When Ed Thomas arrived in Parkersburg, Iowa in 1975, he saw it as the next step in his coaching career, dreaming of larger schools, then a college. Five years later his team played for the state championship. He decided to stick around a little longer. He came to realize his mission was not in wins and losses but in making his players more successful in life. He stayed there for thirty four years, until his death.
Ed's mother was a Christian, his father an alcoholic. He spent much of his life at his grandparents and his grandmother saw to it he memorized Bible verses.
On Sunday, May 25, 2008, an EF5 tornado destroyed much of Parkersburg, including the Thomas home. Some 250 houses and businesses were lost. The high school was damaged beyond repair. The football field, called The Sacred Acre by the town, was littered with parts of buildings, some buried deep into the soil. Ed was determined to see his team play their first home game there – in 104 days. “For Ed, like everything connected with his work at school, this was not about football. This was about choosing to trust in God's wisdom and plan, even though he did not fully understand how or why God would allow such a devastating storm.” (61) He knew the town needed that kind of encouragement.
Ed told his team, “Real success is measured not only by how much money you have or how many games you win, but by the impact you make on others during your lifetime.” (77)
They made that 2008 game, with electrical cables and water hoses snaking around the sides of the field. At the end of the regular season they were ranked first in the state and had averaged 48 points and five hundred yards of offense per game. (138) They lost in the state quarter finals to the second ranked team on a snowy field a three hour bus ride from home.
On June 24, 2009 tragedy struck. A mentally ill young man who had once played football for Ed tracked him down. As Ed oversaw students working out in the bus barn, the temporary weight room, he was shot in the head several times. Ed's wife, Jan, was an EMT and was in the ambulance responding to the 911 call. Ed died later in the morning.
The shooter was soon caught. His identity was a shock to the police as the individual was supposed to be in the hospital. He had gone on a rampage the previous day and had been admitted for observation and evaluation. Although the police requested to be informed when he was released, they were not.
Ed's wife and sons faced the troubling question of “why.” Jan sensed God telling her, “No act of evil can destroy my purpose and my plan. … I'm still on my throne. I'm still God. This did not take me by surprise. Please trust me.” (196)
This is a compelling story. I didn't want to put the book down. Tabb did extensive interviews with the family and we read through the book as the events unfold. We feel like we are right there, listening to the conversations, watching Ed tease his sons, seeing him try to relax on the family's only vacation. And we are right there on that tragic day and the painful days that follow.
Video links are provided so readers may watch many aspects of Ed's life written bout in the book. Start with this ten minute documentary prepared for the 2010 ESPN Espy awards.
It is Ed's legacy that is our encouragement. As Dungy says in the Foreword, “Teaching these boys how to become real men was how he always viewed his job.” (10)
Ed's wife and sons say in their note, “...my sons and I hope that by sharing this humble man's story, you will be inspired to find your own passion
to use the gifts God has given you,
to do what's right,
to lead by example.” (12)
Zondervan, 245 pages. Publisher information.
I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review.