Pride of character is greater than trophies on the shelf


We watch sports for various reasons… entertainment, loyalty, certainly vicarious longings of days gone by. Most of us that played high school sports kind of shake and move with the games – be it football, basketball, wrestling, volleyball…what have you.

Following sports at Fort Madison has been a difficult chore in the past three years. Our teams typically finish middle of the pack with the obvious exceptions. Nothing was more fun for me than chasing the Holy Trinity Catholic girls volleyball team to the Class 1A State runner-up in 2018, or watching a totally zoned-in Harlan Steffensmeier knock off Cayd Lara 5-4 to win the state 152 lb. wrestling title the same year.


It was just as fun watching Ryan Wilson’s 2018 Bloodhound boys basketball team give 3rd ranked Mt. Pleasant everything they could handle in the post season that year.

But we take those wins and losses mostly in stride, and Fort Madison’s loss to Keokuk on Friday night was as tough as any to watch. Aside from the first four minutes of that game, we’ve got a different situation. But… you have to play all the minutes.

After the game, seniors hugged and cried and coaches hugged and gave messages of thanks. Each coach waited until each and every player that wanted an embrace got one. Before speaking with the media I might add.

It was my pleasure to wait.

One of the things that never falls short for me here, as Athletic Director Jeremy Swink and the respective coaching staffs continue to shift gears in the department, is the priority in place for creating responsible men and women as part of the process.

It happens inside the learning environment with people like FMHS’s Greg Smith and Pat Lamb who seem to put character on even keel with scholastic goals. With the trades programs in Fort Madison taking on celebrity status, kids are graduating with a skills set that generates income. Character plays a part in getting interviews and landing jobs.

On our livestream product, The O’Hara & Bohnenkamp Show, Swink has talked several times about the focus on the quality of the person in uniform and not just the ability of the person in the uniform.

I think that spills over, really, to all the high school sports programs in Fort Madison. And that’s the case, I’m sure, at the preponderance of schools in the state.

But as we watch our sports programs continually improve i.e, Ron Walker’s baseball team, the football team just missing a winning season for the first time in nine years, HTC’s volleyball’s regular reload, the boys cross country team, Fort Madison’s perennial wrestling success, the Central Lee baseball team to name a few, we’re also seeing an improvement in the quality of people. And we put that squarely on the programming in place with our athletic departments, both private and public.

Last year Ryan Smith earned the IHSAA’s Character Counts award and he talks about character of the athletes as a parallel of sorts to the wins. Character is kind of the light that surrounds a champion.

We’re gonna have champions – that will come. But I think with the groups at Holy Trinity Catholic, FMHS, and Central Lee the character may come quicker.

And that’s just as fun to watch.

Speaking of HTC girls volleyball, in case you missed it, their match was moved to 6 p.m. at Van Buren High School on Thursday – but that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of the Pen City Current and can be reached at

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