The basketball coaching community of Osceola County was saddened to hear about the passing of Julius Tharpe, known by “Tony” to many, on Friday.

Tharpe, 57, passed peacefully surrounded by family after a short but spirited battle against lung cancer.

A celebration of life, yet to be scheduled, will be held at St. Cloud High School. Tharpe served as a basketball coach, a referee for youth and adult leagues, but was an an inspiration to those outside the basketball and sports world with his direct and focused yet friendly, caring and easygoing manner. The tributes on social media have been plentiful and touching.

“You touched many lives when you came in contact with them, myself included,” said Heber Laracuente, who coached with Tharpe at Gateway. “Whether it was with your smile or your perspective on life or basketball or in general, your positive attitude. I know I’ll take your teachings, your knowledge, ‘Knowledge is Power’ or one of your mottos, “Little things become Big things.”

Marlin Roberts is the football coach at Gateway, and also assisted for many years in the basketball program.

“The true definition of a teacher and one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever learned from,” Roberts said of Tharpe. “One of the last old school no nonsense coaches. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.”

He was an assistant on head coach Donnie Preston’s staff of an Osceola High girls team that advanced to the state tournament in 2001; four years prior, the program was winless. He was later on the staff of Gateway High’s boys program working with longtime coach Bob Baker. Living in St. Cloud his last few years, he gave back to St. Cloud High School and that community as well through basketball and his spirit.

Tharpe was a mainstay at summer basketball camps and the area’s Midnight Basketball program, which helped high-school aged players improve in the offseason and run on the efforts of volunteers like them.

Born in Neptune, New Jersey, he came to Central Florida in 1990 by way of the Chicago area and Massachusetts. His cancer diagnosis came less than a year ago.

Tharpe leaves behind a daughter, Tabitha Woods, son Jerrad Leffew, a step-son and five grandchildren.