In Search of…an Identity

Mike Draper’s column in Juice tripped my trigger on something that I’ve put off writing about.

I’ve been a Des Moines resident for 15 years. I didn’t grow up here, left the state, and came back, like Draper did. I’m from Waterloo, went to Wartburg College, and came here after college. And yet, I’m still an outsider to some of the locals, because I’m not a native of Des Moines.

Mike noted in his column that no one who visited his store during the Division I wrestling tournament was there for the tournament. Is it me or do I think that the customers Mike polled were local folks that didn’t care much for the wrestling tournament?

No wonder why I feel like an outsider. I was happy as hell to have the tournament here.

If there is one thing that sticks out to me about living here and that is how much a sizable number of locals are indifferent about things and events that people outside of Des Moines are interested in.

This is how a good number of people who live in Des Moines view the Iowa State Fair, high school tournaments, and other events that take place in their city…with a healthy dose of apathy. (

The majority of people who attend the Iowa State Fair, the high school state tournaments, and the Drake Relays, to name a few, are not from Des Moines. A good number of DSM residents do not care for these events, much less be bothered by them. The longer I’ve lived here, the more accurate it is, at least in my mind.

There’s so many other things to do here, which is great and healthy. But let’s not get in the habit of dismissing things that help bring recognition and respect for our city. The wrestling tournament was a good thing for Des Moines. To say that it’s not, is delusional at best.

I was put off by Draper’s comment towards the CVB, the Partnership, and the business community, in the way they are trying to attract people to Des Moines, with his veiled shot by calling the wrestling tournament a useless folly that Des Moines didn’t need.

I think he’s wrong to assert that Des Moines doesn’t deserve to host the wrestling tournament again.

St. Louis and Philadelphia are larger than Des Moines. Secondly, their arenas are built for professional teams and leagues.The Scottrade Center holds 19,260. The Philly Wells Fargo Center holds 19,500.  Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena holds 16,980. Just because Des Moines didn’t get over 100,000 (96,000) fans during all six sessions of the wrestling tournament, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Des Moines blew their one and only chance. Hell, 96,000 is better than zero.

For years, the Iowa State Fair couldn’t crack 1 million in attendance. I don’t see no one calling for the State Fair to pack up and leave.

Yes, Mike, people come for the experience. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s why they are “visitors” for a reason. To experience Des Moines. You shouldn’t be offended by that.

Now, let’s get to the heart of Draper’s column.

Draper is correct when he says that Des Moines needs to utilize its natural strengths. The question is: what are these strengths besides financial services and agriculture? Are we not trying to break out of the stereotypical mold of insurance and corn?

I have attested in the past that Des Moines is searching for an identity to cultivate and grow.

Just like humans, a city in search of an identity have to go through a lot of shifting and shuffling before it finds what they are good at. (

It’s getting tiresome trying to be the next Omaha, Kansas City, Twin Cities, and Chicago. They have their own identities. They have went through the growing pains of finding what works for them.

There is no quick, painless way to naturally develop an identity. It’ll take a many face plants, mistakes, hits and misses, and a few good things to build an identity. Unfortunately, that isn’t good enough for some folks, who think Des Moines should be a midwestern cosmopolitan that would rival Minneapolis and Chicago.

I think we’re doing just fine…as long as we continue to evolve, tweak, poke and prod.

Des Moines is a work in progress. It’s identity will change throughout time, so will these natural strengths that Mike Draper touts.

Des Moines is the city that fits me. Not Chicago, New York, or Dallas. Not too small and not too big. It’s just right.

I like my art and my RAYGUN shirt as much as I like my wrestling.


The “Other” List: What I Love About Des Moines

Juice has come out with a list called “50 Things We Love About Des Moines”.  I’m not a “list” person by any means.  There are far too many things about living here in Iowa I love, and about Des Moines, since I’m a resident here.

This is going to be Des Moines-centric, so for you fellow readers out in Cedar Rapids and Eastern Iowa, you have been warned.

With that said, I have no opposition or issues with the list.  It’s a good list.  But, as my eccentric nature of independence, there are a few things not on the list that I love about living in the Des Moines area.

Looking for tickets for the State Wrestling Tournament next week? Good luck.

1.  State Tournaments  Did you know that high school state tournament season begins the next week with state wrestling?  Des Moines has a pep in its step when teams and fans from across the state arrive to Wells Fargo Arena for wrestling and girls and boys basketball action.

2.  First Saturday of Farmers Market The first Saturday in May has become an unofficial holiday as the start of the Downtown Farmers Market kicks off.  20,000+ people, with babies, dogs, and shopping bags looking for the freshest goods available.

All locally grown.

I'm looking forward to renting out a B-cycle this spring.

3. B-Cycle The B-Cycle is on its way to becoming the new way to tour the city, without burning gas in the car.  The city-owned bicycle rental program is one of the best ideas to take advantage of the great bike trails in the Des Moines area.

4. Manhattan Deli  No bells, no whistles, and no splash.  Just simply walk up, order, and then sink your teeth into a local sub sandwich delight.  PGA golfer, Cedar Rapids native and Drake grad Zach Johnson has a sandwich named after him.  It’s the only sub sandwich I order when I go there.  Oh, cash and checks only.  No debit or credit cards.

5. Americana’s “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner” Americana Restaurant’s “Bombshell Brunch” is the place to be on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but if you are not a morning person, schedule a trip for Monday nights for “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.”  Endless amounts of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and cornbread is all waiting there to be dined on as you decompress from the start of the work week.

Des Moines skyline.

6.  A view from the Capital Head to the Capital, park your car (no meters), get out of car, and walk around.  Take in the view of downtown.  Get some fresh air, albeit cold wintry air.

7. East Village There was no such thing as East Village when I moved here from college in 1998.  Slowly and quietly, the area between the Capital and the Des Moines River downtown has become the model of success for local shops.  From Vitae to the Kitchen Collage, The Village Bean to eden, East Village is the original local success story of entrepreneurship and realizing big dreams.  Which leads me to…

Your mission for 2012: get to know Christian Renaud (left) and Tej Dehwan. They run Startup City Des Moines.

8.  The Silicon Sixth If you haven’t heard of Silicon Sixth Avenue, make 2012 the year to learn about it and the people involved.  Dwolla is located on the Sixth, so is Startup City Des Moines, ShareWhere, and the Des Moines hub of Silicon Prairie News.  The Silicon Valley isn’t the only place where new ventures and technology are being created.

9.  Mars Cafe The Drake Neighborhood got a jolt of caffeine when Mars Cafe opened.  Similar to East Village, Dogtown, as the locals affectionally call it, is another great example of neighborhoods being revitalized and attracting visitors and patrons alike.

10. Home Sweet Home Many people in my age group couldn’t wait to get out of Iowa after college.  I never had an inclination to leave.  Why?  I’m happy here in Iowa.  Des Moines has always been a city where if the right people, the right time, and the right opportunities fall into place, it could be a great place to live.  The verdict:  it is the right place for me.

Part 2 of “Ideas for a 96-team tournament to be successful”

On Tuesday, we started exploring ideas that the NCAA can make their men’s basketball tournament successful once they expand the field from 64 to 96 teams.  Today, we’ll look at the teams, television coverage, and the tournament locations.

The decision to expand the field will most likely come in July, with the proposal to go in effect starting with the 2011 tournament.  In part one, the tournament committee make-up and the schedules were discussed and I gave my ideas on those two factors.


Teams need to finish .500 or better in the league if they want to get in the Big Dance.

The expansion of the tournament may be a sign that the non-major conferences like the Missouri Valley, the Southern, and the Big West conference will have more teams in the field.  But there is a concern that mediocre-to-poor  teams from power leagues like the Big Ten, Pac-10, ACC, and Big East will get in, solely on the basis of the reputation of their respective leagues.

Idea:  a team that has less than a .500 record in conference play in any league, will not be considered for an at-large bid, unless they win their conference tournament.  That may include leagues in which the conference champion has a less than a .500 record and no league tournament.

Example:  West Eastern State is the regular-season conference champions with an 8-10 record.  If their league has no conference tournament, they should not get an at-large bid.  If a conference tournament is held and they win it, they will receive the automatic bid.  This is an attempt to get the best teams with good records in the tournament. If a conference doesn’t have a team with a .500 or above record, they probably don’t deserve to have a team representing them in the tournament.


The NCAA, upon approval of the expansion, will likely opt out of its television contract with CBS, ending a 28-year relationship with the network when CBS acquired the rights to broadcast the tournament in 1982.  ESPN will get the first crack to bid on acquiring the rights.  Normally, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.  However in this day and age, there are many viewers who, for some reason, still do not have basic cable to watch ESPN.

"It looks I'll have to use my 'Hello Friends' line for the Masters starting in 2011. Damn."

Yes, they still resort to watching terrestrial television.

With that said, efforts have been made in the past to provide the extra coverage of games for fans who want to follow their teams.   The March Madness on Demand website the NCAA provides has been one of the most successful ventures to be created to cater to those who are unable to watch the game on television.

I don’t have a suggestion for television because if ESPN gets it, it can handle the workload, which is something that CBS could do, but may not have the expansive resources that ESPN has.  Though I have one wish:  CBS to do the coverage from the Sweet Sixteen to the National Championship game.  Then again, it’s me.


With the creation of the pod system in 2002, the efforts to limit the early-round travel has been a moderate success.  However, the hangup I have is that the NCAA tends to re-use the same venues over and over.  This is a prime opportunity for cities like Des Moines (Wells Fargo Arena) to be considered to host the 1st 2 rounds , or the 3rd and 4th rounds of the expanded tournament.  There can be so many times Spokane, Birmingham, New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Boise State can continue hosting games. The NCAA needs to break out this comfort level and move the sites around to give cities like Des Moines and Omaha a chance to prove that they can be great hosts during the tournament.

Des Moines' Wells Fargo Arena could finally get that coveted 1st & 2nd, or a 3rd & 4th round games.

Idea:  stop re-using the same tired old venues and move the tournament sites around, as the tournament was designed to do.  Also consider doing what the women’s tournament has done for some time now:  have the higher seed host the 1st two rounds on campus.   Keep in mind, the state of  South Carolina has been excluded from hosting, due to that state’s refusal to take down the Confederate flag.

Those are my biggest ideas and suggestions at this point with respects to March Madness.  Things could change between now and July when the NCAA makes the final decision.

I invite you to read these suggestions from today and from Tuesday, and tell me what you do you think?  Did I go far enough or is there a better plan that you have?

Tournament Frenzy

I have gone to the state tournament almost every year since 1990 and the most important thing I purchase isn’t the Dippin’ Dots, or the nachos.  It’s the Stat Book (or commonly referred to as the Dope Book).  The Stat Book has all of the historical information about who has been to the state tournament, who scored the most points, and other interesting facts about the teams playing at the state tournament.

For the record, I’m a Class 4-A kid.  I enjoy watching all of the other classes, but I grew up in Waterloo and 4-A is my niche.  Today, I’m heading to Wells Fargo to watch the 4-A semifinals.  I don’t have a rooting interest since East Waterloo didn’t make it this year, but I’m intrigued to see if Ames can win back-to-back titles.  Who was the last team, in any class, to win back-to-back state titles?? If you know the answer, post it in the comment section!

"The New Barn" aka Wells Fargo Arena

Since it’s Friday, let’s have some fun!  Time for a quiz!! Let’s see how much you know about the state tournament or, if you’re brazen, you can google it up!  Put your guesses on the comment section and see if you are the “ultimate basketball guru!”

Q:  Who has won the most state titles overall?

Q:  Which Des Moines team (including WDM, Johnston, etc.) has the most state titles?

Q:  Three coaches has taken their team to the state tournament 16 times (the most)  Name one of them.

Q:  Ames is making their 18th trip to state. What team has been to state the most?

Q:  Two schools won the girls state title last weekend, and their boys team are in line to do the same.  Who are the schools?

Good luck!  Post your answers in the comment section!

The Best of the Best

Several weeks ago, as I was walking out of the Ames gym after the Little Cyclones routed the Mason City Mohawks, 85-42, a question popped up in my mind.

Does the 2009-10 Ames team belong in the elite group of great teams in Iowa prep basketball, if they win the 4-A title next month?

It’s a fair question.  Over the past few years, I have started to wane from ranking who’s #1, #2, or #10 when it comes to the best teams I’ve seen, read, or heard about.  There’s too much frustration and argument over who is “the best” of all time, decade, generation, or in the last half of the 20th Century.  There is no doubt to me that Ames, given their long-standing basketball tradition (7 state titles) will end up on this list, granted if they don’t lose next week at the boys state tournament.

There are so many powerhouse-laden teams since the state tournaments were started in 1923.  Davenport (now Central Davenport), Ames, Dubuque Wahlert, East Waterloo, and Marshalltown and Mason City, to name a few from the big schools.  Palmer (now Palmer-Pomeroy), Clinton St. Mary’s, Iowa City Regina, and Hull Western Christian is a small sample of the small schools.

The 1947-48 Davenport H.S. Blue Devils. Courtesy of David Kusel from

The players range from Bill Logan (Keokuk), Randy Kraayenbrink (Paullina), Art Sathoff (Iowa Falls), Dean Oliver (Mason City), Brian Pearson and Troy Skinner (Palmer), and Jason Bohannon (Linn-Mar).  Coaches include Glenn Strobridge (West Waterloo), the late Dennis Theissen (Bettendorf, C.R. Prairie, Iowa City High), Jeff Vanderloo (East Sioux City), and Jim Squiers (Marquette Bellevue Cathlolic).

So many names, so many teams, so much tradition and memories.

What was your all-time favorite moment at the state tournament?  What team, player, or coach were you looking forward to see in Vets or at Wells Fargo?  And, if Ames win their 2nd straight title, do they belong in the list of elite state championship teams with Palmer, Davenport Central, and Union Christian of Orange City?

Or how do they compare with the six previous state champions from Ames (’36, ’45, ’55, ’73, ’76, and ’91)?

From 1955 to 2005, Vets Auditorium was the home of the Iowa High School state tournaments.
From 1955 to 2005, Vets was the home of the Iowa high school state tournaments.

Snowstorm or not, the State Tournaments are here!

From "Wrestlers clear the mats" to "It's time for basketball!"  The girls take over Des Moines this week.
From "Wrestlers clear the mats" to "It's time for basketball!" The girls take over Des Moines this week.

It’s hard to imagine not having a snowstorm today as the 2010 edition of the Iowa Girls high school state basketball tournament begins this morning at 10:00 am at Wells Fargo Arena.

Almost every year at this time, Mother Nature throws us a curveball.  It’s probably a good thing that this week may not be the week for more snow.  We’ve gotten too much of it this winter.

If you are a prep sports junkie like I am, these four weeks that we’re in the middle of is the best time of the year, especially here in Des Moines.  The locals may not care for the out-of-towners tying up parking lots and downtown, but this, as Pete Jones of Des Moines Is Not Boring would put it, a great opportunity for Des Moines to show it’s never boring and get some love.

When I was growing up in Waterloo, it was a cardinal sin if you didn’t come to Des Moines to watch East High play at state.  For many of us who didn’t grow up in Des Moines, the capital city was likened to the Iowa version of New York City.  It’s the biggest city in the state, the best teams were here, and there was plenty of things to do, even back then when Des Moines would “close up” for the night at 10pm, you were going to see kids in the skywalks goofing off.

That reason, along with a few, is why I have never considered leaving Iowa.  The state tournaments marks the beginning of spring and the real start of 2010.  Our state tournaments are special in so many different ways to so many different people. The girls are buying prom dresses from Schaefer’s, parents and fans are walking thru the skywalks and taking in the downtown landscape, admiring how much Des Moines continues to change, in small and big ways.

Frosty Mitchell, the man who kept the party going at Vets during a  1959 snowstorm during the Girls state tournament.
The Great Frosty Mitchell of KIOA, KGRN, and WMT fame. He hosted an overnight sock-hop when fans were snowbound at Vets in 1959.

Anyone who doesn’t go to the state tournaments, you need a pulse.  Even if it’s one game or one match, it’s worth seeing and experiencing the pomp and circumstance, traditions, and fervor that builds inside Wells Fargo Arena.

Though, it would be nice to be stuck in there during a snowstorm.  I would do anything to have Frosty Mitchell do an over-night sock hop again!