By Josh Sellmeyer
Webster University graduates Eric Stack and Dan Thoman wouldn’t have it any other way.
The two basketball greats attended Webster together from 1987-1991. They weathered losing seasons, coaching changes and a non-existent fan base in order to help lay the foundation for the men’s basketball program.
On Feb. 5, Stack and Thoman will be honored for their accomplishments on and off the court. At halftime of the men’s basketball game, which starts at 3 p.m., Stack and Thoman will officially be enshrined into the Webster University Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I don’t know if either of us would want to go in without each other,” Thoman said. “To go in with Eric is quite an honor, because he put up great numbers and gave his all for the university. If anybody was the picture of Webster athletics at that time, it would have been Eric.”
Stack agreed that it only made sense for both Thoman and him to enter the HOF at the same time.
“Playing with Dan for all four years and being inducted the same year as him, it just makes it that much more special,” Stack said. “The recognition gives the current student athletes something to look at and say, ‘Hey, that could be me someday.’ Hopefully they realize that these are guys who laid down the foundation for us to be here now.”
Building that foundation certainly wasn’t easy, as the Webster men’s basketball team had compiled a 21-49 record in its first three seasons of existence (1984-1987). When Stack and Thoman joined the team in the fall of ’87, the program’s future looked bright, as there were plan to build an on-campus gymnasium. It appeared that the team would no longer have to practice and play its home games in the gyms of Nerinx Hall and Webster Groves High School. But the gymnasium didn’t come into fruition until after Stack and Thoman graduated.
The Gorloks stumbled to a 7-19 record during the duo’s first season. To make matters worse, coach Ken Baxter left his post (as did three other head coaches that year), leaving many of the players wondering if there would be an athletics department the following year, let alone a men’s basketball team.
Stack was one of the players in question. In addition to losing his basketball coach, Stack lost his baseball coach that very same year. If it weren’t for Thoman and a couple of the other players convincing him to participate again, Stack wouldn’t have played another year of college basketball.
But Stack decided to return to the team for his sophomore season, and his numbers spiked. Stack had averaged only 3.2 points per game and 1.6 rebounds per game from the guard position in limited action during his freshman season. But for his sophomore campaign, Stack averaged 11.5 points and 4.3 rebounds. His offensive output continued to rise over his final two seasons.
“Eric was an all-out athlete,” Thoman said. “He gave you every ounce of energy during games; he didn’t leave anything. He was the leader of our team. He was a very coachable and smart athlete. He was good at everything: shooting, distributing the ball, a great defender and a huge competitor.”
Before electing to attend Webster, Stack first had to decide what sports he wanted to play at the collegiate level. At Sullivan High School, Stack played five sports, including football. Colleges such as Central Methodist and Culver-Stockton offered Stack football scholarships, but he determined that basketball would be his main focus.
At Webster, Stack played baseball, tennis and ran a cross-country race to help keep Webster’s athletics program NCAAeligible, in addition to playing basketball.. One of Stack’s favorite moments at Webster occurred on the baseball diamond during his freshman season.
“I played all nine positions in one game,” Stack said. “I pitched a little in high school, I could catch, I played a little infield. I played for at least one out at every position, in order to be in the record books. That game, when I was catching, I threw a runner out at second. It was fun.”
Stack was named to the All-Conference first team for both basketball and baseball his senior season. He was also named an academic All-American for baseball. Stack maintained a 3.5 GPA at Webster, and received a degree in business and a degree in mathematics. He works at MasterCard and has been dating Lisa Cain for 11 years. Thoman was a dominant player at both ends of the court during his years at Webster.
Statistically, Thoman’s junior season was his best, as he averaged over 18 points a game to go along with 8.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest. He was named to the All- Conference first team for his senior season. Thoman is a mainstay in the Webster basketball record books. He is the career leader in points scored (1,606) and rebounds (738). His next closest competitor for each category is 331 points and 121 rebounds behind. Thoman is also the career leader in steals with 170, which is 20 ahead of Stack, who is in third.
“Dan was an excellent player,” Stack said. “He was a big guy, more of a power forward-type player. He was a solid player inside and outside; he could shoot the outside shot and take it inside. It was really enjoyable playing with him. He’s like me; he comes from a small school and a small town. We could relate to a lot of stuff.”
Thoman attended Winfield High School before moving onto Webster. In addition to playing basketball, Thoman was one of the founding members of Webster’s men’s volleyball club team. Thoman and his roommate, Paul Mullen, would get people together and play sand volleyball.
The team traveled to the club volleyball national tournament and played colleges like Notre Dame and Michigan State. Thoman said by his senior year, the team made a deep run in the national tournament for small college teams.
Thoman maintained a 3.5 GPA at Webster and graduated in ’91 with a degree in mathematics and a teacher certification. He taught math at Fort Zumwalt South High School for eight years. He also coached basketball and boys and girls’ volleyball at Fort Zumwalt. Thoman left Fort Zumwalt to begin a school administration career. Currently, Thoman is an assistant principal at Eureka High School, a spot he has held for nine years. He is married to Janna Thoman, and the couple has three children.
Both Thoman and Stack said they are looking forward to catching up with each other at the Feb. 5 induction ceremony, because the two have become disconnected over the years. Both also said they hope to see many of their Webster teammates at the event.
“It’s nice being recognized because Eric and I spent a lot of time playing sports, but we also stuck through some pretty hard times,” Thoman said. “I had a lot of pride in playing for Webster. It’s a huge honor and I’m looking forward to it.”