DURANT, Iowa — Small towns tend to get a bum rap.
Sure, there aren’t a ton of entertainment options. Many seem to be a sizable distance from the bigger towns and cities, making simple errands like running to the grocery store a little more of a chore.
Still, so many small towns have a simple charm about them. The people just seem to have a little more invested in their businesses, schools and, in some cases, the local high school sports teams.
But most of those other small towns will find it difficult to beat the level of support Durant shows for its high school teams.
Just three days after welcoming home the Durant High School Class 2A state champion softball team after its 3-0 victory over 2012 champ Treynor Friday night, the small community on the northern boundary of Muscatine County packed the high school gym Monday evening to celebrate its champion Wildcats.
Maybe that’s just what any small community would do. Yet, that kind of support was not taken for granted by the Wildcats players.
“It’s nice to be from a small town. You have loads of support,” Wildcats senior Emma Engstler said. “People you don’t even know support you.”
That just seems to be the type of community Durant is. They welcome and support any and all who don the blue and yellow of Durant High School.
“I’m from Muscatine and I don’t live here and the community has made me really feel welcomed,” Wildcats coach Steve Hopkins said. “It’s a great community.”
Hopkins, who has coached the Wildcats to back-to-back state appearances, called the turnout at the rally Monday night overwhelming.
But this community does more than just cheer for its youth when they’re in the throes of battle. They care about what these young people do off the field, too.
That’s what made this title all the more special.
“Words can’t begin to describe it,” is how Durant athletic director Alan Hartley described what it meant for this school to win the title.
How this team won its title was something Hartley hopes translates throughout his athletic department.
“The common perception is with a school like this is there is luck behind it,” he explained. “What’s special about this is Coach Hopkins and his staff have built this [program].”
The group of Durant seniors who helped lead the Wildcats to the title had been in the program since they were in eighth grade, when they began to work with Hopkins and assistants Don Brady and Ken Pennock.
That kind of commitment is something Hartley thinks can translate to other Wildcat teams.
“I think this shows kids, ‘We’re Durant and we’re here to compete,’” he said. “If you want to commit and you set your mind to it, great things can happen.”
Great things certainly happened for the Wildcats this summer. They finished the season 35-8 and allowed zero runs in its three-game run to the state title, becoming just the seventh team to ever do so.
Not surprisingly, the coach gave his players all the credit.
“There isn’t another group of kids who deserve it more,” Hopkins said.
It was for those kids that this small town turned out in droves to honor.
And it was this community that made this championship all the more special for these players.
“It means a lot,” Engstler said of Monday's turnout. “They continually support us. And will in the future.
“You wanna win for these people. They’re going to support you and you don’t want to let them down.”