Paul Thomas ended up at West Platte for a reason. The veteran coach didn’t switch jobs for the fancy new football facilities or to get away from a tough tenure at Warsaw.
No, Thomas knew former coach Nate Danneman. He knew Danneman’s wife Tabitha. He knew Danneman’s twin brother Jake.
West Platte picked Thomas as the new football coach, but he didn’t decide to apply until talking to Danneman’s family about his intentions. Nate Danneman died this past April at the age of 37 in a two-vehicle accident on Interstate 29.
Thomas wants to carry on the legacy Danneman left behind.
“Nate and I were really close friends,” Thomas said. “When this job came open, I just kind of felt led to apply for the job since the tragedy happened. I know Tabitha, and I know Jake really well. I talked to those guys about applying for the job to know if it was all right.”
Thomas owns a 131-106 career record in 25 years as a head coach, coming off a 2-25 stint in three years with Warsaw.
Already a member of the Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Thomas started his head coaching career at Hannibal in 1990 and won two district titles before taking a brief stint as an assistant in Texas. He graduated from Missouri Valley College and returned to town to coach Marshall in 2000.
While at Marshall, Thomas employed a young graduate assistant by the name of Nate Danneman, shortly after he finished his own football career at Missouri Valley. The two became friends on and off the field.
Thomas left Marshall in 2009 and went to Marceline where he led the Tigers to the 2013 Class 1 state championship game. He narrowly avoided a semifinal meeting with Danneman’s West Platte team that year.
Four years later, Thomas takes over at West Platte in the wake of Danneman’s tragic death, inheriting a difficult situation. The Bluejays went 1-9 last season, but most importantly, a community continues to cope with the grieving process.
“There’s not a book for any of this,” said Thomas, the 2013 Class 1 coach of the year. “You just have to kind of play it by ear, play it by feel and let the kids lead you.”
Fall sports practice opened Monday, July 31.
While Thomas took over football duties, Tyler St. Louis will succeed Nate Danneman as West Platte’s head wrestling coach this winter. Danneman spent one year as the head coach after three years as an assistant.
St. Louis, 28, will be a non-faculty coach, taking over a program with limited but notable success in recent years.
“The big thing for me is I always wanted to coach a high school program,” St. Louis said. “It’s always been a dream of mine, but I didn’t think I’d be able to do it without teaching.”
Previously helping out with Platte County’s youth program, St. Louis brings an impressive backstory to the job.
St. Louis is one of four three-time state champions at Platte County (2005, 2007-2008) and one of only two four-time finalists. He went 51-0 as a senior in 2008 at 152 pounds and remains in the top 10 all-time for the Pirates for wins, earning a spot in the Pirate Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2016.
After graduation, St. Louis spent a redshirt freshman season wrestling at North Carolina before leaving the team and finishing his degree in three years. He spent time as an assistant at Carrboro High School in North Carolina before a two-year stint at North Kansas City.
Since then, St. Louis has spent the majority of his time with youth wrestlers from kindergarten to eighth grade — an experience he thinks will benefit him at the high school level.
“I’ve learned patience,” he said, “a new level of patience, a level of patience I didn’t know I had.”
West Platte continues to struggle with numbers often fielding about half of a full 14-wrestler lineup in recent years. However, Justin Rhodes won the program’s first state championship just two years ago, and St. Louis plans to be proactive in building up the talent base even while working outside the building.
“You’ve got to be dedicated to that schedule and having your priorities in order,” he said. “I think that’s just done through being present when you are there. When you’re a head coach, you’re the leader of the program so being there is important.
“I don’t coach for money. I coach for love of the sport and love of the kids.”