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Brighton’s Kaleb Thomas signs with NCAA Division III college in Pennsylvania

2020 Okeechobee High School graduate Kaleb Thomas, of the Brighton Reservation, is joined by family, relatives and friends as he signs to play baseball with Clarks Summit University on May 30, 2020, at Lightsey’s restaurant in Okeechobee. (Courtesy photo)

Kaleb Thomas has been a third baseman, an outfielder and a pitcher. His ultimate goal is to be a pastor.

Describing it as “probably the biggest moment in my life so far,” Thomas signed an NCAA Division III letter May 30 to play baseball at Clarks Summit University where he’ll be able to focus on the Bible and baseball.

Surrounded by friends, relatives and family – including his parents Gene and Michele Thomas –  the Okeechobee High School senior from the Brighton Reservation capped off an eventful day by signing with the Christian college tucked in the hills of northeast Pennsylvania during a signing celebration at Lightsey’s restaurant in Okeechobee. Clarks Summit is about a two-hour drive from both Philadelphia and New York City.

“It was huge for me and my family because I am the last son to leave [home]. My brother and I are both graduates of OHS that went on to play college baseball from the Thomas family,” Thomas said in an e-mail to the Tribune. His older brother Trevor plays for Warner University in Lake Wales.

In addition to his parents and brother, the proud moment for the family and the Seminole Tribe was shared by Thomas’s grandparents Andy Buster, Helene Buster, Lynn Thomas and Connie Whidden as well as several aunts, uncles and cousins, including many from the Johns, Pearce and Trammel families.

Before he put pen to paper, Thomas turned his tassel earlier in the day with his classmates from the class of 2020 as they were honored in a graduation ceremony at the Agri-Civic Center. Thomas was in his second year at Okeechobee after transferring from Moore Haven High School. He saw action on JV and varsity teams for both schools.

Thomas and senior teammate Ozzy Osceola, who will be headed to South Florida State College, were the only players from the Seminole Tribe on the Brahmans baseball team this season, which ended abruptly in mid-March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Really tough,” Thomas said. “I was super sad it had to end the way it did because I won’t be able to get it back, but I do get to look back at all my memories and achievements while playing high school baseball.”

Okeechobee was 4-4 and headed in the right direction when the season was halted.

“I felt like we could have had a winning season this year and we could have probably been district champions and even went to states if it wasn’t for Covid-19,” he said.

To get a feel for what it would be like to attend college in the Northeast, Thomas opted to see Clarks Summit in the heart of winter rather than a warmer season. Along with his parents, he visited in January.

“As a Floridian, it was all new to me,” he said.

That one trip was all it took to realize Clarks Summit would be an ideal college for him.

“My parents and I absolutely fell in love with the college. My mom felt reassured because the college felt like a family and not some college that tells you to go and figure it out on your own,” Thomas said.

Clarks Summit’s undergraduate enrollment is less than 700. Its total enrollment is close to 1,000, which is fewer than Okeechobee High School.  All undergraduates earn a double-major in Bible and the major of their choice. Thomas, who also had offers from Webber International in Florida and Crowns College in Minnesota, said he plans to earn a degree in counseling and will pursue a master’s degree in pastoral studies with the hope of becoming a pastor for the First Indian Baptist Church on the Brighton Reservation and More 2 Life in Okeechobee.

“I had a calling to become a pastor at a young age and to become a Christian,” said Thomas, who was baptized by Pastor Matthew Tiger, of Oklahoma, on Jan. 17, 2016, at First Indian Baptist Church.

Kaleb Thomas, first in line, with some of his Okeechobee High School teammates in 2020. (Courtesy photo)

Thomas appreciates that his family has guided him along the path he’s taken in many areas of his life.

“One thing I will always remember was my mom telling me, ‘You have a ton of opportunities that other kids only dream of. If you put in the work then you will be rewarded.’ Then my dad said, ‘We will give you all the chances and the tools to be a big success whether it was in the classroom or on the field, but you have to be the one to put in the work and to push yourself every day to your best ability because we can’t do it for you; it all has to come from you and what you are willing to put in to be the best athlete and student,'” he said.

Thomas said his brother Trevor has also been an inspirational figure along the way.

“My brother was a big motivation to me in my baseball career because I wanted to be just as good as a baseball player as he was as well as a hardworking and determined young man,” he said.

Thomas’s hard work is evident in the classroom, too. He earned two scholarships as a senior: the Florida Bright Futures Gold Seal Vocational Scholarship and the Devon Venables Memorial Scholarship.

In addition to baseball, Thomas also ran for the cross country teams at Okeechobee and Moore Haven. He was among the top runners on the OHS team as a senior. He’s unsure if he’ll try to run cross country in college.

Clarks Summit baseball, a member of the Colonial States Athletic Conference, plays most of its games in Pennsylvania, but for the past few years has added spring break games in South Carolina. Most of the players are from Pennsylvania and bordering states. The team is coached by Devin Raven, who is in his second year at the helm. 

“I hope to teach the players lessons that this great game has to offer,” Raven said on his bio page on the team’s website. “Baseball can be much more than a sport; it teaches lessons that can be used throughout a player’s life. I want each individual player to learn and grow in their abilities and skills. Most importantly, I want each player to grow in their walk with God, and I want them to be able to use their time as baseball players to develop for their next step in life, whatever that may be.”

Thomas started playing baseball in T-ball. His first team was called the Holiday Inn Express in Lake Placid, Florida. He later played for Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School on the reservation before high school. He has plenty of coaches and others to thank for his journey.

“I would like to thank all of my family who has supported me over the years and all my teammates I have played with over the years including Moore Haven Middle/High School and Okeechobee High School, as well as Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School and my coaches Harry Tewksbury, Cameron Tewksbury, Aaron Suarez, Logan Kindall, Dylan Tedders, my dad Gene Thomas, Max Manin, Pedro Navarro, Brian Prowant, Julio Rodriguez, Eric Kindall and Brian Morgan. They have been a huge contribution to my success on the baseball field as well as my brother Trevor,” Thomas said. “I am blessed to have been adopted from the Thomas family. I am proud to be a member of the Johns family and Thomas family. I give all my credits to my mom and dad for bringing me to every baseball game and every tournament over the past 10 years and I will always love them and call the Brighton Reservation forever home.”

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