How much more heartbreak can the good folks of Parkersburg endure?
It was only a year ago that a tornado tore through the area and leveled half the town, including the high school, and killed six people. Now, with the community well on its way to recovery, another tragedy. One of the town's icons, Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach Ed Thomas, was shot to death in the school's weight room -- by one of his former players.
Stunning. Shocking. Tragic. Senseless. Unimaginable -- everyone grasps for words to explain their emotions when something like this occurs. How could it happen? What would drive someone to do that? And then you think about Ed's family and friends trying to deal with the sudden void in their lives. And about a town that already had suffered too much
I won't claim to have known Ed Thomas. I talked to him several times while working for the AP. I saw his teams play. I watched his son, Aaron, play basketball for Drake. But I picked up enough in those conversations and by talking with those who knew him to learn something about the man.
As a coach, Ed Thomas was a figure straight out of a Clair Bee novel. He was old-school, firm but fair, respected and yes, even loved. He taught his players to respect themselves and their opponents, too. Play hard, knock 'em on their butts, but shake hands and congratulate them on their effort afterward.
There was nothing fancy about his teams. His offense was plain vanilla -- his words, not mine. Ed's idea of the spread was to move an end a couple of yards out from the other linemen. IBlock, tackle and execute and you'll have a pretty good chance of winning. How old-fashioned is that? But it worked to the tune of 292 victories, 19 playoff appearances and two state championships. It had to be frustrating for opponents to have A-P line up and run the same plays time and time again and yet rarely find a way to stop them.
I once did a story on supplement use by high school athletes and called Ed for a comment. He said that when parents asked him about supplements, he'd say they should tell their kids to work hard, exercise and eat the right kind of foods. That was Ed Thomas.
Anyone who follows sports at all knows that Ed's program has produced four NFL players -- an amazing achievement for a school with less than 200 students in the top three grades. Ed was justifiably proud of those guys. But those who knew him will tell you he was just as proud of his former players who became businessmen, lawyers, ministers, teachers, coaches and good fathers.
Ed's home was among those destroyed in that May 2008 tornado. He was one of the leaders in the effort to rebuild the town. He was insistent that the debris-littered football field would be ready for the season opener in September -- a field that carries his name -- and it was.
The night of that first game, a choked up Ed Thomas told the crowd, ``There's no question in my mind we will be a better school and a better community than we ever were before.''
Ed certainly did his part to make the community better. Sadly, though, his death leaves it a little emptier.