Justin Thomas graduated from Fillmore in 2003. He has a Bachelor of Arts Degree (2007) in English and Education from St. John Fisher College and a Masters in Special Education (2012) from Grand Canyon University. Mr. Thomas currently teaches 9th grade English and 8th grade Writing with Technology at Bolivar Richburg.
Justin also coaches soccer, basketball and baseball at Bolivar and helps with summer baseball for Fillmore.
Fillmore Central School is a place I still hold very near and dear to my heart. It still amazes me, being now ten years removed from high school, how much I still reflect on the experiences and opportunities I was blessed with at FCS, and how they’ve shaped who I am today. It would take days to discuss the myriad of important things I learned during my elementary, middle, and high school career, but at the pinnacle of all that rests the values, wisdom, and knowledge that my teachers and coaches tirelessly instilled upon me. Nothing brings me greater joy than having the opportunity to pay that forward to my students and athletes at Bolivar-Richburg Central School. To be someone who can influence the lives of so many people throughout the course of just one day on the job, is something that twelve years ago I saw only as a pipe dream. Six years ago that pipe dream became a reality, and I owe everything to the faculty and staff at Fillmore for helping me prepare for it.
It would be a travesty to not recognize those who had the biggest impact on my growth as an individual, and taught me things just by being who they were as individuals themselves. Mr. Ron “Rocky” Sweeney is one of the first people who showed me the importance of compassion and enthusiasm. Rocky had this knack for taking all the gym class clichés, such as dodgeball and kickball, and turning them into these epic events where he would hoot and holler and genuinely commend us for doing something as trivial as kicking a ball or making a good throw. I admired that about him, and soon learned that finding and expressing the joy that stems from even the simplest of feats can go a long way toward longevity and one’s impact on a school and community. It is no secret that Rocky Sweeney is a Fillmore legend, and I wholeheartedly believe that by caring so deeply about his job, his students, and his athletes, he was able to teach and coach at a very high level for much longer than the norm. One of the greatest honors in my athletic career was being a part of Rocky Sweeney’s last basketball and baseball teams. To be able to witness firsthand the final chapter of an amazing story is something I have never taken for granted.
To this day, the best teacher I’ve ever had is Mrs. Colleen Myers. I still vividly remember the day I sat down, opened up my binder to my notes section, and was promptly told “Justin, IF you don’t take out your notes right now, THEN you can go to the office!” Confused, I responded by saying that my notes were out, and even showed them to her, but she said the same thing again, and with no change in the gruff delivery. Right before I started crying, she addressed the class by saying that this was an example of an if-then statement, a major component of the unit on logic we were beginning that day. She had a multitude of similar methods to engage her students in her lessons, and to this day I still remember so much of what she taught me. There are countless other mantras, mnemonic devices, and classroom demonstrations that made math so accessible and easier to digest, but those things don’t even compare to the way Colleen taught us about things like integrity and dedication by being a consummate professional, and going above and beyond the call of duty to help any student who needed her. The most admirable thing about how Colleen conducted business, was that she was never afraid to call us out when we didn’t put forth our best effort, but would bend over backwards to help us get to where we needed to be. I knew that I could always approach her with a problem, school related or not, knowing that I was getting her full consideration and honest opinion about how that situation should be handled. To have a resource like Colleen Myers during a time of such critical human growth is one of the most valuable assets a teenager can have, and I could never stop thanking her for what she has done for me.
There are many people I have looked up to in my life, but at the top of that list is Mr. James Mullen. As a soccer and basketball coach, English teacher, play director, and class advisor, Coach Mullen was someone whose influence was ubiquitous in my junior and senior years. It has paid dividends in more ways than he will ever know. No one has helped me prepare for life beyond high school or make sense of the world the way that Coach Mullen has and still does. He continues to be someone I can share the trials and tribulations of teaching and coaching with, and has always been able to put the things that are truly important into perspective.
Anyone who has ever been a part of a sports team knows the importance of teamwork, but on a Mullen-coached team it was a non-negotiable. This is where I truly learned the value of accountability. There was not a guy on the roster who was in it for himself. We were brothers in every sense of the word, and that was the direct result Coach Mullen’s ability to help us understand how imperative a team-first attitude is. He made sure we understood that this same philosophy extended far beyond the confines of a soccer field, basketball court, or baseball diamond, and that it would be crucial to adopt this mode of thinking in all that we do. He didn’t just help us grow in the realms of English, soccer, and basketball; he helped us grow as people. Sports allow so many teaching opportunities that are exponentially bigger than the games themselves, and no one was better at capitalizing on those opportunities better than James Mullen. I don’t know if I could ever impact a kid’s life the way Coach Mullen has impacted mine, but I will always strive to be someone my students and athletes look to as a positive role model.
There are countless other teachers and coaches at Fillmore who are cut from the same cloth as those mentioned above. These people have made it their life’s work to be a positive influence on school-age children and equip them with the skills and knowledge necessary to make it in the real world. They are dedicated, trustworthy, and compassionate people, and I am very thankful to have been a part of such greatness. I am also very fortunate to have several opportunities to return to Fillmore every year and play against teams who share that same level of commitment and unity that I experienced during my time there. Even though I’m a part of the opposition now, my players and I are always treated with the utmost respect. I always know that a sporting event will be a good experience for everyone involved, win or lose. That sense of security is a direct result of the people at FCS who strive toward making good human beings out of their students and athletes. I couldn’t possibly imagine growing up anywhere else, and I am eternally grateful to those who made my experience as a Fillmore Eagle, one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Justin Thomas, Class of 2003