California Area's Thomas a gentleman and a scholar

| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 8:09 p.m.

California Area High School principal Leigh Ann Folmar chuckled as she recalled attending the Trojans' football and boys' soccer games last fall.

In the same vein as ol' McDonald, it was “here a Thomas,” “there a Thomas,” “everywhere a Thomas.”

With a complete fall schedule, Ben Thomas was a placekicker with the football team, marched in his football uniform with the band as the Trojans' drumline captain during halftime performances,and played defender and goalie for the soccer team the remainder of the week. All the while, along with three other students, posting a 4.0 grade-point average, which he has maintained throughout his high school career.

Contrary to what may be a common misperception, there is only one Ben Thomas enrolled at CAHS. But with a list of activities and accomplishments that stretches throughout the Mon Valley, the impression is that Thomas may be a twin or triplet. On the football squad for only his senior year, Thomas enjoyed success for the team's first two games until an injury sidelined him until the Trojans' final two games of the season. On the soccer pitch, the three-time letter-winner and team captain as a senior earned all-section honors.

As a junior, Thomas was a member of the Trojans' soccer team that captured the school's first-ever section title and for the first time competed in the WPIAL playoffs as an individual school (not as a co-op squad).

“Being in the playoffs and winning our school's first soccer section title are special memories,” he said.

Musically talented as well, Thomas has been a three-time selection as a member of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association District Orchestra, performing on the violin; a three-time selection as a percussionist with the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association District Band; and a two-time selection as percussionist with the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Washington County Band.

In addition to Thomas' music successes, he placed first in the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science regional competition in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and first in the State competition in 2010 and 2011 and third in 2012.

“Ben is a strong student,” California Area chemistry teacher David Lowden said. “He is conscientious regarding everything he does and picks up concepts quite quickly. He is very dependable and is quite involved in his lab work. He has strong math and analytical skills, and good insight.”

From among 1,338 students from across Pennsylvania, he was one of 10 males selected as a Wendy's High School Heisman State Finalist, testimony to his academic successes.

Additionally, Folmar noted, “Ben has had prominent roles in the school's musicals the past two years.”

As a junior he portrayed Ewart Dunlop in “The Music Man” and this year has been cast as Eddie Flagrante, one of the leading characters in “Zombie Prom,” which was scheduled this weekend, said Claudia Bennett, in her second year as musical director, but in her 10th year working with the musical productions.

“Ben is phenomenal on stage, a great singer, an all-around talented individual,” Bennett said. “He has his character down and is a joy to watch. He will do whatever research is necessary to learn more about his character. He figures things out. He is a gentleman and a scholar, strong, in tune with the world and well-spoken.”

Despite his success on California's stage the past two years, as a freshman and sophomore Thomas watched the musicals from the audience as his sister performed in leading roles.

“Mrs. (Lori) Martin asked me to join, but I did not become involved,” Thomas said, referring to the school's late musical director. “But after she passed away I felt guilty that I never became a part of the musicals, so I became involved last year for her. I wanted to join and be a part of the program for her as she asked.”

With graduation day rapidly approaching, Thomas is planning to become a physician and follow in the footsteps of his brother, Cecil, an emergency room physician in Erie.

Les Harvath is a freelance writer.

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