Published On: Wed, Mar 22nd, 2017

Speaker’s horror story brings reality home

LAUREL — After hearing Aaron Thomas’ story Thursday of horror and tragedy, one comment stood out.

“Life is 10 percent what happens to you, but 90 percent of how you deal with it,” he told a crowd of parents, teachers and community members at the Laurel-Concord Coleridge Gym.

Thomas said adversity is a true test of character, and he ought to know, adversity came often to his family.

His home, school and half of his hometown were wiped out in 2008 by an F5 tornado.

One year later his dad, a Hall of Fame football coach, was murdered by a former football player.

Football was a big part of Ed Thomas’ life. He passed that love on to his son, Aaron.

When Aaron was in the third grade he dreamed of becoming a teacher and coach just like his father.

He would follow his dad out to the football field for practice every day and listen to what he would tell the players.

His father wouldn’t start practices by talking about football, but instead he would tell the kids about being better people, being selfless, being ready to make the most of their moments.

Every player was important to Ed Thomas.

He would take the time to talk to each player on the team. The roster sometimes had as many as 85 players on it, a very impressive number for a school in a town of 2,000 people.

“Money, who you were, where you came from, who your parents were, didn’t matter to Ed. On the football field, everyone was equal,” Aaron said about his dad. “That didn’t always make people happy.”

Ed was often heard saying to his players, “If all I have taught you is how to block and tackle, then I have failed you as a coach.”

Ed lived what he spoke.

National recognition came to Ed Thomas in 2005.  Most football coaches from small town America don’t have their players go on to play in the NFL.  Ed not only had one player, he had four players in the NFL by 2005.

The Kansas City Chiefs Casey Wiegmann, the Green Bay Packers Aaron Kampman, the Detroit Lions Jared DeVries and the Jacksonville Jaguars Brad Meester were all coached by Ed Thomas. 

One year Ed was invited to the Super Bowl in Detroit.  He was given five minutes to speak in front of a group that included Hall of Fame inductees. Instead of speaking about how great he was or about all his accomplishments, he spoke about what he was most proud of — his community of Parkersburg, Iowa.

In Ed’s career with a lifetime record of leading his football team to two state championships, he had opportunities to coach at other places, but never wanted to go anywhere else. 

He often said, “never forget where you came from.”

That love of community was strengthened even more when his beloved Parkersburg  was hit May 25, 2008, by an F5 tornado, destroying hundreds of homes and killing eight people in Falcon County. 

The Thomas family lost their home and possessions.  The town lost their school.

Ed was interviewed shortly after the tornado destroyed their town.

“My dad said when asked what are we going to do now? He said, we are going to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and make this better than it was before,” Aaron said.

Ed’s goal was to play the first football game on the football field that fall.  They did just that. Having only 100 days to complete it and the team ended the year with an 11-1 record.

Aaron talked about how his dad had said, “You never know when you will have a platform.” “After the tornado, I was given 13 months of learning what to do with adversity before I met it face on.”

On Wednesday, June 24, 2009 before 8 a.m., a call came into the 911 call center reporting someone shot Ed Thomas. Ed was working with 20 students in the make shift weight room in a bus barn. 

Mark Becker, a former falcon starting lineman had shot Ed Thomas seven times. 

Mark had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and recently released from a psychiatric facility. 

Shortly after Aaron had been told of his father’s death. The family was notified by the Department of Criminal Investigations that a press release was needed.

Aaron said, “I stepped up to do the press conference because if Ed Thomas was going to have any kind of legacy, I would do exactly what my dad would have done.”  “I had zero questions that the Beckers were good people.”

Aaron gave the press conference and asked the people in the community to offer comfort and compassion for the Mark Becker family. In film footage Aaron showed the audience, Joan Becker speaks about how stunned they were that their son had shot such a wonderful man. A large mailbox was then shown full of mail with comforting thoughts since Aaron had spoken at the press conference.

Two days after the death of his father, Aaron was asked to move back and take over for this dad. His wife asked him what about your mom? He remembered what his dad had always said about to never forget where you come from.

After the death of his father, Aaron learned many more stories about the kind of man his father was. Faith, family and football were the three most important things to him. Ed touched the lives of so many people and even people Aaron didn’t know about. Ed had bought players cleats that couldn’t afford them, called students when they were in college, showed up at student’s homes when they weren’t doing well in school and was the first person to show up a student’s house when his father committed suicide.

“If we had responded differently on June 24 our family would not have received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage presented to us by Brett Farve at the 2010 ESPY Awards,” Aaron said.

A person’s legacy should be important, he said.

“What is your legacy? What is your impact? Do we care about people or just ourselves? What is your passion?” “I tell teachers, that if you don’t want to be in your classroom, then 22 students won’t want to be there either. It starts with the top dog. Children are very observant, they figure it out,” he said.

Ed Thomas always said there is someone that has it worse than you, so people should quit complaining. 

Ed’s father was an alcoholic and he decided to be different. Ed further would tell people that the greatest gift God gives people is the power to choose. 

“What is your attitude?” he asked. “Are you someone that when people see you coming, they want to work with you — or do people want to walk away?”

He also spoke to the middle school and high school students during the day, before he spoke to the community Thursday night.

He left important messages with all age groups.

“When Aaron spoke at the middle school, he talked about cell phone usage. He warned the middle school students, that before you hit send, make sure it won’t hurt someone else, your family, your school or your community,” said LCC Middle School Office Manager Melissa Graf,

LCC football coach Pat Arens said everyone was able to relate to Thomas’ message.

“He was talking to you and everyone could relate. It is what he said it’s 10 percent of how you react. As a coach, how you react is exactly how your students will react too.”

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