Road to Recovery

Community Rallies Around Football Following Tornado

By John Campbell, Sports Reporter

The Aplington-Parkersburg Falcons take the field for their substate playoff game against St. Ansgar at Ed Thomas Field in Parkersburg, Iowa on Wednesday October 29, 2008. The team enters the field under a sign which was damaged in the tornado. (Photo: Stephen Mally)

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By Aaron Hepker

PARKERSBURG, Iowa - It has been five years since the community of Parkersburg was struck by an EF5 tornado. The town has made a remarkable comeback and sports played a vital role in the community's revitalization.

One of the most iconic images in the days following the tornado was an Aplington-Parkersburg Falcon flag waving from the rubble. Some 400 homes had been damaged or destroyed.

The high school was destroyed and the football field, known as the "Sacred Acre", was totaled. Alex Pollock, a former A-P football player, was one of the volunteers who helped with clean up. "I was back the next day. I was one of those guys that was on hands and knees getting stuff on the field, getting things out of it, getting debris out of it," Pollock recalls.

There were many driving forces in the days following the storm. Among them was Superintendent Jon Thompson, Principal Dave Meyer and Head Football Coach Ed Thomas. Coach Thomas made a bold prediction: The Falcons would play their first home game as scheduled in 104 days.

"That was Coach Thomas. And he felt that the importance of that for our community would be huge. If Ed says it, then you believed it," said Thompson.

"I wasn't too shocked by it. I knew Coach, when he sets his mind to something, he is going to do it," recalled former football player Sam Thompson.

"Ed was a visionary. He thought by that time in the summer ... there would be some very tired people trying to put their lives back together. He wanted to create some normalcy," Meyer said.

Not everyone in the community thought Coach Thomas' goal was realistic.

"It was pretty interesting what he did ... people around town and communities around here didn't think we'd get that done," Falcon fan Tom Teeple remembers. "But Ed, he got right on top of that."

"At 5:30, my dad got up that next morning and headed into town," said Aaron Thomas, Ed's son. "He grabbed a desk from the old school and he set it out front to overlook the football field and he started writing everything down that needed to be done."

In the days and weeks that followed, players and coaches from other high school and college teams pitched in to revive the field and the community.

Ed Thomas and the football community reached their goal. 104 days after the tornado hit, the Falcons opened their home season at home just as Coach Thomas had predicted.

"Unbelievable. It was more than a playoff atmosphere," Aaron Thomas recalls of the first game following the tornado. "It was so much more than that, it truly was a town celebration that we're going to be okay."

The night of the game, Coach Thomas spoke to KCRG-TV9. "I can't put in to words what this has meant to me. This is the greatest experience I've ever had in coaching. I think it just shows the character of our community, our young people, to get back up off the ground in adversity and rebuild."

A-P beat West Marshall in that first game at Ed Thomas Field.

Although the town had a long road ahead, the Ed Thomas vision seemed to have the desired affect.

The new Aplington-Parkersburg High School opened in 2009. Beautiful homes and neighborhoods have sprung from the rubble.

Former Falcon Alex Pollock is now the head football coach, complete with field mowing duties.

And in front of Tom Teeple's barber show, the Falcon colors are flying high.

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