Referee Sarah Thomas will be back for another year in NFL

Pascagoula’s Sarah Thomas is a second-year NFL line judge.
Pascagoula’s Sarah Thomas is a second-year NFL line judge.

Pascagoula’s Sarah Thomas will be among the 17 NFL referees returning for the 2016 season, the league said Thursday when it announced its roster of officials.

Thomas is a second-year line judge and the NFL’s only female referee.

Last year, Thomas made her NFL regular-season debut in a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on Sept. 13.

Thomas, 42, worked her first “Monday Night Football” game on Oct. 12, when the San Diego Chargers played the Pittsburgh Steelers. She had a role in the game’s biggest play. She was the line judge who gave the touchdown signal when Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell barely got the ball across the goal line on the final play of the game to give Pittsburgh a 24-20 victory.

The play was reviewed and veteran referee Pete Morelli announced that the call would stand, handing the dramatic victory to the Steelers in San Diego.

Thomas, a mother of three, wasn’t intimidated by her status. She spent two years in the NFL’s development program, working training camps and preseason games before the league moved her up.

“There was a lot of pressure being the first, but I didn’t feel it,” Thomas said in March. “It’s a job that was a lot of fun. I never got too high. I never got too low. I learned a lot from the referee crews I worked with.

“The fans were great. Dads wanted to take pictures with me, moms and girls asked for my autograph. I never set out to be a role model.”

The Brandon resident is no stranger to making history. She was the first female official in major college football and the first to work a bowl game.

Pascagoula High School renamed its recreational gymnasium the Sarah Bailey Thomas Gymnasium at a ceremony in March. Thomas was a basketball and softball standout at Pascagoula and she is a 1991 graduate of the school.