If you are familiar with the Saint Ignatius Volleyball program, you may have heard the name James Thoma quite a few times. Thoma is a senior captain on the Volleyball Cats who plays Libero, the defensive specialist in the back row. There is more to Thoma’s story than just volleyball, as he has qualified for the USA Gymnastics Team in Region Five. Adding to his list of accomplishments, Thoma was also named to the USA Gymnastics Academic All American. He will compete at Nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida, on the week of May 11.
The senior qualified for Nationals during the weekend of the 16th in April. “It was such a great feeling,” says Thoma. “I didn’t pay attention to the scores I got. I just wanted to leave everything out there thinking it would be my last competition ever.”
Thoma was able to qualify with his parents in attendance. “Meeting with my parents afterward was a heartwarming moment,” explains Thoma. “I’ve never made it before; I have gotten close but finally got past that threshold.”
The schedule has been a busy one for Thoma as he has had to balance his time between school, volleyball and gymnastics. Unlike volleyball, gymnastics is a year-round sport in which Thoma trains five to six times a week, honing his skills in events such as floor vault, parallel bars, pommel horse, high bars and rings. “The schedule has been tough,” says Thoma. “I have gotten the scheduling down over the past four years, and it has just worked out.”
Thoma shared what his schedule consists of through the years competing in gymnastics. He would attend school and as soon as classes ended for the day, Thoma would head to a gym to do an hour or two of a gymnastics workout. When Thoma would finish his workout, he would head over to volleyball practice. To finish his day, he would stay on top of his academics, completing any homework or projects.
The coach for Thoma is Saint Ignatius High School alumnus Jeff Vacha ’00. Vacha has coached Thoma for 12 years, and their hard work has paid off, with Thoma qualifying in 2021. “I was happy for him,” says Vacha. “He has been devoted to the sport since he was around the age of five, and to be able to qualify for Nationals in his senior year is truly remarkable.”
The Wildcat volleyball team is a tight-knit group that brings energy to every volleyball match and knew right away about Thoma’s accomplishments before he told them. “They were happy for me on the accomplishment,” says Thoma. “Some of the guys knew before I even told them, and they were great.”
Thoma’s passion for gymnastics originated at a young age and it began watching his older sister compete in gymnastics. “My sister got me interested in the sport,” explains Thoma. “After going to her practices, I thought it was a pretty cool sport and my gymnastics career took off from there.”
With Nationals approaching on the week of May 11, it will mark Thoma’s last competition in gymnastics. “This will be the last competition ever for me. I want to leave it all out there,” says Thoma. “Although I love the sport, there are not many colleges that carry the sport anymore, but it is a lot of work and I’m looking for more free time in college.” Thoma will be attending the University of Tennessee in the fall and the future Volunteer is considering pursuing a career in engineering.
“This is bittersweet with Nationals approaching; Thoma has mentioned this will be his final gymnastics competition,” says Vacha. “For him to be able to compete at nationals for his final competition is impressive.”
Thoma was quick to give thanks to his coach for all the years he has put in to help his gymnastics career. “He has helped a ton,” explains Thoma. “Moving his schedule around and allowing me to practice, I am grateful for it because he has allowed me to have the chance to compete in Nationals.”
Vacha has had the opportunity to coach a handful of Saint Ignatius student-athletes in gymnastics and mentioned how special it is to share the Ignatius connection with these students. “I have coached a couple of Ignatius alumni that have reached Nationals and it is always special, says Vacha. “It’s nice to hear from the current students on what’s going on at the ole alma mater.”
Thoma will be representing Region Five in the week of May 11 in Daytona Beach, Florida. This will be Thoma’s final gymnastics competition and he will be looking to give it all he has come competition time. Vacha has strong hopes for the senior. “This is his last go-around, his last routines,” explains Vacha. “I think James will go out there and compete and leave a positive message.”