Community remembers Bales for his love, attitude

Thomas Bales, left, stands with Oak Hill Academy head coach Chris Craven on the sidelines. Bales passed away after a swimming accident on Saturday.
Collin Brister
Staff Writer

Thomas Bales' name sits first under “WR” on Oak Hill Academy head football coach Chris Craven’s board. He hasn’t erased it this week, and he’s not sure when, or if he will, erase the former wide receiver’s name from the dry-erase board.
His locker is the way that he left it after his last practice. That’s going to remain the same throughout the season according to Craven.

Bales, who had been undersized during his first few years on Oak Hill’s football team, had hit a growth spurt over the summer, and he was slated to start at wide receiver when Oak Hill played Pickens Academy in a scrimmage on Friday.
Bales won’t start at wide receiver, and that scrimmage won’t happen. Bales passed away on Saturday afternoon after a swimming accident at Smith Lake in Alabama.

Oak Hill headmaster Cathy Davis remembers one distinct feature about Bales that she’ll remember about him forever.

“That smile that he had,” Davis said. “He wasn’t a loud person. He was a mild-mannered young man, but that smile that he always had on him is something that I’ll always remember about him.”

Oak Hill started school on Monday. They started without a friend, teammate and student that they had become accustomed to being there.

Davis said it was her first time in her 30 years of education that she dreaded the first day of school.

“A week ago I was really looking forward to the beginning of school, like I always do,” Davis said. “On Saturday night, that changed.”

The people around him want everyone to know that he loved Jesus, and he loved people, too. His friends say he was funny, and his teachers enjoyed his presence.

“He was a precious, precious young man, and he got that from his family,” Davis said. “He was always making people around him feel good.”

Craven said the team had a meeting on Monday before practice, and they talked about ways to cope with the loss of a friend and teammate. He said players stood up and told what they remembered most about Bales.

“The kids all talked about how hard of a worker he was,” Craven said. “They talked about how respectful he was, and what kind of character he had. “

Craven said the team won’t embrace a mentality of playing for Bales, because in his mind he’ll always be with them.

“At that team meeting we understood that we all needed to be more like Thomas,” Craven said. “We needed to work harder. We needed to respect our coaches more. We needed to respect our teachers more. We won’t be playing for him, because we’re going to carry him everywhere that we go.”

There will be games to be played. There’s school to attend. Life has to move forward, as painful as that might be.

Craven said there wasn’t a coaching manual for this, but he’s tried to help the young men he oversees deal and come to terms with the loss of their teammate.

“I can’t say how it’s supposed to be, and how it isn’t supposed to be, because I’m not God,” Craven said. “We’re going to seek him, and trust (God) throughout this. I’ve asked him to give me a direction to point these boys, and I feel like he’s done that.”