Iconic football coach killed by former player

UPDATE:  The son of a slain northeast Iowa football coach spoke eloquently at a news conference this afternoon.  Here is a section of the Radio Iowa story:

Flowers and other memorials have been placed on what years ago became known as the "Sacred Acre" — the field where (coach Ed) Thomas led the Aplington-Parkersburg football team for 34 seasons.

"We especially thank the people of Parkersburg for their devotion to our family, all the overwhelming support of our family during this tragedy," Thomas said. "…In the midst of our grief, we are greatly appreciative of our friends and neighbors in the community of Parkersburg and the school of A.P. for all they have done for us."

Aaron Thomas is one of two sons of the 58-year-old football coach. "We also want to make sure we express our concern and our compassion for the Becker family," Thomas said. "We ask that people pray for them as well and that people take time to comfort and be with them through this, as they are also going through a lot."

Twenty-four-year-old Mark Becker of Parkersburg is charged with first-degree murder. Authorities say he walked into the weight room on the high school grounds and shot coach Thomas with a handgun.

ORIGINAL POST:  "I can't describe how emotional it is for all of us to lose such a great person…That's how he's best going to be remembered — not as the football coach, but as a good person, a good Christian and a tremendous role model for us all."  Aplington-Parkersburg superintendent Jon Thompson.

The top news story of the day here in Iowa is the shooting death of legendary Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas. 

Even if you don't follow sports, you may have heard of Thomas.  His home was destroyed by last year's deadly tornado that ripped through Parkersburg.  The school was in ruins, too, and Thomas led efforts to rebuild the "Sacred Acre" – the Aplington-Parkersburg football field — so the team could play there last season.  Sports Illustrated wrote a storyabout the rebuilding effort, as four Aplington-Parkersburg football players are now playing in the NFL.  This is what Thomas told ESPN:

"I constantly tell our kids that they have an opportunity to experience something that very few others have in this world," Thomas says. "And that's to lose everything, to deal with the type of adversity we're dealing with here, but come out stronger on the other side. It is going to make us better people."

Iowa's political community, educators and coaches have issued statements of condolence.  Read below those which have reached the Radio Iowa newsroom via email.

EARLHAM – Governor Culver issued the following statement after learning of the shooting death this morning of long-time Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas.

“I couldn't be more shocked or saddened by the death of Coach Thomas.  My thoughts and prayers are with Coach Thomas' family, the entire Parkersburg community, and all those who played for and loved this outstanding Iowan.

“As a former high school football coach, I've always had great admiration and respect for Coach Thomas. The state and national coaching fraternity has suffered a devastating loss. As we mourn the passing of Coach Thomas, it is my hope we can all continue to learn from his example.”

Braley Statement on the Death of Aplington-Parkersburg Coach Ed Thomas

Washington, DC – Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) today released the following statement after news reports this morning of the death of Aplington-Parkersburg Coach Ed Thomas:

“I’m shocked and saddened by the senseless death of Coach Ed Thomas.  This is a tremendous loss for the town of Parkersburg and the entire state of Iowa.  His death will leave a deep void in the community he loved and in the countless people he inspired throughout his life.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Coach Thomas’ family and the people of Parkersburg during this difficult time.”

Following is a comment from Senator Chuck Grassley on the death of Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach, Ed Thomas.  Grassley lives near New Hartford, approximately 9 miles east of Parkersburg.

“This is a tragic day.  In our area of the state, it’s hard not to know Coach Thomas.  He was a pillar of the community.  His success on the football field made him an icon in his profession, but the people who knew him will remember him most for his leadership off the field.  His leadership to help pull up a community knocked off its feet by an F-5 tornado only a year ago will forever be etched in the minds of Parkersburg residents and Iowans across our state.  For more than three decades Coach Thomas led young men in more than just the game of football.  He led them in the lessons of life.  Barbara and I express our deepest sympathies to his family.”   

Statement from Richard Wulkow, Executive Director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association:

"Like all tragedies, the taking of Coach Thomas’ life is senseless.  At this time our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the Aplington-Parkersburg community and the thousands of lives he so positively impacted. He embodied the essence of what a coach should be, and that legacy will endure.

"He will be forever remembered not so much for his many wins on the field, but for the exemplary manner in which he coached kids and led the Aplington-Parkersburg community and school. This was especially true last spring and summer as they rebuilt from a devastating tornado. He was overwhelmed with the ensuing gratitude from the efforts of the Iowa coaching community and others during the rebuilding."

Statement by Chris Bern, President of the Iowa State Education Association

“The entire education community mourns the senseless loss today of beloved Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas.   Educators are a tight-knit community in Iowa and Coach Thomas served more than 30 years with us.  He was loved and revered for his leadership, his strength, his mentoring, and his dedication. His students and fellow educators will miss him dearly.  This is a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to Coach Thomas’s family, the students and members of the school community who witnessed this horrible act, and the Aplington-Parkersburg community during this difficult time.”

The following is a statement from Iowa Football Coach Kirk Ferentz

"This is a tragic loss for everyone that knew Coach Thomas and our entire state.  He was a highly respected educator, coach, mentor and a strong leader in the community, as well as the coaching community throughout Iowa.  Ed loved his family and his work, and was an outstanding, selfless person who has impacted countless lives in a very positive way.

"Our entire staff and team extend our deepest sympathies to the Thomas family and the community of Parkersburg."

Statement from Iowa State head football coach Paul Rhoads on Aplington-Parkersburg head coach Ed Thomas:

“This is a devastating loss. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Thomas family and countless people who are better individuals because of their relationship with Ed Thomas.

“Ed Thomas was one of the first people to call me when I came back to Iowa. I can’t tell you how much his call meant to me. He came down to our clinic and called me afterwards to compliment us on how the clinic was run. As an Iowa coaching legend, he didn’t have to make those calls.  Ed did it because he was the best of people.

“As a young man growing up I first learned of coach Thomas through my father’s high school coaching career. Everyone knew that this man was far more than a football coach. His leadership set an example for us and his legacy will live on in the thousands of people he has touched in and out of the classroom and on and off the field.” 

5:00 p.m. UPDATE:  Statement on the Death of Ed Thomas, Aplington-Parkersburg Football Coach; Released on Behalf of the Thomas Family 
"The shocking events of today are not anything you can prepare for. Many knew Ed Thomas as a teacher, coach and a Christian man of faith. We knew him as a father, husband, grandfather, son and uncle.

"We will miss him. We loved him. We have so many great memories that we will cherish forever. I will miss golfing with my dad and my brother.

"We love the people of Parkersburg for showing us such overwhelming support in the face of this tragedy. Thank you for the visits, phone calls and other expressions of love. In the midst of our grief, we deeply appreciate our friends and neighbors.

"We also express compassion for the Becker family and ask that you pray for them as well. They too, are suffering and grieving and we want the community to embrace them.

"The mark my dad left on this community will live on through our family, his students, his athletes, his church family and countless people that he has touched. We will miss him very much and thank all of you for supporting our family during this difficult time."

5:50 p.m. UPDATE:  Green Bay Packers lineman Aaron Kampman issued a statement via the Green Bay Packers website. (Ed Thomas was Kampman's high school coach at Aplington-Parkersburg High School; hat tip to The Bean Walker for finding the statement.)

"Coach Thomas was very special to me and many other young men from the Aplington-Parkersburg communities. His legacy for many will be associated with his tremendous success as a football coach. However, I believe his greatest legacy comes not in how many football games he won or lost but in the fact that he was a committed follower of Jesus Christ. He lived his life trying to exemplify this faith and convey those values to those under his influence. His faith in Christ pervaded everything he did and that is why in the midst of the heartache we all feel there is comfort in knowing he is with his Savior."

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


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