Last May, Ed Thomas lost his home.
Wednesday, he lost his life.
But Thomas’ legacy won’t be that of a victim, according to Tom Stone.
“He had ‘WINNER’ written all over him,” said Stone, veteran football coach at Pekin High School. “He touched so many lives. He brought out the best in so many people. He had a real knack in getting along with kids.”
Thomas, the iconic Aplington-Parkersburg football coach and athletics director who led the community’s rebirth after a devastating tornado, was shot and killed in the school’s weight room Wednesday morning. He was 58.
The shock waves were felt throughout Iowa within an hour of the shooting.
“Oh my gosh, what a shame,” said Cedar Rapids Washington Coach Tony Lombardi. “It’s inexplicable.
“Here’s the thing: We live in a time in which there are so few heroes. That man is a genuine hero. I’m sure he had opportunities to go to a bigger school, a bigger community. He pulled the entire community behind his program.”
Thomas coached 37 seasons, the last 34 at Parkersburg and A-P. His teams were state champions in 1993 and 2001 and finished second on four occasions. His career record was 292-84, with 19 playoff appearances.
But his defining moments came in the months following the tornado that ripped through Parkersburg — and leveled his home — last May.
“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,” Iowa High School Athletic Association executive director Rick Wulkow said in a statement. “He was overwhelmed with the ensuing gratitude from the efforts of the Iowa coaching community and others during the rebuilding.”
Aplington-Parkersburg’s first home game after the tornado was against West Marshall. It was Thomas’ only meeting against Ken Winkler, one of his closest friends.
Winkler got the news from his wife Wednesday morning.
“Shock is the only word to use,” Winkler said. “Ed is a great person who also happens to be a great football coach. Football was third to him. He had a very strong faith, and he was a very good family man.”
In the wake of the news, words like “sad,” “stunning,” “shocking” and “senseless” were common from those that knew Thomas best.
“It’s just sad beyond belief,” Lombardi said. “He brought so many people so many wonderful things. This man made a difference.”
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said IHSAA information director Bud Legg. “Anybody that knows Ed knows what a terrific guy he (was). He’s so dedicated to the kids. If you’re going to pick an ideal person to coach your son, your daughter, your grandchild, it’s Ed Thomas.”
“It’s a sad day for a great man, and it’s a sad day for life in general,” Stone said. “It’s been a very difficult morning for me.”