PARKERSBURG — A red wave of Aplington-Parkersburg fans applauded in unison last night as their Falcons jogged off the field at halftime.
Nestled among the nearly 4,000 fans who packed Ed Thomas Field were about a dozen sporting similar red T-shirts that read “Becker.”
On a night when the community paid one last round of respects to legendary coach Ed Thomas, the irony lies with Aplington-Parkersburg senior Scott Becker. His brother, 24-year-old Mark Becker, is accused of fatally shooting Thomas in front of 20 students June 24 at the school’s weight facility. Yet Scott, a two-way starter, received one of the loudest ovations from the home crowd.
National cable network ESPN broadcast the opening night of football between A-P and Dike-New Hartford, mostly the murder was a national story. Thomas’ program sired four NFL stars and the former two-time state champion coach stood as a living symbol for hope after an EF-5 tornado destroyed his house and more than 200 others in Parkersburg in May 2008.
Now in death, Thomas continues to connect the community, including the Beckers. Joan Becker wore the “Becker” red shirt and a pin with Scott’s photo. She stood and cheered as the Falcons intercepted five first-half passes. Watching the game was therapy for her family and a community still coping with Thomas’ death.
“It’s a huge relief for us to have this night here, because it’s what our community and our family needed to just move on,” Joan Becker said. “It’s what Ed would want the whole community to do, and the whole team to do. It’s a relief for the team, too, to get out there and play football and get to work.”
The Thomas and Becker families share the same church (First Congregational) and a love of football. Dave Becker — father of Mark and Scott — played for Thomas, as did Mark. The families also share the incident but are tied together in faith and forgiveness. Anything less would crush the Becker family, Joan said.
“We’ve just had nothing but tremendous support from our families, our church, the Thomas family and the community,” Joan Becker said. “It’s what’s allows us to keep going each day. We just couldn’t do without it.”
Fans wrapped the fences around Ed Thomas Field, also called “The Sacred Acre,” and cheered wildly from opening introductions through the long television timeouts. Former NFL players Chris Spielman and Herman Edwards were game analysts, and Rece Davis called the play-by-play for ESPN. The energetic atmosphere provided fans of both schools a one-in-a-lifetime event.
As electric as last night was, today brings another reminder for the community. Thomas is still gone, the team will play again next Friday and Mark Becker faces first-degree murder charges. But A-P’s 30-14 victory provided a much-needed salve to a community still blistered by Thomas’ death. It’s also healing the Becker family.
“We’re coping one day at a time with God’s grace, helping us through each day at a time,” Joan Becker said.