Ed Thomas and Small Town, Iowa, and What They Know That We Sometimes Forget


Sports Illustrated ran this story in July 2009 about Ed Thomas, the beloved Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach who was shot to death by a former player. Written by Lee Jenkins, one of the best sportswriters around, the piece is beautiful. I’d forgotten about it until tonight, when I watched the video below after a friend posted it to Facebook. 

If you read the story and watch the video you’ll know the full scope of why it moved me. It’ll move anyone who watches it. The family of the downed coach stood up in front of their community and said that they forgave the family of the boy who shot Coach. 

What struck me, though, was something Aaron Thomas, one of Ed’s sons, said toward the end of the video. The whole thing makes me feel like a little kid on the inside, makes me feel hopeful and inspires me to be a better man, and all of that great stuff. What Aaron said struck me on a different level. He said, “My hope for the future is to be high school kids again. To just get to be Small Town, Iowa. To move forward and not forget my dad, and what he’s taught us.”

Ed Thomas loved God. I love God. Maybe this next bit is a reach, but I don’t think so. On top of everything else, there something that those boys, that this town, seems to know that we–or at least, I–easily forget.

Being the biggest, the richest, the fanciest, the best-known, the most popular–it ain’t what life’s about. 

“My hope for the future is…to just get to be Small Town, Iowa.”

I love stories of unknown people from Small Town, USA, doing huge things that draw the eye of the world. I wrote a whole freakin’ book to tell one such story. I’m all for underdogs making it big in this big bad world.

But there was something touching to me about that mentality. To just get to be Small Town, Iowa. 

To just be what we’ve always been. 

You get the feeling from these folks that they’re glad to have their story told. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, reliving the painful memories of loss, but it didn’t seem like they were invaded by ESPN or Sports Illustrated. But now that their story’s been told, they’re happy to fade back into obscurity, and eventually, they will. It’s the cycle of things. Something happens that moves people, and these days, everyone hears about it in 48 hours, even it even takes that long. Sometimes it moves people to anger, sometimes to fear, sometimes to greed, and on rare few occasions, sometimes to joy and hope and happy tears. And then life and time continue on, the latter robbing form the former, as it always goes, and in time, we always forget. 

That’s OK for Parkersbug, though. They don’t mind being forgotten by us, by me, because they’re happy with who they are. 

How many of us are chasing the other side of that, though? How many of us want to move to the big city, hustle with the big crowds, try climbing our way onto the big stage? 

Truly, I see in these boys from Small Town, Iowa, the heart we’re meant to have. Life happens, but if we move forward and remember our Father, and remember the things He’s tried to teach us, then we will be content, like the people of Parkersburg. 

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to chase big dreams. I’m chasing big dreams. God gives us big dreams for reasons. Just don’t forget who you are at your core. We’re simply people, and the biggest thing we can ever find is a knowledge of God. I find him most in stories. Find where you find Him, and then dive in. 

So grateful for great stories like those. 

Thank you, Lee Jenkins.

Thank you, ESPN. 

And mostly, thank you, Ed Thomas, for the example you set and the man you were. 

BONUS MATERIAL: The cover of SI featuring Coach Thomas.