Brice Thornbury, the architect of Boyd County’s first boys’ 16th Region basketball championship 40 years ago this coming spring, died Monday in Birmingham, Ala. He was 66.
Thornbury led the Lions to their first regional championship in 1973 behind the play of Phil Pratt and Davey Wooten, who each went on to become coaches at Boyd County.
“He was a special, special man,” Pratt said. “He was my measuring stick. Everybody looks at wins and losses but sometimes you don’t have the best basketball players. I thought if I could get kids to play for me with the intensity that kids played for him, if I could do that, I’d be successful.”
Boyd County defeated rival Ashland twice in the postseason in 1973, knocking off the Tomcats on their home floor in the 64th District championship and then repeating the feat the following week at Morehead State’s Wetherby Gymnasium with a 73-64 victory. Those wins over Ashland are significant because they were the first for Boyd County in the series.
The Lions were eliminated in the opening round of the State Tournament but the seed had been sown for the program.
He coached Boyd County from 1970 to 1974 but his 26-7 season in 1973 stands out as the best. After going 11-13 in his first season in 1970, Thornbury had four consecutive winning seasons — 15-10, 20-12, 26-7 and 14-11. He had an overall record of 86-53.
Thornbury was a tremendous basketball player as a young man while attending Fairview High School. He graduated from Fairview in 1964 and was a charter member of the Fairview Hall of Fame in 2006.
He went to Southern Mississippi on a full scholarship and returned to the area as a math teacher, coach and eventually principal at Boyd County High School and Ramey-Estep Home.
“Coach Thornbury wore a lot of hats for me,” Pratt said. “There’s no greater honor that I could give him but to call him Coach.”
Thornbury was a good friend to many in the area, said John Cannon, a close friend himself.
“I played a lot of golf with him at Sundowner, which he and (wife) Peggy owned with her family,” Cannon said. “He was willing to play with bad golfers like me, and I even learned a bit from him.”
Cannon and his wife, Lynda, traveled often to visit Brice and Peggy in Birmingham, Ala. Thornbury, who was dealing with Alzheimer’s disease the past few years, was married to Peggy for 39 years.
“Even when this horrendous disease first started taking a toll on him, he could remember what happend over at Hitchins on a Tuesday night,” Pratt said.
Boyd County’s 1973 regional champions will be honored at the school on Nov. 30 to celebrate the team’s 40th anniversary.
Casey Shumway, Rob Chaney and Snook Bryan were the other starters that season.
“We would have run through a wall for Coach Thornbury,” Pratt said.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.