SPRING HILL — Former Broncos wrestling coach Tom Carbajo was honored by his alma mater, being selected for the prestigious Ed Thomas Memorial Award.
The Ed Thomas Memorial Award is named after the late Ed Thomas, a 1972 graduate of William Penn University who coached high school football for 34 years.
Ed Thomas had a great impact on his athletes. He passionately believed that his job as a coach was not to prepare kids to be college athletes, but to make their involvement in football or other sports a learning experience.
Carbajo was given the Ed Thomas Memorial Award during a ceremony at William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Oct. 18.
“Coach Carbajo is the picture of strength, humility and passion,” said Andy Davison, who presented Carbajo with the award. “Tom serves as an example of the core principles of faith, family and excellence that Ed Thomas stood for.”
Carbajo graduated from William Penn University in 1979. He wrestled in high school and college. He was inducted into the William Penn University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.
Carbajo retired from coaching after leading the Spring Hill middle school and high school programs for 40 years.
Carbajo accomplished many things as a coach, but he considers the impact he had on the lives of the young people in his program to be his lasting legacy.
Spring Hill won 62 tournament titles, including 12 league titles, with coach Carbajo. He coached 128 state-qualifiers, 27 state-placers, 20 wrestlers who went on to compete at the collegiate level and five state champions.
Carbajo had a dual record of 237-32. Spring Hill qualified its entire team for state twice during his tenure.
Tom and Janel Carbajo, who are both former teachers and coaches, have three children: Kelsey, Macy and Kaden.
Kelsey and Macy followed in their parents’ footsteps, teaching and coaching at Olathe West High School. The two helped lead the Olathe West girls cross country team to a runner-up team performance in the Class 6A state meet.
Kaden, a 2019 graduate of Spring Hill High School, works with the Spring Hill Sports Live broadcasting team.
When he heard about being selected for the Ed Thomas Memorial Award, Tom Carbajo contacted his family to let them know. His daughters Kelsey and Macy and his mother LaVerne Carbajo said they had previous commitments and would not be able to attend the Oct. 18 ceremony.
“A half hour before the ceremony started, they walked in and my daughters gave me a surprise hug from behind and said, ‘Did you really think we would miss this?’ That really meant a lot to me,” Tom Carbajo said.
Kelsey and Macy had a four -and-a-half hour drive back to Olathe West and the cross country team was competing in its league meet the following day.
His mother also surprised her son.
“My mom came up and told me there is no way she would miss it,” he said. “She is 86 and still teaches preschool. With her work ethic and all her faith and wisdom she has given me all these years, it was important for me to have her there.”
Carbajo said his coaches were father figures to him, and he wanted to share that with the young people he coaches.
“I am very honored to receive this award,” Carbajo said. “When I started coaching I knew I had the opportunity to make an impact on student athletes, and I made that a goal as I coached throughout the years.
“I’m a very competitive person ,and wins and losses mean a lot to me, but I realize it wasn’t everything,” he said. “It is also a win when you get an invitation in the mail to attend a wedding of one of your former athletes or you run into someone you taught or coached in public and you see how successful they have become and what awesome parents they are. Those things are wins that continue forever.”
Stephen E. Fleer, former principal at Spring Hill High School, said Carbajo is a man of faith, family and excellence.
“If you look at Tom’s coaching resume you see decades of impressive wins, league and tournament championships and impressive team and individual achievements,” Fleer said. “His greatest wins have been in caring so much about his school roles and in developing positive and lasting relationships with his students, athletes and his colleagues.”
Coach Carbajo touched many lives, more than he may ever realize, Travis Roberts said.
Roberts wrestled for the Spring Hill Broncos. He grew tired of high school his senior year and almost dropped out.
Carbajo reached out to Roberts and helped bring him back to school to finish his education. It is a gesture Roberts has never forgotten.
“During my senior year I just got burnt out on school and wanted to quit,” Roberts aid. “I was going through some crazy times where I just didn’t want to be there at school. Coach Carbajo drove out to my house to talk to me and talked me back to school. I then finished my senior year and went on to graduate school and now I have a very successful dental practice. Thank you, Tom, for being there for all your students and wrestlers.
“Tom was one of the greats,” Roberts said. “He turned the almost faded out sport of wrestling at Spring Hill High School into a very competitive program, where he taught kids to wrestle and coached them into state contenders. He was a great friend of all and a great role model. I looked up to him as a father figure. On and off the mat he always had interest in being a part of my life.”
Carbajo wrestled in high school. His coach sent letters to five colleges, and Carbajo ended up signing with William Penn University.
He wrestled all four years of college. When he arrived in Spring Hill 41 years ago, Carbajo brought the Bronco wrestling program back in every sense of the word.
Spring Hill High School had dropped the program.
Carbajo, with the help of Dean Pope and Athletic Director Gerald Swope, started the high school program back up.
He coached the high school program for 25 years. Carbajo started the middle school program and coached high school and middle school for 10 years. He has spent 15 years working with student-athletes at the middle school.