ASHTON, W.Va. — It’s definitely a new approach.
Kellie Thomas is believed to be the first female varsity football coach in West Virginia prep history after recently being approved to be the next head football coach at Hannan High School.
Thomas has spent more than two decades in some professional capacity at Hannan, rather it be as the school’s athletic trainer or as a Health/Physical Education teacher.
Thomas is also no stranger to the sidelines at HHS, having previously served as both the varsity volleyball and varsity girls basketball coach while also assisting the varsity track and field program the past few years.
A 1989 graduate of Point Pleasant High School and a 1995 graduate of Marshall University with a bachelor’s degree in PE-Health and Sports Medicine, the venerable Thomas has witnessed roughly 20 years of the Wildcats’ ups-and-downs on the sidelines.
Now, she’s excited to take her shot at building something better in an area that is dear to her heart.
“First, it’s a real honor to be hired as the new football coach at Hannan. I appreciate the opportunity that I have been given and I know that I have the full support of the school district moving forward,” Thomas said. “I’ve been around the game for many, many years. I was actually on the Marshall sidelines (as a student-trainer) when we won the national title in 1992 and I grew up in a family with three older brothers that all played football at Point Pleasant.
“The kids are excited and I’m excited about the season. It will be a new experience for all of us, but I think that things are going to fall into place. I’m a competitive person and I want this program to be competitive, so that will be my primary focus with the kids we have coming out.”
The Wildcats haven’t produced more than three wins in any football season since the early 1990s, and a large portion of that stems from not having a significant amount of depth to work with as a season progresses.
That’s a problem that any Class A program has to deal with, but Thomas is hoping that her familiarity will help get more kids out on the sidelines this fall.
Thomas also believes that having a new coaching staff, as well as the school district’s full support, has helped build some additional interest in the program.
“For the most part, we have all new people in on the coaching staff … so it will be interesting to see how quickly we can all get familiar with one another and be on the same page,” Thomas said. “(HHS Principal) Dr. (Karen) Oldham and (HHS athletic director) Ms. (Cherry) Weikle have been fully supportive of me throughout this process, as has the entire school staff. There seems to be some excitement right now, so hopefully we can build on that with a decent roster turnout and get through a competitive season.
“I know there will be some challenges along the way. More than anything, though, I just don’t want to let any of them down. They will all get my best every day … and I hope they will give me the same.”
Thomas notes that she is humbled by being the first female to be a head varsity football coach in the Mountain State, but it’s an honor that she reluctantly wants to discuss.
As she notes, it’s just a game … and teaching the kids how to do things right is her primary focus.
“Football is football. It shouldn’t matter if it is a man or a woman coaching it. You see men coaching volleyball, softball and girls basketball all the time. To me, it’s just like coaching any other sport,” Thomas said. “If I am, in fact, the first female varsity football coach in the state’s history, then it is an honor. For me, however, it is more about trying to improve the experiences of these students.
“My biggest goal with these kids is to get them to respect the game and teach them how to do things the right way. I run a little tighter ship than most coaches do, but my players will do the little things that make big differences — including being good students and good representatives of Hannan High School both on and off the field.”
To understand Thomas, one must know that she is a competitive person. She was an all-state performer in girls basketball and a state qualifier in track and field at Point Pleasant, and still to this day finds competitive ventures to participate in.
It is that competitive passion that fuels how she has spent the past two decades of her life after school ended, always making sure to be around to help a young student-athlete get better — or healthier — at their chosen craft.
Thomas believes that her previous experiences with these kids will greatly help this coming fall, primarily because the kids involved know that she’s one of their biggest supporters.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I have always been a supporter of our kids. We are a small rural community that doesn’t get a lot of major notoriety from the outside, but there has always been a level of respect between those kids and myself over the years,” Thomas said. “Those kids know that I wouldn’t ask anything of them that I wouldn’t do or haven’t done myself. They know I won’t quit on them, and they also know that I expect the same of them.”
Thomas and the Wildcats make their collective debut on Friday, Aug. 24, when they travel to Tug Valley for a Week 1 contest.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.