Side by side

It has happened before, but just once.

For the first – and only – time since 2006, the Fort Dodge and St. Edmond softball teams will be active co-hosts of the state softball tournament next week at Rogers Park.

The second-seeded Dodgers and No. 1 seed Gaels are on a short list of frontrunners in the Class 4A and 2A fields, respectively. And for all intents and purposes, there will be no difference between red and green around town once the games are under way.

Instead, the city programs will be supporting each other in search of a common – and dare I say somewhat realistic goal – of dual state championships.

”I’m so happy they made it,” FDSH head coach Andi Adams said of St. Edmond. ”It’s big news, not just for the sport and our softball community, but for Fort Dodge in general.

”I really, really like their team. There is definitely a mutual respect there between the programs, so we couldn’t be happier to share this common bond of both being ‘home’ teams for the state tournament. Strength in numbers.”

In retrospect, it comes as no surprise that both schools reached this point. The Dodgers were the top-ranked squad in 4A to begin the season, and the Gaels finished No. 1 in the final 2A rankings.

However, Fort Dodge and St. Edmond did experience plenty of uneasy moments along the way. The Dodgers were 11-9 in the middle of a daunting schedule that had them struggling to stay afloat. And the Gaels needed to mount a pair of rallies late to eliminate heavy underdog South Central Calhoun in their postseason opener.

They both survived a rollercoaster regional round, though – only one Top-5 ranked team reached state in 4A, while just two made it through in 2A – and they’re poised to make some noise in what has become a pair of wide-open brackets.

”It just really shows the strength of softball in this town,” SEHS head coach Paul Hunt said. ”It’s awesome to see this happen. I know Andi would say that they aren’t satisfied yet, though, and neither are we.

”We want to extend this and make it a special week for both schools and our community – not just special days (on Monday and Tuesday).”

Hunt called the relationship between the programs ”fantastic” and ”incredibly supportive.”

”They’ve done an awesome job of being at each other’s games whenever possible and cheering each other on,” Hunt said. ”There is a very real, sincere admiration from both sides. We want to keep this going as long as possible.”

The teams will share practice time on Friday in preparation for state.

”If we can work together and help make each other better, why not?” Hunt said. ”That goes for both the players and the fans.”

Adams commented that the vibe around town this time of year ”never ceases to amaze me.”

”It’s amazing to watch this community back its sports teams,” said Adams, who is taking her seventh squad to state in 15 years. ”I know the Gaels had a lot of fans in Galva (for the regional finals), and we experienced the same thing for our tournament games. McNeil Field was packed (Monday) for the first night (baseball) game.

”Given this could be kind of a collaborative effort (next week), I can’t wait to see the crowds (at Rogers Park).”

Hunt expects the upperclassmen for both programs – the Gaels have four seniors, while the Dodgers roster nine – to feed off the energy rather than letting it overwhelm them.

”We play a very intense, aggressive style, and I know they do, too,” Hunt said. ”The noise and the atmosphere is going to push us both. That’s the advantage of having senior leaders – they’ll use that to their advantage and won’t let the moment get bigger than them.”

Neither coach wanted to put the cart before the horse when it came to the idea of twin titles, but Adams did add, ”if you don’t at least think about it, you’re not preparing yourself or your players for the possibility.”

”We’re literally taking all of this one pitch at a time,” Adams said. ”That’s what you have to do at state. But hopefully, this is just the beginning for both of us.”

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net