs. – placed first and second at each of these military academy grudge matches, and their act was so intimidating that teammates called them “The Blake and Stan Show.”

Perhaps Stanley’s finest moment athletically came at the indoor Army-Navy dual his sophomore year. He had missed eight weeks due to a broken right arm sustained when he missed the landing mat after a successful 16-foot vault and crashed hard on the floor. However, thanks to a gymnastics program initiated for him by Coach Ron Basil, Stanley was able to maintain fitness even while wearing a cast on his arm. “The day they cut the cast off was the day of the Army-Navy meet,” Stan recalls. “They said I was physically OK to compete, so the same day I entered, and I placed.”

After graduating from West Point with a degree in civil engineering, Stanley served as a combat engineer officer from 1983 to 1991, supporting armored cavalry regiments and tank battalions, including a stint in the mid-1980s on the German border. “That was the risky part of my career,” Stan says. “I used explosives to move things out of the way or, if they had already been moved out of the way [by enemy forces], helped build bridges and did the engineering work to allow combat work to continue.”

Stanley returned to West Point in 1993 to teach environmental engineering courses, including Water and Wastewater Treatment. The one-time “academic risk” student was selected over scores of applicants in a highly competitive process. As a result, he attended Johns Hopkins in 1991-92 to earn his master’s degree in environmental engineering – paid for entirely by West Point – and came back to the academy to teach environmental engineering subjects for three years.

During that period he also coached the pole vaulters. He’s most proud of developing a Midwestern walk-on cadet named Darrin Hinman from a 13-6 high school vaulter into a 17-4 performer, “far eclipsing anything I ever accomplished.”

After serving for three more years as a combat engineer, including a stint on the Korean border with the 2nd Infantry Division, Stanley embarked on the last phase of his Army career in 1999 as a construction engineer. He was in the Pentagon during the terrorist attack on Sept.11, 2001, attending a meeting as an Army staff officer for base realignment and closure, but was not harmed.

Stanley retired from the Army in 2003 after 20 years and 6 months of service. These days he is a part-time consultant in military construction for a private firm in Northern Virginia. For the past seven years he has worked on securing funding, design planning and now construction of a joint project with the Department of Defense and the FBI, which will be used in combating the global war on terror through the use of Biometrics. The $362 million-dollar project was awarded in 2010 and is under construction.

“I have the expertise and the knowledge to contribute to this project, and in my mind, I’m giving back to the nation,” says Stan, who turns 50 in December. “West Point develops cadets for a lifetime of service to the nation. They expect you to use your education and career for the betterment of the country in ways that you choose. I feel obligated to fulfill that notion.”

He’s also grateful for the spark ignited by his Nanuet mentors in launching him on a path toward athletic and career success. “It’s a credit to Dave Hanson and all the folks at Nanuet High School for recognizing that I had potential and that I could do well. I would not have gotten into West Point without that help.” 

Stanley and his wife of 24 years, Cynthia, live in Alexandria, Va., with their two children: Stanley IV, 21, a senior at George Mason University who is preparing to enter dental school, and Kaye, 18, a freshman at the University of Virginia.