High School Football Coach Shot Dead In Weight Room

Tragedy strikes sports coach in small-town Iowa

By Eamonn Brennan
|  Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009  |  Updated 12:40 PM CDT
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High School Football Coach Shot Dead In Weight Room

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Parkersburg, Iowa, where this sort of thing isn't supposed to happen.

Parkersburg, Iowa is as small as small towns get. It has 2,000 people, 1 sq. mile of land and, because it just wouldn't make much sense otherwise, only half of a high school. Kids from Parkersburg go to school at Aplington-Parkersburg, a high school it shares with kids from just a few miles down IA-57.

This morning, the sort of shocking, violent tragedy that isn't supposed to occur in sensible northern Iowa towns, happened in Parkersburg. Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas was in the school's weight room, supervising about 50 athletes on the weights, when someone came into the weight room and shot him several times in the head. He was rushed to the hospital, where, after a short while, he passed away.

According to KWWL, local police already have a suspect, Mark Becker, in custody. Becker is a 24-year-old former student at Aplington-Parkersburg. Becker was involved in a police chase last weekend due to a report of vandalism. He's been transported to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

Given the few details, the shooting doesn't seem to be a random occurrence, or a spree that hit only one target. There were over 50 athletes in the weight room, according to reports, and anyone that's ever been in a high school weight room knows that, except for the nicest and most well-funded, there isn't a whole lot of breathing room. Perhaps the shooting was random, but it doesn't seem likely.

In life, Ed Thomas was a success despite the small-town nature of his surroundings. Aplington-Parkersburg has few students -- 250 or so in most years -- but the football program was perenially successful. It produced a string of NFL players, four of which are currently playing. That's not a bad hit rate with such a small pool of talent to choose from.

Thomas gained some measure of national notoriety after brutal tornados leveled much of the Parkersburg; he insisted the school's field, which was named after him, be rebuilt as a sign of community progress and solidarity. It was incredibly moving stuff: 

In the aftermath, counselers are currently meeting with students, who will be dealing with this insanity for the rest of their lives. That goes double for Parkersburg and Aplington. Pointless tragedies happen all over the world, every day, but they're not supposed to happen here. That's what they say, anyway.

Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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