NewLeftHeader

clear sky

68.8°F

Laguna Beach


Laguna Logo

Soccer coach and teacher Mike Thomas 

says it takes a village to build a team

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Perhaps no man has better internalized the phrase “No man is an island,” than the man who grew up on the Isle of Man. Mike Thomas not only believes John Donne’s famous line, he’s assimilated it into his everyday life. It guides his career choices, informs the way he coaches on the field and teaches in his classroom, underlies how he raises his own three children, and governs how he allocates his very busy time. His life is lived for others. He not only acknowledges the importance of his community, but he makes daily decisions to actively support it.

Though born and raised on the other side of the world, in a climate and culture far different than Southern California’s sunny skies and palm trees, when Mike Thomas discovered Laguna in his mid-30s, he felt like he’d come home. He recognized our close-knit ties, appreciating how Laguna’s residents relied on each other, encouraged each other, and gave back to their town. “These are the kinds of people who go out of their way to help others,” Mike says. “Laguna is a small town with a big heart. People rally around those who need it, making opportunities accessible and affordable for those who deserve it. There are so many people quietly contributing in the background who never get recognized. That rings true with my own upbringing.”

Soccer coach close up

Click on photo for a larger image

Mike Thomas at home on the LBHS soccer field

Mike brought with him all he’d learned from his homeland – a love of sports, a dedication to teaching and helping children develop their talents, and a commitment to his community. Those traits meshed well with our town, a place that needed his skills and offered up generation after generation of eager players.

Growing up Manx

In the center of the Irish Sea, sandwiched between Great Britain and Ireland, sits a rock 11 miles wide and 30 miles long (roughly the length of Catalina though twice as wide). The Isle of Man has been continuously inhabited since 6500 BC, and today is home to around 83,000 people. Famous for its annual Tourist Trophy motorcycle race – a roughly 38-mile race through the streets of the island, one of the most dangerous racing events in the world – and the Manx cat breed, the island is self-governing (though defense is provided by Britain and the Queen is their symbolic figurehead). UNESCO awarded the island Biosphere Reserve Status in 2016. It was the first national legislature in the world to award single women the right to vote in the 19th century, making it both insular and progressive. It’s also known for being a tax haven with a low-tax economy.

Islanders are hardy and self-sufficient, a necessity to survive their inclement weather. Getting off the island is no easy feat, requiring a four-hour ferry ride or a costly flight. Though there are five high schools and there are virtually no universities, so those who wish to pursue higher education must leave.

Mike’s island roots on his mother’s side stretch all the way back. Her family was one of the Isle of Man’s original inhabitants. She is a Kelly, from the 1908 song “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?” about a Manx woman searching for her boyfriend in London. At age 85, Mike’s mother still resides there, though she’s independent and strong enough to visit her Orange County sons somewhat often.

Mike’s father, a housepainter by trade, hailed from Liverpool. The couple met on the island in their teens, after his father’s family relocated, and raised their three sons. Two of the three – Mike and his brother, Andy – now coach soccer in our town. 

Soccer coach Andy and Mike

Click on photo for a larger image

Andy and Mike on the soccer field

In 1997, while Andy was coaching the Laguna Beach High School team, Mike brought his team over from the Isle of Man to play against the Breakers. It was Thanksgiving and 80 degrees in Orange County, far different than the frigid temperatures and cutting wind that awaited him back home. While both brothers were in Laguna, their teams locked in competition, they learned their father had suddenly passed. “That really knocked me for a loop,” Mike says. “My dad was only 65. He’d just retired.” The event marked a turning point for Mike. He returned home and announced to the principal he was leaving to join Andy in California. He came to coach high school girls’ varsity in May of 1998 and has remained in the United States since.

A lifelong love of the game

Maybe not every English boy grows up wanting to become a soccer star. Maybe it’s only every other one. But the Thomas boys both did. “We played every sport under the sun,” says Mike. It was their mother’s way of keeping three boys out of trouble. “Cricket, squash, field hockey, badminton, and gymnastics.” Mike excelled in vaulting. “Soccer (or football) was our passion. Growing up in England, we all wanted to be professional soccer players. But being stuck on a rock in the middle of the Irish Sea made it difficult.”

Mike and Andy were so talented that they were able to travel with the sport. Mike made his way off the Isle of Man when he was 18 to attend college in the UK. He earned a scholarship to Carnegie School of Sport through Leeds Beckett University, the top school for a degree in physical education. Andy followed after him. “Education was always the top priority in my family,” he says. “Physical education was always a potential pathway there.” Mike earned his degree with honors and was quickly recruited to the Greek Island of Cypress to teach tennis at a local resort. “I didn’t manage to attend my own graduation because I’d already moved to teach,” he says. 

Soon he was recruited by a professional team in Cypress to play soccer. For the next several years, he bounced around Europe (even spending some years back at the Isle of Man), all the time teaching and coaching the sport he loved. 

The tradition he began in the mid-90s, bringing boys from the Isle to Laguna each year to compete, continues to this day. “Three coaches stay in our two-bedroom apartment with us, and maybe a few players,” Mike says. “It’s a great experience for these boys to come over. Not only have they never been to the United States, most have never been off the Isle of Man.”

In 2016, Mike and Andy established the Laguna Beach Chapter of the Pateadores soccer club (a Spanish slang term that means “kickers”), and both serve as Directors. Mike also recently began the Laguna Beach Football Club (LBFC). “I love that Laguna encourages you to do things and try things,” Mike says. “You’re never knocked down or put down. The town has given me opportunities to try things I never would have done otherwise.” Today, between the high school team and club soccer, Mike coaches at least five days a week. “To quote the famous line,” Mike says, “I’ll rest when I’m dead. I just want to keep busy trying things, doing things, and living life to the fullest.” 

Soccer coach demonstration

Click on photo for a larger image

Mike demonstrating his footwork moves to the team

Manx meets Laguna

Mike scored his perfect match with his wife, Allison Thomas (nee Corradini), whom he calls “the love of his life.” Of course the two met over soccer (she was coaching the girls’ JV team) and, of course, they met in Laguna. Allison’s family has a long lineage here. Her parents ran the old toy store and her brother, Andrew, is known for his big beard and indie folk rock performances around town. 

Allison shares Mike’s strong ties to teaching, having worked for years with special education students and at the Presbyterian preschool in town, following in the footsteps of her father, who was also a teacher. Today she works for the school district. “Education is in our blood,” Mike says.

Mike and Allison have three children of their own – Keegan (16), Kayleigh (13), and Cami (who turns 11 this week) – all dedicated to soccer. Mike coaches his two daughters. “I’m sure they’ll get sick of me soon,” he smiles.

Soccer coach family

Click on photo for a larger image

Kayleigh, Allison, Mike, Keegan, and Cami at their second home – the soccer field

Teaching runs through the Thomas family’s blood

Mike has taught for 31 years. He’s spent the last seven at Laguna’s Anneliese Schools teaching 4th grade. “It’s a special place,” Mike says. “There aren’t many schools like that with amazing programs that allow us to educate rather than teaching to a test. We focus on creating good people and good humans who will become productive in society, teaching life skills and good humanistic qualities.”

Mike incorporates traditions from his own heritage, exposing his students to another culture through songs and stories. Of course he’s also brought soccer to the school, introducing competitive sports on campus. “It’s a small school, so we do very well,” he says.

Mike’s extensive background teaching in various California schools (including a special education classroom), a Florida school, and overseas makes him an ideal and beloved teacher. Once he laid eyes on the Manzanita campus, he knew he’d found his ideal spot. “Is this really a school?” he thought. “This is it. This is the place that could reignite my passion for teaching.” 

To receive is to give

Perhaps because Mike and Allison have been on the receiving end of Laguna’s generosity, it’s even more important to Mike to keep his focus on giving back. 

In 2013, shortly after moving to town, toxic mold struck their apartment, forcing them to move out. Nearly six years later, a serious but soon resolved medical issue befell one of his daughters. These events sent the Thomas family for a few unfortunate spins. But our residents united behind them, finding safe and affordable accommodations for the family in 2013, and contributing funds and meals during their daughter’s procedures last year.

Soccer coach Kayleigh

Click on photo for a larger image

Kayleigh practicing her moves on the field

“That’s why I feel so strongly for this place,” Mike says. “I already knew Laguna was special, but the community rallied around our family and supported us. That’s the true heart of Laguna. People think this is a rich person’s playground. But this is like any community. There’s always a story behind the façade. It’s not what people see from the outside. I’ve realized, like the Isle of Man, Laguna is one of those hidden gems.”

Spending time with Mike makes it easy to fall in love with Laguna all over again. This time, not for the natural beauty or the storied history. Not for the town’s many creative spirits or ambitious intellectuals. But for how we rise when the cards are down. We become our better selves when life deals one of us a blow, realizing we’re all a piece of this continent, a part of the main. We seem to instinctively understand the bell tolls for all of us. 

“This place feels like the magnet that pulls me back,” Mike says. “It’s the people and the place and the community that do that. Wherever I am, I want to come back here.”

“No Man is an Island”

John Donne

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

For more information on supporting our local soccer teams by providing scholarship funds and other donations for talented players who can’t afford to participate, contact Mike at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

Email: Editor@StuNewsLaguna.com with news releases, letters, etc.

949.212.1499

Email: Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com for questions about advertising

949.315.0259

© 2022 Stu News Laguna - All Rights Reserved.