Better with age

The familiar feel of state tournament softball returns to Fort Dodge this week, with nearly 700 players and an expected 17,000 fans calling Rogers Sports Complex home for the next five days.

For 44 years, we have hosted Iowa’s girls of summer. The partnership will continue through at least 2020 – the event’s golden anniversary here – as the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union officially announced a contract extension last month.

A cumulative attendance of 767,175 since 1970 shows just how committed these programs and their followers are year after year. The annual turnout – an average of 17,436 per season – has actually been eclipsed 10 times in the last 11 tournaments, so the loyalty remains as steadfast as ever.

You are all de facto home teams to us this week. The Messenger’s award-winning sports department will provide out-by-out coverage of the tourney from the first pitch until the final championship is clinched. Game stories, statistics, pictures, brackets, features, social media – we will be there through all 60 games.

We’re still devoting an entire webpage to the tournament – click on the ‘State Softball’ icon on the left side of our sports site – and a 32-page special section dedicated to the participating schools is in today’s paper, both print and on-line. Photo galleries are also available through our ‘CU’ location.

Local residents are always willing to lend a helping hand or point our visitors in the right direction, but if all else fails, feel free to tap someone from Akron-Westfield, Carlisle or Martensdale St. Mary’s on the shoulder. After all, the Westerners are here for the 11th time in 12 seasons. The Wildcats and Blue Devils, meanwhile, return for the seventh consecutive summer.

West Des Moines Dowling (five straight state appearances), Mid-Prairie (five), Solon (four), Dallas Center-Grimes (four) and Bondurant-Farrar (four) are no strangers to Rogers Park, either.

Four of the five 2013 champions are back to defend their titles: Dowling (5A), Dallas Center-Grimes (4A), Bondurant-Farrar (3A) and Akron-Westfield (1A). And four of the five top-ranked squads have qualified as well: Johnston (5A), DC-G (4A), Highland (2A) and A-W (1A).

We’d also like to welcome state newcomers Greene County, Glidden-Ralston, Oskaloosa and Le Mars, who are all on their maiden voyage this week.

Whether you’re an old hand at the state softball experience or arriving for the first time, we hope you enjoy your stay in Fort Dodge. Our community takes a great deal of pride in being a gracious tournament host and upholding the rich tradition of state softball at Rogers Park.

Play ball!

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net