60 years of significance

Annual project captures the heart, soul, tradition of our relationship with you

Messenger photo Sports Editor Eric Pratt displays the 59 different Messenger football previews.

I was first introduced to the inner workings of The Messenger’s annual football preview as a know-nothing 17-year-old kid in the summer of 1995.

As the low man on the totem pole in the sports department at the time, I figured it would be a perfect opportunity to get my byline in print and earn bragging rights among my friends at Fort Dodge Senior High once school started.

My boss, sports editor Bill McIntyre, and his right-hand men — John McBride, Tim Whitecotton and Kirk Hardcastle — really put me to work. I was first assigned to the Webster City and Humboldt beats. Then came Twin River Valley, Eagle Grove and Graettinger. Clarion-Goldfield was added to the list later, followed by Sac City, Pomeroy-Palmer, Emmetsburg and Southeast Webster. Oh, and a Class A, District 2 preview for good measure.

I remember thinking that I must be OK at writing these stories, given so many of them were landing on my desk. Or maybe this was standard operating procedure for a part-timer at The Messenger. I wasn’t sure and didn’t really want to ask, holding out hope that it was the former rather than the latter.

Looking back, what I certainly lacked was perspective. In 1995, we were celebrating the 38th edition of the tab. Just a number to a high schooler like me. And I didn’t know much about these schools, other than the information that had been submitted to our office by the coaches. I probably couldn’t find most on a map, and didn’t really see the point in making a big deal of their teams.

Before I sat down to work on the first of what became 11 stories that year, I vividly remember a conversation I had with Whitecotton — now a lifelong friend. I was regretting the workload a little, which I had approached selfishly at first and more reluctantly as deadline approached.

Tim explained the beauty of a tab like this to me, with a point of view I still remember to this day. He said that while every reader may not be interested in what Manson Northwest Webster, for instance, looks like in the preseason, the people in these individual communities appreciate the coverage more than we will ever know. As such, the whole of this project is always going to truly be greater than the sum of its parts.

He also emphasized the historical context — something I definitely have a greater understanding of and respect for 22 years later. These tabs are treasures to area sports junkies. They mark where we stand at a given point in time, whether we’re looking back in the archives or forward to an ever-changing landscape.

When I dusted off the 1995 edition, for instance, that particular year came rushing back. I remembered writing each and every one of these stories. I remembered the ledes. I even remembered where the articles were placed on a given page, or the photos that flanked the text.

The tab is also used as a reference point, even to this day. Bill called it ”our almanac.” Yes, the Internet changed how we absorb and seek information forever. Our football preview, though, still has everything an area reader would need — from players and standings to records and composite schedules — in one neat, efficient package. Countless fans, coaches and even kids have thanked us for that through the years. It’s a keepsake, yes, but also, a valuable source of information.

In the late-1950s, Hall of Fame sports editor Bob Brown pitched the idea of an aggregate football preview to upper management here in Fort Dodge. Bob always told me it was one of the first — and boldest — ideas he had during his early years at The Messenger. No other newspaper in the state published a comprehensive tab spanning its entire area quite like it.

Now, 60 years later, we’ve virtually come full circle. Many special sections like it have come and gone, but our annual Messengerland gridiron guide is one of the very few still going strong. Our staff takes a great deal of pride in carrying on the tradition, and thankfully, our loved ones at home understand, waiting patiently for us to send another edition to press.

Roughly 1,400 area football teams have appeared in these pages over the last six decades, spanning tens of thousands of names and faces. Our current base of 18 area schools is still a variation of the programs you’d find in Bob’s first Messenger football preview — a labor of love and pillar of tradition that remains our award-winning pride and joy.

Around here, the more things change, the more they stay the same. With 22 years of my own now in the books, I understand — and respect — that in an entirely different way than when I first started this journey. I have my mentors and our readers to thank for that.

Happy 60th.