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Mills River dedicates Tommy Bryson basketball court

Joey Bryson and West Henderson basketball players pose at the Thomas A. Bryson Basketball Court. Joey Bryson and West Henderson basketball players pose at the Thomas A. Bryson Basketball Court.

MILLS RIVER — Rick Bryson quoted Dean Smith, “with apologies to State and Duke fans,” to describe the support the Mills River community had given the Bryson family.

“Basketball more than any other sport is a team game,” Bryson said, quoting the legendary UNC basketball coach. “It’s about thousands of small unselfish acts and sacrifices on the part of the players that results in team building.”
“I believe those words can be applied to this community,” Bryson said. “When I think back to a year ago when my father was missing I think about all the countless unselfish acts and sacrifices that you all carried out, how rescue teams, fire departments, law enforcement and volunteers never gave up looking for our father and I think about all the friends and neighbors who were at our side round-the-clock praying for us during those awful days.
“And even when he was found, Mills River continued to sacrifice. You sacrificed your time, your energy and your finances to help make this park a reality. Our family is forever grateful for that.”
Rick Bryson, his brother, Joey, and their mother, Lynn, were greeted by hundreds of friends, relatives and neighbors Tuesday evening in the rain. Some might have said that Mills River failed to catch a break in the weather; others said that God was crying.
It was a year ago Thursday, prosecutors say, that convicted felon Phillip Michael Stroupe II shot Thomas A. “Tommy” Bryson to death after abducting him as he checked his mailbox at the end of his driveway. Stroupe's capital murder trial, originally set to start this month, was postponed until no earlier than Jan. 28 based on a defense motion.
Joey Bryson, the varsity boys basketball coach at West Henderson High School, quoted his dad, whom Joey knows was up in heaven watching the big crowd, the giant American flag waving from a fire truck and the youngsters shooting hoops on his new court.
“He would say this is ridiculous, why are you doing this on my behalf? If it was anyone else in the community he’d be all for it. He loved this community more than anything,” Joey said.
The coach shot a couple of hoops on the Thomas A. Bryson Memorial Basketball Court, accepted more of the condolences that never stop coming and posed for pictures with West Henderson's girls and boys basketball teams. “Fear the Falcon,” his T-shirt said.
After a grieving community asked what they could do to remember Tommy, the family decided that a basketball court would be a fitting tribute. Tommy was a Carolina man all the way, and a Falcon and a Catamount. When Joey played at Western Carolina University, Tommy would drive to a high ridge where he could tune in the game broadcast.
“Started playing in third grade — I don’t think he missed any games at all,” Joey said. “Even college, he’d go to watch our games, he’d drive different places to listen to them on the radio.”
When Joey coached in Georgia for five years and at North Buncombe for six years, Dad came to as many games as he could.
“Luckily he got to watch my son play last year and he was always waiting for him after the game to give him a Gatorade,” Joey said.
Tommy’s widow, Lynn, was supported by her daughters-in-law and other family and friends. She did not speak publicly.
“This has all been really hard for Mom, as you can imagine,” Joey said. “This gives her hope, like it does a lot of people. We’re just trying to find ways to give some joy and happiness back because it’s so senseless. This is going to help I think.”
Rick told the gathering sheltered under umbrellas that the inaugural Deer Dash 5k last spring in honor of his father raised more than $15,000. The second Deer Dash, on Oct. 6, will help fund First Contact Ministries, a Christian-based drug rehab nonprofit founded by Mud Creek Baptist Church. There’s a direct link between drug addiction and the worst thing that ever happened to the Bryson family.
“You read these headlines about the drug problem in our area. It’s real,” Rick said. “Our dad’s death was directly related to the criminal violence that comes out of the drug problem.”
The brand new basketball court has six hoops and is a regulation full-court. The family is working on a 3-on-3 basketball tournament on the court for next summer.