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