The state softball tournament arrived on Fort Dodge's doorstep 43 years ago as a one-class, eight-team event.
Now well into its fifth decade of service, Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex will host five classes and 40 programs this week as the caravan comes to town beginning Monday.
At some point between now and Friday's championships, a random fan passing through the gates will quietly mark the 750,000th to attend a state softball game at the picturesque ballpark hugging Nelson Ave. That's three-quarters of a million people, folks.
Akron-Westfield can appreciate the routine. The Westerners are here for the 10th time in 11 seasons after a brief hiatus last summer.
Carlisle and Martensdale-St. Mary's call Fort Dodge their home away from home as well, with six consecutive trips on the ledger. West Des Moines Dowling and Mid-Prairie aren't far behind at four and counting. Ankeny, Solon, Winterset, Dallas Center-Grimes, Estherville-Lincoln Central, Bondurant-Farrar and Treynor are now bona fide three-peat qualifiers.
Newell-Fonda, one of The Messenger's area schools, is at state softball for a seventh time since 2005. Ottumwa is making its 27th appearance overall - second all-time to Clear Creek-Amana.
In other words, veteran head coaches Dick Jungers and Frank Huston, respectively, know their way around as well.
Four of the five 2012 state champions return to defend their titles: Ankeny (5A), Indianola (4A), Treynor (2A) and Martensdale-St. Mary's (1A). They know what it takes to get here, to get back, and to win.
There are still plenty of newcomers - eight to be exact. Cedar Rapids Prairie (5A), Dubuque Senior (5A), Denison-Schleswig (4A), Monticello (3A), AGWSR (2A), Lawton-Bronson (2A), Ridge View (2A) and Janesville (1A) are in Fort Dodge to start a new tradition of their own. They may be a bit wide-eyed at first, but it won't take long to settle right in.
Last but not least, we have St. Edmond - the tourney's host school as a 2A quarterfinalist. The Gaels know the lay of the land at Rogers Park as well as anyone, and there will definitely be a home-field advantage for head coach Paul Hunt's squad given the school's devoted fanbase.
It's all about finding a comfort level here in Fort Dodge. We want everyone to feel like they're right where they belong.
This week, our award-winning sports department will do its part with wall-to-wall coverage of the tournament. Game stories, statistics, pictures, brackets, features, social media - you name it, we'll have it. Photo galleries are available on-line, as well as live scoring updates via Twitter and Facebook.
We're again devoting an entire webpage to the tournament - click on the 'State Softball' icon on the left side of our sports site - and a 32-page special section dedicated to the participating teams is in today's Messenger.
Tradition. Embracing the memories and paying homage to the past, while constantly improving for the future. We hope each and every one of you enjoy the intimacy of the state softball experience in Fort Dodge, so that this trip becomes both one to remember and one worth repeating.
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 email@example.com