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Posts Tagged ‘Aplington-Parkersburg High School’

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Since I wasn’t able to go to the Aplington-Parkersburg game last night I thought I’d drive out this morning and see the what remnants were left behind from the first ever high school football game from Iowa to be broadcast on ESPN. The only activity was a couple joggers running around the track.

The only hint production-wise was a large Musco lighting truck. Musco is an Iowa-based company whose large lighting set-ups provide temporary and permanent  lighting for everything from the last presidential inauguration, features films such as Pearl Harbor, the Daytona Speedway , and currently the 2009 Little League World Series.

But there was the Ed Thomas field. Named after the long time coach of the Aplington-Parkersburg team who died a few months ago. The nickname of the field is “The Sacred Acre” and I think ESPN broadcasting the game last night as a tribute to Coach Thomas will cement in the minds of the American public that town as a symbol of what’s good about this country.

Thomas was already a well-respected icon in Iowa before his death. He was the eighth winningest coach in the the history of Iowa football and currently has four players in the NFL. That’s an impressive number since there are schools around this county who have never had in their school’s history a total of four players in the NFL. What’s more amazing is the school has less than 280 students and the population of the town of Parkersburg is smaller than some high school’s in this county.

So what sets this program apart? Books will be written about that in the future. Aplington-Parkersburg is not really a football factory. It never was intended to be one. But here are a few quotes from Coach Thomas taken from an interview I found at Momentum Media that give a hint of what made him a special person.

“I’ve always said my job is not to prepare our kids to be college athletes. My job is to make football a learning experience, and there are so many things they can learn from being a part of our team that will help them be successful later in life as a father, member of a church, or member of the community. There are so many intangibles we can teach that they can take with them.”

On a leadership class he taught to senior players:

“I talk about leaders setting an example, the responsibility of being a leader, and the idea of being a servant and a giver. I talk about standing up to do what is right when nobody else will, and letting other players know when they’re doing something wrong. I also explain the importance of being a role model—that leaders have to set the tone for other players to follow. I talk about the respect that they have to gain with other young people. I tell them that everyone might not always like you, but you should act in such a way that they respect you.”

When asked about how he defined ethics as it related to coaching:

“Ethics is doing what’s right. It’s following the rules, and teaching football the way it ought to be played. Ethics is teaching young people about sportsmanship and how to conduct themselves in a first-class fashion regardless of whether they win or lose. I tell our kids that we’re going to go out and play hard, and we want to win as much as anybody. But when the game is over, we’re going to line up, shake hands, and be gentlemen, knowing that we did the very best we could. To me, that’s all part of ethics.”

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m one of those coaches who believes it’s my responsibility to be there for my players—my students—any way I can.”
Ed Thomas

That kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen in a place like this.

Highly regarded and admired high school football coaches are not supposed to be killed. Icons of a community are not supposed to be shot. Especially in a small town in Iowa. But that’s what happened yesterday when Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach Ed Thomas was shot and killed.

When I moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa from Orlando six year ago I didn’t think I was moving to a place free from crime. The end of the innocence happened long before this. It even happened before Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood where he chronicled murder in a small Kansas town in 1959. But yesterday’s shooting is still a shocking tragedy.

Parkesburg, Iowa is 20 miles west of Cedar Falls and was in the news one year ago due to the devastation of an EF 5 rated tornado that hit there last year. A couple days after the tornado destroyed about a third of homes (including Thomas’ home) and took several lives I was hired by an insurance company to video tape the damage. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

A few weeks ago that same company hired me to go back and help tell the stories of how some people had helped rebuild their lives. It was amazing to see the transformation that had taken place in just one year.

And symbolically at the center of the town’s transformation was the Aplington-Parkersburg High School football program lead by CoachThomas. ESPN did a feature last fall on Thomas and the team and how much they meant to the town. Reporter Steve Cyphers’ ESPN story called  The Scared Acre is a moving story. It really underscores the tragedy and loss of the death of Thomas. (If you click the ESPN link you will have to put up with an ad before the video plays.)

As a coach he had 292 wins, two state titles, and was the 2005 NFL High Football Coach of the year. Currently there are four NFL players who played under Thomas. Four players from the same high school is a staggering number considering some high schools have never had a single player in their entire history make it to the NFL.

A couple years ago columnist Bob McClellan pointed out that the city of Miami, Florida with its 40 high schools only had four active players in the NFL. To see the same number from the same school and from a small town of 2,000 people has to make you wonder if the coach has tapped into something special.

Thomas at Aplington-Parkersburg for 34 years and was a respected coach, teacher, and mentor as well as a man of faith whose concern for his players went beyond the football field.

“Aside from my own father and mother, no one had a more profound impact on my life than Coach Thomas…He truly epitomized everything that is great about high school football and all the things it can teach young men. Heaven just got a great football coach and an even better man.”
Jared Devries
Detroit Lions Defensive end

One of the top ten all time posts for Screenwriting from Iowa is called Don’t Waste Your Life.  In that post I quoted many well known screenwriters reflecting on their work and life and I used last year’s tornado as a springboard for that discussion. I even had a picture of the scoreboard from Aplington-Parkersburg High School that was blown down during the 200 mile per hour winds.

The death of Ed Thomas will no doubt be felt by the people and town of Parkersburg for a long time. But more importantly I believe the life of Ed Thomas will have a more profound and lasting effect.

Check out the ESPN story on Thomas because it’s a great example of where storytelling and meaning come together.

Don’t waste your life.

8/28/09 Update: ESPN in Parkersburg, Iowa.  They’re broadcasting tonight  nationally A-P’s first  high school football game in 34 years without Coach Thomas on the sidelines.

Scott W. Smith

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“When you drink from the well, remember the well-digger.”
Chinese proverb

©2008 Scott W. Smith

Last Sunday one of my partners at River Run Productions had 15 seconds to make it into his basement with his wife and dog before an EF 5 rated tornado ripped through his Parkersburg, Iowa home.

In less than a minute his house was gone and both cars totaled. But he, his wife and dog were safe. A total of seven people were killed in the storm and over 200 homes were destroyed and another 400 damaged.

Iowa is no stranger to tornadoes, but this one was the most powerful to hit the state in over 30 years. It’s one more reminder that things can change in a New York minute—or even an Iowa minute.

Friday I went to Parkersburg to shoot footage of the destruction and interviews for an insurance company.  I have been through a hurricane in Florida and a major earthquake in California and I have never personally seen the devastation that I saw as the result of that tornado.

From where I took the above photo, every direction I looked basically looked the same. It’s amazing that more people weren’t killed. Human beings tend to have short memories so this is one more thing to help remind us how fragile life is.

I’ve written a lot about writing on this blog but not much about keeping life in perspective with a creative career. The fact is most of us have difficulty balancing our lives.

I’ve collected some of my favorite quotes over the years that are a little random, but I hope there’s something in here that you can hang your hat on—or at least cause you to smile or reflect on your life and dreams. But mainly I want you to understand that whatever creative dreams you have there’s more to life than chasing that rainbow.

“My biggest disappointment so far is that having a career has not made me happy.”
                                                                        Shane Black
Was paid $1.7m for The Last Boy Scout 

“It’s an accepted fact that all writers are crazy, even the normal ones are weird.
William Goldman
                                                                         Adventures in the Screen Trade                                                                  

 “I don’t dress until 5 p.m. I have a bathrobe that can stand…Yes, I am divorced. One writes because one literally couldn’t get another job or has no choice.”
Akiva Goldsman
 A Beautiful Mind
 

“I got into screenwriting for the best of all reasons: I got into it for self-therapy.”
                                                                                      Paul Schrader
                                                                                      Taxi Driver

“For the first couple of years that I wrote screenplays, I was so nervous about what I was doing that I threw up before I began writing each morning. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s much better than reading what you’ve written at the end of the day and throwing up.”
Joe Eszterhas

“I’m not very good at writing. If I succeed, it’s by fluke.”
Shane Black
Lethal Weapon

“If you get rejected, you have to persist. Don’t give up. It was the best advice I ever got.”
Anna Hamilton Phelan
                                                                                      Mask

“The myth about me is that I sold my first screenplay and it’s true. But I had also worked very hard as a fiction writer for ten years and that’s how I learned the craft of telling stories.”
Akiva Goldman
                                                                                       A Beautiful Mind
                                                                                       (He also has a masters
in fiction from NYU)

“I spent 18 years doing stand up comedy. Ten years learning, four years refining, and four years of wild success.” (It’s worth noting that Martin was on top when he walked away from stand up comedy and never performed as a comedian again.)
Steve Martin
                                                                                         Born Standing Up
           

“Starting in 2002, I knew for a fact that I had to get out of this business. It was too hard. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough, it was that it was too hard. What kept me in it was laziness and fear. It would be nice to say it was passion and I’m a struggling artist who didn’t give up on his craft. All of that sounds good, but the truth is it was laziness and fear.”
Alan Loeb
Things We Lost in the Fire

“Like the career of any athlete, an artist’s life will have its injuries. These go with the game. The trick is to survive them, to learn how to let yourself heal.”
                                                                                        Julia Cameron
The Artist’s Way
Dee: “Jane, do you ever feel like you’re just this far from being completely hysterical 24 hours a day?”
Jane: “Half the people I know feel that way. The lucky ones feel that way. The rest of the people are hysterical 24 hours a day.”

                                                                                       from Lawrence Kasden’s
                                                                                       Grand Canyon


“We’re constantly buying crap we don’t need and devoting ourselves to endeavors which, perhaps on reflection, with a little bit of distance, would reveal themselves to be contrary to our own best interest.”
                                                               David Mamet      

Everything in this town (L.A.) plays into the easy buttons that get pushed and take people off their path; greed, power, glamour, sex, fame.”
                                                                                       Ed Solomon
  Men in Black

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.
Stephen King

So life in general is hard, and being a writer or in the creative arts is a double helping of difficulty.

Several years ago Stephen King was hit by a van when he was on a walk. One leg was broken in nine places and his knee was reduced to “so many marbles in a sock,” his spine was chipped in eight places, four ribs were broken, and a laceration to his scalp required 30 stitches. It was as if his characters Annie Wilkes (Misery) and Cujo had ganged up on him.

But he had learned a thing or two about adversity after an earlier bout with drugs and alcohol that he eventually won. One of thing things he learned was to not to get a massive desk and put it in the center of the room like he did early in his career. That is, writing shouldn’t be the most important thing in your life.

“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.  Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
Stephen King

Two years ago I produced a DVD based on the book Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. The concept was to shoot a Koyaanisqatsi-style video that that showed the arc of life from birth to death. I shot footage from New York City to Denver. I shot footage of a one day old baby in a hospital, people walking into an office building in Cleveland, snow failing in a cemetery and the like.  One of the shots for that video was in Parkersburg, Iowa.

It was a traditional Friday night high school football game at Aplington-Parkersburg High School. (What makes this school unique is though the town only has a population of 2,000 it currently has 4 active graduates playing in the NFL.)  That high school building is a total loss because of the tornado. Here’s a photo of the scoreboard sign that was blown down during the storm.

There will always be the storms of life. And as I’ve written before, movies can help us endure those storms and even inspire us. (“Throughout most of the Depression, Americans went assiduously, devotedly, almost compulsively, to the movies.”-Carlos Stevens) So work on your craft because we need great stories that give us a sense of direction, but don’t waste your life just writing screenplays.

words & photos copyright ©2008  Scott W. Smith

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