University of Northern Iowa wrestler John Simon was still processing the tragic events in Parkersburg Wednesday morning. The former Aplington-Parkersburg football player was still in a state of disbelief, like many in the community, about the shooting death of long-time football coach Ed Thomas.
Police have 24-year-old Mark Becker, a former Falcons football player, in custody.
Simon was working for the town near its pool when he received calls about the incident at the high school weight room. He quickly drove to the school to assess the situation.
“I’m still trying to get used to the fact that coach is gone and that he was shot,” said Simon, noting he had hope that Thomas would survive the shooting. “You got the worst news that he passed.
“I still can’t believe it. It probably won’t hit me until after the funeral.”
Simon, a sophomore who wrestled 165 pounds for the Panthers last season, is a 2008 graduate of Aplington-Parkersburg, where he was a three-time state placewinner. He was a three-year letterwinner in football, playing fullback and linebacker for Thomas. His younger brother, Jordan, a 2009 Class 1A state runner-up at 215, is a senior for the Falcons’ football team and was working with John at the time of the shooting.
He would stop by the weight room regularly just to say hi to Thomas, even if he meant he had to receive some good-natured from Thomas for being smaller than his younger brother.
“I love coach,” Simon said. “He was like a second father. He always make sure my grades were up, even after high school. He’d always ask me how UNI was going, how’s wrestling going, are my grades keeping up.”
Football coach was just part of the role he played to members of the Falcons’ football team. He served as a strong all-around role model.
“I think he was a better guy than a football coach, and he was a great football coach” Simon said.
“Coach said all the time, ‘If all I’ve ever taught you is how to play the game of football then (I’ve) failed,’ ” said Simon, noting Thomas was a great motivator. “He always said (his) goal is to teach you to be a better man, a better husband, a better friend, a better father, and if I’ve taught you to do that then I’ve succeeded,”
Simon said he’s seen a state of shock consume the community.
“Everyone’s in a somber mood,” Simon said. “They know what happened but they don’t want to believe that it happened.”