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Huge crowds pay last respects to Thomas

6/29/2009

PARKERSBURG, Iowa -- Thousands of mourners gathered Monday
to remember a slain high school football coach as a man of faith
who believed in leading by example.

Family, friends and former players packed into a church,
community center and parking lot for the funeral for Ed Thomas, the
58-year-old longtime coach at Aplington-Parkersburg High School who
was gunned down Wednesday in the school weight room.

Pastor Brad Zinnecker of First Congregational Church said the
huge turnout was a testament to Thomas' faith.

"They recognized a man after God's own heart," Zinnecker said.
"His personal life and public life were one and the same."

The number of mourners easily topped the roughly 1,800-person
population of Parkersburg as people filled the church, watched a
broadcast of the funeral in the community center and spilled into a
parking lot to listen to the service.

Media coverage of the funeral was limited, with reporters banned
from entering the buildings. However, a transcript of an audio
recording of the service was released after the funeral.

In the transcript, Al Kerns, a longtime assistant coach,
described the relationship Thomas had with members of the
community.

"He only saw the best in all of us," he said. "He never said
no when others asked of him, so other people could never say no to
him."

Kerns, who has been named a co-coach for the team this fall,
drew laughs when he described how Thomas would show his players how
much he cared.

"If Ed loved you, he'd chew you out. More than once," Kerns
said. "And he could make you feel this big, but there was love in
every bit of it. And sometimes, we all needed that."

One of Thomas' sons, Aaron Thomas, told mourners his father
would have wanted the community to "get going" after his death
and to do something to improve the town. He recalled that in May
2008, after Parkersburg was struck by a tornado that wiped out
about one-third of the town and killed six people, Ed Thomas was a
key leader in pushing for the recovery of the community about 80
miles northeast of Des Moines.

Aaron Thomas urged mourners to wake up Tuesday with a renewed
sense of purpose. He said they should get to work early and leave
late, because even finding time for small tasks can make a
difference.

Among those in attendance were members of football teams from
across Iowa, dressed in their jerseys.

Thomas worked as a head coach for 37 seasons -- 34 of them at
Aplington-Parkersburg. He was named the NFL's 2005 high school
coach of the year and over his career amassed a 292-84 record and
two state titles. He coached a number of players who went on to the
NFL, including Green Bay Packers linebacker Aaron Kampman,
Jacksonville Jaguars center Brad Meester, Detroit Lions defensive
end Jared DeVries and Denver Broncos center Casey Wiegmann. All
four served as pallbearers.

Authorities have charged Mark Becker, a 24-year-old former
player at Aplington-Parkersburg, with first-degree murder. He
remained in the Cerro Gordo County jail on a $1 million bond.

After the funeral, University of Northern Iowa football coach
Mark Farley reflected on Thomas' impact on his players.

"Ed Thomas was a very strong individual, as you can see
today," Farley said. "He used football as an avenue to change the
lives of young men and women."

Jon Wiegmann, the other co-coach at Aplington-Parkersburg, said
the upcoming season would be difficult without Thomas.

"We're going to have to become much better coaches," Wiegmann
said. "We know we're dealing with young men going through severe
pain. [This season] is not going to be about wins and losses. It's
going to be about rebuilding a team."