Road to Recovery

Growing Up Fast: The Aplington-Parkersburg Class of 2012

By Chris Earl, Reporter

Jason Grill, of Aplington, (left), Elizabeth Petersen, and Matt Wicks, both of Parkersburg, and all Aplington-Parkersburg seniors discuss the challenges their graduating class has been through, on Wednesday, May 2, 2012, in Parkersburg, Iowa. The class of 2012, was the first class to begin their high school career, in middle school, after an EF5 tornado devastated the town of Parkersburg in May of 2008. Just one year later, in June of 2009, the high school football coach Ed Thomas, was shot and killed in the weight room in front of several students. They feel their class was forced to grow up faster than many students, but the events brought their class much closer in the end. (Nikole Hanna/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Jaime Sharer

PARKERSBURG – With the thrill of graduation for so many high school students, the Class of 2012 at Aplington-Parkersburg High School has hung together through tragedy most teenagers never endure.

“It’s made me who I am and something I’ll carry forever,” said Elizabeth Petersen, who is bound for Iowa State.

Principal Dave Meyer said this group never enjoyed a formal graduation from the middle school in Aplington.

On May 25, 2008, an EF-5 tornado slashed through Parkersburg, killing eight and destroying hundreds of homes. The storm demolished the high school gym and tore the roof off the building.

Matt Wicks walked up from the basement in his home and saw the outdoors.

“We decided to play it safe and go to the basement,” said the future freshman at the University of Iowa. “Two minutes after we got there, the tornado hit and the house was leveled.”

In the weeks the followed, the town’s teens worked alongside the adults to clean up so much damage. Instead of a middle school graduation, these high school freshman had to return to the middle school building. For high school.

“It was weird to be done with middle school but still going to middle school in the same building,” said Jason Grill, who will attend Ellsworth C.C. in Iowa Falls and play football.

As the south side of Parkersburg rebuilt in 2009, the Class of 2012 was just two months from stepping into the rebuilt high school as sophomores when longtime Falcons’ football head coach and educator Ed Thomas was killed by a former player in the school’s weight room.

“I was in the weight room, doing my morning lifts and right there when it happened,” said Wicks.

Petersen was also in the weight room with her older sister.

“You go through those things and see what’s really important in life,” said Petersen. “I wouldn’t change anything in the past but it opened my eyes.”

The three seniors each spoke about how much these experiences made them grow up. Unlike many other teenagers in small towns, the three have previously been interviewed by reporters about the different chapters and tragedies that filled their high school years.

They all said the experiences shaped their formative years and will guide them far beyond Parkersburg. Days before they graduated as the class that was forced to grow up fast, each senior looked back on how the last four years affected them.

Elizabeth Petersen on peer pressure: “The drama and the petty things weren’t that important after everything.”

Jason Grill: “It made me a better person. It changed my thinking and no matter how bad it is, someone else has it worse and to man up and do as much as you can.”

Matt Wicks: “It brought a new seriousness to life. I started to look at things differently and not take things for granted.”

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