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Hosting state a challenge in COVID world

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge celebrates after defeating Ankeny Centennial in a Class 5A semifinal at Rogers Park on Wednesday.

Lori Branderhorst will readily admit this has been a challenging week at the state softball tournament.

Given the chance to take a step back and reflect as the week draws to a close, though, the Fort Dodge parks and recreation director is taking a glass half-full approach to being the host for an event still attracting close to 15,000 fans in the new COVID world.

“I’m just so proud of our staff and the people from our city,” said Branderhorst a 40-year veteran of the department. “It hasn’t been easy by any stretch of the imagination. We’re all learning and adjusting as we go, and we’re trying to do what’s right.

“There have been stressful moments. I’ve been hard on (the workers), but I’ve also been hard on myself. I think that’s the difficult part of finding a good balance in a situation like this: you’re making a lot of decisions in real time. But at the end of the day, I look at what we’ve done and I couldn’t be more appreciative.”

Branderhorst added that “planning for social distancing and restrictions is one thing, but having everyone follow through once the games start is something entirely different.”

“We’re at the forefront (as the first and only state to have live championships in the country since the global pandemic reached the United States in March),” Branderhorst said. “There is no playbook for this. So you have to respect each other, be patient and show grace. I think that’s the biggest takeaway. It’s a tough balancing act between accepting and embracing new rules, and figuring out what is still going to work (for the visiting fans and schools).”

Branderhorst also thanked the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union for its on-going partnership with Fort Dodge — despite the 50th anniversary season at Rogers Park being anything but normal.

“(IGHSAU executive director) Jean (Berger) and her team have been right on top of every situation, making sure we’re doing what is right,” Branderhorst said. “(Internal operations assistant) Monte (Wilson) was up here three different times (before state), checking things out and going over scenarios.

“We put on a terrific show. It’s about all of us, from the IGHSAU, to the workers and volunteers, and the city itself. Collectively, it’s something we can take a step back and admire when all is said and done. Even when we face situations like this, it’s important to keep a good perspective and appreciate the fact that we’re having a tournament — and people are enjoying it.”

THE CREDITS: Branderhorst, grounds and turf superintendent Chad Graaf and maintenance technician Kody Linder share their passion with a number of Fort Dodge city workers who keep state softball on top of its game at Rogers Park all week long.

Maintenance crew members Glenn Yenger, Ryan Zeka, Kyle Zeka, Jake Szalat, Geoff Astor, Trevin Conley, Logan Finowski, Luke Williamson, Dave Rhodes, Nolan Daniel, Drake Miller, Ben Schnurr, Ryan Szalat, Anthony Wagner and Tyler Winter work each of the four active fields. Parks and facility maintenance supervisor Rich Peterson, recreation superintendent Hannah Angstrom, recreation technicians Erin Habben and Alexis Wolfe join the countless other workers and volunteers in the trenches.

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, program and art coordinator Heidi Reed, assistant Deb Robbins, business manager Sherry Tegtmeier, Wilson and the rest of the staff are the firm structure of the IGHSAU this week and all year long.

The Fort Dodge Parks and Recreation commission includes members Michael Payne (chair), Mark Campbell, Josh Calvert, 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 of Urbandale (22), Roger Menke of Bonaparte (17), Gary Wax of Macedonia (15), Greg Buster of Muscatine (14), Karl Woolridge of Forest City (12), Paul Bird of Waukee (10), Mike Bell of Des Moines (9), Ed Oliver of Batavia (6), Tom Sullivan of Osage (6), Phil Creese of Woodward (5), Tim Rogers of Tiffin (5), Troy Nicklaus of Griswold (4), Mark Peterson of Johnston (4), Jodie Wielenga of Sioux Center (4), Tom Burger of West Branch (3), Travis Chizek of Ida Grove (3), Mike Christner of Oskaloosa (3), Arnie Krukow of Riceville (3), Brandt Lacey of Iowa Falls (3), Shannon McWhirter of Libertyville (3), Randy Morris of Waverly (3), Tony Nelson of Waukee (3), Mark Schaefer of Lake City (3), Dirk Sorensen or Ankeny (3), Duane Duncan of Des Moines (2), Steve Ebert of Cherokee (2), Daryl Erickson of Mason City (2), Ross Hemsley of Sigourney (2), Deidra Mohr of Marshalltown (2), Jeff Niehaus of Edgewood (2), LaWayne Rogers of Altoona (2), Jeff Osborne of Clive (2), Jason Slater of Forest City (2), Ryne Christner of Marengo, Joe Havenhill of Urbandale, DJ Hoogestra of Carter Lake, Jason Lewis of Monroe, Ed Murphy of Marion, Joe Prater of North Liberty, Stan Schmidt of West Point, Raun Taylor of West Des Moines, and Tony Vandegriff of Fairfield.

SHINE THE SPOTLIGHT: 2020 Softball Hall of Fame inductees include Jordan Gronewold (Carlisle), Jodi Christensen (North Polk), Caitlin Wnek (Clear Creek-Amana) and Erin Doud (Cedar Rapids Jefferson). Todd Merical of Johnston received the Golden Plaque of Distinction. Haley Gatica of West Des Moines Valley is the Jack North Softball Award winner.

Hannah Ausenhus of Central Springs, Kayla Sproul of Waterloo Columbus, and Sydni Huisman of Treynor are being honored as 100-game pitching winners.

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