By Matthew Hicks
MOBILE, Ala. (BP) — The NFL’s first full-time female game official, Sarah Thomas, is a former University of Mobile athlete. Thomas, who played basketball at UMobile from 1992-95, will be a line judge for the 2015 season. Based on performance, she will have the opportunity to move into other roles, including the highest position of referee.
The NFL made the formal announcement April 8, capping days of speculation by sports media outlets.
UMobile athletics officials said Thomas, a 1995 graduate of the Alabama Baptist University, had always performed at the highest levels and shown the determination to succeed at anything she undertook. “We are honored that one of our former athletes is achieving the highest level in her profession,” UMobile athletics director Joe Niland said.
During Thomas’ three seasons with the Lady Rams, the team won 61 games, including two seasons with a 13-3 record in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference. Thomas helped guide the 1992-93 team to a GCAC district championship and a berth in the NAIA National Championship tournament. She also was a two-time GCAC All-Academic selection.
For her career, Thomas totaled 779 points, 411 rebounds, 108 assists and 192 steals, the latter stat ranking fifth all-time at UMobile.
Martha Gore-Algernon, an assistant women’s basketball coach during Thomas’ UMobile playing career, praised her former player’s work ethic. “I’m not surprised she’s made it this far,” Gore-Algernon said. “She didn’t set out to do this, but she just worked hard at it and they took notice of her. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person. She was a great player to coach.”
Thomas became the first female to officiate college football games in 2007 and the first female to officiate a bowl game in 2009. Thomas decided to become an official in the 1990s after attending a coaching meeting with her brother. She became the first female to officiate a Division 1-A high school football game in Mississippi in 1996.
Having former athletes succeed in the professional sports world isn’t new for the University of Mobile.
Former UMobile baseball players J.C. Romero, Joe Espada, Saul Rivera and Kyle McPherson all reached the Major Leagues, with Espada currently serving as the New York Yankees’ third base coach. Former UMobile men’s soccer player Michael Azira plays for the Seattle Sounders of the MLS while another former Ram, Ram Deshorn Brown, recently was transferred from the Colorado Rapids to the Valerenga soccer team in Oslo, Norway. Former women’s soccer players Anne Stangeland-Horpestad and Danielle Small faced each other in the 2007 Women’s World Cup, playing for Norway and Australia, respectively.