- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

PARKERSBURG, Iowa (AP) | A high school coach who helped launch several professional football careers was gunned down by a former player Wednesday morning in front of students taking part in an offseason workout, authorities said.

Mark Becker, who was supposed to have been taken to a hospital psychiatric ward after purportedly leading police on a high-speed chase Saturday night, unloaded several rounds into Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach Ed Thomas and was arrested at a nearby home soon afterward, said Kevin Winker, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

School was not in session, and Mr. Becker did not threaten any of the students in the room, Mr. Winker said.

Mr. Thomas, 58, died at a Waterloo hospital. His shooting stunned the rural community of 1,800 residents 80 miles northeast of Des Moines and reverberated through NFL circles, where he was remembered as much for his faith as his winning record.

“Coach Thomas was very special to me and many other young men from the Aplington-Parkersburg communities,” said Green Bay Packers linebacker Aaron Kampman. “His legacy for many will be associated with his tremendous success as a football coach. However, I believe his greatest legacy comes not in how many football games he won or lost but in the fact that he was a committed follower of Jesus Christ.”

Named the NFL’s 2005 high school coach of the year, Mr. Thomas amassed a 292-84 record in 37 seasons as a head coach - 34 of them at Aplington-Parkersburg. He coached several players who went on to the NFL, including Mr. Kampman, Jacksonville Jaguars center Brad Meester, Detroit Lions defensive end Jared DeVries and Denver Broncos center Casey Wiegmann.

Mr. Meester said he revered him almost as a father figure, and that his high school coach was able to get the most out of each of his players. “He’s one of those guys that truly cared about every player that was in that program,” he said.

“It’s just the stuff that he taught every one of us, stuff that I’ll never forget. The value of hard work, pride in what you do and just caring about the guy beside you and that’s what he did. He cared for each and every one of us that went through that program,” he said.

Mr. Becker, 24, is charged with first-degree murder and was being held in Butler County jail.

According to court records, Mr. Becker purportedly threatened a Cedar Falls homeowner with a baseball bat Saturday night, smashed windows at the home and rammed his car through its garage door before leading police on a high-speed chase.

Cedar Falls police Chief Jeff Olson said Wednesday that Butler County deputies arrested Mr. Becker after a chase through Grundy and Butler counties. Deputies agreed to take him to a hospital psychiatric ward and request that Cedar Falls police be notified when he could be released. Cedar Falls police didn’t hear anything more, but on Tuesday, Mr. Becker was released from custody.

It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Becker was taken to the ward.

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