Family Ties: Elsbecker family will be busy at Rogers Park
Growing up in the Elsbecker household, summer vacation consisted mainly of visiting Carroll and Marshalltown for the state baseball tournament.
Now, state softball is taking a front seat.
Matt Elsbecker is the former athletic director and baseball coach at Fort Dodge Senior High. Mike Elsbecker is the current head coach for the Algona baseball program, and Tom is also an ex-high school coach.
All three of the brothers grew up with a passion for baseball, and all three played and coached in the state tournament. While in high school as players, Matt was a four-time state qualifier, while Mike and Tom reached state three times. Matt and Mike won back-to-back state titles in 1985 and 1986.
Mike won a state title as co-head coach for North Sentral Kossuth, and led Sentral Fenton to state tournaments. He also coached Algona to the state tourney in 2014.
Tom won back-to-back crowns as head coach at North Kossuth in the 1990s, and reached four different state tournaments.
While Matt coached the Dodgers, they were state regulars, reaching five state tournaments, which included a runner-up showing in 2012 and three semifinal berths.
Now it’s the girls’ turn.
“From 1982 to 1988, it was common for us to drive to baseball in July as a vacation,” Matt said. “My mom (Geraldine) would put fried chicken, potato salad, watermelon and apple pie in the trunk of the car and we would tailgate in the parking lot.”
All three brothers will be in attendance for the state softball tournament, as their daughters will suit up for Fort Dodge, Algona and Bishop Garrigan.
Maggie, the eighth-grade daughter of Matt and Melissa of Fort Dodge, is on a Dodger squad that is making its 15th state appearance.
“We are celebrating the girls this week,” said Matt, who has 10 siblings in all: five boys and six girls. “All the girls in our family are excited, and we’re all pumped for this. Between the family there is a group text, where we’ve all been talking about it.
“My three nieces will be doing good things in the tournament and Coach (Andi) Adams does a great job of bringing young players along long (like Maggie). The girls have worked very hard. It’s nice to see the guys pushed aside (in the family).”
Lily (eighth grade) and Emma (sophomore) Elsbecker are the daughters of Mike, and will play for a Bulldog program making its state tournament debut.
“Emma and I went down to the Class 3A and 4A baseball tournament (last year),” Mike said. “On the ride back home, she commented that she thought it was so cool. She said that she wants to play in the state tournament.
“I knew they (Algona) were in the same (region) as Humboldt, but I told her she had to find a group that has the same goals and positive things will happen. They’ve done that.”
Tom’s daughter Gracie, a sophomore, is on a Bishop Garrigan squad making its first trip to Rogers Park as well.
“It’s pretty cool for all of them to be playing at state,” Tom said. “When we grew up, we were fortunate to go watch or play in the state tournament. To see the girls do it and to play for great coaches, it’s a great opportunity.
“Mike and Matt won their first title under Gene Meister, who’s daughter-in-law (Wendy) is the head coach for Bishop Garrigan.”
Both Emma and Lily have played in all 27 games for the Bulldogs. Emma plays first base, and Lily is a designated hitter. Emma has 15 hits and six RBI, while Lily has 21 hits and 11 RBI.
Gracie is a designated hitter for the Golden Bears. She has 15 hits and has scored 13 runs.
Maggie is a pinch runner for the Dodgers.
It’s exciting for the Elsbecker brothers to see their daughters play, but for their parents, Phil and Geraldine, the thrill is magnified.
“It’s very exciting and it doesn’t seem real,” Geraldine said. “We spent so much time in Carroll, Marshalltown and Des Moines through the years (for state baseball).
“To make it even more exciting, we have family coming from San Diego and then we will have a wedding in South Dakota on Saturday.”
Phil, who stood by his boys when they were playing ball growing up, made a predication earlier this season.
“We watched a couple games for Algona and Garrigan early in the year,” Geraldine said. “Phil said, ‘I think these teams could make it to state.’ And wouldn’t you know it? They are.”
Being around baseball while his boys were playing and coaching, Phil knows what it takes to achieve goals.
“(Making it to state) means they put a lot of time into get to this point,” said Phil who lives just outside of Bancroft. “We are a sports family, with baseball first and now softball. You have to put a lot of time into anything that you want to succeed, and they’ve all done that.
“It’s a tremendous experience for them and they’ll carry it forward.”