When we hear of tragedy in the world of sports, so often it is because something has happened to one of the "larger than life" sports figures that everyone knows. Today, it's closer to home.
This morning, the head football coach at Aplington-Parkersburg (Iowa) High School was shot and killed by a former player in the high school weight room, allegedly in front of about 50 students. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31525308/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/ It's close to home because I grew up in Riceville, Iowa, a town of about 800 people, similar to Parkersburg, in that it is a small, rural, Iowa town. It's close to home because it's an innocent place where things like this just aren't supposed to happen.
Why do these senseless things happen? It appears as though this former player was mentally ill, as you can read in the article. I'm not even going to ATTEMPT to express my thoughts on why - I'm sure I would offend some, and I'd likely do an injustice to this coach by trying to put it into my own humble words.
Nonetheless, I am deeply saddened.
The lives of many have been deeply affected today - and for what? What was the motive? Those of us who are not there could speculate forever, but it won't do anyone any good.
As I write this I reflect on the things written about this coach - about the former players who are now playing in the NFL.
About remembering while I was going to school in Iowa - what a traditional powerhouse A-P was in football.
About the coaches who have impacted my life.
About coming home from basketball practice in high school cursing my coaches and swearing I was going to quit......but I never did.
I never quit because that's what I was taught - by my parents AND my coaches. And realizing once I got into my career that it was those experiences that taught me the most.
The times I thought I was going to pass out if I ran one more line drill.
The times I thought I was going to quit because I was the "only one" who got yelled at.
The times I thought that the only thing that mattered was ME, not the TEAM.
The times I wondered why in the heck we were doing those stupid fundamental drills all the time in practice, rather than just "scrimmaging."
The times I swore if one more time I heard the words "discipline" or "committment" or "Together Each Achieves More" and thought about how cheesy all that stuff was, I was going to puke.
The times I thought that my coaches were just on a power trip and wanted to see how much pain they could inflict through the conditioning and mental toughness drills.
Then I think about the time that we pulled off the hugest upset in Iowa High School girls basketball - beating Ventura and Lynn Lorenzen, to get to the State Tournament for the first time in school history - it all started to sink in and make sense.
The coaches who pushed and pushed and demanded and yelled and criticized.......they became your biggest fan.
They taught you the things that ironically you're using every day of your life in your job, and with your significant other, and with your kids.
And the things that helped you form a stronger relationship with your parents because you understand the sacrifices that not only mom and dad, but your coaches made for you.
You understand all the time and energy they put into helping you become successful.
You understand that to you it was just a game, but to your coaches, it was what put a roof over their heads and food on their table. It wasn't your life, but it was "life and death" to your coaches.
You understand that they aren't coaches for a living, but for loving, because they barely get paid enough to put that food on their table.
All those things they taught you about
being on time
contributing to a cause greater than yourself
being a part of a "second family"
being a team player
managing your time
studying hard so you could continue to play
showing empathy for a down teammate
becoming a leader
performing when the pressure was on
winning AND losing with class
respecting all but fearing none.
This post isn't about me - it's about the impact that coaches always have, and always will, make on the lives of the young people they come into contact with. In the case of Coach Thomas, not only did he impact the lives of those young people, but from what I've read today, he also impacted an entire community. From what I've read today, he understood and lived by the value of community - at a time when the community was ripped apart by mother nature, he understood that the community needed to heal. And football was more than just a game played on Friday night under the lights beneath the Iowa sky - it was something that helped a community come together to rebuild and heal.
Never underestimate the value of a coach.
May you rest in peace, Coach Thomas.