UNDATED (WLOX) - In 1996, Sarah Thomas was learning how to make sporting events neutral. The Pascagoula High School graduate sat in her alma mater's press box ready to see a Panthers football game but in clothing that was different than usual.
After playing basketball at Pascagoula and the University of Mobile, Thomas was ready to make her next career move as a football official.
"I'm up against a lot of obstacles being a female in a man's field I guess," Thomas said in a 1996 interview with WLOX. "But I've learned a lot."
Thomas admitted that a few people didn't think she was serious about officiating. Understandably so considering the high school football rulebook including the following sentence: "The officials are men who are assigned to administer the rules of the game."
Now, nearly 20 years later, Sarah Thomas is on the verge of making history in the National Football League. According to a report by Sports Illustrated, Thomas has been hired by the NFL as a full-time referee.
She was a standout basketball player at Pascagoula High School and the University of Mobile. After her playing days, she became interested in the idea of being an official when a friend of hers attended an officials meeting.
"I said, 'Can women do that kind of stuff,'" Thomas said. "[Thomas' friend] said, 'I don't see why not.' I said, 'What time's the meeting?' He said, '6:30' and I said, 'Well, I'll see you there.'" I think they kind of thought I was joking."
Thomas says she doesn't feel like a pioneer for women officials in professional sports because she saw it during her basketball playing days. In 1997, the NBA allowed Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner to become the first female referees.
Eighteen years later, the NFL is now the second of the four major sports in America to allow women into the professional scene.