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Starting OverAfter a massive tornado leveleds a small town known for its football, Power Lift and others stepped in to help.
© August 2008
Less than one out of every 1,000 tornadoes in the U.S. are classified EF5 – considered nature’s most concentrated destructive force. With winds in excess of 200 mph, EF5s produce what the National Weather Service terms “incredible” damage. Frame houses are leveled and swept away, large buildings are severely damaged and cars can be thrown over 100 yards. Whatever trees survive lose most of their limbs and are sometimes entirely debarked.
There are thousands of small communities throughout America that take high school football seriously, but few more so than Parkersburg, Iowa. A town of 1,900 residents with a high school that has only 250 students, Parkersburg has a football tradition in which residents can take great pride. Under Ed Thomas, Aplington-Parkersburg High School’s Head Football Coach of 34 years, the team has won 281 games, appeared 18 times in the state playoffs and taken home two state championships. Incredibly for a school of this size, four current NFL players played for Thomas at Aplington-Parkersburg: Brad Meester of the Jaguars, Casey Wiegmann of the Broncos, Aaron Kampman of the Packers, and Jared DeVries of the Lions. Thomas was named NFL High School Coach of the Year in 2005 and the field at A-P High School bears his name.
None of that mattered to Ed Thomas the afternoon of Sunday, May 25. At 4:56 pm local time, an EF5 tornado over half a mile wide ripped through the southern half of Parkersburg, claiming the lives of six residents and destroying everything in its path. Even though it lasted only minutes, the tornado produced destruction that resembled the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. A total of 222 homes and 21 businesses were obliterated – over one-third of all the buildings in Parkersburg. The roof was torn off the high school, which now must be demolished. It was the most powerful tornado in Iowa in 32 years.
Coach Thomas had rushed home from the high school after he heard the warning sirens. When the storm struck, he was huddled under the basement stairs with his wife, covered in towels and pillows, and praying. “The noise was incredible,” he recalled. “When it was over, my wife said ‘you know when you go up there our house will be gone’ and she was right. I couldn’t believe it. Even the trees were gone.”
Despite the devastation, Thomas immediately decided to move forward with plans to put an A-P Falcon football team on the field this fall – including home games. “Football is so important to the people of this community,” he said, “that I knew we needed to compete this year to help bring the community together.” When he inspected the field, however, the size of the rebuilding effort became apparent. “The goalposts, lights, and some of the bleachers were destroyed. The field itself was like a pin cushion – full of splinters of wood, broken glass and other debris.”
An immediate objective was putting together an off-season strength and conditioning program as a way to bring players together. The issue of a training facility was solved when space in an old horse barn was offered and a cement floor was poured within days. With most of their equipment lost, Coach Thomas, who also serves as athletic director, turned to Power Lift for help. “We had always worked with Power Lift for our equipment needs,” said Thomas. “Their equipment is top-notch and they’re great people.”
Power Lift immediately stepped up to help their Iowa neighbors. “They had salvaged some of their original Power Lift equipment, but to help the program get back on its feet, we donated enough equipment to replace the items that they lost in the tornado,” said Power Lift’s Director of Sales and Marketing Mike Richardson. “We donated an Olympic Incline Bench Press, an Olympic Flat Bench Press, a 9’ Combo Power Rack with Bumper Plate Storage, 2 Fixed Pad Glute Ham Benches and a 6’x8’ Olympic Lifting Platform with the school logo.”
Now, the Falcons have a more-than-adequate temporary training facility that serves as the focal point for the team’s rebuilding effort. “We get to spend time with the players on a daily basis,” said Coach Thomas, “not only to help them prepare for football season, but to help them cope with what they’ve all experienced here in Parkersburg.”
While Power Lift was one of the first to recognize the need to help the Aplington-Parkersburg program, others have since stepped up to assist. Another Iowa-based supplier, Hadar Athletic, is working with Coach Thomas to replace their goal post pads, sideline markers and tackling dummies. AFM also contacted a variety of companies and asked for their support. Spalding has donated footballs, Cutters is sending gloves, hats and other items, BW Software is replacing software lost in the storm and CytoSport is sending 50 cases of Cytomax ready-to-drink hydration beverage. Other companies are helping the team get their computer and video equipment replaced, and new field lights, bleachers and a scoreboard are in the works.
The four former A-P players now in the NFL have all pitched in to help the Falcons. Brad Meester worked with the Jaguars to have A-P Falcon caps sold in the team store, with proceeds benefiting the relief effort. Over 2,000 have been sold. Meester, Casey Wiegmann and Jared DeVries attended a fundraiser and auction in nearby Cedar Falls to help raise money for the A-P athletic programs. They also helped clean up the small town where they had their start – a town still devastated from the May 25th killer storm.
All this means a great deal to Coach Ed Thomas and the people of Parkersburg. “Since the storm, so many people have reached out to help the Falcon football team and the entire community,” said Thomas, who is living in an apartment above the True Value hardware store on Main Street while his house is being rebuilt. “We’re extremely grateful to everyone for their help.”
The September 5th home opener against West Marshall on Ed Thomas Field, now free of debris, will be an emotional affair. But it will also be a celebration of a community that is overcoming severe adversity. The road back for the town and the A-P Falcon football team is long. But Ed Thomas’ determination, the resilience of the residents of Parkersburg, the generosity of companies like Power Lift and the ability of high school football to unite a community are together proving that even an EF5 tornado is no match for the spirit of a small town in rural Iowa.
To make a donation to Aplington-Parkersburg High School, visit their web site at www.apl-park.k12.ia.us
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