A sports legacy recognized
Almost 30 summers ago, a young football coach came into the weight room and noticed all but one of his players had left for the evening.
The two discussed the upcoming season and plans after high school. But what started out as a candid conversation about the upcoming senior’s future eventually opened a door that would see this Greenwave football star walk through and become successful on and off the field in college and afterward.
“We started talking about the future,” said Chris Klenakis, who coached the Greenwave in the 1980s before landing gigs at Nevada, Arkansas and now Louisville. “He wanted to be a doctor. Where I played, Carroll was probably one of the best pre-med schools in the country. I told him that Carroll would be a good fit.”
That senior followed his coach’s advice and he would turn into one of the best defenders at Carroll before becoming one of the most well-respected surgeons in the region. Tom McCormick, who also played baseball and wrestling, will be inducted into Carroll’s athletics Hall of Fame in October.
The statistic that made McCormick stand out among the rest came in his first season with the Saints, who hail from Montana and play in the NAIA. McCormick, a cornerback, snagged a school-record four interceptions in one game, including one returned for a touchdown.
“I was a freshman and I don’t know if they were trying to throw at me because I was the most inexperienced defensive back,” McCormick said. “I’m sure you don’t get four and they’re all great coverage. I don’t remember the specifics. My wife, when we were in college, got mad at me and told me they were all lucky. She puts me in my place.”
Going to Carroll, Klenakis’ alma mater, not only gave McCormick a chance at making headlines on the football field and studying to become a doctor, the opportunity also opened for his family. He met his wife, Missy, at Carroll and played with her brother on the gridiron. McCormick’s younger brother, Ryan, played at Carroll, as well, and his daughter, Megan, just finished her first year playing for the school’s softball team. Even his in-laws attended Carroll.
“We’re definitely not discouraging kids from going there,” McCormick said.
Before starring at Carroll, McCormick was on Klenakis’ 1988 team that made it to the state semifinals. The Greenwave started the year 8-0 before back-to-back losses ended the season, including a heartbreaking 12-7 defeat against Manogue.
McCormick still remembers the final play of the Manogue game — his last wearing the Greenwave uniform.
“We had great team chemistry. Back then, the top two in north and south played,” McCormick said. “We were on the 1-inch line when time expired when one ref called a touchdown and one didn’t.”
McCormick picked up accolades for his junior and senior seasons, including second-team defensive back in his junior year and then first-team running back and second-team defensive back in his final year. But more importantly, education was on his mind during his senior year as he wanted to practice medicine.
That conversation in the weight room caught Klenakis by surprise, but the longtime football coach was pleased with McCormick’s career path.
“It caught me off-guard because Tommy was so fiery and competitive,” Klenakis recalled. “If he would have said lawyer, I would have bought that right away. He’s very strong -willed and quick-witted. He said doctor and it made sense. He’s highly intelligent. I was able to help him out with Carroll.”
McCormick credits chemistry teacher Steve Johnson and biology teacher Ted de Braga for helping him in high school and adding more fire to his passion for science. It was during his freshman year at Carroll when he buckled down, setting up a career path that no one could interfere.
“I definitely had to work hard and put the time in. Biology and science came easier to me than writing and English,” said McCormick, who majored in biology and then completed his schooling at both Nevada universities. “I was prepared well coming out of Churchill County.”
With his coach and teachers in one corner and his family in the other, McCormick was able to succeed on all levels. He graduated from Carroll in 1993, completed medical school at UNR in 1997 and his surgical residency at UNLV in 2002 before returning to Fallon where he has been at Lahontan Valley Surgical Associates.
“They definitely supported me in sports. They were working hard,” McCormick said of his parents. “There were seven of us total they put us all through Churchill County schools.”
And McCormick and his wife have been able to return the favor with their own children. Megan McCormick was a three-sport star for the Greenwave, excelling in softball, which landed her in Carroll. Her younger brothers, junior Sean McCormick and sophomore Tommy McCormick, also play three sports and found early success on the wrestling mat.
But McCormick wasn’t sure he would come back to Fallon after he completed his residency. Worried that Fallon wouldn’t be able to support two general surgeons, the McCormick family returned to the Lahontan Valley and immediately contributed.
It was the small-town atmosphere that helped sway the decision.
“When the teams are doing well, the Friday night atmosphere and the stands are packed — people are talking about it. It’s better than a big city,” said McCormick, who helps coach the football team. “The whole town gets behind high school sports. I wanted to raise my kids here.”