Fans cheer Fort Dodge wrestling team’s return

The Fort Dodge wrestling program was honored with an emotional welcome-home ceremony on Sunday in the Dodger gym.

The state runner-up Dodgers were recognized for their achievements in front of nearly 300 fans and family members. Fort Dodge placed second for the first time in 20 years as a team, and three individual champions – senior Sam Cook, junior Triston Lara and sophomore Brody Teske – were crowned in the same season for the first time since 1941.

”These are the best kids in the world, and I’m just glad I was a part of their journey with them,” FDSH head coach Bobby Thompson said, nodding to his nine state qualifiers. ”There’s nothing like being a Dodger. The passion our fans have for this program is second to none.”

Athletic and activities director Matt Elsbecker also spoke to the crowd, as did former head wrestling coach and athletic director Don Miller, Fort Dodge Community Schools board member Matt Wagner, FDSH assistant principal Kevin Astor, and the seven state medalists. Elsbecker also read a statement from mayor Matt Bemrich and acknowledged FDCSD superintendent Doug Van Zyl. Both were out of town on Sunday and unable to attend the rally.

Elsbecker had the wrestlers stand, noting that while there may be disappointment in not capturing a team championship, ”you are all home grown and you did it the right way. The Dodger Way. That’s what matters most.” A rousing applause followed.

Wagner thanked the team for being Fort Dodge ”ambassadors” during state tournament week.

”The humility you’ve shown in victory is something you should all be very proud of,” Wagner added.

Astor noted that this journey ”started a long time ago,” and that ”every wrestler in the room deserves credit here, because you all make each other better.”

Miller congratulated and spoke to each individual qualifier, then turned to the audience and said, ”the parents, grandparents and families deserve congratulations as well for the thousands of miles traveled through the years to make this happen.”

”I didn’t realize until I saw it in the paper (Sunday) that it had been 75 years since we’d had three state champions (in the same season). That’s an unbelievable accomplishment.

”I wasn’t around back then, believe it or not,” Miller added with a laugh.

Miller also said, ”I told my wife that when the young men here go through this, (as a former coach), they still to this day feel like they’re all your own. That’s what being a Dodger is all about. Family.”

Cook talked about putting their accomplishments into perspective despite not achieving the ultimate goal of a team title.

”We’ve suffered more through the pain of discipline than the pain of regret,” said Cook, the program’s career leader for wins who clinched his second consecutive individual crown on Saturday night.

Sophomore Damond Lockner, who placed eighth at 120 pounds, gave a heartwarming testimonial that left himself, his teammates and the crowd in tears. He said the rest of the Dodger wrestlers were ”like brothers” to him, and the coaches were ”like his dads.”

Lara was supposed to be the final speaker, but by the time Lockner had finished, he waved off his introduction, clearly affected by Lockner’s emotional moment.

Elsbecker concluded by saying it’s been ”quite a month” for the Fort Dodge Community School District. A bond referendum to rebuild Duncombe Elementary and parts of the high school – which will include a new wrestling room – passed on Feb. 9.

”We are all about connecting the past, the present and the future here,” Elsbecker said. ”So much of that is happening right now with this program, which is something we both respect and appreciate. The support in this community through wrestling is simply outstanding.”

Fort Dodge’s runner-up showing marked just the ninth time in the last 75 years that a Dodger squad placed either first or second at state. The championships earned by Cook, Teske and Lara pushed the FDSH athletic department’s state title tally to nine in the last calendar year alone.

Southeast Polk repeated as champs with 141.5 points. The Dodgers accumulated 131.5 points, which was 26 better than their total from a year ago at state.

Cook, Teske, Lara, sophomore Drew Bennett (3rd), senior Jonah Egli (5th), Lockner and sophomore Cayd Lara (8th) were recognized, along with senior state qualifiers Keenan Cook and Cole Detmering.