1958 Matthew W. Gilbert High School classmates, football players, coaches and alumni recently convened to discuss the renaming of the Matthew W. Gilbert football field. The classmates are adamant on naming the field after legendary and longtime Jacksonville football coach, teacher and Principal James Eldridge Thompson. “Coach Thompson was the first coach we played under in the 50’s. He cared about his students, taught us the fundamentals of football. He was a role model and became a father figure to many of the players on Matthew Gilberts Football team. We want this park named after Coach Thompson and with our committee and the help of the school board; I know we can get it done. Just about every coach in Jacksonville has been honored expect Coach Thompson,” expressed Committee Chair Bobby Newsome.
In an effort to get their mission accomplished, the committee has enlisted the help of former Duval County School Board Chair Betty Burney. In addition to extensive administrative experience, Burney also brings a wealth of knowledge of grant writing and city experience. She is assisting the classmates in filing petitions and the necessary paperwork for approval. The committee’s next goal is to meet with Paula Wright with the hopes of obtaining final approval that will lead to an open house at the school in preparation for a planned ribbon cutting, groundbreaking and dedication in honor of Coach Thompson.
About Coach Thompson: Coach Thompson died February 11, 2000 at the age of 75, of natural causes. A native of Jacksonville, Thompson graduated from Stanton High School in 1941 and served in the Army during World War II before going on to college. He played quarterback at Florida A&M University, which was then called Florida A&M College. The college awarded him a bachelor’s degree in 1947. He received a master’s degree from Temple University in 1953. Mr. Thompson began his educational career in 1947 as athletic director and football coach at the former Matthew Gilbert High School. He was an educator for 34 years, serving as assistant principal and principal at Gilbert and at Ribault Junior High School. When he retired in 1981, he was serving in the central administration office. In addition to his career, Mr. Thompson was active in the Holy Name Society at St. Pius, Omega Psi Phi fraternity, a life member of the NAACP and a director of the James Weldon Johnson Branch YMCA. Mr. Thompson was inducted into the FAMU Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. Shown are Committee Chair Bobby Newsome and Betty Burney discussing next steps with the committee. Next page is photo of Coach Thompson