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'88 grad helped volleyball program earn powerhouse reputation

By Reflector Sports Staff • Jan 28, 2017 at 12:00 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final installment of a five-part series featuring each of the five people who will be inducted into the Norwalk High School Hall of Fame tonight.

Tanja Jane (T.J. Horner) Thomas helped the Norwalk volleyball program earn a reputation as a state power during her four years under NHS Hall of Fame coach Grace Hutchinson in the mid-80s.

The 1988 graduate finds herself in the school HOF with Hutchinson and former teammate Tina (Linder) Davidson after a record-setting career from 1984-87.

Thomas is one of five people who will be inducted today during a ceremony at the high school. The other four are Peggy Corrigan (distinguished citizen), Robert Factor (Class of 1962, academic), Jim Bersche (coach) and Tina (Linder) Davidson (class of 1987, volleyball).

As a sign of things to come, Thomas earned the Most Improved award as a freshman for the Ladies of Blue in 1984.

In 1986, Thomas finished with an attack percentage of 93 percent, and a kill percentage of 39 percent — a program record at the time. She earned All-Northern Ohio League and Class AA district first team honors — and was an All-Ohio honorable mention selection as well.

During the 1986 season, the Ladies in Blue went undefeated in the regular season (22-0), held the No. 1 ranking in the state coaches poll for several weeks, and won Class AA sectional and district titles. They suffered a narrow 16-14, 16-14 loss in the regional championship match to Springfield Northwestern — which went on to win the state title.

As a senior in 1987, Thomas set another program record when she had 11 blocks in a single match against Willard — a mark that stood for eight years after her graduation. Thomas also graduated with 153 career blocks — also a program record at the time.

Norwalk again reached a Class AA regional championship match in 1987, falling to Westerville South (16-14, 16-9) to finish with a 21-7 record.

For her efforts, Thomas made it a clean sweep on first teams in 1987, landing a spot on the All-NOL, All-District and All-Ohio first teams.

During Thomas’ four years of high school, Norwalk finished with an 85-18 overall record, playing in three district title games and two regional championship matches. She also was a two-year letterwinner for Robin Welch on the NHS softball team.

After graduation, Thomas continued her volleyball career at Ashland University. She was also a four-year letterwinner for the Eagles and served as a team captain during her senior season.

While at Ashland, Thomas earned All-GLVC academic honors. During her collegiate career, Thomas came back and coached volleyball for a junior high and high school level Junior Olympic volleyball team as well.

She graduated from Ashland in 1992, earning Cum Laude honors with a Bachelor of Science degree in Health and Physical Education and a certification in coaching.

Thomas went on to teach health and physical education at Davis Middle School and Coffman High School in Dublin for five years — then moved back home to Norwalk while being hired to teach at North Olmsted Middle School.

While teaching in North Olmsted for five years, Thomas also worked part-time for the Norwalk Park and Recreation Department, helping with the tough volleyball and softball programs.

In 2003, Thomas was hired into the Norwalk school system, where she has taught at Pleasant Elementary, Norwalk Middle School and Main Street School. She helped with the fifth and sixth grade volleyball programs for two seasons.

Thomas has served as the advisor for Key Club and has been a member of several school-based committees and student activities while also working at the Park and Rec. during the summer.

Currently the health, nutrition & wellness and transitions teacher at Norwalk High School, Thomas also continues to volunteer for student events and staff committees.

The daughter of Dave and Marilyn Horner, Thomas also has one sibling, a brother, Shane.

Thomas has always felt extremely blessed to be teaching in her hometown while raising her three daughters, MacKensey, Delaney and Joscey, with her husband, Joe.

The induction ceremony will take place before the start of tonight’s Norwalk boys’ basketball game against Port Clinton.

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