Those who knew him said Kobe Thomas was a joy to be around and always had a big smile and a kind word for everyone.
He was the kind of kid who would put people in a good mood, according to his friends and teachers.
“If anyone could make me happy, Kobe could,” said his former Pepperell High classmate Tae Hammond. “If you were down, he could put a spark in you.”
On Monday, both Pepperell and Model high school students and staff were mourning the loss of Kobe, who died Sunday from injuries sustained when he was struck by a car late Friday night. He was 16.
Kobe attended Pepperell schools from elementary school to his sophomore year. He moved to Model High at the beginning of his junior year, according to Pepperell High Principal Jamey Alcorn.
Students spent much of the morning sharing stories about Kobe with their teachers, talking about what made Kobe, well, Kobe.
“I came to Pepperell in sixth grade,” explained Tae. “He was the first one to welcome me in as a friend. We played football, basketball and ran track together. He was like a brother.”
Kobe was a talent to be reckoned with on the basketball court, everyone agreed.
“He had a great attitude,” said Zach Mendence, who coached Kobe on the junior varsity basketball team. “He was always ‘yes, sir, no sir’ and he loved life. He could joke with you and he never talked smack on the court. He never criticized other players.”
Kobe was friendly and always joking, except on the court, Mendence said.
“When it was game time, that was serious,” he said.
Mendence remembers that after practice one day, Kobe decided he could dunk the ball.
“At Pepperell, dunking is big, everyone wants to, but not everyone makes it,” Mendence said. “Kobe said he could do it, and he did and all the kids went nuts. We hadn’t had a kid who could dunk in 10 years.”
Jamal Ware grew up with Kobe, playing ball with him and attending Pepperell with him.
“Basketball brought us together,” Jamal said. “He could make anybody laugh by saying like three words.”
Jamal and his friends laughed together about the time that Kobe made six 3-point shots in a row during practice.
“He was so excited, he ran all the way to the football field and back down to the office,” Jamal explained, smiling. “When he got to the office, he saw the school nurse and told her he had to see her now. When she asked him why, he said, ‘because I am on fire.’”
Blake Milam, another friend of Kobe’s at Pepperell, went to check on Kobe at Erlanger with Jamal and several others. Kobe did not wake up while they were there, Blake said.
Pepperell teacher Brian Crick said he taught Kobe during his freshman year. “You know, we all have bad mornings, but that guy would come in and smile at you and you had to smile back,” Crick said.
Crick said he goes to church with several Model High students, where Kobe had started his school year this year. In just a few short months, Kobe had managed to make quite an impression.
“They were pulling out their phones Sunday, showing us pictures with Kobe,” Crick said. “In every one, Kobe was smiling.”
Mendence credits Kobe’s mother Demetria Almond for the incredible personality of her son.
“She is a great role model,” Mendence said. “She was always involved, always supportive. I love this kid. This has been a devastating time for me, for everyone in the area that knew him. You wonder how something like that can happen to such a fantastic kid.”
Model High Principal Scott Savage said his students held a moment of silence around the flagpole Monday morning for Kobe. Students are also planning to do a joint memorial of some sort for Kobe, with Model and Pepperell students participating, but no plans have been finalized yet.
“The mood has been somber today,” said Savage. “He was here only a short time, but he made a huge impact, making many friends. I wish we could have had him here longer so we all could have gotten to know him better.”
Pepperell will be having a moment of remembrance during their bonfire Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the old Lindale Mill.
Pepperell basketball players also plan to retire Kobe’s jersey, No. 22, Alcorn said.