116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
And here it begins.
Well, actually, it began more than a month ago with The Gazette’s Jeff Linder sending out emails to all high school activities directors in the newspaper’s circulation area.
Many — not all, oddly — sent back their school’s nominations for our annual Athlete of the Year honors, something we’ve been doing for the past 39 years.
That’s right. The finalists you will meet online and in Sunday’s paper are the 40th class to be so honored.
The winners will be announced July 10.
This award is important to The Gazette. We pride ourselves on our high school coverage, not just the games and events our reporters attend, but the athletes we introduce readers to almost daily.
“I have said this before. No one covers Iowa HS sports better than @CRGazetteSports,” one reader tweeted a while back. “Perhaps there are equals, but I can assure you no one in Iowa does it better.”
Kind words for sure and, in my humble opinion, accurate words. Of course, I’m biased.
Do we get to every event? No. Do we miss some big games from time to time? Of course. But high school athletes are a joy because, for the most part, they do what they do for the love of the game, the love of their school, friends and community.
Of course, this didn’t start with me, even though in Novemeber I will have been part of this outstanding staff for 45 years.
This award bears the name of Jack Ogden, the man who not only helped raise me and got me into this business, but the man responsible for The Gazette’s passion for high school athletes.
It’s odd doing research on someone who was there when you were born, but I found some words I shared many years ago when introducing a new batch of prep athletes to the man this award honors.
I think they fit well today, too.
“Today's high school stars don't know who Jack Ogden was, and that's a shame,” I wrote several years ago. “It's likely he wrote something about or coached one of your parents or an aunt or uncle or maybe even a grandparent.
“Put simply, Jack Ogden loved young people. He dedicated his sportswriting career to high school athletes. He turned down bigger — and, to some, better — assignments because it was the prep games and players that inspired his words. He walked the sidelines at football games instead of sitting in a press box so he could be closer to the action and the players. He knew every coach in Eastern Iowa on a first-name basis and they knew him. When he called for an interview, he'd simply said ‘this is Jack’ and the coaches knew who it was.
“The sports didn't matter. He loved football, boys' and girls' basketball, softball and baseball. He wrestled in high school in Davenport and, apparently, was pretty good. He wrote about the ‘Athlete of the Week’ for years and his ‘Meet the Preps’ column was an institution. If you were mentioned, you knew you had made it.“
That, in a nutshell is my dad, who died in 1982 at the age of 58. When he wasn't writing about the high school athletes of the time, he was coaching them in grade school and middle school.
He coached young athletes at Immaculate Conception and All Saints. He was instrumental in starting youth baseball in Cedar Rapids, helping get the Kids League program off the ground.
Sports and young people were his passion. It was a great mix and The Gazette was the benefactor of that.
He'd be proud of 10 finalists we will introduce you to on Sunday and to have his name on the plaques these athletes receive. You see, Jack Ogden was about giving young people a chance to shine on the athletic field, telling their stories and, most importantly, showing them how to be a success when the games ended.
It’s a legacy shared by our staff to this day. And as long as I have at least a partial say in what goes in these pages each day, high school sports will always be important at The Gazette.
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