FD’s Winter in final innings of last state tournament

Long-time Rogers Park superintendent set to retire in late spring of 2019

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Rogers Park superintendent Jim Winter walks off the field during the state tournament earlier this week at Rogers Park.

In a lot of ways, Friday will be like any other championship conclusion to an action-packed week for Rogers Sports Complex superintendent Jim Winter.

He’ll be up before dawn, see the sunrise at the park, and close up shop once all of the post-tournament boxes have been checked deep into the night.

No one knows the routine quite like Winter. The Fort Dodger has devoted the last 36 summers of his life to the facility — his town’s pride and joy — and most notably, the state softball tournament.

Winter will keep an eye on the weather, stay busy with his crew by preparing both fields for the big games, and work his way around Rogers Park in his usual jack-of-all-trades manner.

The 55-year-old Winter hasn’t stopped to think much yet about why this Friday will be different. He’s too busy staying busy, crossing items off his mental checklist and making sure the last of the week’s 45 games are being taken care of — both in broad daylight and behind the scenes.

Winter admits that at some point, though, reality will sink in. When he locks up and drives home, Winter will be saying goodbye to the event he’s poured his heart and soul into since 1983.

“I’ll probably start thinking about it more (Friday) — I’ve tried to kind of push (the memories) away and not get overly-nostalgic about it,” Winter said. “It’s just time. At my age, and with the years I’ve put in, my body is telling me I’m ready to step aside and start a new chapter.”

Winter is on track to retire in late spring of 2019. As long as everything falls into place the way he’s anticipating, he’ll be “fishing or spending time with my family” when the ’19 softball tournament comes to town.

“I’ve missed a lot through the years: ballgames, reunions, summer vacations,” Winter said. “I’m a grandpa now (Winter’s oldest son, Tyler, and his wife, Lauren, had a son earlier this month). For as much as this has been my second home — it has, and I’m proud of that — I’m looking forward to a change of pace.”

State softball has resided in Fort Dodge since 1970. Winter has logged well over 200 tournament days in his career, with the vast majority coming as the complex superintendent — a position he’s held since 1987.

“I was hired as a seasonal worker in ’83,” Winter said. “Looking back, it’s hard to believe it was that long ago.”

Fort Dodge Parks and Recreation director Lori Branderhorst, who has been a part of Winter’s life in some capacity every step of the way, agrees.

“This is a very emotional week for us and for me,” Branderhorst said. “Personally speaking, Jim’s family and mine have grown up together. From a professional standpoint, when you work side-by-side in a 24/7 business the way we have — it’s just really hard to picture doing all of this without him.

“I know we both take a great deal of pride in our jobs, and in (maintaining) the state tournament in particular. It is our legacy. We’ve done our best to make sure the partnership we have with the (IGHSAU) and the service the teams and fans receive is as good as it was almost 50 years ago.”

Winter’s crew has gone through countless changes through the years — the vast majority of his employees are high school or college-aged seasonal help — but his message never wavered.

“The only way to be successful is to surround yourself with good people who buy into what you believe,” Winter said. “You have to be on the same page, and you have to find people who share your passion.

“I’ve been very fortunate. I’ll miss the friendships. But I’m very proud of where we’re at (as a complex) right now and the relationship we still have to this day with the Union and the tournament. The respect is mutual and sincere. I’m lucky to have been a part of it all.”

Though Winter is moving on, Branderhorst added, “this is bigger than any of us (individually).”

“(The personnel) may look different from year to year, but the goals and the passion for the facility and the tournament will not change,” Branderhorst said. “The expectations remain high, and we’re always looking to the future. We’ve been very careful to make sure we maintain the dedication to quality service commitment to preserving the history of Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex.

“We’ll move forward,” Branderhorst added, before stopping to compose herself. “But I will miss my friend.”

THE CREDITS: Branderhorst and Winter rely on their village annually to keep Rogers Park humming this week.

Maintenance crew members Glenn Yenger, Ryan Zeka, Kody Linder, Kyle Zeka, Michael Sharkey, Ben Schnurr, Kit McCarville, Ryan Szalat, Adam Deallachiesa, Tyrnan Lara, Sam Dougall, Logan Finowski, Mark Johnson, Aaron Porter, Dave Rhodes and Andrew Ruge handle the field work. Assistant recreation administrator Ryan Maehl, parks and facility maintenance supervisor Rich Peterson, operations and marketing supervisor Hannah Angstrom, recreation technician Erin Habben, concessions managers Alexis Wolfe and Shaila Hanson, and cashier manager Wendy Stephan flank the other workers and volunteers — too numerous to mention — in the trenches.

IGHSAU executive director Jean Berger, senior associate directors Karon Brown and Craig Ihnen, associate director Gary Ross, assistant directors Lisa Brinkmeyer and Jason Eslinger, coordinator of business development Tom Florian, internal operations assistant Monte Wilson, and the rest of the staff deserve a collective thank-you for the work they do before, during and after the tournament.

The Fort Dodge Parks and Recreation commission includes members Steve Daniel, Mark Campbell, Michael Payne, Mary Jo Kirby, Molly Schaeffer, Nik Moser and Tonia Burrell.

THE UMPIRES: This summer’s state tournament umpires include, in order of consecutive years experience: Mark Amadeo (20), Deb Richarz (19), Kris Groff (17), Mark Brighton (16), Roger Menke (15), Jeff Tank (15), Pat Pacha (15), Jim Doyle (14), Richard Sebring (13), Gary Wax (13), Greg Buster (12), Karl Woolridge (10), Paul Bird (8), Joe Havenhill (8), Mike Crozier (7), Mike Bell (7), Terry Gioffreddi (5), Jorge Hardwood (5), Gene Marquart (4), Ed Oliver (4), Tom Sullivan (4), Phil Creese (3), Tim Rogers (3), Aaron Schmidt (3), Jason Back (2), Troy Nicklaus (2), Mark Peterson (2), Stan Seibke (2), Jodi Wielenga (2), Stan Wisnieski (2), Jerry Bowhay, Tom Burger, Travis Chizek, Mike Christner, Brian Cole, Jodi Doty, Kris Groff, Arnie Krukow, Brandt Lacey, Jason Lewis, Shannon McWhirter, Randy Morris, Ed Murphy, Tony Nelson, Tony Sauer, Mark Schaeffer, Tom Schreuers, Dirk Sorensen and Sergio Villarreal.

THE HONORS: Tom Bakey of West Des Moines Valley will be given the IGHSAU golden plaque of distinction before the Class 5A title contest on Friday at Rogers Park.

The award goes to an Iowa coach who has demonstrated a successful career while making notable contributions toward their school, community and the coaching profession.

Hall of Fame recipients this year include Tracy Langhurst of Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Cassandra Darrah of Wayne, Nicole Fisher of BCLUW, and Tana Colt of Akron-Westfield.

The 2018 Jack North Award will go to Nicole Timmons of Davenport Assumption.

In area news, Bre Tjebben of Fort Dodge will play in the Iowa Girls Coaches Association All-Star Softball Games on July 23 at Waukee.

Audrey Kolacia of St. Edmond and Caitlin Thilges of Bishop Garrigan were both named IGCA academic all-state softball performers.