"Everyone everywhere has lost a great man and friend. Always a positive and kind person who really utilized his position to help young and old alike, especially my generation. He always played by the rules and really went the extra mile in support of Lincoln County." - Jerry Power
"Coach Bunch was the definition of Great Character. He was a great role model for all of us in Lincoln County. We will always remember Coach Thomas Bunch for the wonderful person he was and his humble service to Lincoln County." - Glen Matthews
"Heaven received a great man ... He was one of the finest men I ever had the privilege of knowing. " - Faith Aycock Hill
"He was a truly great man who was loved & admired by everyone who knew him. ... I feel blessed to have known him" -- Reesie Poss
"The first football coach I ever had (in the 7th grade). How many other retired legends would volunteer to coach Midget Mite football? That was Coach Bunch. Character, honesty, integrity, and modesty were the ideals he lived by. He didn't just talk it, he lived it." - Flint Matthews
"Lincoln County has really lost a great gentleman." - Karen Lewis Saggus
"Many great accomplishments, many lives he touched; he certainly will be missed." - Debra Lynne Poland
"The world was a better place because Coach Bunch was here." -- Lisa Poss Fort
These are but a few of the many accolades and remembrances shared by the generations that knew, loved, and were helped by Thomas Bunch.
Thomas H. Bunch was born on June 11, 1920, to Francis Elizabeth and G. W. Bunch. He was known as "Zero" Bunch by some of the old gang because of his jersey number for the Red Devils in the late 1930s. Playing center, he probably got that number because he was the smallest on the team, but the life he lived over the next seven decades proved he was one of the most impactful persons to ever live in Lincoln County.
After a tour of duty in the U. S. Army, he married Alice Norman on May 17, 1947. He completed studies at the University of Georgia in 1951. At Washington High School he served as assistant football and girls basketball coach in 1952, 1953 and 1954. He moved to Tignall High School as coach in 1955. He came home to Lincolnton in 1956 as an assistant coach. He received his Masters Degree from Athens in 1957.
As an assistant to the ailing Buddy Bufford in 1960, Coach Bunch conducted most of the on-field practices during the week. The 1960 team won all twelve games enroute to Lincolnton's first GHSA state football crown. Coach Bunch was named head coach after Coach Bufford's untimely passing in early 1961. That fall the team would win ten and lose two. The Red Devils came up just short of another title with a loss in the finals in Sanford Stadium.
The next two seasons had perfect results with a pair of 12-0 marks and two Class C titles. Coach Bunch was Coach of the Year both seasons. The 1963 team allowed only two touchdowns, and local townsfolk are still arguing about the first of those that may or may not have been scored in Warrenton.
The Devils would not win another region crown until the 1970s, but they would have been in the playoffs most years had the present system been in place. In most years it was a great combination of coaching and players in Warrenton that kept the Devils a win shy of the post-season.
Both sons Tommy and Tim would play for the Red Devils, and daughter Lynn cheered everyone on.
Coach Bunch's last year just might have been his finest performance even in the presence of his two State Championships. In this year Lincolnton High School become Lincoln County High and integration of not only the schools but the football team as well occurred. With no spring practice at all and only a few weeks of summer practice, Coach Bunch put together a team that worked as a unit instead of a disarray of uncoached individuals. It took the sort of man Thomas Bunch was to completely and thoroughly fill this role as he did. He was always gentle and understanding, yet firm and in control of his players. Other towns may have had problems, but not Lincolnton, largely due to the efforts of Coach Bunch.
Coach Bunch decided to give up his head football coaching duties in 1971 but remain as the school system's Athletic Director. The young coach he had hired earlier to renew the school's baseball program was named the new football head coach, with Coach Bunch as an assistant for the first year. That young coach would later say that Coach Bunch was much better at the Xs and Os of football that he was. Obviously Coach Bunch had seen something special in that young man named Larry Campbell, and Lincoln County has certainly benefitted from that hiring decision. Coach Bunch retired from the school system in 1985.
In 2003, the Fieldhouse at Buddy Bufford Field was named in honor of Coach Bunch. Each year, the Thomas Bunch Award is presented annually to the athlete who has best embodied the ideals of Thomas Bunch through leadership and character.
"Thomas Bunch made numerous contributions to Lincoln County Schools through the years," writes Trudy Edmunds. "He has helped to mold the character of the community by the lives he's touched through his counseling, guidance, and believing in the young people of Lincoln County. He is a pioneer and leader who is still held in highest regard by all who know him."
Even though his health had deteriorated in recent years, he still showed his support for the youngsters, including his extended family as well as those playing for the Red Devils. He attended at least two football games in 2010. The highlight had to be the 50th year reunion of Lincoln County's first state championship team from 1960. He attended a coaches clinic at UGA shortly before his death.
Dr. Randall Edmunds is a Bunch player/student who played in the NFL before returning home to be School Superintendent for 30 years. In 2001, he successfully nominated Coach Bunch to be the Grand Marshal of the Chistmas festivities in Lincolnton. In that nomination, Dr. Edmunds noted, "my most profound and vivid memories, however, are of a genuine and compassionate person -- a true Southern gentleman; a devoted family man and Christian; a firm believer in and supporter of young people."
The characterization of Thomas Bunch is consistent no matter who is talking. He was a kind, gentle man that believed in the young people of Lincoln County. He demonstrated that over and over in his many community roles. It didn't matter if you participated in athletics or not; generations of Lincoln County folks are better persons because of Thomas Bunch. Because he had such an effect, his efforts will be remembered for a long time to come.