Local karate competitor “Rhino” Mike Thomas is the newest inductee of the museum’s growing hall of fame for local athletes.
One of Plant City’s most inspiring examples of chasing after your dreams, of doing whatever it takes to become what you’ve long wanted to be, is now going to live on for decades to come.
The Bing Rooming House Museum grew its burgeoning Sports Hall of Fame by one with the recent induction of “Rhino” Mike Thomas, whose karate prowess has led to a successful competitive career on the national and international levels in the last few years.
“What stuck out to us was his style, him matching his style and competing with others from international arenas,” William Thomas Jr., of the Bing Rooming House Museum, said. “He faced international fighters in the majority of his competitions and was able to do very well. He placed first in a number of those competitions… to be able to effectively match your style and compete internationally, I think that says a little more and that’s one of the things that piqued our interest when we were talking to him.”
Becoming a professional martial artist was a dream Thomas had since his childhood, but a childhood spent moving around Florida and Georgia followed by teenage years spent working to financially support his family meant he didn’t have the chance to start learning until he was an adult. Thomas began training with Chris Welbon Karate Clubs in 2013 and later furthered his training with Rudy Rogers at Rogers’ “Open-Air Dojo” on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Thomas found a way to balance a full-time work schedule with several jobs with his intensive training, earned his black belt in 2018 and has won dozens of tournaments in just a few years of competition.
Thomas donated several medals and his first pair of sparring gloves to the hall of fame. He said the opportunity to get inducted meant a lot to him, especially because it’s something his family can be proud of even long after he’s gone.
“It’s gonna be good for my kids,” Thomas said. “And my grandkids, one day they can come see that because my name will be there forever. They can see my accomplishments. My great grandchildren can say I was inducted into the Bing House Hall of Fame. It’s a great opportunity.”
The man they call “Rhino” for his consistent, forward-moving attack is now the third member of the museum’s hall of fame.
The first person enshrined in the hall was Chevelle Hallback, who donated a pair of her gloves after the February 2020 “Conversation with a Champion” event at the museum in which the boxing world champ spoke candidly about her life and career in the ring. That technically came before the Bing House Sports Hall of Fame was officially created, but starting with Hallback was an easy call for William Thomas Jr., who has curated the museum’s hall of fame.
Then came Plant City High School basketball legend Ginger Bennett Forté, who was posthumously inducted following the June 11, 2020 “Ginger Forté Day” ceremony outside the museum in which a customized No. 23 jersey and several photos were donated to the museum by family, friends and members of the Ginger’s Jewelz group.
The hall of fame is for Plant City-area athletes, coaches, trainers and those who made successful sports careers possible. People from all walks of life will be considered, but Thomas Jr. said each candidate will be “vetted heavily” before they’re voted on.
Thomas Jr., a devoted sports fan and self-described “memorabilia junkie,” said the goal is to soon induct multiple athletes per year and grow the exhibit as much as possible with the support of the community. The exhibit is located on the second floor of the museum and Thomas Jr. said he hopes to one day see it use the entirety of the second-floor space and take induction ceremonies to the next level.
“It’s thrilling, to me, to be able to show our young people how we have started and where we’re going, knowing that it doesn’t end here,” Thomas Jr. said. “What we do today is history tomorrow. It’s not necessarily about what those have done in the past. It’s about setting the trend now and having something to have a conversation about in 10 years. I really stress that to our young folks.”
The Bing Rooming House Museum Sports Hall of Fame is open to the public for tours when booked in advance. If you wish to check it out or even nominate some people for those involved with the hall of fame to consider for induction, call 813-704-5800.