The Panther Valley Irish-American Association has selected a retired educator and athletic coach to be the recipient of its Annual Shamrock Award.
Thomas Bonner, 63, a native of Summit Hill who currently resides in New Ringgold and who taught for over three decades and coached football for 28 years, will be the guest of honor when the PVIAA holds its 66th Annual St. Patrick's Day Banquet on Sunday, March 17, at the Grand Ballroom of Kelly's Irish Pub and Restaurant, Lansford.
The event will open with a social from 5:30-6:30, followed by the dinner and program, where Bonner will receive the Shamrock Award from PVIAA president Tim Kurchak dubbing him as the "Irishman of the Year" in the PV-Tamaqua region.
Entertainment for the evening will be provided by the father-and-son folk duo of Pat and Shane McGeehan. Tickets to the dinner can be obtained from the following association members: Summit Hill, Bob Crampsie and Billy O'Gurek; Lansford, Emmett McCall; Coaldale, Robert Ames and Tim Hoben; and Tamaqua, Tom McCarroll and John Tracy.
Paul R. McArdle Jr., a member of the PVIAA Recipient Committee, said about Bonner, "We were really impressed with his entire body of work over several decades. Sure, everyone is familiar with the tremendous success he had as a head football coach, but there was so much more he has done throughout his lifetime and the majority of that has involved sacrifices for others, in coaching, teaching, military service and family. We all agreed his selection was well-deserved. Tom is an outstanding choice to represent our organization."
For Bonner, accepting the award will be a special moment, especially considering the fact that his mother received the same honor 12 years ago.
"I certainly gave that a lot of thought," he said. "I'll never forget the day she told me she received a telephone call from Bobby Crampsie asking her to accept the award. She was humbled and beside herself, but considered it a great honor."
In those same respects, Bonner said, "This is certainly something I'll be pleased and honored to receive. Being from an area where there is so much pride in your heritage, we grew up the same way, proud to be Irish. Looking at past recipients, just to be mentioned with those people who were honored before me, it's hard to put into words."
Bonner said the honor bestowed upon him is like a bonus to his career as an educator and coach.
"You work your whole life, and teach and coach because you really love the kids, not because you expect to get rewards. Seeing them succeed and move on is rewarding enough, but to be recognized like this is really something hard to describe. I know Mom and Dad will be up there looking down on us that night."
Bonner was born into a strong Irish Catholic family from Summit Hill, a son of the late James and Loretta (Sweeney) Bonner. His late mother, a longtime nurse, was the 2001 Shamrock Award recipient.
Sports always played a big part in Bonner's life. At Marian High School, he earned eight varsity letters, held the school record for points scored in football in his senior year and the record in the 100-yard dash on the track team.
Shortly after high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he was a trained medic and spent the majority of his service in the states. Serving three months in Germany ended his military career and he was honorably discharged on Jan. 29, 1971.
Thanks to the GI bill, he was able to attend college, majoring in elementary education.
His teaching career began in 1975 at the former St. Joseph Parochial School, Summit Hill. He then went on to Tamaqua Area School District, where he taught for over 29 years until retiring in 2007, having taught all grade levels except kindergarten and fifth grade.
Bonner's name is synonymous with "Coach," as he was an area football coach for 28 years, first as an assistant varsity coach and then for 13 years as a head mentor. He coached at Marian, Panther Valley, Blue Mountain (where he was able to coach his son, Tom Jr.) and Tamaqua high schools.
He also coached track at Marian for four years and spent 25-plus years as track coach for Tamaqua. He is currently an assistant track coach for Tamaqua Middle School.
Bonner also spent 15 years as a PIAA basketball official.
During his head coaching career, Bonner attained the highest winning percentage (.705) in Panther Valley football history.
Among his achievements through his coaching career are: Tamaqua Area Football 1984 Eastern Conference Southern Division champion and Eastern Conference finalist; 1984 Reading Eagle and Hazleton Standard Speaker Coach of the Year; Panther Valley Football 1988 District XI Class AA champs and Schuylkill County Coaches Association Coach of the Year, 1989 Eastern Conference Class II Southern Division and Schuylkill County champs, 1991 Anthracite and Eastern Conference Southern Division champs, and 1992 Eastern Conference Southern Division I representative.
Bonner is married to the former Susan Swartz and is the father of two sons, Tommy (and his wife Kate), a teacher and football coach at Blue Mountain, and Michael (and his wife Sipi), an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia; and a stepson, Joey DiGirolamo (and his wife Lacey) of Dimock, Pa., employed by Meshoppen Stone. He has two granddaughters, Kailin and Quinn Bonner.
His siblings include James, married to the former Barbara Schlosser, of Rio Grande, N.J., Mary, wife of Stan Dakosty, and Joseph, married to the former Sandy Richards, both of Tamaqua, and Elizabeth, wife of Robert Mongi of Summit Hill.