Speaker takes on tragedy in Tonganoxie High assembly
Aaron Thomas shared many thought-provoking quotes during assemblies last week at Tonganoxie High School.
“Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond,” Thomas said, reciting one of a handful of quotes he found vital to share with THS students.
Thomas has been faced with trying times that have tested that quote’s validity.
The son of Iowa football coaching legend Ed Thomas, Aaron Thomas told students of the time his hometown of Parkersburg, Iowa, was ravaged by a tornado in June 2008, just months before the Aplington-Parkersburg football season was to begin.
Ed Thomas rallied the town together. As cleanup efforts took place throughout the town, Ed Thomas unified the town by working to get the football stadium back in shape to be ready for that upcoming season.
The town banded together and the season went on despite a glaring tragedy.
ESPN featured Ed Thomas and the community for its efforts.
A year later, another unthinkable tragedy took place.
One of Ed Thomas’ former players entered a team weightlifting session where he shot and killed the longtime football coach.
Aaron Thomas said he could have reacted in a bitter manner, but speaking for his family before the media and other outlets, he asked for people to pray for the shooter and his family — a family that long had been connected with Ed Thomas as generations of former players and those who assisted in the stadium cleanup.
Thomas said the shooter suffered from drug-induced schizophrenia. He had become a meth addict who at one time was a marijuana user. The situation led Thomas to another topic — avoiding drug use. Before Thomas spoke, Casey Wiegmann, a Parkersburg alum who is one of of four players from the small Iowa town to play in the NFL, also spoke. He is married to THS graduate Danni Boatwright, has involvement in Brothers Market of Tonganoxie that’s based back in Iowa. Wiegmann spoke of his commitment to not drinking alcohol and how it helped him out of bad situation involving a party in high school.
Tonganoxie chiropractor Rob Schuck, also from the small Iowa town, has ties to the Brothers Market chain and was on Ed Thomas’ team when Aaron Thomas was a ball boy. Aaron Thomas talked about riding the bus alongside Shuck, something Shuck had forgotten.
Thomas stressed about how you can influence and impact someone when you don’t even realize it, like when a ball boy sat alongside a football player on a road trip.
Thomas continued to discuss how vital it is to respond to challenges in the right manner.
His family’s reaction to the tragedy and subsequent creating of the Ed Thomas Family Foundation has led to speaking engagements across the country.
The family also received the Arthur Ashe Award for courage at the ESPYs in honor of his father and attended a Monday Night Football game in New Orleans.
Aaron Thomas showed two ESPN pieces that were done about his father, one after the tornado and another after his father’s tragic death.
Again and again, he stressed the need for students to treat others with respect and to represent their teams and their communities positively.
He mentioned how his father worked to reach out to students who maybe others had shunned. Football player or not, Ed Thomas looked out for his students.
Aaron Thomas recalled one situation in which a student was ready to quit high school, but his father convinced him to be the football team’s sports information director. The student stayed in school and stuck with the SID position.
He joked about how his father was meticulous in mowing the football field, but maybe mowed his own lawn 10 times in the 18 years Aaron lived at their home.
As part of his speech, Thomas, who himself also works in education, touched on the importance of leadership. He passed along his father’s philosophy on leadership, that it’s easy to show leadership when things are going well.
“True leadership is how you react when things are going tough,” he said.
Las week’s assembly was broken up into two sessions, one for juniors and seniors and another for freshmen and sophomores.
Transforming Tonganoxie Together sponsored the assemblies.
Thomas said he attends about 40 speaking engagements each year giving his motivational speeches.