COME TOGETHER

Fort Dodge's wrestling program has been a force on the mat and a pillar in the community

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Cayd Lara of Fort Dodge wrestles in the championship round of the Don Miller Invitational earlier this month.

It becomes easy — in fact, almost routine — to take the good for granted in sports.

When that good turns into great, and the great becomes elite, and the elite redefines the standard, and that standard is sustained over time, we tend to lose all logic and perspective. Suddenly, the one thing programs and franchises desperately strive for in athletics — consistency — is simply expected in the eyes of the public. Fans forget how hard it is to reach the top of the mountain, or just how quickly it can — and often does — come tumbling down.

Two recent conversations brought the Fort Dodge wrestling team to mind in this light. One was with an area coach, who loves the fight and the competitive spirit of his kids despite an overall lack of talent. Another centered around a program with plenty of star power, but not enough discipline to field the lineup it had anticipated in the preseason.

So often, we see these incomplete pictures; a squad missing key ingredients, whether it be ability, or motivation, or attitude, or work ethic, or heart. In fact, the vast majority of schools or organizations come up short in at least one category, if not a combination of many.

To be clear, the Dodger wrestlers aren’t perfect. Yes, they’re currently the No. 1 tournament and dual team in the state with a Top-25 national ranking. Yes, they went unbeaten in head-to-head matchups with two invitational titles during the first half of the year. Yes, their most recent lineup has an overall record of 199-45 so far, with 10 of the 12 regulars rated individually at some point.

To a man and to a coach, though, they say there is work to do and room to improve — and they mean it. In Fort Dodge’s mind — despite accumulating three team trophies, seven individual state championships and 19 medals over the last three seasons alone at state — the weeks and months to come are filled with unfinished business.

These Dodgers have skill, they have drive, and they are determined. They’re confident enough to carry a swagger, but not to the point where they feel the need to flaunt or taunt. And their well-documented resilience isn’t going away anytime soon.

I want to shift gears for a minute, though, and also vouch for their character. In a day and age dominated by social media (over)exposure and a tendency to treat athletes like heroes, Fort Dodge has managed to keep a collective level head about all the attention. That’s much easier said than done, especially after three consecutive seasons of performing under intense scrutiny and a bright spotlight.

Many teams try — and fail — to trust each other and the the coaching staff long enough to achieve their goals. Many teams try — and fail — to keep the chemistry strong and the egos in check. Many teams try — and fail — to live up to their potential.

For four consecutive seasons, head coach Bobby Thompson’s home-grown Dodgers have been a Top-3 squad and a legitimate state title contender. Fort Dodge hasn’t spent this much time at the top in over 80 years. And for four consecutive seasons, the FDSH roster has been flooded with honor-roll students, active community members, and young men who represent the program with class and respect.

Credit the parents and families. Credit the coaches. But most importantly, credit the wrestlers themselves for taking what appeared to be a nearly-impossible dream — a small Class 3A school regularly pushing for championships at the highest level with a simple core group of local kids — and bringing it all to life before our very eyes.

There are seven short weeks left in the 2017-18 campaign. Make sure to support these Dodgers — not just the competitors on the mat, but the young men away from it — as much and as often as possible. Their performance and behavior may seem like second nature now, to the point where we think this is just the new normal.

Never assume greatness. Appreciate and observe it while you still have the chance. The Fort Dodge wrestlers aren’t perfect, true, but collectively speaking, they are the perfect fit for each other — and for us.

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

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