The loss of human life from the tornado that ravaged Parkersburg Sunday – there are no words to adequately describe the horror.
The loss of homes and meaningful personal property are devastating to the survivors.
And a high school has been destroyed. Aplington-Parkersburg High must relocate, rebuild. The high school is the focal point of most small towns, and this one was no different.
The name “Parkersburg” already registered with sports followers across the state who had never stepped foot in the town. A-P has been a perennial participant in the state football playoffs, and has two titles and four runner-up finishes under head coach Ed Thomas, who has coached at the school since 1975.
In 2005, Thomas was named the NFL’s High School Coach of the Year. He was nominated by his four former players who currently play in the NFL — Jared DeVries, Aaron Kampman, Brad Meester and Casey Wiegmann.
“He taught me as much about being a gentleman as he did about football,” DeVries said.
Falcons football has never been fancy. A-P runs and runs on offense. It’s blocking and tackling. The four NFL players from A-P are all linemen.
“We would drill and drill,” Kampman said.
“I always said my job is not to prepare our kids to be college athletes,” Thomas said in an interview a few years ago. “My job is to make football a learning experience, and there are so many things they can learn from being a part of our team that will help them be successful later in life as a father, member of a church, or member of the community.”
That’s a Coach of the Year attitude.
A-P’s tattered football field, with mangled goal posts and a battered scoreboard, is named Ed Thomas Field.
“When I’m done and out of coaching,” Thomas once told the Waterloo Courier, “I hope they let me come back and take care of that field. I want it to look really nice.”
For quite some time, the football field in Parkersburg was called “The Sacred Acre.”
The walls of Thomas’ classroom – he teaches government and economics – were covered with photos and clippings of his former athletes. That’s all part of rubble now.
Thomas was one of the many Parkersburg citizens who lost a home Sunday. He spent part of Monday directing his A-P athletes in moving weightlifting equipment out of the shambles that was left of the high school.
How does a community bounce back from something so destructive? Trite as it may sound, it starts and ends with strong people like Thomas refusing to surrender.
Someday down the road, I suspect Ed Thomas will again be keeping the weeds out of Ed Thomas Field. And it’s not likely Aplington-Parkersburg’s football team will give an inch this fall, no matter where it has to play its games.
The Los Angeles Times had an especially good story on the Parkersburg tornado. Here’s the link: