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Media honor represents devoted staff, loyal community

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla IWCOA representatives (left to right) Ken Estling, Brian Reimers, Don Miller and Dave Ewing present the Dan McCool Media Award to Messenger sports editor Eric Pratt on Thursday in the Dodger gym.

The plaque technically has my name on it, but it’s an individual honor by the letter of the law only.

If I could find a nice bronze plate and a local engraver, my entire staff would have their names on the 2019 Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Dan McCool Media Award.

And the recognition wouldn’t stop there.

You hear about community awards from time to time. This is one. I am by no means a wrestling expert, and I’m far from alone in our office when it comes to prioritizing the sport. Through the years, I’ve learned from both my co-workers and our readers just how much coverage means to the die-hard fans of north-central Iowa.

They’ve given me much more than I could ever repay. So a thank you here is absolutely necessary.

Chris Johnson and Dana Becker have been in the trenches for close to two full decades now, representing our team. At local meets. In the area. At Vets for state, then Wells Fargo Arena. They’ve accumulated hundreds of bylines spanning thousands of wrestlers. Combined with John McBride — a former full-time Messenger sports scribe who still jumps back into the fray from time to time — and we have an unparalleled wealth of knowledge bringing the stories of athletes and teams to life in our section.

The work of our photographer, Britt Kudla, speaks for itself. She captures both the precision and emotion of each moment with uncanny consistency. An article delivers the facts and figures, but a picture is often what lures the reader in. With Britt, we have a master image storyteller who — like Chris, Dana and John — also happens to love the sport itself.

I have to point out the role our subscribers play in this equation as well. I vividly remember a random winter morning in 2001, during my early days as the sports editor here. I had put the sports section together the night before, and in a last-minute scramble to include breaking news with details I don’t even remember nearly 20 years later, I accidentally left a Fort Dodge preview for a road dual meet on the cutting-room floor.

We were bombarded with complaint calls the next day. Parents. Fans. Coaches. How could we forget such a critical piece of information? Had the meet been canceled? Were we no longer publishing preview stories? I felt bad enough first thing in the morning when I realized what had happened, but the reminders continued all afternoon and evening just in case I didn’t. It still, to this day, ranks as one of the biggest mistakes we’ve made during my 19-year tenure, based on sheer feedback alone. And it made me understand even more — loud and clear — the beliefs and expectations of our wrestling community.

The sport has also taught me valuable life lessons. Through interviews and observations, I’ve gained such an appreciation for the unique perspective of wrestlers. The struggle, sacrifice, adversity and mental toughness is not only admirable, but inspiring. Our staff has earned the trust and friendship of families locally. We tell their stories, but only because they let us in — through the highs and lows, ups and downs. Our words are merely the finished product. They set the scene with raw, unbridled passion.

We are the writers in the back. They are the actors in the spotlight. As such, they will always have my respect — and own a significant piece of our staff’s legacy.

The IWCOA representatives who presented the plaque — former Fort Dodge wrestling coach and athletic director Don Miller, ex-FDSH standout Dave Ewing, Brian Reimers and Ken Estling, who are all in the Hall of Fame — took time out of their busy lives to visit the Dodger gym on Thursday night. It was not only flattering, but a little overwhelming to receive that kind of support in person.

As for the fans in attendance, you gave my family a moment we will never forget. The heart of the area has always touched mine. For that, I am eternally grateful.

I will always embrace my role in promoting the sport of wrestling through these pages, but it wouldn’t be possible without the support of an incomparable staff and the community it represents.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports