‘HIS ENTHUSIASM SPILLS OVER,’ Natchez man is Mississippi Male Athlete of the Year

Published 3:20 pm Monday, June 12, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Thomas Luckett, a Special Olympian from Natchez, was selected as the Male Athlete of the Year for the entire state of Mississippi and recently took silver in bowling at the Mississippi Special Olympics held at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. 

It is his first time to win the Special Olympics in the more than 35 years he has been involved with the program in Natchez. 

“I was surprised. They announced my name at the opening ceremonies,” Luckett said. 

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Coach Tommie Jones said she wrote a letter nominating Luckett for the male athlete of the year and said as far back as she could remember he has been involved with the Special Olympics. Luckett is now 52 years old but still has a “great love for Special Olympics,” Jones said. 

“His enthusiasm spills over into our community. Thomas works in different restaurants in downtown Natchez where he meets many people who he tells about his accolades he has obtained being a Special Olympian,” Jones wrote in her letter. “He has many accomplishments because he has competed in area, state and USA games in skiing, Bocce, tennis, track and field, softball and bowling. He works diligently to promote the special olympics.” 

Daye Dearing said she first met Thomas in 2005 but really got to know him well in 2008. They have taken trips to Jackson together to go to the mall or even the Mississippi State Fair. She was so happy to share the news he had won the Mississippi Male Athlete of the Year. 

“I’m his friend and I help him out,” Dearing said. “He is a sweetheart.” 

Carrying the torch

At the 2023 Special Olympics Games opening ceremony, Luckett carried the torch for the Opening Ceremony. Jones said they are always in need of raising funds to travel to the summer games, but Luckett works hard throughout the year to solicit funds to help out. 

“He does an outstanding job and we are proud of Thomas,” Jones said. 

Jones told Luckett he would have the special honor of carrying the torch in Biloxi during the regional Special Olympics track meet held at Natchez High School. 

“It wasn’t too heavy. We did it with the Biloxi police department. It was so warm. I got to light the cauldron and flames came up at the ceremony,” Luckett said. “I walked in with some of the airmen from Keesler Air Force Base. Everybody was flashing their cameras. I called my sister and niece and let them know I was doing it.” 

Luckett’s career in the Special Olympics began as a teenager. Before then, he played softball in his yard and in the alley by his house. 

A seasoned veteran of the national games, he has skied in Boone, North Carolina, and played tennis in Iowa. The Iowa trip was memorable because he met former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner. Luckett said he is not sure if he will compete in nationals this year. 

Basketball is his favorite sport to play and he plays center. He said his coaches Jones and Wanda Robinson-Ceasor were proud of him for his bowling efforts. Luckett shone at the regional track meet this year too and led the athletes in reciting their pledge to competition.

“As long as you try you do good. Our motto is ‘Let me win. If I cannot win, let me be brave in my attempt,’” Luckett said. “Special Olympics means you try your best. If you don’t try your best then it won’t happen for you. You will succeed sometimes if you try your best.” 

The Special Olympics have given him friends and experiences he is thankful for. He helps coach some of the younger athletes and said his coaches will call and check on how he is doing. Luckett has a good time in the Special Olympics. 

“I just like being able to get out and do stuff and be around people,” he said. “I plan to be involved as long as I can.” 

Outside of the games

A fan of the Golden State Warriors, Luckett watches a lot of the NBA. His favorite player is Steph Curry. Sports are fun to him and keep him busy. On Mondays and Fridays during the spring he plays softball in Vidalia with the Special Olympics group. 

When he is not working or competing, Luckett is often watching wrestling, playing NBA or Mario Super Brothers. He listens to R&B and takes care of his dog Rusty, a lab. 

His favorite show is Day of Our Lives and he keeps up with the news on WJTV or WLBT. Sundays are for attending Holy Family Church and watching movies. His favorite movies include Commando starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Wick starring Keanu Reeves and Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hill Cops. 

Luckett said if they made a movie about his life the best actors to play his role would be Ice Cube, Laurence Fishburne or Kevin Hart. He is six foot and two inches tall so Hart might be too short for the part. 

REM Mississippi gives Luckett opportunities to stay active too. Matilda Stephens runs Natchez’s local branch of REM. 

Project Search Participants Nathan Gaude and Patrick Davis also represented the area at the Mississippi Special Olympics. Gaude took two gold medals in swimming while Davis took a gold in the 400m walk. 

The athletes will be recognized at City Hall at 4 p.m. Tuesday for representing Natchez in the state games. 

Jones said Mallory Hinson also deserves some recognition for her fundraising efforts. Hinson graduated from Mississippi State University this May but helped raise funds for the Special Olympics trip like she did in 2022, she said.