Thomas inspires and motivates

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Aplington-Parkersburg principal and football coach Aaron Thomas, son of the late Parkersburg coach Ed Thomas, presented a free public program on March 18. Pictured with Thomas, from left, are eighth graders Audrey Helle, Emily Ertl, Abrianna Moore and Courtney Olson. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

In the third grade, Aaron Thomas already knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a teacher and a coach. Coach Ed Thomas, Aaron’s father, became the national high school football coach of the year in 2005. He sent five players to the NFL, won two state titles, and led his team to 292 victories over his 37-year career. Perhaps most importantly, Thomas led cleanup efforts after an F5 tornado destroyed many homes in Parkersburg – including his own. 

Coach Thomas taught his son Aaron many lessons, which Aaron shared with a large audience in Guttenberg. When the elder Thomas gave interview after interview while leading clean-up efforts in 2008, he told his son, “Anybody can lead when things are going well. True leadership gets revealed when you’re going through adversity.” Little did his son know he would need that advice just one year later.

In June of 2009, Aaron Thomas learned that opportunities arise from tragedy as well as from hard work. “I got the platform to speak on the worst day of my life,” he remembers. When his father was slain by Mark Becker, a former football player in the team’s weight room, Aaron was called upon to give a statement to the media in which he publicly asked for prayers for the Becker family. That was the first of many opportunities Thomas was granted because of his noble response to the tragedy.

He admitted to having “the easiest first 30 years of life,” and expressed unending gratitude for having three decades with a great father. He chose to continue his father’s legacy of leading by example,  agreeing to take over as football coach and principal at Aplington-Parkersburg and encouraging his students to follow their passions and become better spouses, parents, and community members.

Thomas offered advice for dealing with tragedy, including this familiar adage about attitude: Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you choose to respond. “I wasn’t going to let Mark Becker make me a negative person,” Thomas explained. “If I stay bitter and angry, I cheat my boys out of the dad they deserve. I cheat my wife out of the husband she deserves, and I cheat my students out of the coach they deserve.”  

The late Ed Thomas spoke about Parkersburg as the greatest place on earth. “Dad took pride in our city, and his players did too,” said his son, encouraging Clayton Ridge students never to forget their roots. After the tornado destroyed their city of 2000 people, Thomas said 2000 people volunteered to put things back in order. All four current NFL players flew home to help, as did former students and teachers. “What our world needs is a lot more Clayton Ridge and a lot more Parkersburg,” Thomas told the audience.

The audience in Guttenberg included middle and high school students and staff as well as many community members, who sat still and silent, many teary-eyed, listening to Thomas' empowering words. "Do you care about others? Do people trust you? Are you committed to excellence in every phase of your life?" he challenged.

Concluding his presentation about leadership, forgiveness, and adversity, Thomas said, “My hope for each of you is that your attitude makes everyone around you better. Let’s be our best, do it together, and make a difference.” 

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