Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Audra Thomas is the head softball coach at South Gwinnett High School.
Audra Thomas, a three-time NCAA Division II All-American and two-time national Catcher of the Year, was hired to be South Gwinnett's new softball coach after last season was completed.
Thomas was a .398 hitter at Kennesaw State and is the school's single-season leader with a .825 slugging percentage. She was inducted into Kennesaw State's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007. The Michigan native was also a first-round draft pick for the Women's Professional Softball League and part of the 2000 Olympic softball team selection process, making it to the final cut.
Thomas previously coached at East Paulding where she took the program to the state semifinals and also works as an instructor at The Pitchers Mound. In this installment of "Getting to Know ... ," Thomas talked to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including her playing career, knee savers and ending up a chemistry teacher.
CT: Audra is a kind of unusual name, were you named after anyone?
AT: Yes (smiling). My mom was a big fan of "The Big Valley" TV show. I think it was Linda Evans. That's where she got it.
CT: Where did you grow up?
AT: Michigan. I was born and raised there. Until I was a sophomore in high school and we moved down here.
CT: Where did you move down here?
AT: Down to Kennesaw. I went to Harrison.
CT: How was that for you?
AT: Interesting. Hot. I lost like a hundred pounds because of the weather. But it was good. My mom came down for a job and they ended up moving back, but I had been recruited to play ball, so I stayed.
CT: Did they leave right around the time you were going off to college?
AT: Yeah, they were here until the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college.
CT: How did you decide on Kennesaw State?
AT: I was recruited. I was being recruited by a bunch of schools, then I hurt my knee as a sophomore and again as a senior. But Coach (Scott) Whitlock stuck with me. So I played hard for him.
CT: Do those knee-saver things work?
AT: I never used them. I've had five knee surgeries and they had nothing to do with softball. If you're a catcher, you're already in an unnatural position, so what good is it to put something behind you knees like that? They get in the way.
And my kids get lazy on them. I cut them when they're not looking and pull out the stuffing. They don't even notice.
CT: You had five knee surgeries, but not because of softball?
AT: Well, it started because of basketball and an accumulation of things. And I played tackle football for two years with the (Atlanta) Xplosion.
CT: When you were playing, did you ever get mad at the scorekeepers because they called it a passed ball instead of a wild pitch?
AT: I never got into stats. I didn't even know my batting averages or anything. I just played.
CT: You coached at East Paulding. Anywhere else?
AT: During my student teaching, I helped out at Woodstock. Then I went to Sequoyah and actually coached two years of boys baseball along with the softball. Then I went to East Paulding. And I've done a travel ball team for East Cobb one time. I've been around a little bit.
CT: How did you end up at South?
AT: I actually decided I wasn't going to be a teacher anymore and I quit teaching to do private lessons. It wasn't working out financially. I ended up finding a job on this side of town and they were hiring. I don't know, it just looked like it'd be interesting. And it worked itself out. I ended up here and I decided I wasn't going to coach. Until they cornered me. I got the guilt trip.
But it was funny because I'd been talking about it the couple months (before getting hired), just missing coaching and this randomly fell in my pocket.
CT: What was your induction into Kennesaw's Hall of Fame like?
AT: It was cool. I was such an idiot though. I got up there and I was so nervous. I'm not good about talking in front of other people, especially about myself. So when I had to get up there and say what was on my mind about being there, I sounded stupid. I rambled through my speech and I was sweating. It was just horrible. I started crying and was a big baby because I'd never really said a bunch of those things, especially with a room full of people.
CT: Those situations are set up to be emotional and a --
AT: -- failure. I was a total failure. I sounded like Rainman. Terrible. The dinner was good though. I totally scarfed after that.
CT: What about the pro softball draft?
AT: They do it all through phone and e-mail. So that was kind of cool. I was just kind of sitting there waiting to hear and didn't realize I'd gone that high in the draft. So it was kind of neat.
CT: How many years did you play and who did you play for?
AT: I played for the Tampa Bay Firestix. And I can't really say I played (chuckling). I supported the Tampa Bay Firestix. And ran for the Tampa Bay Firestix for conditioning. And caught practice for Tampa Bay. It was just for a year.
The league was kind of in a weird place. There were only four teams then because of the Olympics. Now it's huge. It was cool. I learned a lot.
CT: When you think about your softball career, is there a best game?
AT: We had some really good games. But there are two I can remember right off. One was we played 17 innings against Columbus and we ended up winning and being able to go to the national tournament. That was awesome.
Then one game we played Armstrong Atlantic and the girl had struck me out all year long on this stupid rise ball. I finally learned how to hit it and it was this jack. There was this wall, they called it the Green Monster, this big green net and it was over that. It was fun.
CT: What was the selection process like for the 2000 Olympic Games?
AT: Well, to be part of the national program, I started in a group of 500 people across the country for a basic tryout. Then they cut it down to 100 or something like that. Then there was another tryout. Then they selected us to go and work out with the national team. So I got to go to California and work out with the actual team. Which was really kind of cool.
It was this larger group that they were selecting from. The next thing they did was take the last 60 and they went to a festival in Fresno. You played in groups like a tournament. Like I had Olympians on my team. Then they made their final selections. That was cool. Like you're looking down to your first baseman and you're throwing down to (Crystl) Bustos.
CT: Do you think softball will end up back in the Olympics?
AT: I don't know. I really don't. Two of the girls that are on the national team now work out and train with our lead instructor over where I do instruction at The Pitchers Mound in Duluth. (Dacula grad) Brittany Rogers and Ashley Holcombe were in there talking about it. I didn't really get to hear much of what they were saying, but I hope they do.
CT: I wonder sometimes if it's just because the U.S. is so good at it (that they eliminated it).
AT: Oh, absolutely. But we'll see.
CT: I don't see how you have rhythmic dancing and not softball.
CT: What are your goals for your first season at South?
AT: Right now we have to get a positive image of our program. Just get people excited about the sport again, just get them understanding what the sport is all about.
They just have to understand that you don't have to be a superstar to find a place to play (in college). Just how much money is out there, education-wise, for these kids.
There are some kids that could use that opportunity, learn something new. Good athletes that just haven't been pushed in the right direction.
I mean, I was walking up the hallway asking random girls if you can run 60 feet in under three seconds, then you can come and try out for softball. We'll teach you the rest.
CT: How did you decide on chemistry as a major? Were you good at it in high school?
AT: No, sucked at it in high school (laughing). I hated it so bad because I'm just not good with numbers. But I loved science, critical thinking and trying to solve a problem and I love blowing stuff up. All that stuff. So finally one day I just challenged my high school teacher and said, "Why don't you just say it this way?" And she goes, "You're going to be a chemistry teacher."
CT: What kind of music do you listen to on a regular basis?
AT: I like a big mix of everything. I'm a huge classic rock fan, huge 80s fan. I like some rap and rock. Just a mix of everything. Little country.
CT: Are you a concert-goer?
AT: Not really. I like to be at home and just be with my dog and chill at the house.