By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Natalie Thomas is a bit of a throwback to a different era. The Geneva graduate wants to follow her parents into the teaching profession. She’s even taking it as far as attending Mount Vernon Nazarene College, the alma mater of her father.
“My parents are my role models,” Thomas, the daughter of Bill and Angela Thomas, said. “I look up to them. I know my dad got a good education (from Mount Vernon) and has been successful. Going there, I know I will get a good education.”
Thomas will get the opportunity to walk the same paths, take the same classes and learn from some of the same professors as her father did.
“It was really cool when we were there visiting and we were walking the campus,” Thomas said. “My dad was pointing out things that he did in different places. There are still a couple of professors there who taught my dad.
“It was cool. My dad was so excited that I’m going there. He can tell me his stories and I will be able to share my stories with him.”
A three-sport star as an Eagle, Thomas will play basketball at Mount Vernon.
“It’s just always been my favorite sport,” Thomas said. “I love volleyball and track, but I’ve played basketball since Bitty Ball at the Geneva Rec Center. It’s always something I’ve loved.
“My college doesn’t have a track team, so that was already out. It was actually a pretty easy decision (between volleyball and basketball). Since my freshman year, I had the goal of getting good enough to play basketball at the college level. It’s always been my goal to play basketball in college.”
Among Thomas’ choices were the College of Wooster and Wilmington College.
“(Mount Vernon) has always been my dream school because my dad went there,” Thomas said. “I’ve been there a lot. I’ve stayed on campus for different things. I’ve always wanted to go there.
“I loved the College of Wooster, but I felt a peace when I thought about Mount Vernon.”
Mount Vernon’s commitment to faith also helped sell Thomas.
“They’ve got a Christian atmosphere,” she said. “I
know I will get a good education, but I could also get better in my faith.
“That was one of the main things that sold me on Mount Vernon. They have chapel and I will be able to speak to my classmates who share my faith. I will able to talk with my professors, who also share my faith. My dad said Mount Vernon is a family atmosphere.”
Thomas will pursue a degree in middle childhood education.
“I hope to be a middle school teacher and a basketball coach, or a coach of any sport,” she said.
A career in education puts Thomas squarely in the footsteps of both her parents. Bill Thomas is the dean and a math teacher at Grand River Academy while Angela teaches the international students at the school.
“My parents are teachers, so I got to see it firsthand,” Thomas said. “We live on campus and I see the impact a teacher has on their lives. They’re like the boys’ parents because they’re away from home.
“Some of them come back and tell (my parents) they left a mark and helped shape who they’ve become. Teachers are important because of the education, but they also have to be a role model for the kids. I want to be that, too.”
Thomas has a perfect role model in her mother.
“One of the things I love about her is that, even when she’s doing something for herself, she’ll drop everything to go and do something for others. She helps in any way she can. Sometimes, it’s like she can’t say no at all.”
Playing basketball at a NAIA Division II school will not be easy for Thomas.
“I probably won’t be playing that much,” she said. “It was nice, the coach said if I wanted to go and earn my spot, I’d have to work hard. It’s nice that he saw some potential in me. That made me feel good.
“When I first started looking at colleges, I thought to myself that I might have to do Division III. Just the fact the coach saw potential in me and that if I work hard, I’ll be able to play is definitely a dream come true.”
Having played for Geneva basketball coach Nancy Barbo is probably a good example of what Thomas has ahead of her when it comes to playing college basketball.
“She worked us hard at practice and expected nothing but the best from us,” Thomas said. “She always gave us our her best, too. We were always trying to please her. She’s a tough coach, but it was rewarding in the end to have played for her.”
A post player for the Eagles, Thomas understands she may have to evolve a bit as a player.
“I’m very small (at 5-foot-10) for a post at the college level,” she said. “I haven’t talked with the coach, but I think he was saying I’d playing some power forward. I have to work on my ball handling and shooting and hopefully, I’ll get better at it.”
The thought of moving out of her comfort zone on the court isn’t an easy.
“It makes me a little nervous,” Thomas said. “I just have to keep working at it and get comfortable with it. Once I’m comfortable, I think I’ll be OK at it.”
Having the support of her parents has been important to Thomas.
“It means so much to me that they support me the way they do,” she said. “I think there was one time in my whole basketball career that my mom missed something. My dad never missed. My mom had the flu and said she was going to try and go to the game. I told her no, I didn’t want her puking all over the place.
“They’ve been so awesome with their support.”
Thomas had a bit more support than just her family, however.
“Mrs. Barbo was basically like a second mom,” Thomas said. “Mr. (John) Barbo was always there for me and helped to prepare me every day. My locker was in his hallway in school and I would say hi in the morning and, if it were basketball season, we’d talk about what we did right and what we did wrong.
“Mr. (Rob) DiPofi was like a second dad. He helped support me. Mrs. (Annah) Haeseler was awesome with her support. Mr. (Bobby) McQuoid and Mr. (Dave) Yost were awesome and so was Mrs. Chris (Stancliff). So many of my coaches helped with all of the little things in all of my sports. They were all awesome.
“I remember in Bitty Ball, Rory Groce told us he couldn’t wait to watch us play in high school so he could go to our games and support us.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.