Quietly and courageously, two local Hall of Fame coaches have been battling — and beating — cancer for months behind closed doors.
Iowa Central’s Kevin Twait and Fort Dodge’s Toni Cochrane are both on the mend now. Treatment robbed them of their summers, but relatively speaking, the time was a small price to pay to get better and return to relative normalcy.
Twait, the Tritons’ legendary football coach and current athletic director, has been cleared to head back to campus. His drive and passion for staying active at the school he loves helped him through the difficult road to recovery, along with his family, friends and perspective.
“Not much fun, but so many people have it worse than I do,” Twait told me via text. “My support system is off the charts and I’ve been leaning on them to grind through each day.
“Gonna whip this thing…small bump in the road when one looks at the big picture. Cathy and I have seven grandchildren, with two more on the way as we speak.”
Twait had 35 radiation and seven chemotherapy treatments in Iowa City during a stretch that ended in late July.
Cochrane, a long-time Dodger volleyball coach and former standout player, was diagnosed last April. Regular trips to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester followed.
The school recognized Cochrane this past week during a “Purple Out” in the Dodger gym. Cochrane, whose maiden name is Toni Zehr, was a Hall of Fame athlete who helped Fort Dodge capture the 1984 state volleyball championship. She was Iowa’s prep volleyball player of the year in both 1983 and ’84, and competed collegiately at the University of Iowa.
Cochrane became FDSH’s head coach in 1991 and held the position until 2012, guiding the Dodgers to state in 1997 and 2004. She served as the program leader again in 2018 and ’19.
Seeing recent comments pour in on social media after both Twait and Cochrane had their news go “public” was heartwarming and inspirational. For decades, the coaches motivated countless others both on and off the field and court. These messages served as a reminder that former athletes and students are around in times of need to help return the favor in their own special ways.
DODGER CONNECTION: I’m always encouraged when I see young people embrace the history and traditions of their school. It offers a better sense of perspective, and their discoveries typically lead to a newfound respect for stories from the past.
Shane Halligan, a 2020 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate, contacted me this past summer about former Dodger great Marvin “Duke” Nelson. As an athlete at then-Fort Dodge High School in the 1920s, Nelson played basketball, ran track, and became a budding superstar in the pool. In 1926, Nelson reportedly swam 22 consecutive miles in the YMCA pool at the age of just 15.
By the 1930s, Nelson became a world champion open-water long distance swimmer. He was first a gold medalist in 1930 at the Canadian National Exhibition event in Toronto, and was a back-to-back winner in the same event 1933 and ’34. His then-record time of seven hours and 37 minutes spanned 15 miles.
Nelson also captured the Lake Michigan marathon swim in Chicago consecutively in ’33 and ’34. He was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1979.
Halligan reached out on behalf of another former Dodger, local attorney and 1979 FDSH graduate Jerry Schnurr, who wanted Nelson’s elite international achievements to gain more recognition — especially in the halls of his alma mater.
The efforts of Halligan and Schnurr serve as reminders that Fort Dodge pride is alive and well. Duke Nelson’s memory — and his myriad accomplishments — will live on thanks to the people who don’t let the history books collect too much dust before they’re reopened for a new generation of Dodgers.
PASSING OF A LEGEND: Former Fort Dodge all-state athlete Jose Grady was in town for his 55th reunion this summer, where his classmates reminisced and shared memories of their 1968 boys state basketball appearance.
A few weeks later, Grady passed away in Omaha at the age of 73.
Grady was a standout player on Dutch Huseman’s 1967-68 Dodger squad. He averaged over 17 points and was a second team all-state selection as Fort Dodge earned its first-ever outright Big 6 conference championship with an unbeaten 10-0 record.
That FDSH team was also the first to win a state tournament game, as the Dodgers reached the semifinal round with a thrilling victory over Dubuque Wahlert. At one point, Huseman’s ballclub reeled off 15 consecutive triumphs that winter. Grady was the catalyst.
We recently published “then and now” pictures from the reunion in our sports section. The photos included former Dodger teammates Grady, Randy Pingel, George DeBakey, Kent Brooks and Kent Magnusson in 1967 compared to this past summer.
History matters. Record keeping matters. Memories matter. We pass our sincere condolences along to Jose Grady’s friends and family, and hope the tributes to him in our sports pages — as an athlete over 50 years ago, as an alumni and even today — will help comfort and connect the people who loved and cared about him most.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ByEricPratt