Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark Becker

A tornado hits

The citizens of Parkersburg, Iowa (population: 1,900), had their lives turned upside down by a May 25, 2008, tornado that left a deadly gash across their quiet leafy streets. The EF-5 tornado (the most powerful designation on the Enhanced Fujita Scale for rating tornadoes) touched down in Parkersburg, leaving a line of destruction three-quarters of a mile across. Six Parkersburg residents were killed, over 200 houses were destroyed and, worst of all for a town that loves high school football, Aplington-Parkersburg High School (known to locals as A-P) was leveled and its pristine football field ripped to shreds. Coach Ed Thomas emerged from his cellar to find the rest of his home gone and immediately spearheaded the drive to rebuild both the field and the town.

A large warehouse building and surrounding homes after the tornado.
A large warehouse building and surrounding homes after the tornado.

To the people of Parkersburg, 58-year-old Ed Thomas was more than a football coach: he was the soul of the town. The man everyone referred to as "Coach" had been coaching A-P football since 1975, amassing a lifetime win-loss record of 292-84. Despite the school's relatively small size (approximately 250 students), Thomas built a football juggernaut that went to the state playoffs 19 times — twice winning the state 1-A championship (1993 & 2001) — and sent several players to major colleges and beyond. In the 2009 season, A-P boasted four players in the NFL: Green Bay's Aaron Kampman, Jacksonville's Brad Meester, Detroit's Jared DeVries and Denver's Casey Wiegmann. Nominated by his former players, Thomas was named the NFL high school coach of the year in 2005.

Ed Thomas
Ed Thomas

But Thomas was renowned for more than his gridiron success, he was a tireless worker for the high-school. He served as athletic director, taught social studies and driver's education — and always mowed the football field himself, with meticulous care. Around town, folks referred to A-P's field as the "Sacred Acre." And in restoring the field to its former glory, Ed Thomas garnered notice on national television and in major newspapers like The New York Times. When the newly-christened Ed Thomas Field opened for the 2008 football season, ESPN broadcast the A-P Falcons' game live.

It was a great success for Thomas and the town of Parkersburg. Afterward, the cameras left and the townspeople went back to their everyday lives, thinking their town had recovered and their world had returned to normal.


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