Resilient Bobcats bring joy to devastated Marshalltown community

AP Sports Writer
DES MOINES — Last Wednesday, the high school baseball team in Marshalltown was busy celebrating an unlikely berth in the state tournament.
Less than 24 hours later, the Bobcats, their families, neighbors and friends were ducking for cover as an EF-3 tornado ravaged their town of nearly 30,000 about an hour northeast of Des Moines.
It’s been an extraordinarily hectic time ever since for the Bobcats, whose days have involved helping the town clean up in the morning and preparing for their first trip to states in nine years in the afternoon.
Marshalltown (20-18) finally got back to baseball again Wednesday night in a state quarterfinal against powerhouse Urbandale (33-6), in hopes of extending a season overshadowed by a devastating twister. The Bobcats were eliminated, 8-3.
“I think it’s helped them already. You could see it from mornings from afternoons. Mornings were plowing through some really crummy stuff. And when you could go out and actually play baseball — you get to play. That’s why they call it play baseball, because it’s fun,” Marshalltown coach Steve Hanson said. “It was kind of a good release for them.”
The Bobcats first got the town behind them with a blistering start, but a skid of 11 losses in 14 games left their tournament hopes in doubt. Marshalltown pulled it together in mid-July though, beating Cedar Falls and Iowa City High to earn a spot in the eight-team event at Principal Park, home of the triple-A Iowa Cubs.
But the day after that win over Iowa City, a dozen tornadoes blew through the state on a day that began with nothing but the possibility of scattered thunderstorms in the forecast.
Perhaps none of those twisters did as much damage as the one that hit Marshalltown, destroying multiple homes and businesses and even ripping off the top of the county courthouse.
The Bobcats, who had gathered at their school’s field house for a meeting, were safe — though the homes of freshman Ethan Wertzberger and assistant coach Jeff Hoogensen were severely damaged. But as one of the players shared the now-famous video of the court house’s dome being torn off and flung in the air, the enormity of the situation became clear.
That reality was reinforced in the days to follow for the Bobcats.
“I think maybe it gave them a better feel for life. It’s not always fair. Everybody doesn’t always get a blue ribbon. You’re going to get hit in the face, and you’re going to have to figure out at that point whether I want to get up and go on or am I going to succumb to it?” Hanson said. “Just going through that process is just kind of a great maturing thing for them.”
The Bobcats soon put an ad in the local paper, the Times-Republican, and on the school website offering to lend a hand to storm victims.
Residents kept taking the Bobcats up on their offer, and Hanson said that people who saw them clearing debris at one site would often recommend another site where help was needed.
A pattern soon emerged; the players would spend most of their mornings answering calls for assistance and, after a short break, head back to practice.
“I think we’ve done a good job of staying focused on baseball while helping the community. We’ve balanced that pretty well,” said senior Nate Vance.
The trip to the state tournament took on much bigger meaning after the storm, giving the town something to rally behind after the first week of what promises to be a very long rebuilding process.
Former Bobcat Tyler Peschong, his brother Mike and father Andrew even bought 100 tickets at $10 a pop to give out to Marshalltown fans seeking “a break from reality,” as Tyler put it.
For the players, going through such a dizzying six days also emphasized the fact that the life lessons learned through prep athletics are supposed to be more important than the wins and losses.
“It’s definitely been really difficult and really motivating at the same time, just trying to bring something back to our community,” senior Kody Ricken said.