(Top) LB Aaron Kampman celebrates his defensive touchdown in Arizona on Aug. 28; (bottom) Kampman gives a pre-game talk to the Aplington-Parkersburg High School football team before last year's season opener.
IMPACT OF FORMER H.S. COACH ENDURES WITH NEW FOUNDATION
In one of the more memorable moments of the 2009 preseason for the Green Bay Packers, outside linebacker Aaron Kampman scooped up a fumble by Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and rumbled 24 yards for a touchdown.
After the game, Kampman said it was the first touchdown he had scored since high school, which made the timing of the milestone appropriate on such a big night for that very school.
That night was Friday, Aug. 28, the night Aplington-Parkersburg High School played its first football game in 35 years without Ed Thomas as its head coach. Back in June, Thomas had been shot and killed, allegedly by a former player, bringing intense heartache to the small Iowa community that had spent the past year rebuilding itself from a devastating tornado in May 2008 - a rebuilding effort spearheaded and inspired by none other than Thomas himself.
In a perfect world, Kampman would have preferred to attend the game in Parkersburg that night, just like he had for their season opener in 2008, the first game on the historic field Thomas and the community dedicated themselves to restoring following its destruction from the tornado.
Instead, Kampman was there in football spirit with his memorable play 2,000 miles away, a point not lost for a moment on Packers head athletic trainer Pepper Burruss, who along with other team personnel had accompanied Kampman back home in 2008 to assist with some initial tornado clean-up efforts.
"We had some words before the game like we always do, and when I came off to the sideline after scoring, Pepper said, 'That was for P-burg,' and I said, 'Yeah, that was for P-burg,'" Kampman said. "The last time I scored a touchdown was in high school and it was nice to share the moment together. A lot of my heart was back in Parkersburg."
Kampman did his best to stay in touch with his old team that night. After leaving the game for good late in the second quarter, Kampman had a support-staff member check on how Aplington-Parkersburg was doing. In a game televised on ESPN, Aplington-Parkersburg had jumped out to a 30-0 lead over Dike-New Hartford on its way to a 30-14 win, and Kampman watched his recording of the broadcast after returning to Green Bay the next day.
The former 'P-burg' star, one of four Thomas coached who eventually reached the NFL (along with Casey Wiegmann, Brad Meester and Jared DeVries), Kampman has been justifiably proud of the resiliency of his hometown, both before and since Thomas' death. And Kampman is also proud that the efforts to continue good works in Thomas' memory have now expanded with the establishment of the Ed Thomas Family Foundation.
Kampman said a handful of Thomas' former players, in conjunction with the Thomas family and through a connection with the National Christian Foundation, established the foundation and have scheduled some initial fundraising events.
On its Web site (www.edthomasfamilyfoundation.org), the foundation's stated purpose is "to continue the legacy of Ed Thomas by providing opportunities to young adults through scholarships, maintain and up-keep of facilities, and more importantly, spreading the message of God's word."
The effort is still in its infancy, but Kampman said he knows those involved will conduct things the right way and make the foundation a special part of Thomas' legacy.
"Obviously his whole life was dedicated toward young people, so anything that's going to be able to create assistance in a positive light, he would be all for," Kampman said. "That's what much of his life's mission was about."
Kampman hasn't returned to his hometown since Thomas' funeral, when he and the three fellow NFL alums from Parkersburg all served as pallbearers for Thomas. When asked to put that experience into words, Kampman could only think of one at first.
"Powerful, ... powerful," he said. "And this may sound weird, but it was extremely inspirational. It won't be an experience that I'll soon forget from the standpoint of the hope that was there and present in the midst of the grief that everyone felt."
Because he couldn't be there for the season opener, Kampman would like to get back to Parkersburg for a game sometime this season, though he doesn't know if his football schedule will allow for it. In the meantime, he plans to keep tabs on the new foundation, as well as the on-field results from back home.
"I'm excited about the prospects for the team this year just from the standpoint of getting back out and playing football," Kampman said. "One of the ESPN commentators said in one of the interviews that between the lines at least they can just go out and play, just like after the tornado, and hopefully that will help bring some more normalcy or some healing to the community."