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BUILT DIFFERENT

Fort Dodge record-breaker Adams didn’t take the conventional route to single-sport stardom

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: 2022 Fort Dodge Senior High Florence Nordman Award co-winner Jalen Adams with her parents, Dan and Andi.

Jalen Adams was never looking for acceptance or comfortable with conformity.

And while softball has been — and always will be — her first love, Fort Dodge Senior High’s 2022 co-Florence Nordman Award winner didn’t limit her experiences to the diamond.

In fact, Adams actively sought ways to push herself as an athlete — even if it meant facing the kind of struggle and adversity she’d never see on the field during the summer months.

“I guess what makes (Jalen’s father) Dan and I most proud is the fact that she loved to push her limits and try new things,” said Dodger softball coach Andi Adams. “Her passion was softball, and taking our program to places it hadn’t been before. She helped for us to accomplish that, but she also didn’t want that to be her only high school memory or experience.

“When you try new things, it gives you a different perspective and appreciation for not only your (primary sport), but the other athletes who put in the time and effort (in different seasons). I will always be an advocate for multiple sports. It’s good for you physically and mentally. Jalen wanted to test (uncharted waters) and expand her boundaries, and to me, honestly, that refreshed her (in the offseason) and drove her even more once she went back to working on softball.”

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: Jalen Adams gets a hug and kiss from her mother, Fort Dodge head coach Andi Adams, after being presented with the 2022 Iowa Gatorade Softball Player of the Year earlier this summer.

Adams flourished under the spotlight and pressure of being Fort Dodge’s ace pitcher and hitter at the top of the lineup over the last five seasons. The numbers are nothing short of staggering: the University of Iowa recruit leaves as the Dodgers’ all-time leader in career pitching victories (111), strikeouts (880) and offensive batting average (.462), among a slew of other individual records.

It wasn’t the personal achievements Adams will remember with the most pride, though. The four-time first team all-stater was a part of 174 victories versus only 30 defeats, five state tournament trips, three consecutive championship-game appearances and a 2021 Class 5A title — team accomplishments her mother simply laughs about in retrospect and deems “not only improbable, but borderline impossible” by today’s standards, given FDSH is the smallest school in Iowa’s largest division.

“The Nordman Award had only ever really crossed my mind a few times over my high school career,” said Adams, the 2022 Gatorade Iowa High School Softball Player of the Year who also lettered in basketball and swimming. “I knew that I had a pretty good shot at receiving it, but I never really focused much on the meaning behind it, given I was in a class with many other talented athletes who were heavily involved in multiple sports. That helped me realize how important this award truly was.

“Being a multi-sport athlete has its struggles, but to be elite, you have to make sacrifices and put in the outside work that often goes unseen.”

Adams shouldered the immense responsibility of being the face of the Dodger program in the summer alongside fellow seniors Tory Bennett and Haley Wills. In the fall, she tried something new during her prep days and joined the FDSH swim team. Basketball season then occupied her time in the winter months.

“Jalen surprised me a little with her decision to go out for swimming, because she was definitely a fish out of water, so to speak,” Andi Adams said. “But she learned so much about herself in that environment. Coach (Ashley) Beaumont really pushed her, and she loved competing in what was a pretty foreign environment to her at first.

“Basketball was something she’s always done, but again, she had to understand the dynamics of being a team player and functioning within a system where she knew she wasn’t going to be the main option. We always felt that if you understand there are rules and expectations in our household, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the classroom, the field, the pool the court or whatever — that you would benefit from learning and being consistent in holding yourself to a certain standard, even with (different results). Jalen always embraced that philosophy.”

Adams kept the bigger picture in mind as she honed her skills and matured as an athlete.

“If I were to give an underclassman or any high schooler advice on commitment, I would tell them this: take the little wins each day,” said Adams, who graduated with a cumulative grade point average of 3.89. “Don’t always focus on the end goal. If you enjoy the journey, you will reach your destination and never let your sport define who you are. Have an optimistic attitude and always be ready for any challenges the day may bring.

“I wish I could have found my voice as a leader a little earlier in my sports career, but I think that’s kind of the whole point. It’s supposed to take a while for you to figure out your role on a team. I feel that (as an upperclassman), I truly did that.”

Adams embraced the relationship both on and off the field with her mom, a Hall of Famer who had already experienced unprecedented success at FDSH without the thrill and glory of being in the championship round. While Adams and her teammates delivered in ways the veteran coach previously thought were unattainable, the players — in turn — learned so much more about themselves as people in the process.

“My mother has been my biggest influence…she is there for me on and off the field, and always shows me the life lessons softball and the other sports I participated in have to offer,” Jalen said. “Even though I don’t see myself being a teacher (in the future), watching her help students and shape them into strong young adults has been a very unique and special perspective I have been lucky to experience.

“I hope to have as much impact on lives as she does.”

Adams also embraced sharing the Nordman Award with Bennett, a lifelong friend and future Hawkeye softball teammate.

“Considering it’s only the second time the award has ever been split, I felt it meant that much more to both Tory and I,” Adams said. “We have always been close and supportive of one another and have competed in many sports together, so to know that our hard work was recognized like this has been very rewarding.”

Adams also thanked her father for being supportive in a variety of ways through the years.

“My dad has always been in my corner when it comes to athletics, from getting up early on weekends to take me to softball tournaments to getting me ice after my games,” Adams said. “He always knows the right things to say, even outside of softball, and knows how to make my day better.

“I see how hard he works as a teacher, driver’s education instructor and coach. It motivates me to work as hard as I can in all aspects of my life.”

Adams hopes her legacy in Fort Dodge is more about the unparalleled list of statistics and records.

“I just hope to be remembered as a hard worker and a good leader,” Adams said. “Being a Dodger means always having a community you can rely on. It has given me so many opportunities that I don’t believe I would have experienced at a bigger school.”

Andi Adams added, “Jalen saw it all growing up — the good, the bad and everything in between when it comes to what makes a program behind the scenes. I think that gave her a rare point of view and helped motivate her to succeed not just for herself or her teammates, but (on behalf of) the entire town and everyone who has supported us through the years.

“She’s always been mature beyond her years when it came to identifying the best path to take and avoiding the mistakes other kids tend to make as teenagers. For as much as Dan or I or her other coaches would like to take credit for that — and I’m sure (collectively speaking) we’ve all influenced her in our own ways — that natural mentality and inner drive is what makes Jalen unique and special in ways that make us so incredibly proud and excited for the next chapter in her journey.”

TIMEOUT WITH JALEN ADAMS

Vacation destination: anywhere with beach and sun.

People I would like to have dinner with: my softball team, because they always make me laugh.

It would surprise people that I: have two geckos.

My sports role model: Rachel Garcia.

My everyday role model: my parents.

I can’t go a day without: talking to my brothers.

Nickname: Jay.

Superstition: same hairstyle for each game.

Most heated rivalry: Waukee Northwest.

Favorite road trip: Wisconsin Dells with my family.

What are you listening to right now? Andy Grammer.

Favorites…

Team: Iowa Hawkeyes.

Class: anything science.

Movie: Jurassic Park.

Book: science fiction.

Phone app: TikTok.

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