Roy “Spaceman” Thompson was born in Harlem, New York in 1946. At a young age, Roy moved with his family to Burlington, North Carolina where he developed his love for track & field (and fishing). In Burlington, under the guidance of Coach David Maynard, Roy became a standout long jumper and triple jumper at Jordan Sellars High School. Roy gained his famous moniker, “Spaceman,” because when he jumped, he looked as if he was flying through outer space.
From Jordan Sellers, Roy took his talents to North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. At North Carolina A&T, Roy’s nickname proved to be a true testament of his talent. He was crowned All-CIAA in the long jump and triple jump in 1966, 1967, and 1968. In his senior year, 1968, he was the NCAA Eastern Regional Champion in both the long jump and triple jump (setting a meet record of 23-feet in the long jump) and was named MVP of the Aggies’ track & field team.
In 1970, Roy answered his call to duty and was one of the many brave men and women who served in the U. S. Armed Forces in the Vietnam War. Roy served his country until 1974 and was awarded the Army Accommodation Medal for developing a race relations program for the Army.
In 1975, Roy and his wife, Linda, returned to Greensboro. Roy decided to forego a career in law and focused instead on what he loved the most – track and field. He started the Greensboro Pacesetters Youth Track Team in 1976 and the Greensboro Champions in 1979 to expose at-risk Greensboro youth to the world of track & field. Through Greensboro Champions, Coach Thompson has coached hundreds of National Junior Champions, and has helped guide even more at-risk youths to pursue their academic dreams in college.
In 1980, Spaceman began his legacy as a track and field coach at his alma mater, North Carolina A&T State University. As a result of Coach Thompson’s leadership as Head Coach and Director of Track & Field Programs, North Carolina A&T has become widely known as one of America’s track & field powerhouses. During his tenure, Coach Thompson’s teams captured 5 MEAC Championships, and boasted of over 125 individual MEAC Champions and 10 NCAA Division I All-Americans. He is the only coach in the university’s history to bring home both Men’s Indoor and Men’s Outdoor MEAC Championships. He also is only one of five coaches to have won 3 MEAC Championships in a row.
Under the direction of Chancellor James Rennick, Coach Thompson developed one of America’s finest track facilities – the Irwin Belk Track & Field Complex – at North Carolina A&T, allowing the university to become the first Historically Black College and University to host an NCAA Regional Championship. The track program under Coach Thompson also has hosted many other prestigious meets at Irwin Belk, including the New Balance Nationals, the National Junior Olympics, the MEAC Conference Championships, and the NCHSA State Championship. All told, meets held at Irwin Belk have helped generate over $65 million for the City of Greensboro.
Over his years of coaching, Roy’s nickname has morphed for some into “Coach Space,” reflecting not only his own personal achievements, but also his students’ inspiring academic achievements – the aspect of his career of which he is most proud. Coach Space’s North Carolina A&T student-athletes achieved a 90% graduation rate, with many honors. The university’s track & field programs have earned impressive NCAA academic progress numbers over the years, and the NCAA recently recognized the women’s team as one of the nation’s top Academic Progress Rate teams.
For over 20 years, Coach Thompson’s counterparts from throughout the world have praised him as a true and loyal “Ambassador of Track & Field.”
Coach Thompson retired from North Carolina A&T in October, 2010 and now spends most of his time being G’Pa Roy to his two grandsons, Aaron (5) and Zion (4).