The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Pro Sports

June 14, 2013

Female official closing in on NFL history

Thomas not seeking to 'shatter glass ceiling'


Thomas got into officiating as a way to remain competitive after completing her basketball playing days at the University of Mobile. One of her older brothers was an official, and she asked if she could tag along to one of his meetings in 1996.

What she saw there opened her eyes.

"When I got inside that first meeting, I was really just shocked that guys actually got together and studied rules and took a lot of pride in it," she said. "It was quite a challenge for me, not playing the sport and really after that first meeting realizing I had no clue about football."

Rather than scare her away from the game, the realization sparked Thomas' competitive drive. She threw herself into learning the rules and catching up with the guys.

Within three years, she was working high school games. And, after calling a state championship game in her native Mississippi, she surpassed many of her peers.

An NFL scout was in attendance, and he got Thomas in touch with Gerald Austin — a former NFL official who worked three Super Bowls and is now the coordinator of officials for Conference USA.

In 2007, Thomas became the first woman ever to officiate a major college football game, and two years later she reached another milestone by working the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.

She's also found success at the professional level, calling games in the now defunct United Football League — including the 2010 championship.

Despite an impressive resume, Thomas is reluctant to single out individual highlights.

"I was one of those athletes, and if I thought for one second that an official thought this was a mediocre game as opposed to a big game, it would have really angered me," she said. "I take in on from a player's standpoint that these guys are giving it their all for the four quarters they're out there, and who am I to say that it's big game or not a big game? So every time I'm given the privilege to be out there on the field, it's a big game."

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