It started as an email on Monday morning from Michael Kithcart, a former Spectrum sports editor a few years younger than me, who wondered if I had any ideas of how to find some old photos of Janis Thompson. Michael works with Sue Thompson, Janis’ sister, and the family is looking for some more photos with Janis being inducted into the North Dakota High School Track and Field Hall of Fame at the state track meet in late May. More than that, Sue is simply looking for more images of her sister to keep her memory fresh. It’s not easy after more than 30 years.
The result led to my column, which you can read here.
The reaction has to be heartwarming to the family with so many messages of support either via email or social media. Here’s just one example I received in the last 24 hours:
Wow, it took my breath away to see your article and the picture of Janice
just now. I’m from Minot and was a year younger than Janis. She was
beautiful both on the inside and outside. I knew her and she would talk to
anyone including me. She was such a nice person and a beautiful girl.
Hearing about her death is one of those times in my life where I have a
distinct memory of exactly what I was doing at that time and what I did the
rest of that day. It was Halloween weekend and another friend of mine
tragically died at my college that same weekend. It was one of the most
difficult times up to that point in my young life. Thank you so much for
this article and bringing Janis back to life for a bit.
Several others left messages of people who potentially would have old photos, leaving contact information. It’s one of the fundamental principles of journalism, to facilitate communication and in this case to help somebody find more photos of the sister she lost too young. Janis was a former record holder on the Bison track team and you can still find her in the indoor top 10 at No. 4 in the 800-meter relay. I’m not sure how often the 800 relay is run indoors anymore, but the last top 10 mark was in 2007, so to set a mark in 1985 stood the test of time pretty well.
On that note, this question: is Janis Thompson worthy of the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame? Considering the strength and tradition of the women’s track and field team, her marks would have competition from a lot of athletes in a lot of years. But she was still a part of at least three school records. On a more compelling note, she gave her life with a university sport. She traveled the country to cheer team events and was an instructor for the National Cheerleaders Association so her Bison team could be that much better. The accident, when she fell from a pyramid, was a integral part of reform that spurred better safety standards in cheer team competition around the country. As the New York Times pointed out, her accident was part of a few incidents that pointed out cheer teams were no longer social activities but a skilled sport. It’s a rather safe bet more serious accidents and maybe worse were prevented because of that.
Just a few things for the Hall of Fame nominating committee to consider.