It was almost about 13 months ago that a massive tornado struck the town of Parkersburg in northeast Iowa, flattening the small town. One of the first reconstruction projects was the football field, and for good reason; many towns find a common bond in their high school football team, but few programs are as prolific as Aplington-Parkersburg; the “Sacred Acre,” as the field is called, has been the home of several NFL veterans, all under the tutelage of longtime head coach and teacher Ed Thomas.
So it’s with an unbelievable amount of shock that we learn today that Thomas was shot several times at the school’s weight room this morning, and he passed away shortly after arriving at a nearby hospital. No students were harmed, and the suspect is reportedly in custody, so this appeared to be a targeted attack.
Thomas’ legacy is as prolific as any high school coach’s in America; his program at Aplington-Parkersburg churned out longtime NFL veterans (and upstanding citizens) Brad Meester, Aaron Kampman, Jared DeVries, and Casey Wiegmann in a ten-year stretch, as well as a bevy of college football players too numerous to mention. Not surprisingly, the Sacred Acre is officially named Ed Thomas Field; that designation now seems much more somber than congratulatory.
Thomas was even named the 2003 High School Coach of the Year by the NFL, well before any cheap sympathy came his way after the tornado hit. It almost seems remarkable that he “only” won two state titles at the school.
Rumors are swirling that the gunman was a former player of Thomas’, and while names have been thrown out, there’s nowhere near enough confirmation to run with any of that yet. Suffice it to say, this is a tragedy every bit as devastating for the town of Parkersburg and the state of Iowa as last May’s tornado.
Thomas was 58.
*UPDATE*: Police have charged 24-year-old Mark Becker with Thomas’ shooting death. Becker had been involved in a police chase last weekend after he smashed out the windows of another person’s residence.