Top 10 places to play

WSS sports editor Owen Aanestad ’22 ranks the top ten places to play as a high school athlete.


Owen Aanestad

All around the state West High athletes are fortunate enough to be able to compete at not only a high level but in and at some of the nicest facilities in the nation.

No matter what sport you play, the West High athletic program is fortunate enough to be able to not only compete at the highest level of high school sports in the state but compete at some of the nicest facilities in the nation. WSS sports editor Owen Aanestad ’22 takes a look into the most functional, memorable and high profile places to play. 

10. West High Tennis Courts

When the weather allows it any time of the year you can find someone playing tennis at West High. Whether it’s someone from the Iowa City community or the boys and girls tennis teams themselves there is no such thing as rest for the six tennis courts that sit on the backside of the building right next to the new gym. Head coach and now current interim West High Principal Mitch Gross is happy to call the West High tennis courts home after being able to coach eight tennis state title teams to go along with multiple other singles and doubles champions. The well lit and newly built tennis courts give athletes access to high-quality courts to compete and practice at in and out of the tennis season.

9. Fort Dodge Cross Country Course

Nicolo Schianchi ’22, Alex McKane ’22, and Caden Noeller ’22 sprint off the start line during the state cross country meet on Nov. 2 in Fort Dodge. (Owen Aanestad)

As the only IHSAA and IGHSAU state competitions to be held in the northwestern part of the state the boys and girls state cross country meet held in Fort Dodge, Iowa is simply something you have to see to believe. Friends, family and buses full of cross country runners swarm Fort Dodge’s Kennedy Park and Lakeside Municipal Golf Course as they prepare to follow the runners all the way around the course cheering them on at every point possible until they finish the biggest 5k of their career. The well-taken care of course has been the home of some of Iowa’s fastest runners since 1993 when the state first held the meet in Fort Dodge. The golf course’s clubhouse serves as the meet’s primary source of information and where the award ceremony takes place as runners hope to make the balcony and be honored as a top 15 finisher in the state. Both Josh Kidman and Mike Parker have made their share fare of trips to Fort Dodge making the memorable course a little more sweet than the first time.

8. UNI-Dome

Trumell Roberts ’18 runs the ball for West as Dowling’s Jack Bertram ’18 tries to tackle him on Friday, Nov. 17. (Kara Wagenknecht)

Instead of no place like home, in Cedar Falls it is actually no place like the dome. Only four teams from class 4A are fortunate enough to make it to the state semifinals and the University of Northern Iowa Dome every year as they hope to be crowned Iowa high school football state champions. Fortunately, West High community coaches like Reese Morgan and Garrett Hartwig have been able to lead their teams all the way to the dome multiple times which has not only given athletes an opportunity of a lifetime but the chance for the famous indoor turf to be on this very list. It all started in 1976 when the IHSAA made an agreement with the university to be able to hold the state playoffs in their climate-controlled stadium as teams around the state played through Iowa’s chilly November weather. Before the majority of teams had a turf field of their own, the UNI-Dome brought the exciting aspect of not only a warmer playing surface but an artificial one. All three of the Trojans’ football state championships were held in Cedar Falls giving the dome an added effect when you walk into the building. Outside of holding the state football playoffs the dome is home to the UNI Panthers football team and can even be converted into an indoor track which is commonly used by the MVC when the indoor track season rolls around. Even though some years the Trojans aren’t represented in the UNI-Dome, the spacious facility is one of the best motivators around for football teams across the state.

7. Linn- Mar Baseball Field

Head coach Charlie Stumpff returns to the dugout after meeting with his players during a pitching change in a game against Linn Mar on May 31. (Owen Aanestad)

As the rest of West High’s athletic programs work through their offseason as the school year approaches, Charlie Stumpff’s baseball program is just starting to ramp up as classes are let out for summer break. As the Trojan baseball season hits full stride, you can almost guarantee an MVC doubleheader against Linn-Mar on a hot and humid summer night in Iowa that in some years decides the conference champion. The Linn-Mar baseball field, which is a part of the 3.2 million dollar complex next to Oak Ridge Middle School, opened its gates in 2013 and is home to both the Lions’ baseball and softball teams. The baseball field was also honored as the “True Pitch” State Baseball Diamond of the Year by the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association in 2013. Only about 45 minutes north the field mimics the dimensions of the Iowa Cubs’ Principal Park which is where the state baseball tournament is held every August. It measures 406 feet to dead center, 325 down each foul line and about 370 in the left and right-center field. The spacious dugouts, large backstop with padding and see-through netting make the Linn-Mar baseball field a no-brainer for this list as one of the most well taken care of baseball facilities in the state.

6. Trojan Field

Trojan Field located on the campus of West High was built in 1991 and is the home of the football team. (Owen Aanestad)

It’s true, there really is no place like home. Every Friday night in the fall you can find the sunset reflect off of the shiny gold helmets of the Trojan football team as they walk down the hill and onto the Trojan Field. For many years after the opening of Iowa City’s second high school, the football team played across town at City High until in 1991 when the Trojan Field was constructed on the edge of the campus at West High. Over the years through fundraising and even coaches and players helping out, the field went through some additions. Today, the Trojan Field consists of a three-story press box and the Tom and Vera Lepic building which was built in 1996 and is used as a team room. Former athletic director Scott Kibby noticed the all-grass field struggling to drain fast enough for the team to practice and play which led him to look into new turf. In the summer of 2014, the Trojans’ brand new turf was installed and still is today. From having to share a field with cross-town rival City to being the host of multiple playoff football games, the Trojan Field will always have a special place in the hearts of many former coaches and players.

5. Linn-Mar Aquatic Center

One of the most important aspects in building a “fast” pool is depth, the deeper the pool the fewer waves bounce off of the bottom which decreases the chances of waves on the surface. In November of 2013 when Linn-Mar opened the doors of their brand new aquatic center, they were convinced they had created one of the fastest high school pools in the state. They were right. Not a lot of high schools are fortunate enough to have a pool of their own as many high schools around the state including West High reach agreements with community pools to use for practice and competitions. From the state of the art starting blocks to the movable bulkhead which create both a competition and warmup area of the pool, the Lions’ facility has it all. The off-campus aquatic center that has a spectator capacity of 500 was so popular in its first few years of operation that the Dubuque Community School District built its own facility almost exactly the same. Equipped with an eight-lane timing scoreboard and display board the Linn-Mar Aquatic Center has been host to the majority of the area’s top swim meets since it opened. Multiple MVC records and regional championships by Byron Butler’s boys and girls swim teams have also been celebrated in the pool itself. The Lions’ aquatic center is with no question a favorite for all MVC swimmers to compete in.

4. Dalzell Field

The special teams gather around Josh Jasek ’19 before kickoff at the beginning of the game on Friday, Sept. 14. (Kara Wagenknecht)

For many, the Dalzell Field located on the campus of Dubuque Senior High School in northeastern Iowa is just another high school football stadium. Trust me, it’s not. In 1964, Dubuque Senior’s football field was renamed to honor long time head football coach Wilbur Dalzell. Dalzell during his time in Dubuque coached multiple all-state selections and future college football players and also helped organize Eastern Iowa’s Mississippi Valley Athletic Conference. Almost 50 years later in 2013 the field, now shared between Dubuque Senior and Hempstead, went through a 10 million dollar renovation that consisted of a brand new turf playing surface, eight-lane track and multi-tiered bleachers. My personal favorite addition was a tribute to Jay Berwanger. Berwanger was a former Dubuque Senior football player and the first-ever winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1935 which is an award given to the best college football player each year. Right as you walk through the castle-like archways surrounded by stone there is a statue of Berwanger striking the famous Heisman pose overlooking the field. Dalzell Field’s beautiful stone exterior, spacious updated locker rooms, historic connection and large accessible bleachers earn its spot on the list as one of the nicest facilities on this side of the state. Over the past couple of years, Garrett Hartwig’s football team has made a couple of big appearances in Dubuque to face off with MVC opponent Dubuque Senior in hopes of claiming a district championship.

3. Drake University’s “The Blue Oval”

Gabe Caruthers ’19 gets set in his blocks before his race on Friday, April 26. Caruthers placed fourth in a time of 49.12 in the first ever high school 400 meter dash at the Drake Relays. (Kara Wagenknecht )

Only about two hours west on the campus of Drake University is the Drake Stadium, home of the famous blue oval. Every year the university holds the annual Drake Relays where athletes from around the country come to Des Monies to compete in one of the best track and field meets in the country. High school, college and Olympic level competitors are able to showcase their talents every spring for a chance at a Drake Relays flag. “The Blue Oval” is also where the IHSAA and the IHSGAU hold the state track and field meet. The famous 400-meter track takes the third-place finish on my list for the prestige and honors it is to be able to compete at a place that fourteen world records have been set. Most recently, over 20 Trojan track and field members had the opportunity to run, throw and jump at the 2019 Drake Relays, and both the girls and boys coaching staffs are hoping to make another appearance at the historic site this coming April.

2. Wells Fargo Arena

West players huddle at the start of the second half at the state quarterfinal on March 11. (Owen Aanestad)

The versatile event center in the heart of Iowa’s capital known as “The Well” is the peak of some high school athlete’s careers. Whether it’s basketball or wrestling, some of the biggest moments in Trojan history have taken place at Wells Fargo Arena. The 16,110 capacity arena gives every high school game that big-time feel as they step onto the court surrounded by family, friends and fans. Every March the full-size basketball court is constructed and is the home of the IHSAA and IHSGAU state basketball tournaments where, for two full weeks, thousands of players and spectators flow in and out of the arena as their teams compete for a chance at a state championship. In a year like 2020, “The Well” allows more spectators to come to cheer on their team while being able to spread out and stay six feet apart, unlike the regular high school gym. Only a couple of weeks after state basketball concludes, the IHSAA hauls in wrestling mats from the surrounding areas to create the mecca of Iowa high school wrestling. The three-day tournament with eight mats constantly being used creates an atmosphere like no other especially as some of the best wrestlers in the nation grapple to an Iowa state championship. Wells Fargo Arena makes my list for one reason and one reason only: history. Over the years BJ Mayer, Steve Bergman, Nate Moore and even former West High wrestling coach Mark Reiland have filled the history books and trophy cases with state championships and qualifications which all led them back to “The Well”. 

1. Ed Barker Field

Brody Schilling ’20 jumps over Cedar Rapids Washington’s Andrew Hammer ’18 in order to get to the ball on Tuesday, May 15. (Kara Wagenknecht)

For many years the soccer team couldn’t even call West High home as they made the quick trip across town to compete at Northwest Junior High. That was until 2011 when word got out that fundraising would start to build the Trojans a field of their own right on campus. Thus, the Go for the Goal Campaign was created. Two hundred and ten donors combined to raise upwards of $565,000 in hopes of building a new state-of-the-art facility. And so they did, former West High principal Ed Barker made a $270,000 donation in support of his former home. On May 17, 2012, friends, family and athletes came together to celebrate the opening of the new soccer field named after Barker. Ed Barker Field leads my list for one of the best places to play for not only the history behind the hardworking Iowa City community that came together to build it but it is by far the nicest piece of grass you will ever see at the high school level. So nice that in 2016 Ed Barker Field was deemed “Field of the Year” by the Iowa Sports Turf Managers Association. The boys and girls soccer teams are looking forward to another successful season at Ed Barker Field after not being able to play last year due to the pandemic.