All in the family

Carey Leigh Thomas, of the Brantford Bobcats, makes contact with the ball at Hargett Park.
Carey Leigh Thomas, of the Brantford Bobcats, makes contact with the ball at Hargett Park.

David and Shelley Thomas grew up three miles apart on the Six Nations Indian Reservation in Ontario, Canada.

They went to the same high school, Caledonia, but met for the first time in college at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

"I was busy playing sports,'' Shelley said. "David was busy with academics. It's strange we lived so close to each other but didn't meet and get married until we met in college.''

They have been together 20 years and are the proud parents of six children. The Thomases are in Rock Hill this week to watch their middle child, 14-year-old Carey Leigh, play for the Brantford Bobcats in the NSA Class A Girls Fastpitch World Series.

"This is great, Rock Hill and these fields,'' Shelley said Wednesday, while waiting for the Bobcats to play. "In Canada, we are not this organized, and the people up there don't take softball as serious as they do in the United States.

"Most high school teams still play slowpitch. Softball and baseball are considered minor sports in Canada.''

Shelley played baseball, softball, badminton, golf and ran cross country in high school. David, who is 6-foot-4, played basketball and was a tight end on the football team.

Because of their strong sports background, they decided four years ago that if Carey Leigh wanted to advance her career in softball, it would be best to get her involved with the Bobcats, a fastpitch traveling team based in Brantford.

They also took one of Carey Leigh's friends, Vanessa Squire, and this year with the encouragement of their daughter, Alisha Hill joined the team.

"This is a lot different than the ball we play on the reservation and in high school,'' Carey Leigh said. "All three of us really enjoy playing with the Bobcats and with the other girls on the team.

"My parents have been very supportive. They never miss a game, take me to practice and stay until practice is over. When we first joined four years ago, the other girls and their parents welcomed us and made everything positive. This is the nicest team we could be on.''

Carey Leigh said playing for the Bobcats has given her exposure. She has two Canadian colleges talking with her about a scholarship. She's a rising sophomore at Brantford High School. Her long-range plans are to play college softball in the United States and become a doctor.

"When I'm through with college, I want to move to Africa and help the people there,'' said Carey Leigh, a straight A student.

David said his family is tight-knit and very sports oriented.

The oldest of the children, Mike, plays on the Canadian Great Lakes Golf Tour. The oldest daughter, Carley Rhea, plays mini-Olympics volleyball and recently represented Ontario at the games in Cleveland, Ohio.

Shelley said high schools in Canada have the same sports for girls as for boys, which is how she ended up playing baseball. She and David met in college when both joined a coed baseball team.

Shelley and David earned degrees in computer science, but neither are in that field. At the urging from his sister-in-law, David spent a fifth year in college and earned his teaching certificate.

He teaches fifth and sixth grade on the reservation at Emily C. General Elementary School.

"It's named after a lady from our nation that taught there more than 30 years,'' David said. "We have around 20,000 people living on our reservation, so it's really not that big.''

The reservation has nine clans in the Longhouse. David is from the Bear Clan of the Onondaga Nation. Shelley is from the Deer Clan of the Cayuga Nation. Their children are members of the Deer Clan because they are required to follow their mom.

Rock Hill is as far south as the Thomas family has come. They also brought their three youngest children, James, Kylie and Koby.

The Thomases watched the Bobcats beat the Southern Shock from North Carolina, 7-0, Wednesday morning.

"Wherever they go, we're going to be there,'' David said before the game.

Shelley nodded her head, yes.

"We are a sports family,'' she said. "My dad is 75 and he still tries to get a glove on. David's brother and sister played baseball in high school. Playing sports has run in this family for years.''

Shelley is self-employed and operates a hairdressing business out of her home. David said it's convenient because she can work on her time.

"She does it all,'' David said. "She has her business and drives the kids when they need to be somewhere ... sports, school, whatever. When Carey Leigh has practice, it's 30 minutes away.''

Barry Byers • 329-4099

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