HOMEGROWN: Teams still about family first at FDSH

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge wrestlers (left to right) Drew Bennett, Brody Teske and Cayd Lara greet Dorian Franklin after a match earlier this season.

It didn’t take long for athletes and fans to create a special environment inside the Fort Dodge Senior High gym last Thursday and Friday.

The recent success obviously helps. After all, the powerhouse Dodger wrestling program is ranked third in the state and unbeaten through 11 duals. Fort Dodge’s basketball teams are also faring well; the girls are 6-3 for the first time in 14 years, and the boys are a win away from just their third 7-2 start since 1988-89.

Bringing revered 2016 FDSH graduate Sam Cook back for a pre-meet ceremony added to the atmosphere at Thursday’s wrestling meet. Cook was a rare academic and athletic All-American hybrid, the likes of which this town has rarely — if ever — seen. Combined with an affable personality, Cook’s presence certainly helped attract Dodger supporters to the dual against West Des Moines Dowling.

This isn’t just about individual or team talent, though. Any school has the ability to meld pieces together and call their athletic department a winner. Resources, numbers, recruiting — you name it, Fort Dodge has lived through it as a perennial underdog in the land of CIML giants.

Comfortably ahead in the fourth quarter last Friday, the Dodger boys put two reserves on the court — senior foreign exchange student Marco Fumagalli and junior Edward Crawford — who had never seen action at the varsity level. Fellow Fort Dodge players and students immediately energized the gym with their reactions to every move Fumagalli and Crawford made.

They weren’t cheering for Fumagalli and Crawford in a condescending or flippant way. The support was sincere, heartfelt — and inspiring. Teammates were pridefully celebrating in the locker room like they had just qualified for the state tournament.

In a day and age where high school athletics are becoming more geared toward individual achievement and less about enjoyment or participation, this was a refreshing reminder that by and large, Fort Dodge still gets it. These kids grow up together on and off the court or mat. The bond is strong; the connection is real. They’re all Dodgers, first and foremost.

The same could be said for Cook and his relationship with this community. He accomplished tremendous things as a FDSH wrestler and football player. He’ll go down as one of the very best. But Cook didn’t come back last Thursday to feed his own ego, and fans didn’t support him strictly based on what he achieved as a decorated high school athlete.

This is about family. Some schools preach it. Others feign it. Dodgers live it. Regardless of how much Fort Dodge wins in the weeks to come, these kids will look back years down the road and remember nights like Thursday and Friday for all the right reasons.

Seasons come and go. Friendship and memories of time spent together persevere. The ”Dodger Way” continues to capture the true meaning of high school athletics.

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