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Iowa School Grieves After Beloved Coach's Shooting

NEA sends counseling resources to affected educators

by Cynthia McCabe

An Iowa high school already familiar with tragedy following a devastating tornado last year is now mourning a new one--the shooting death of a longtime football coach at the school Wednesday. Ed Thomas was a popular educator and successful football coach, racking up countless winning seasons and sending four players on to the NFL.

Authorities arrested a former player of Thomas's, who they allege shot the coach as he conducted an off-season workout in an outbuilding weight room at Aplington-Parkersburg High School. The school, located in Parkersburg, Iowa, about 100 miles northeast of Des Moines, was destroyed last May by an F-5 tornado. Thomas was credited for helping the community and his students rebound from the natural disaster.

"Educators are a tight-knit community in Iowa and Coach Thomas served more than 30 years with us," said Chris Bern, president of the Iowa State Education Association. "He was loved and revered for his leadership, his strength, his mentoring, and his dedication. His students and fellow educators will miss him dearly.  This is a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to Coach Thomas’s family, the students and members of the school community who witnessed this horrible act, and the Aplington-Parkersburg community during this difficult time.”

The school's volleyball coach, Brady Johnson, is the president of the local Aplington-Parkersburg Education Association, and was on her way into the weight room for her team's workout session when the shooting occurred, said UniServ director (membership liaison) Jane Elerding.

"She talked about her concern for these students who had gone through an F-5 tornado and now all this within a year," said Elerding, adding that emotions could intensify over the summer. "Probably the impact won't even be seen with the majority of kids until school starts back in the fall."

As it does in the case of manmade or natural disasters, NEA offered aid to the local Association chapter, sending electronic crisis guides and information about its crisis teams that can be dispatched within 24 hours. Those teams, comprised of psychologists, human resource representatives, and others needed come from various Association affiliates in such states as California, Ohio, and Mississippi.

Crisis guides, available free of charge on the Association's website, "offer resources for caregivers, parents, and educators to help look out for each other," said Zachary Kolsky, spokesperson for NEA's Health Information Network. They include information about the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and working with children in the aftermath of tragedy.

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall


NEA School Crisis Guide

National Association of School Psychologists "Helping Children Cope With Crisis" Guide