Female officials in a "good place" thanks to one woman's bravery - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Female officials in a "good place" thanks to one woman's bravery

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Imagine stepping into a venue where the majority of the people present don't respect you or even want you there.

Thanks to Karen Thomas that's rarely the case now for female sports officials in the state of Montana now.

"You're out there to be fair," 30 year official Karen Thomas said.

Thomas officiated football, baseball, and softball for 30 years in the Treasure State.

"I started umpiring when I was 28 years old," she said.

Before Karen put on the pinstripes or the protective equipment behind the plate, she was a standout softball player at C.M. Russell High School.

From there, she went to Germany to play fastpitch before ultimately coming back to the Electric City.

When she arrived, she said the state had a shortage of officials. That's when a head umpire reached out to her."

Thomas recounted the umpire who said "'Karen, you're a good softball player. We need umpires, why don't you come and try it?' So I came out and tried it and stayed ever since," she said.

Karen never looked back. The now retired official said she's had her share of difficult times.

"I'd walk out and you'd hear the coaches say 'what the heck is she doing out here?'" Thomas said. 

One moment particularly stands out to her when she was refereeing high school football. She said she had to call back a touchdown because the runner stepped out of bounds.

Thomas recounted "the coach has never seen me before, gets in my face and says 'why don't you go home and bake some cookies?'" 

Karen said some of her fellow officials weren't on her side at first.

"(One official) said when we walked out with the captains to the huddle 'the first one of you guys to get her in the mud will get this silver dollar," Thomas said.

But instances like those never broke her. Now Karen's granddaughter, Lacey, has followed in her grandma's footsteps.

Lacey officiates to not only connect with the girls on the field but to remember her father, who introduced her to the game before he passed away eight years ago.

"It's been rough but softball has definitely been our go-to ever since," Lacey Bushong said.

Whether it's behind the dish, or from the bleachers, Karen and Lacey watch another member of the family, Cayley, who is a standout third baseman for Great Falls High.

"It's interesting, it's a little goofy in between innings," Cayley said about the interactions the family has during games.

The family says they're recognized around town as the softball family, and they said they'll continue to live up to that name regardless of the obstacles that stand in their way.

"It's not about breaking a barrier," Thomas said. "It's about doing something you like to do."

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