A quarter-century behind the lens: Keith Thomas winding down labor of love as team cameraman
As the team’s dependable game cameraman, Thomas has witnessed all but three Chieftain varsity football games since 1991 through a small lens or viewfinder… and has cherished each and every moment.
“They haven’t fired me yet. I’m still trying to get it right,” he said with a laugh prior to a recent Chieftain home game. “It’s my love of high school football and my love of Logan football.”
Next Friday’s game against Warren will be his final regular-season game behind the camera. He’ll also be around for any and all Chieftain playoff games, then will step aside after making a 25-year, labor-of-love contribution to the football program.
Thomas decided a couple years ago that he wanted to reach the quarter-century mark behind the lens. He’s persevered at doing something he loves despite injury, illness, family issues, weather and being positioned in all sorts of places outside the press box.
Oftentimes referring to the Chieftains as “my boys,” Thomas started filming games in 1991, during future Hall of Fame coach Dale Amyx’s second year as head coach.
“I was filming my kids; they were in band at the time,” Thomas recalled. “I was there every week, so I figured I’d do it for football. (Football) was my life — that’s what I lived and breathed for.”
Even when he was a kid, football was a huge part of his life — “back in the ‘60s, it was football, cars, girls… that was life,” he said with a grin — and he played football at Miller High School, where he graduated in 1970.
He wore purple at Miller but, as a high school lad, actually wanted to wear purple as a Chieftain… and, in his own way, did just that later in life.
“I should have been playing for Logan,” he said, “but my parents wouldn’t let me (attend Logan High School). I’ve actually been watching Logan football (as an adult) probably since 1976 or 1977.”
Thomas has filmed Logan games in more ways and locales than he can remember... and has done so strictly as a volunteer. He’s never been paid a single cent, and he wouldn’t want it any other way.
“The first year we played at Warren,” Thomas recalled, “I had to stand outside of the (high school) building and lean against the building to film. They wouldn’t even give me electric to plug in. That was before they remodeled the field. They just had a cement tower, and I just had to stand there.
“At that time I was using my own camera,” he added. “I went through a couple cameras because I furnished the camera for several years. Then the team started furnishing the camera.”
How the games are recorded has, of course, evolved over the years, going from film and VHS tape to mini-digital tape, mini-CD and then SD cards that upload to the Internet off micro-miniature digital cameras.
Thomas says head coaches and assistant coaches all have different ways they want games filmed.
“Coach Amyx always liked things in good and tight. He wanted to see the interior line area, from tackle to tackle, everything inside, kept in close,” Thomas recalled. “There would be a coach who would want to see a little bit wider play, and your special teams coaches always wanted to see the whole picture.
“You had to learn to get a feel for it,” he added. “You can’t take your eyes away and (you have to) take an educated guess where (the quarterback is) throwing the ball, swing out there and have your camera on the guy who’s going to try and catch it.”
Depending upon what Thomas caught on camera, film sessions could be less than pleasant for some players and coaches.
“Sometimes you catch things on camera of young men not exactly doing their job as they wanted to, and they see it on the films. Some of those young men didn’t care for me because I didn’t miss their screw-ups,” Thomas said with a grin. “But in the process, they learned from those performances and became better players.
“These kids are my kids,” he continued. “Yes, their moms and dads pay the bills and food and everything, but these are my kids. I want to win every week, but I’d rather lose every game than have one kid get permanently hurt for the rest of their life.
That’s my prayer before every game, to not have kids get hurt.”
Like all good team players, Thomas himself has played (filmed) hurt… and is still doing so today, even in his early 60s.
“I’m supposed to have lower lumbar surgery and be out of commission for two months, maybe three,” revealed Thomas, who wears a back brace while filming. “They wanted to do that back in the first part of August. I said ‘no, my team comes first.’ This is my 25th year and I’ll bite the bullet, take a couple extra aspirin or a couple pain pills and make it through this year.
“Because when I’ll be off, I’ll be off for two to three months, so it’s more important to me to get this year in and take care of the team,” he added. “I’m not going to leave them hanging and trying to find somebody to film at the last minute. I’ll endure the pain and I’ll make it.”
He’s also just a couple years from retirement. And once his wife Rita, a bus driver for the Logan-Hocking School District, retires a year after he does, they plan to travel the country.
That’s a little ways down the road. Next August, when the Chieftains open their 2016 season by hosting Dublin Jerome, where does Thomas plan to be?
“I will be right here” in Logan Chieftain Stadium, he revealed. “I’ll get to actually watch. I’ve been waiting a lot of years to actually watch my team play a game.”
That’s a well-earned reward, to say the very least, for a quarter-century labor of love.