How are you going to impact
the world -
Positively or Negatively?
Aaron Thomas challenges students to ask themselves the question “How are you going to impact the world — positively or negatively?” during an inspirational speech Monday at Kuemper Catholic High School. Thomas is the activities director at Aplington-Parkersburg High School and the son of Ed Thomas, who was shot and killed by a former player in 2009. Daily Times Herald photos by Jeff Storjohann
Kathryn Braddy, a speech and theology teacher at Kuemper Catholic High School, thanks Aplington-Parkersburg activities director Aaron Thomas following a speech Monday to high school students. Thomas left a copy of Sacred Acre, a book about his father Ed Thomas, with the school.
“What we need is more people like you,” Aaron Thomas said when he urged
Kuemper students on Monday to make their future home in small-town Iowa.
Cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have enough people, he said.
People in small towns can have an impact that go far beyond their city’s
limits — his father, Ed Thomas, never lived in a big city, but 4,500 people
attended his funeral. He told the students that they can more easily make
Aaron Thomas didn’t know he could forgive his father’s killer.
He is the son of Ed Thomas, the celebrated Aplington-Parkersburg football coach was shot seven times by an unstable former student in 2009.
Aaron Thomas shared his thoughts on how faith, family and football got him through some of the toughest times of his life with students at Kuemper Catholic High School on Monday.
The story Aaron Thomas told began in 2005. His father received national attention when he was named coach of the year by ESPN and eventually tallied 292 wins and two state titles in 36 years.
Three years later, Thomas’s story took a dramatic turn.
On May 25, 2008, a tornado tore through Parkersburg, leaving eight dead, destroying hundreds of homes and leaving much of the town unrecognizable.
Aaron Thomas wasn’t in town when the tornado struck. He tried to get to town on the highway, but it was blocked by law officers.
Thomas raced down gravel roads until he couldn’t go any farther. He remembers leaving his car on a gravel road and running down and up a large hill where he saw it.
His parents’ house. It was knocked off its foundation.
And the neighbors’ house had a car in its living room.
It was the first time Thomas had ever worried about losing his parents. The family had lived a comfortable life near Parkersburg up to this point, and Thomas grew up with plenty to eat and plenty of admiration for his dad.
“I want his job, I want his carer, I want his passion,” Thomas said.
The first family member he saw after the twister was his brother Todd, who told him that his parents were fine.
Thomas said his father was an extreme optimist and thought it was by God’s grace that only eight people had been killed. Father and son helped pull Parkersburg out of the wreckage.
Thomas said it was 100 days before the first football game of the season, and Ed Thomas decided the team was going to play its first home football game on its home field.
It was an attempt to get things back to normal.
“My dad said if we can dust ourselves off, Parkersburg will be better than it was,” Aaron Thomas said.
He said the school had only seven custodian members, so it was the town’s young people that stepped up and helped clean.
A large contingent of high school students gave up the first part of summer to clean the school grounds and football field.
Six high school students helped dig graves for the eight people who were killed.
A few months later, 132 students showed up three days before classes were set to start to make sure the school was ready for the first day.
One hundred days later, the town had pulled itself together and played its first football game.
It was 13 months later that tragedy struck his family again.
Thomas was heading to Des Moines for a conference when he received a phone call from his mother.
She said his father had been supervising weight-room workouts at what the town refers to as the “bus barn” when he was shot.
The shooter, Mark Becker, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia shortly before the murder. He was later found guilty of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Thomas was teaching high school and coaching basketball in La Porte City at the time, a town about an hour from Aplington.
He returned home and spoke at a press conference, in which he offered comfort and prayers to the Becker family, whom he knew.
“When something happens in your life that you don’t feel you deserve, how are you going to respond?” Thomas asked the Kuemper students on Monday.
He said his dad had taught him to never let one moment define him.
“I believe life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond,” Thomas said.
He responded with faith and forgiveness, he said.
Thomas quoted the Bible: “But if you will not forgive, neither will your Father that is in heaven, forgive your sins.”
Aaron Thomas began coaching basketball at Aplington-Parkersburg after his father’s murder.
He coached Mark Becker’s younger brother.
“I felt terrible for the things he had to go through,” Thomas said.