Faith, family, football.
That was message from Aaron Thomas, who spoke about the impact his late father, Aplington-Parkersburg Head Football Coach Ed Thomas, had on his life, during a presentation Sunday in Le Grand.
"It was brought to our attention by one of our church members that they felt we needed to have a revival in our church and needed to find some way to create that revival so it all started with a lot of prayer and discussion and Aaron's name came up," said Nick Grossman, assistant clerk for the Le Grand Friends' Church's monthly meeting. The church sponsored Thomas' visit.
T-R PHOTO BY JACOB PARKS
Aaron Thomas speaks at the East Marshall High School on Sunday afternoon. The event was sponsored by the Le Grand Friends Church.
"Aaron has a very unique story about adversity and overcoming adversity. We just feel there's a lot of that in the world today; it doesn't matter if it's overseas or it it's in our backyard here in Le Grand."
Hundreds of people from East Marshall football players to different community members packed into the East Marshall High School gym to listen to Thomas speak.
"I believe our East Marshall football team needs to come together as a team and listen to what Aaron Thomas has to say," said Jared Bowman, one of the squad's current players. "I think it's a good opportunity for all of us to understand what he's been through and what us as a team can go and do if we all come together under one goal."
"I was excited for the opportunity. The church here in Le Grand asked me to come down and speak to their church this morning," Thomas said. "Hopefully the people here can take something from what I say and be challenged and for the church I hope they are pleased with the number of people that come out today. Hopefully some people can be impacted.
"Growing up not too far from here and in a town just like here I can tell you I never ever thought I'd travel around and speak," Thomas said. "I never wanted to do it. I could tell you from a young age I wanted to teach and coach. I grew up thinking my dad did not have a job, he never complained, he loved his job. I never one heard my dad say, 'I can't believe I have to go to school today, I can't believe I have to wake up at 5:30, I can't believe I have to coach football and it's 110 degrees out.' He never ever said that. He loved what he did and that had such an impression on me, I wanted to do that."
Throughout Ed Thomas's career, he sent four players to the NFL, won two high school championships, was the first high school coach to ever be on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine and won the prestigious National High School Coach of the year award in 2005 by the NFL.
Ed's family got to go on a trip to the Super Bowl in Detroit that year and he got a chance to speak in a ballroom about anything he wanted for 20 minutes.
He chose to talk about the two things that mattered to him the most -
his faith and Parkersburg.
"My father knew he didn't put four guys in the NFL," Aaron Thomas said. "It was through our community and the people who challenged them and told them to take pride in what they did."
On May 25, 2008 a confirmed EF5 tornado stuck Parkersburg and nearby New Hartford, killing seven people.
More than 400 homes were damaged and the roof was taken off of the high school and their gym was destroyed.
"May 25 isn't what made my dad special; it was May 26, the day after that," Aaron Thomas said. "Everybody had to leave town, the National Guard came in and my dad went into the old high school, found a desk and sat it down overlooking the football field. He had a big piece of paper with three columns that read, 'Everything that needs to be done to play football in 100 days.'"
"Everything that needs to be done to the high school to have it built on the same ground" and "How to rebuild the first home to lead by example and show people that it's gonna be OK here." He worked tirelessly on those things and he'd tell anybody who would listen, 'we're gonna dust ourselves off, we're gonna rebuild, we're gonna move forward and Parkersburg will be better'."
Former students, teachers and even the four NFL players all came back to help in the rebuilding process.
Thirteen months after the devastating tornado, Ed Thomas was murdered by a former student in the school's bus barn. Twenty-two students witnessed the murder.
"Losing my dad was truly the only tough thing that ever happened to me." Aaron Thomas said. "I had the 29 easiest years of life a person could have, I was raised in a two-parent home, was loved, was supported and disciplined. My parents never cheated me out of opportunities, they usually were there cheering me on and my mom was running me to practice. I promise everyone in here that you are gonna lose loved ones. You don't always get to pick when or how or how or why but you do have to make a decision of what are you gonna do about it when they're gone. Everyone in here is going to have things happen to us that we did not ask for and that we probably don't deserve. I can be as mad as I want to be and my dad is still gonna be gone. I truly believe this life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent of how I chose to react to it. See I could feel sorry for myself, I could be bitter and I could be angry and most people today would say, 'That's OK, he deserves to act like that, somebody killed his dad' but I'd be cheating my three boys out of the dad they deserve. I'd also be cheating my wife out of the husband she deserves and those young people I get to coach and educate everyday would be getting cheated of the educator and coach they deserve because of something I can not change. All I can do is honor my father and through my faith I have the opportunity to go forward.
Aaron Thomas and his family continued his father's motto of "Faith. Family. Football;" never forgetting what he would have wanted.
They even offered support for the killer's family asking the community to pray for them as well.
"Another thing to remember when you go through tough times is that somebody out there always has it worse than you," Aaron Thomas said. "I had 30 years of a great father when there's people out there who have no relationship with theirs. My dad grew up the son of an alcoholic, my dad's first 18 years of life were not the same as mine. My dad died at age 58 didn't have a drop of a alcohol, didn't make his childhood any better but made mine an awful lot better. I had a dad who loved me, who cared for me and who didn't want me to grow up with the same experiences that he had."
Thomas said he is a strong believer of God and of choices.
"Everyday we have the ability to make choices. There are four things you choose each and every day in my opinion. One when you wake up you gotta decide what is your attitude for this day? Is it going to make everyone around you better? Is it gonna have a positive or negative impact? Second is how do you spend your time and how do you use your resources? See words are cheap, I could go on forever telling you what matters most in my life, words go on forever and ever. If you want to see what matters most in my life you need to look at where I spend my 24 hours I'm given each and every day. Time is my biggest asset. The final thing we get to decide every day is our relationships ... do we truly care about other people or are we just in this for ourselves? Your relationships are what matter, they are sustainable."
Aaron is preparing to become the Aplington-Parkersburg principal this school year.
"Believe it or not we don't talk about wining or losing at Aplington-Parkersburg. We talk about if you take care of the little things in life the big things will take care of themselves. We talk about being committed to something bigger than the team, about anything worth doing is worth doing well, we talk about the intangibles and how we conduct ourselves. I don't remember much from practice except from that it was usually hot and pretty hard but that wasn't the point. It wasn't about winning or losing it was about making young people better people."