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Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: Fans fill Rogers Park before a state tournament game.

The power struggle for state softball supremacy begins on Monday with the first pitch of another championship tournament at Rogers Sports Complex.

Forty teams visit from schools representing all corners of the Iowa landscape. Only five will be crowned queens of the diamond later this week. Our community’s goal, however, is to make sure that — regardless of what happens on the field — players, coaches and fans experience a memorable trip to Fort Dodge as we celebrate 51 years of being the tourney host.

At some point in the days to come, all-time spectator No. 900,000 will cross the gates to watch a ballgame at Rogers Park. It’s an incredible number that speaks to both the popularity and longevity of the softball experience here, which dates back to 1970 and was recently extended through at least 2025. No current state event on the boys or girls side has been at one location longer.

The partnership between the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union and the City of Fort Dodge is built on mutual respect. We’ve logged a lot of miles and games together over the last five decades to get to where we are today. Workers and volunteers at the ballpark, Iowa Central Community College, and local and area businesses put in the sweat equity behind the scenes to deliver a finished product everyone deserves at crunch time.

The Messenger is no exception. Our award-winning sports staff will be at Rogers Park for every game of the tournament, start to finish. Stories, pictures, brackets, features and social media updates are intended to make every team feel like they’re home during their stay. We also have a page on our website devoted to the festivities — under the “State Softball” tab at www.messengernews.net — and a 32-page special preview in select editions of Monday’s paper. Chris Johnson, Dana Becker, Britt Kudla, Troy Banning and John McBride comprise our team, which takes an all-hands-on-deck mentality from the first pitch to the final out.

Simply put, we’re here for you and the programs you are following this week.

The Fort Dodge Dodgers have qualified for a fourth consecutive season, and will carry a Top-2 Class 5A seed into action for a third straight year. The Dodgers have won 134 of 157 games since 2018, but they’re still in search of the program’s first-ever title.

That isn’t the only big storyline on the docket this week, though. Area squads Newell-Fonda and North Union will also be in town. The Mustangs are at state for the 13th time in the last 17 seasons, but they’re still looking to get back to the top in Class 1A for the first time since 2008.

Defending champions Cedar Rapids Kennedy (5A), Winterset (4A) and Clarksville (1A) are back again, along with 2020 runner-ups Fort Dodge (5A), Carlisle (4A), Williamsburg (3A) and North Linn (2A). That’s a lot of firepower.

Plenty of others know the lay of the land well; Central Springs is making its seventh consecutive appearance, with Davenport Assumption right behind at six. Fort Dodge (4), Newell-Fonda (4), Lisbon (4), Waukee (3), Cedar Rapids Kennedy (3), Carlisle (3), North Linn (3), Clarksville (3) and Wayne (3) have also reached the quarterfinal round at least three straight times.

Clear Creek-Amana ends a seven-year hiatus, but it’s the school’s 35th overall appearance — extending a state record.

This is going to be an intense, entertaining week, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Extend a friendly smile or suggestion if you see someone from a different part of the state wearing their team colors with pride in our community this week. State softball is our crown jewel, and we should all do our part to keep it that way.

Now let’s play ball!

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Reach him via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @ByEricPratt

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