Family of Late Football Coach Ed Thomas Puts Legacy to Paper in "The Sacred Acre"
By Chris Earl, Reporter
PARKERSBURG, Iowa – After the pace of publicity that sent her to the ESPN World Headquarters in Bristol, Conn., on Wednesday, Jan Thomas is now back home.
“I was a little out of my comfort zone but it was great to get it out all there,” said Thomas of this week’s book tour to the East Coast.
Thomas, along with her sons Aaron and Todd, are in the final hours before the national release of “The Sacred Acre: The Ed Thomas Story”. Together with author Mark Tabb, the Thomas family writes about the late Ed Thomas, whose legacy was crafted in helping a town rebuild after a devastating tornado and whose shooting death in June 2009 horrified people in the town of Parkersburg and the entire state of Iowa.
In the time after her husband’s death, Jan Thomas said she received many calls about publishing a book about his life.
“For his life and how he lived it, we decided that might be something worth sharing so others can stop and think how much one person can have an impact on other people,” said Thomas.
Stretching through 256 pages, “The Sacred Acre” (Zondervan, $22.99) is brisk prose about Thomas’ life, especially the 33 years he and Jan Thomas spent together in Parkersburg.
Yet the story is not revealed in strictly chronological order. The first chapters touch on the longtime coach’s personality, especially his obsession with maintaining the football field at Aplington-Parkersburg High School.
Following the theme of “adversity shapes character”, the adversity of the deadly EF-5 tornado that hit the community in May of 2008 follows. Jan Thomas takes the reader inside that awful Sunday afternoon, when she and her husband prayed for safety in the basement, only to emerge with their lives but very little of their home.
Through the rebuilding process of the south side of Parkersburg and the destruction at the high school and athletic facilities, the reader picks up on the dedication of the town’s leaders, from adults to the scores of teenagers who worked in the unrelenting summer months of 2008 to rebuild.
Ed Thomas pushed to make the football field ready for late August, three months after the tornado rolled through.
They did and their own return home is marked, weeks later in 2008, as Ed and Jan Thomas finally moved into their rebuilt home, just four blocks from the high school.
Yet where this story gained true national attention was amid the tragedy of Thomas’ killing in the weight room at the high school on June 24, 2009.
“The Sacred Acre” does not shy away from the events of that day. Even as early as page 36, the reader will encounter the first mention of the family of Mark Becker, the man serving a life sentence for shooting Thomas to death.
The author reveals how Jan Thomas, with her background as an EMT, got the medical page about an injury at the high school. Upon arriving at APHS, she learned that her husband was the person seriously wounded. Over the following 25 pages, the reader goes inside the fear, the tension and, ultimately, the tragedy of the loss of a husband and father.
“That’s the part still tough to read and to see,” said son Aaron Thomas about the chapters that detail his father’s violent death, in the weight room he walks past every day he is at the school. “Everybody will see it. It’s what happened. Anybody who followed the court case can get the information.”
“They can get the true emotion of what happened.”
Even with the rather visible role she held around Parkersburg for years, Jan Thomas admitted that offering up the details of her life, for the public to take in, has not been easy.
“That’s a huge leap of faith,” said Jan Thomas of opening up for the book. “Life is personal. It’s yours and you put yourself out there and trust (the author) will do with your personal life what you hope they’ll do and keep your integrity intact. We’re just normal people and normal living and it’s a little uncomfortable to have the window to the world.”
For people with a personal connection to these communities, or for former players, the team rosters from 1975 to his final season, 2008, are listed in the back of the book. On the field, the program’s legacy is unquestioned throughout Iowa, with two state titles, a record of excellence and four former students who played in the NFL.
Thomas said $1 from each copy sold will go to the Ed Thomas Family Foundation, with a focus on faith projects in the area but also on trying to help other coaches hold a place in the lives of young athletes as role models.
“Now the focus is teaching and putting on clinics so they can teach other coaches how to positively impact kids,” said Thomas. “There’s a lot of kids with broken homes and without a father figure in their life. Coaches touch a lot of high school kids.”
The celebration of Thomas’ legacy continues into Friday for the official book launch at Aplington-Parkersburg High School, with a book signing at the auditorium at 6:30 p.m. Governor Terry Branstad is scheduled to attend and former players will offer a commemorative boulder. You can watch that ceremony live on KCRG 9.2 and on KCRG.com.
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