Yay Rah Rah!

Armstrong’s Rashaundra Thomas hits 1,000 points

Fred Jeter | 1/15/2016, 7:53 a.m.
Rashaundra Thomas has a long name, a short frame and an often dazzling game. The 5-foot-3 Armstrong High School senior, ...
Armstrong High School starting guard Rashaundra Thomas shoots for the hoop during a recent practice. With her shooting skills, Thomas and the team hope to head to the 3A state tournament. Photo by James Haskins

Rashaundra Thomas has a long name, a short frame and an often dazzling game.

The 5-foot-3 Armstrong High School senior, who answers to “Rah Rah,” is the Wildcats’ first 1,000-point basketball scorer since Denise Winn in 1994.

Coincidentally, Winn’s teammates in the early 1990s included Deatrice Mealey, Thomas’ mother.

“Actually, I talked to Denise just last night on the phone,” said Thomas.

It’s a small world for basketball at Armstrong High School.

Although they spell their last names differently, Deatrice Mealey is the aunt of former Armstrong men’s basketball star Tavon Mealy, Class of 2013. He is now a standout for the Panthers at Virginia Union University.

Thomas credits her mom, who attends every game, as well as her cousin, Tavon, and her brother, Ramone, for helping sharpen her considerable skills on Church Hill.

“I’ve always been a tomboy,” the 17-year-old Thomas said with a shy smile. “I used to tag along after my brother and play with the boys.”

A four-year starting guard, Thomas scored 196 points as a freshman, 286 as a sophomore, 347 as a junior and 180 through her first 10 games this season.

She was second-team All-Capital District as a ninth-grader and a first-team All-Conference 26 choice for the past two seasons.

Wearing jersey No. 12, Thomas scored a career-high 36 points in a single game last year against George Wythe High School and had 32 points earlier this season against Thomas Jefferson High School, when she hit 1,000 points.

It was fitting she cracked quadruple figures with her signature shot, a three-pointer.

What her long-range shot lacks in artistry, it makes up for in accuracy.

“My form is so ugly,” she says with a giggle. “I don’t know how it goes in.”

Kevin Middleton arrived as Armstrong High’s coach the same year Thomas enrolled as a freshman.

The Wildcats won just four games each season in 2012-13 and 2013-14, but rallied for 13 wins last year. The East Enders started this season 7-3 and dream of advancing to the 3A State tournament at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.

Armstrong High’s last banner season was 1994, when the squad featuring Winn, who went on to shine at the University of Richmond, and Wallesha Tennessee, Armstrong High’s current assistant coach, lost to Petersburg High School in the Central Region final. 

Coach Middleton’s other aide is Wildcats football coach and Armstrong High Class of 1969 alumnus McDaniel Anderson, aka “Mr. Mack from Way Back.”

“What I like most about Rah Rah is that she plays every game like it may be her last game,” said Coach Middleton, a New York native. “She’s helped turn this program around.”

Coach Middleton insists he doesn’t much care about Thomas’ unorthodox shooting style, “as long as it goes in.”

Thomas is most dangerous beyond the arc.

“She makes four or five a game, and is probably hitting 45 percent for the season,” Coach Middleton said.

“Teams try to guard her with a box and one. But it doesn’t work because she’s so fast.”

Thomas is no one-girl team. She requests equal billing for the other senior starters, Crystal Chiles, an aggressive rebounder, and defensive ace Kae’Leigha Kimbrough.

The trio hope to continue playing on the college level with Bryant & Stratton College in Virginia Beach and Frederick Community College in Maryland — two options.

Any article involving Armstrong High School would be remiss without mention of Class of 2015 alumnus Tray-Quain Holmes, 18, who was shot and killed Dec. 24 in Richmond.

Holmes was a close friend of Armstrong basketball and Thomas, who called him a cousin even though he was not a blood relative.

“It’s a horrible thing,” said Thomas, “but it makes us push harder to keep the team up, to keep us all working to improve.”

In Richmond’s East End, the girls wearing Armstrong High’s blue and orange play with a bounce in their step but, sadly, also with a heavy heart. The scoreboard alone will never begin to tell the whole story.