A Very Special Coach Fridays: A Lifetime Of Mentorship with Jill Thomas

After 34 years at Princeton Day School, Coach Jill Thomas will be hanging up her whistle at the end of the school year. During that time, she has served as a field hockey, basketball and perhaps most notably, lacrosse coach. At one point, she was coaching all three sports in the same year! This lacrosse season is one that has been followed closely by Panthers and the local sports community alike. As the number one seeded Girls Varsity team, they will start their journey to the Prep B and NJSIAA Non-Public B Championships this Friday. 

Before Thomas made her way to Princeton Day School, she played field hockey, basketball and lacrosse at Ursinus College. After college, she went to Dallas, Texas where she spent five years teaching. She would then spend two years at Sewanee University and eventually end up teaching at Miami Country Day for five years. The end of this school year, and Thomas’ subsequent retirement, will be the culmination of 46 years of coaching and teaching career.

Of course, Thomas would go on to spend the rest of her career (half of her life!) at PDS. Having interviewed with the legendary Athletic Director Jan Baker for a coaching position in 1988, Thomas was offered the job. When asked what encourages someone to stay somewhere for half of their life, she responded, “Kim Bedesem, who is the founder of Blue and White Days, was an amazing mentor to me when I first started. She became my close friend and I could see how happy she was as a teacher and a coach at PDS. She passed away from cancer, but I stayed because I had made so many friends here and loved working with the students. Princeton Day School is a really special place.”

Thomas’ time at PDS has spanned decades, and during that time she has been at the helm of her teams winning numerous championships and titles. However, the most important thing to Thomas’ coaching philosophy is always remaining respectful and fair. “The feeling of being a team and being a ‘class-act’ is really important to me. For example, we never beat anyone by more than 12 goals. I also really try hard to get all of the players in before the end of the season - especially the seniors. Senior leadership on a team is so crucial to younger players who come in during their freshman and sophomore years. They grow up to be those leaders for the next group. They only get to be seniors once, and I think they take their roles as leaders seriously.”

As such a prolific leader herself, it is impossible not to feel inspired by Thomas’ emphasis on teamwork and leadership. Having spent a lifetime not only coaching, but watching and playing sports herself, Thomas is looking forward to continuing her passion for watching teams work together in retirement. “Sports are in my blood! I watch sports that I’m not coaching here on campus all the time. My father was an Athletic Director at a college and I remember when he would bring the trampoline out on Saturdays for my brothers and I to just jump around on and play in the gym when I was a child. Sports have definitely been a lifelong passion of mine, but I’m also looking forward to spending time with my family on Cape Cod.” 

Before Thomas can start enjoying her retirement, she has two big events coming up with her lacrosse team: the Prep B and the NJSIAA Non-Public B Championships. “On Friday, we play for the Prep B Title, and on Monday we start the State Non-Public B, for which we are currently ranked first! We’ll have home games here until the finals and it is so exciting to have the opportunity to be part of two championships.”

With the end of such a successful lacrosse season and a much-deserved retirement just ahead, Thomas concluded with these thoughts: “I just want to thank everybody for the memories. There have been a lot of them.” For every person Coach Thomas has inspired with her mentorship, it is safe to say that they share the sentiment.

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