Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tragedy Closer to Home

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. 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.


  1. Coach H
    I don't know you; but I stumbled across your blog while searching "softball drills Newberry Muskingum"
    My oldest daughter plays for Coach Newberry. After I discovered your blog, I found many things (comments) that I am sharing with my players. Many of them are comments that I too have made but for my kids --- it is nice to have them "hear it" from another. You are in and amoung the "cult" of the softball community that most on the "outside" will never understand (It's a softball thing -- you just wouldn't understand) I met Newberry when I was 17 years old (too many years ago) she completely impressed me with her intensity. I didn't know it at the time, but she made an impression on me. I thought she was just some crazy lady whose team was getting beat by too many runs and she just would let it go ( I should mention she was the new head coach at Muskingum and I was a rookie at Ohio University-- we were killing them -go figure D1 v D3 in the 80s) But there was a severe snow storm and we really needed to stop playing. We begged our coach to "call it" because the game was out of hand and we were cold and wanted to go home. When our coach approached Newberry, she said and I quote, "if your team leaves... we win you forfeit" I was pissed at the time, I completely didn't get it-- but Newberry had and has guts! Okay long time to get to this point, many years later-- about 25, I took my daughter to Newberry’s world! I knew my daughter was in good hands, and she would give my daughter everything she needs both on and off the field to finish the job that I had started--- Raising a capable, confident, young woman through SOFTBALL. Kate, my daughter, is a senior this year and one of the team captains. I would be lying if I said she didn't call home and want to quit a half dozen times at Muskingum. I encouraged her, and she had the smarts to "finish the race."

    I am truly grateful that my daughter chose to go to Muskingum and got to know Newberry. Not because I saw a kid dream of going to the college world series come true-- but because Donna is finishing my job for me-- raising my daughter through her passion-- softball. I am proud of not only who my daughter is but that my daughter plays for the Muskies! I am also grateful that Newberry came into my daughter's life! After reading several of your posts I think you are "that kind of coach"! One that knows what I mean about Donna's impact on my daughter and my gratitude cannot be expressed enough. Seriously! I know it sounds sappy, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart! Today, was my daughter's last fall game. It was bittersweet. (I should probably add that my daughter spent the summer at school working and could not come home because she could not find a job) Coach Newberry got her a job but the beauty of the situation is that my daughter spent a lot of time with Newberry last summer. Newberry and my daughter had a "wax on/ wax off" relationship (Karate Kid) last summer. I am heartbroken that my daughter could not be at home with me, because I miss her terribly-- but as I already said, she is in very good hands! I saw today the product of Newberry's "work" and it was beautiful. Numerous alumni returned and the softball "family" gathered. As you probably already know, Donna is not well. I am watching my daughter knock my socks off as she finishes her softball life with Newberry. I am grateful for my daughter and Muskingum and especially Newberry!

  2. BTW

    I can tell you're a teacher/educator. So am I, you write well and like to wirte! I sould mention that I too am a teacher and a coach. I teacher an coach in Ohio. Drop me a line sometime. My email is
    My name is Tig ( yeah that is short for Tiger- I was Tiger LONG before that guy that plays amazing golf :))