Leadership Legacy: Ed Thomas clinic speakers share character lessons

By: Ed Thomas

Almost everyone in Iowa knows the story of Ed Thomas and Aplington Parkersburg. In 2008, an F5 tornado destroyed the Aplington-Parkersburg high school. One year later on June 24, 2009, head coach Ed Thomas was shot by an old student in the bus barn, which was being used by the team for weightlifting.

Seven years later, on Oct. 6, the Ed Thomas Legacy Leadership Academy took place at Aplington Parkersburg High School. Each participating school paid $10 per student to come and  listen to inspirational speakers tell their stories and give advice on how to be better people and leaders in their schools.

The academy lasted from 9 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. Each school entered the school and was greeted with friendly faces and a complimentary doughnut breakfast. Every leader was given a green bag with booklets, T-shirts, pens and name lanyards.

This year, there were five speakers: Aaron Thomas, Amanda Goodman, Greg Thomas, Al Kerns and Ben Jacobson.

Aaron Thomas, the eldest son of the late Ed Thomas, is now the principal at Aplington Parkersburg. He was inspired to impact youth in a positive way because of what he watched his father do at practice. He told the students that, “Everyone is strategically positioned to impact those around you.”

The main point carried through his whole speech is that in order to lead someone, one must have a positive relationship others. He quoted speaker John Maxwell saying, “Before anyone will follow you, there are three things a follower has to know. Do you like me, can you help me and can I trust you?” He said answering these questions before you try to get things done can help a team work more effectively and get better results.

At the end of each speech, two questions were posed to the schools as they broke into groups and discussed the points of the speaker, what they brought to the table and the questions in the booklets.

The second speaker, Goodman, is a news anchor for KWWL news, and she is also an Emmy award winning journalist. She has passions in the area of women’s rights, as well as anti-bullying efforts.

Goodman led with a strong message about life. “Life is not unicorns,” she said. Her main message was that as students and humans on Earth, people have to take responsibility for their actions.

She told a story of when she was a young journalist in Texas. She was getting ready one day, and her boss came in to talk to her about how poor of a job she was doing. She then announced to the whole crew that she was not to have any material on TV until further notice. “It was a real kick in the butt,” Goodman said. This lesson taught her that by doing a poor job with the task at hand, you are setting yourself up to be replaced. If you are a leader, you should bring new options to the table and work hard for the greater good of the team. If you do that, you aren’t replaceable.

The next speaker, Greg Thomas, was the younger brother of Ed Thomas, and, like his nephew, was inspired to go into coaching because of the impact his brother made, as well as his college football coach.

The main thing that Greg Thomas spoke on was the pride that leaders must have in their community to be successful. “If you don’t have pride in your school, you are not going to be an effective leader. The same goes for your community,” Thomas said.

His last point to the leaders was about the legacy of people everywhere. “On a tombstone, there is your name, birth date, dash, death date and a message. Out of those, the most important thing is the dash. The dash is where your life really is,” he said.

The fifth speaker, Kerns, spoke in two different groups, alternating what lunch shift each school ate. Kerns is a retired teacher and coach from Parkersburg High School, and later was an assistant coach under Ed Thomas for over 30 years.

Kerns spoke about the relationship of character and leadership, and how to prioritize the two. “Leadership without character is a failure in the leadership,” he said. He told of how character and values go hand in hand with making a good person and a good leader. His motto for prioritizing is, “Character first, then you can be a leader.”

During the break, a sack lunch was provided that contained a sub, fruit, chips, a cookie and bottled water, courtesy of HyVee. Each school also spoke about the speakers messages, and how they could carry those ideals and values back home to make school a better place for students and teachers alike.

The final speaker of the night was Ben Jacobson, head men’s basketball coach at UNI. He is named the all time winningest coach at UNI, holding 220 victories through 10 seasons. He has lead the Panthers to four NCAA Tournaments and four NCAA victories.

Jacobson spoke about the way that teamwork plays into leadership, and how players can show dignity on and off the court. Some of the values that he talked about are putting the team before yourself, trusting in your preparation, dreaming big and keeping your social inner circle small. The reason that he encourages his players to keep social media out of their heads most of the time is because he sees all the bullying, protests and violence, and social media makes all of it seem so close and easy.

He closed with a plea: “Promise me, you will not just lead in the ways you feel comfortable. Lead in all ways.”

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