By ERIC PRATT
Rogers Sports Complex is widely regarded as the premier softball facility in the entire state.
To keep it that way, the city of Fort Dodge remains focused on the park's future rather than relying on its past as the long-standing Iowa tournament championship host.
Parks, recreation and forestry director Lori Branderhorst unveiled a new plan Thursday that would include the construction of stadium-style, wrap-around bleacher seating and a state-of-the-art press box on Diamond 1. While certain aspects of the project are currently in the conceptual stage, a target date of completion has been set for 2016.
''As a community, we have to continue to invest in Rogers Park and meet the requirements of a championship-level complex,'' Branderhorst said. ''There are three main objectives that this project would secure: increased safety, more seating, and an opportunity to provide a number of shaded areas and structures for fans where our smaller, side bleachers are currently placed. It would improve the view and the environment for the fans, the media area would be significantly upgraded, and the handicapped areas would be much more defined and accessible.
''In addition, from an aesthetic standpoint, (Diamond 1) will really have a modern, state championship feel. We're addressing the needs and improving the look at the same time. It's definitely an exciting step forward.''
Branderhorst emphasized the importance of a ''collective push'' from area businesses and residents to enhance Fort Dodge's 43-year relationship with state softball and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.
''We all need to do our part,'' Branderhorst said. ''This isn't just about the City of Fort Dodge, or Iowa Central, or the CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau). It's much bigger than that. The more intimate and unique we can make state tournament week for visiting players and fans, the stronger the bond we're able to build for our future.
''We have to continue to promote and enhance our efforts as residents of Fort Dodge, because at the end of the day, it makes a big difference in the perception and reputation of our community.''
Thirty-five of the 40 participating programs are staying on the Iowa Central campus this week. The school has ''rolled out the red carpet'' for the visiting teams according to Branderhorst, offering more entertainment options this year to complement the traditional room and board package.
''They're really stepping up at Iowa Central, which is great to see,'' Branderhorst said. ''It's a terrific setup for the teams and players.''
The city also promoted a ''Welcome Wednesday'' campaign this year, which encouraged local businesses to offer mid-week promotions on the one day when all 40 participating squads would be in town. A congratulatory welcome packet was also sent to each program immediately following the regional finals, which offered area-related coupons and specials.
''We don't want Fort Dodge to be a peripheral experience for anyone,'' Branderhorst said. ''It's our job to show players, parents and fans what we have to offer.''
DOUBLE DUTY: The softball tournament creates hectic schedules for many local residents, but Courtney Vaughn is truly burning the candle at both ends this week.
Vaughn is both a concessions manager at Rogers Sports Complex and an assistant coach with the Newell-Fonda Mustangs, who qualified for state in Class 1A.
On Monday, Vaughn worked from 7 a.m. until noon at the park. She then reported to N-F head coach Dick Jungers for the team's 1 p.m. quarterfinal on Diamond 1, before going back to work after the game. Her day ended at 11 p.m., and Vaughn is repeating the double shifts on both Thursday and Friday.
Vaughn has accepted a third-grade teaching position at N-F for the upcoming school year. The 2008 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate will assist Jungers in both basketball and softball.
TAKE A BOW: While Branderhorst and Rogers Sports Complex superintendent Jim Winter do stand at the front of the action, their supporting cast is as much a part of this tournament as anyone.
Glenn Yenger, Nick Vinson, Tanner Beck, Adam Winter, Patrick Lindner, Drew Ficken, Nate Lentsch, Sam Linde, Cody Harms, Josh Hansen, Tyler Williams, Jerry Wagner and Shea Springer comprise Winter's ballpark maintenance crew, which keeps the fields in pristine working condition. Operations and marketing supervisor Rachel Maehl and her husband, recreation administrator Ryan Maehl, are mainstays at the facility during the entire week, along with concessions managers Vaughn, Lindsey Scherff, Aleah Lentsch and Kelsey Halverson and cashier manager Susan Winter.
THE UMPIRES: This year's state tournament umpires include, in order of experience, Stan Wisnieski (27 years), Phil Kudron (20), Terry Carson (17), Al Heim (17), Mark Amadeo (15), Steve McCann (14), Deb Richarz (14), Kris Groff (13), Dewey Hupke (13), Kirk Park (11), Mark Brighton (11), Tom Topping (11), Roger Menke (10), Cary Griffith (10), Jeff Tank (10), Pat Pacha (9), Duane Duncan (8), Tom Moore (8), Troy Nicklaus (8), Richard Sebring (8), Gary Wax (8), Brian Hazelton (7), Greg Buster (7), Tony Sauer (7), Al Stoltz (7), Lannie Miller (6), Randy Morris (6), Stan Siebke (6), Karl Woolridge (6), Myron Jack (5), Jason Slater (5), Jerry Allison (4), Pete Peterson (4), Lawayne Rogers (4), Garth Workman (4), Paul Bird (3), Joe Havenhill (3), Tom Burger (3), Delbert Christensen (3), Allan Hermsen (3), Mark Paulsen (3), Mark Christians (3), Cathy Creighton (3), Darrel Bartling (2), Michael Bell (2), Fred Perkins (2), Mark Peterson (2), Terry Weisenborn (2), Chris Dobel (1), Julie Foglesong (1), Shannon McWhirter (1).