Female ref takes bowl in stride

Referees prefer anonymity. The less you know that they’re there, the better they’ve done their jobs. But the secret’s out on Sarah Thomas, a 36-year-old trailblazer in stripes who understands that history always merits attention.

“It was a little uncomfortable at first,” Thomas told Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp, “because you don’t really want to make it a big deal, but my husband kept telling me that it’s something I should embrace because it’s helping open a door that little girls probably thought was forever shut for them.”

The Mississippi mother of two charts a new path this afternoon at Ford Field as the first woman to ever officiate a college football bowl game, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Thomas will be the line judge.

She didn’t get this opportunity out of some pre-orchestrated act of diversity. Thomas is no different from the male referees working a bowl game. She rightfully earned the chance as one of Conference USA’s highest-rated officials in her first season as a full-time referee drawing weekly assignments. Thomas is the lone female ref in major college football.

When people instinctively ask her why she pursued a vocation that attracts ire and rancor regardless of gender, she quickly responds “Why not?”

Wouldn’t the occasional profanities during the heat of battle offend her?

Thomas has a husband and two young boys. You figure she might already have a fairly colorful vocabulary.

“Playing football requires so much mental focus,” she said, “that I really don’t think a lot of the players even realized that a woman is on the field. They don’t pay attention to who’s making the calls. They’re only concentrating on if they got the call right. And that’s how it should be. It should only be about working hard to do the job properly.”

• HEADLINE NEWS — From TheOnion.com’s top sports stories in history, circa 71 B.C.: “Roman market quickly sells out of Spartacus tunics.”

— At SportsPickle.com: “Jimmie Johnson’s car named AP Athlete of the Year.”

— In the San Antonio Express-News, after the Dallas Cowboys gave kicker Nick Folk the boot: “That’s all, Folk.”

• TROJAN TRANSPORTATION — “Who could have possibly guessed that a USC tailback would end up driving an SUV purchased by a Trojans booster?” asked Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, alluding to Southern California running back Joe McKnight. “What will the NCAA do when it catches wind of this — investigate (Southeast Missouri) again?”

• HOLIDAY CASH CRUNCH — Sounds like famous miser Jack Benny would’ve loved this year’s Holiday Bowl.

“I wouldn’t say California has budget problems,” wrote Brad Dickson in the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, “but Nebraska was asked to bring a coin for the opening flip.”

• SOUND BYTES — Blue Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown, to the Winnipeg Sun, on the CFL team firing coach Mike Kelly after a turmoil-filled season: “Just when you thought the circus was over, there’s another show in the gypsy tent backstage.”

— ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, on sponsors dropping Tiger Woods: “Things have gotten so bad, they’re actually going back and changing the name of the dog on ‘The Brady Bunch.’ “

— CBS’s David Letterman, on “Avatar” at $500 million becoming the costliest film in history: “Unless it turns out there is a Tiger Woods video.”

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