When you have been an athlete for as long as you can remember, it’s hard to imagine a life without that sport.
That was the case for Reis Thomas ’23, who played basketball since he was 3 years old and came to Wabash as a three-sport athlete.
The Spanish major and political science minor from Brownsburg, Indiana, played football and basketball as a freshman, but the outdoor track season was cut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the football season was canceled his sophomore year, Thomas decided to step away from the sport to focus on basketball and track.
During the 2021 basketball season, Thomas started as a forward in every game and “played a ton.”
That changed his junior year.
As the team competed in the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament semifinals in 2022, Thomas watched from the sidelines.
“I didn’t play at all and our team succeeded a ton,” Thomas said. “That was really hard for me. I understood why I wasn’t out on the court — I wasn’t the best player on the team, simple as that — but after spending all of my life loving and playing basketball, it still hurt.”
That disappointment and the stress from juggling a busy schedule of classes, two sports, and other extracurriculars began to pile up.
Thomas recognized he needed a change his senior year to support his own mental health and make the most out of his remaining time at Wabash.
“I met with Coach Brumett and told him how I was feeling and that it was time for me to leave the team. He supported me,” Thomas said. “Being able to overcome that and realize what I needed to do for myself, by focusing on just one sport, to continue down the right path was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. But I’m proud I did it because I’ve bettered myself and succeed in other areas.”
After that decision, Thomas said he experienced significant growth in two specific areas: the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies (MXIBS) and Wabash’s track and field team.
“Playing all of those sports at one time, I missed out on a lot socially. It was difficult for me to try to get involved in other things, but I did decide to join the MXIBS my junior year,” said Thomas. “I’ve really enjoyed being a part of that group of guys. I knew a lot of them before, but being around them in that environment was different. They’re very accepting.
“The brotherhood that we’ve created is very tight,” he said. “I wish I didn’t join so late, but it’s a group I’m really proud to say I’m a part of.”
With the track and field team, Assistant Coach John Bute said early on, Thomas was a conservative and quiet member of the throws team. Over time with more practice “something started to click” and by his junior year, he “busted out of his shell” as an athlete and team leader.
“He came in last year and took ownership,” Bute explained. “You could tell he was itching to get back. About midway through the fall, he was asking for a workout plan so I made him something that would complement his basketball schedule.
“He never stopped working. When the basketball team was in Atlanta, he was still keeping himself in track shape,” the throws coach said. “And during the first meet back, he PRs (sets a personal record). He set the example, coming in determined with such positive attitude. I was really proud of him.”
As a four-year member of the track and field team, Thomas has helped the program win five North Coast Athletic Conference championships to date. He was the 2022 NCAC outdoor champion in the discus, topping the field by more than three feet. He has a career best mark of 49.45m in the discus, and a mark of 14.13m in the shot put (indoors).
Thomas has been on the Dean’s List in all four years at Wabash, and has been an all-academic selection by the NCAC and the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Recently, he was selected as a finalist for the 2023 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar of the Year by Diverse Issues in High Education magazine. The award is given to students who have demonstrated stellar athletic ability and academic performance (3.5 cumulative GPA or higher), in addition to a commitment to community service and student leadership.
“Reis might not be the loudest guy, but when he talks his teammates stop, listen, and respect his insight,” said Clyde Morgan, head track and field coach and MXIBS assistant director. “That kind of respect is something that is earned. He earned it in high school, and he earned it here.”
Morgan said he admired how Thomas handled basketball last year. While it’s not uncommon for college students to decide to step away from a sport that they’re passionate about, Morgan said the maturity Thomas showed stands out.
“When his role changed after being a starter, I watched him remain very observant and involved from the sideline. He was coaching, cheering, doing everything he could to support his team all year to get to the playoffs,” Morgan said. “He wasn’t sitting on the side feeling sorry for himself, pouting, and whining. He was leading. There’s not a lot of young men who can do that.”
After an internship last summer at Eli Lilly and Company, Thomas has accepted a full-time position after graduation as a pharmaceutical sales representative.
Thomas will undoubtedly be leaving behind a legacy at Wabash as a standout student-athlete, one that has a conference championship ring for every sport he’s played. But he also hopes to be remembered as someone who wasn’t afraid to tackle adversity and advocate for themselves.
“I want my legacy to be someone who led by example,” Thomas said. “Someone who was always serious about their work and who gave their best effort to finish the job.”