PARRISH ALFORD: Tragic end to a life that touched so many others

I was on vacation on June 24 when the news of the day reached me. Often this is not an occasion to pause and reflect, but this time it was.
Ed Thomas had been shot and killed at his place of work.
The 24-hour news cycle puts tragedy at our fingertips. We can find all we want whenever we want, and, at the risk of sounding callous, it can wear you out. Tragedy comes in many forms. There’s no shortage of it here in town, and there are only limited emotions to invest.
Shootings at school or at work always make us pause, however, because they make us feel vulnerable. They hit us where we think we should be safe just going about the business of daily life.
Thomas, a 58-year-old long-time successful football coach, was conducting a summer weight session at his place of work, Aplington-Parkersburg High School in Parkersburg, Iowa, about 80 miles northeast of Des Moines.
He was shot and killed in front of many of his current players by a gunman identified as a 24-year-old former player, Mark Becker.
Becker has a criminal record, and, according to reports, was scheduled for psychiatric treatment at the time of the attack. He is expected to plead insanity when his trial begins on Sept. 15.
In the days that followed his death, Thomas was remembered not for his 292 wins and two state championships, not for the handful of NFL players he coached, but for how he coached them, instilling in them the importance of faith in Christ and service to family and community.
My thoughts immediately turned to the upstairs weight room in the unairconditioned gym back in the early 1980s and to the coaches and the classroom teachers who taught the same values to me. That wasn’t all of them. Thank goodness it was enough of them.
Athletics alone is just a concept glamorized by many but still subject to the imperfections of humanity.
Winning is great, but when character development is sacrificed on the championship altar there’s a price to pay down the road.
It’s when athletics is touched by the very best among us that special things happen. Those folks usually find a way to win their share of games too.
Sounds like Ed Thomas was that kind of coach.
Life cut short is always tragic, but sometimes individuals who have contributed at a higher level in their time here leave a bigger void.
Aplington-Parkersburg High School has taken steps to move forward and fill that void. That’s a long way off, no doubt, but perhaps the program Thomas helped build can be the salve the community needs right now.
That would be good news in the news cycle.
Parrish Alford ( covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal and blogs about Ole Miss athletics at

Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

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