Zach Tomas spends countless hours with student-athletes at Colfax-Mingo.
But the fact that he was nominated for an Iowa Character Award from someone who is not an athlete on one of his two programs at Colfax-Mingo High School meant a lot to the long-time Tigerhawk teacher and coach.
“It wasn’t an athlete,” Tomas said. “That meant a lot to me that I made an impact with a student who I don’t have a connection with outside the classroom. That tells me I’m making connections with kids who I don’t have as athletes, too.”
Tomas was a 2021 recipient of an Iowa Character Award through Drake University recently. He was nominated for the award by Colfax-Mingo senior Mallory Long-Stevens, who Tomas said went above and beyond to make sure he was in the conversation for the honor.
“She would have done this last year so I reached out to Mr. (Todd) Jones to see if she went through him for help but she didn’t,” Tomas said. “She had to seek it out on her own.”
Tomas said Long-Stevens also had to write about why the nominated individual deserves the award.
“She said I go above and beyond to make everyone’s day. She also mentioned my bad Dad jokes,” Tomas said. “I had no idea I had that type of impact on her.”
Others who have spent hours of time with Tomas inside and outside of the school were not surprised at all.
Senior Kyra Lester is part of Tomas’ girls’ track and field program. She was happy to talk about her coach after a recent volleyball tournament.
Lester said Tomas touches a lot of people, athlete or not.
“He’s a great guy, a great coach and a great teacher,” Lester said. “How he makes connections with the kids is unparalleled. He’s so genuine. He cares about every single one of his athletes and his students. This was not a surprise to me at all.”
Tomas said he made a unique connection with Long-Stevens because she wants to be a NICU nurse after high school. Tomas’ 4-year-old son Kyler spent time in the NICU when he was born.
“We talked a lot about how my son was in the NICU all those days. I think that’s maybe where the connection came from the most,” Tomas said. “No one at the school knew about this from what I can tell. She’s a great kid.”
Matt Barkalow and Tomas started at Colfax-Mingo around the same time. They both coach track and field so Barkalow sees Tomas’ character first hand outside the classroom every spring athletic season.
“Coach Tomas has a knack for making every single member of his teams feel like the MVP,” Barkalow said. “With 40-plus girls in track and field each spring, he has built a culture of family that has led to success at meets, in the classroom and, most importantly, in the lives of the young women he coaches.
“I am proud to teach and coach together and call him my friend. It’s a well-deserved award.”
Tomas spent a few years as the activities director at Colfax-Mingo High School. He also shared the position for a time with current Activities Director Erin Hume.
“As a coach, he’s always putting the students first with everything he does. He wants the best experience for the kids,” Tomas said. “He’s always building relationships, talking to kids, helping them and joking around with them and making sure they are having a good time whether it’s PE, health or an activity. He always treats kids with respect and wants them to know he’s an adult in the building they can come to if they need someone.”
Like everyone else, Hume didn’t know anything about Tomas winning the award before it was announced.
The fact that Long-Stevens pulled this off without guidance from another adult in the building should make it even more special for Tomas.
“Teachers and coaches sometimes don’t get the recognition they deserve. Maybe she felt that way, too,” Hume said. “He obviously made an impact on her life.”
According to information at https://www.drake.edu/raycenter/recognition/ica/, The Ray Center at Drake University annually recognizes Iowans who show the Six Pillars of Character Counts: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and good citizenship.
Since 2005, the organization has recognized more than 100 Iowans for showing good character.