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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Female line judge breaks new ground

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I've been covering football games for a long time, from Junior Pro to the NFL, but I saw something Saturday night that I've never seen.

There was a female official working the MTSU-Memphis game.

Sara Thomas was the line judge who walked along the MTSU side of the field.

After a little research I found that she was the first female to officiate a college football game when she took the field in 2007 after working Mississippi high schools for 11 years.

She is a wife, the mother of two boys and a pharmaceutical sales representative.

Thomas has worked New Orleans Saints training camps, and it's rumored she's the first name to come up when the NFL discusses adding a female official.

For what it's worth, she seemed to do an outstanding job.

I did hear a number of guys on the sideline make comments such as, "What's the world coming to?" or "This is no place for a woman."

The majority on the sideline respected her ability to do the job she was there to do.

She was an outstanding athlete in high school in Mississippi, playing softball and basketball and earning a basketball scholarship to the University of Mobile.

In 2006, she was invited to an officials' camp and impressed Gerald Austin, Conference USA's coordinator of officials and a former NFL official, so much he hired her for the Conference USA.

Based on her ability and performances, Thomas became the first female to officiate an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision bowl game, working the Little Caesars Bowl in 2009 between Ohio and Marshall.

In 2010 she was selected to be part of the officiating crew for the 2010 United Football League Championship game, making her the first-ever female to officiate in a professional football championship game.

"My main goal is to be the best field official I can be," Thomas said in an article on the UFL web site. "And if any other league higher than I am now sees something they like, I probably wouldn't turn it down that is for sure!"

I know some of the greatest football fans alive are women and I think it's fair to say that she's opening the door for others to follow in her footsteps.

Gary Johnson is a Times-Gazette sports writer. Contact him at gjohnson@t-g.com.

Gary Johnson
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