January 13th, 2012

Hyland's Heroes: Tom Combs

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer

Hyland's Heroes: Tom Combs
photo from Tom Combs

Combs paying forward the opportunities he was given

The following feature is a part of a weekly series, sponsored by Hyland, Block & Hyland, called "Hyland's Heroes" - a set of profiles that will spotlight Louisville area Catholic volunteers, coaches and administrators who assist athletic programs and teams, and help promote excellence in all aspects of sports. Know someone that you think should be featured as the next "Hyland's Hero? Send your recommendation to: editor@catholicsportsnet.com.

Thousands of student-athletes participate in local interscholastic Catholic sports annually. Even more participate in the CSAA sanctioned leagues for the various sports they offer.

But did you know that more than 400 young men in high school who do not play basketball participate in the CSAA Intermediates basketball program every year?

The man who runs that program is Tom Combs, lifelong Louisvillian who has been connected with the CSAA as a player, coach and coordinator of the Intermediates (Intramurals) for parts of six decades. In this hotbed for basketball, it seems like young Catholic men can’t get enough. And the Intermediates program serves them perfectly.

Combs oversees the 22 team Junior division (for Freshmen and Sophomores in high school) and the 20 team Senior division (for Juniors and Seniors). This year, there are more than 425 boys participating on those 42 teams.

A majority of the participants attend St. Xavier, Trinity, DeSales and Holy Cross, but several public schools are represented including: DuPont Manual, Eastern, Ballard, Atherton, Butler and North Oldham. The reach of the intermediates is far and wide: from Holy Cross to North Oldham and Butler to Eastern, the coverage area of this program spans nearly the entire Jefferson and Oldham county lines. The young men all represent the Parishes to which they belong. There’s even a student at St. X who attends St. Louis Bertrand church, but decided to get a team affiliated with Sacred Heart Model school.

“A long time,” was Combs’ response to how long he’s been running the program. “I was just about ready to get out of coaching when Jim Frame asked me if I wanted to handle the intermediates and I took him up on his offer. That’s when the (CSAA) office was in the basement of St. Brigid’s.”

The ninth of ten kids, Combs attended St. Boniface elementary and played basketball there. He went on to graduate from Trinity in 1968. He was involved in the intermediate basketball program when he was in school and thinks back fondly to those days when you could play both for your school’s team as well as in the intermediates.

He went on to become the Louisville Manager of Post Office Operations for the U.S. Postal Service. And those organization skills have served him well in his long-term position as the director of the Intermediate program.

“I was coaching basketball at St. Vincent DePaul, where my daughter attended, and they didn’t have a coach. We didn’t even have a gym,” he chuckled. “And we put on our gloves and went outside on an uneven asphalt playground. That’s why they became such prolific ball handlers.”

He helped start the St. Vincent DePaul intermediates program, but moved to become a member and coach at Our Mother of Sorrows where he got involved in their intermediate program. He coached a few city championship teams in both the junior and senior division at OMOS.

Needless to say, Combs was quite familiar with the Intermediates program and what it meant to the local Catholic high school students who still wanted an outlet to play after their grade school or high school careers had ended.

“We run a pretty strict program and I think the kids appreciate that,” Combs said. “We have to work with 42 teams all over Jefferson and Oldham counties. There were kids who played high school ball and would play with the intermediates as well. We had to change that because that just wasn’t fair to the kids who never played. Now the rules are pretty clear and that’s cut out a lot of problems. The high schools won’t allow the kids to play for the school and in the intermediates.”

Over time, he tried to start a girl’s intermediates program as well, but the interest wasn’t high enough. That might be something to re-visit in the future if the interest returns. The goal for the program is to serve as many of the local Catholic high school students as possible.

“It’s a pay it forward type of thing for me,” said Combs of his long time involvement with coaching and working with the CSAA. “They gave me the opportunity when I was young and it’s a way to give back to the kids. Somebody was there for me when I didn’t have anything to do and that’s what I want to pass on to these kids.”

As for the primary goals of the intermediates program, Combs states: “We want them to be involved, show good sportsmanship and give them an opportunity to do something physical and productive. And we want keep them involved at the Parish level as well. Being on a Parish team brings them closer to their church and hopefully keeps them involved there as well.”


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