In June of 2009, Aplington-Parkersburg, Iowa head football coach and teacher Ed Thomas was shot and killed in the weight room of the school he coached at for 35 years by a former student/player. He had been trying to help the student overcome mental illness and drug usage. It became a national story that touched the hearts of many people all over this country and the world.
Ed Thomas was a legendary football coach in Iowa, whose teams had won 292 games against only 84 losses in 37 years. In those years, his teams made the playoffs 18 times, played for the state championship six times and won two state championships. He was honored as the NFL (National Football League) High School Coach of the Year in 2005. Four of his former players are in the NFL.
Yet, the real story of this man centered on who he was as a person, his philosophy of life as a husband, father, community leader, teacher, and finally, as a coach who believed that: "If I've only taught you about football, then, I am a failure."
Ed Thomas was about "always doing what is right."
I knew Ed Thomas, personally. We were friends and classmates in college. His college career was ended by an injury that kept him from playing the game he loved so much. But, he went on to "teach and coach" about life, using sports and community service as his training ground for young people, including his own children. There was no greater example of that when, in May of 2008, a killer tornado swept through the town of Aplington, Iowa destroying almost all of it, including the high school and the sports facilities.
The city leaders turned to the one man they knew they could count on, Coach Ed Thomas, who himself, had lost his house and belongings in the storm. Ed Thomas did what was "right." With his players at his side, and the community behind him, they slowly began to rebuild their community, including a new school and football field.
Ed Thomas was about doing good and caring for others. Tragically, his life was snuffed out by a terribly confused and deranged young man; a scenario that would challenge the best in any of us if he'd been our father, husband, coach or teacher.
Just as extraordinary was how Ed Thomas' family reacted to the tragedy of losing him. One of the first things his son, Aaron, said at a press conference was, "Please pray for the family" of the young man who had killed his father.
In fact, the Thomas family embraced the family of the man who'd murdered their father and husband and made sure there was no retaliation against them in any way. The Thomas family showed love and concern at a level of forgiveness that we all can gain a great lesson from – as heart-rending and difficult as it must have been and probably still is.
In July of 2010, the Thomas family was honored with the prestigious Sports ESPY Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the televised ceremony in Los Angeles, because of their forgiveness shown to the family of their father's and husband's killer. In fact, the young man's parents were there in the audience.
With celebrities and sports super-stars in attendance, it was completely and respectfully quiet as Aaron Thomas, accepting the award for his family on stage, simply said, "My father always told us and his other students and players that we all have choices in life, but to be successful in this life you must always do what is right!" You could have heard a pin drop. A powerful lesson, as a memorial, to a good man we all should want to emulate in our own personal lives, whose philosophy for life was pretty simple – choose to "always do what is right!"
In our personal lives, God allows us to have the ability to "choose" and to choose correctly. God wants us to "choose" life.
In Deuteronomy 30:19 God said, "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live."
This is what Ed Thomas did. He chose life. Therefore, let us all learn from him. Let us choose life by "always doing what is right!"