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Dunn sticks with softball, stays at Newman Catholic and piles up 1,000 wins
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Dunn sticks with softball, stays at Newman Catholic and piles up 1,000 wins


In another world, Tom Dunn is coaching football, sticking with his first love of baseball or taking a higher college softball or baseball coaching job.

Yet, no matter what was thrown is direction early in his career, Dunn stayed the course at Mason City Newman Catholic. Through the early years where he wasn't winning at a rapid pace, he never left.

His dedication paid off on Friday night.

When the final out of the Class 1A No. 8 Knights euphoric come-from-behind victory over St. Ansgar was recorded, a celebration ensued in the outfield as the players, coaches and parents joined Dunn to relish a milestone very few have accomplished.

One-thousand career wins.

"I've been so blessed to have great players, good assistant coaches, it's been tremendous," Dunn said. 

As of a May 5 article from MaxPreps, Dunn is the 19th softball coach in the state of Iowa to reach that four-digit plateau and the 36th in the nation. He has been the leader of Newman Catholic for the last 38 years.

And he earned the signature win on his 39th wedding anniversary. Not a bad night for the Hall of Fame coach.

"It's incredible because it's taken a long time and a lot of great people," Dunn said.

His players didn't realize how close he was until two weeks ago. It was never brought up when the season began on if the 2021 Knights would be the team to deliver him that milestone.

So everyone started counting how many wins  he needed to get No. 1,000. At that point, it was six when the record was 19-5. That began the planning stages for when it could happen.

The earliest Dunn would've earned the win would have been during a weekend tournament in Garner. It turned out it took until the final regular season game to get it.

Newman Catholic stumbled down the stretch, going 6-5. Ellie Determan admitted that the focus may have been on getting Dunn that 1,000th win over anything else.

"That might have been a factor," Determan said. "We kind of beat ourselves. Sometimes we weren't focused enough. There were a couple games where we had as rain delay that might have gotten us out of the mode a little bit."

That mentality changed. The Knights had lost four of five games before a triangular with Riceville and Sumner-Fredericksburg in Sumner on Thursday. 

Then the focus became getting back on the right foot and they did with two convincing wins to bring Dunn to 999 on his career.

"We forgot about it. It was to the point where we had to win this game," senior first baseman Faith Wadle said. "We had it in (the) back of our minds, but it wasn't the big key of what we needed to do tonight."

Dunn was open in saying he was fine with taking a loss to the Saints on Friday in the regular season finale. He gave the start to Annie Knipper, one of his junior varsity pitchers, in a bit of gamesmanship.

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He didn't want St. Ansgar to see Madi Elwood, the now No. 1 pitcher for Newman Catholic with the loss of Leah Martinez, if the two sides meet again in a regional semifinal on Friday.

"She (Annie) did a great job," Dunn said. "When you score 12 runs, a lot of girls did their job offensively."

It took one of the most crazy games to snare the win.

Wadle belted a go-ahead grad slam in the top of the seventh to give the Knights their first and only lead of the game to complete a come-from-behind win in which they trailed 6-0 after two innings.

"Right down the middle at the belt, my absolute sweet spot," Wadle said. Our pep talk was, we've got to get three outs. He finally got the win he deserved. It meant everything. All of our hard work, all of the pressure and stress washed away."

Dunn played baseball in high school and college. He wasn't opened up to the game of softball until he joined a men's fastpitch league.

"The game of fast-pitch softball is so fast and there's so much strategy," Dunn said.

He was a college football, baseball and softball coach at one point in his life. His first year at the helm of Newman Catholic was in 1983. Two years in, he thought about leaving.

"Once I learned to realize they're just teenage girls, things got a lot easier," Dunn said. "It just worked out that I got a job at NIACC and continued coaching. The rest is history."

His first year, the Knights went 2-24. He got his 100th career win in his seventh year. The math equates to an average of 29 wins per season over the next 31.

So why did Dunn stick it out?

"Family," he added. "I coached enough college football to know you don't see your family much and I knew I wanted to have children. That made the decision way easier because family is very important to me."

He has grown himself has a person and as a coach. His players value the impact he has made on them, each in four-to-five or sometimes less, windows.

"He's been so dedicated to the program that we just needed to give him this before we were done," Determan said. "He's been super present in all of our lives. I remember when I was a little eighth grader, I was terrified to play softball. It was a huge step up from travel league.

"He really helped us adjust and stay mentally tough throughout the game."

Now the Knights are on a three-game winning streak heading into regionals. Should they stay ranked inside the top-15 and have it be above North Butler, they will host throughout regionals.

Over the last three games, Wadle believes they have their mojo back.

"We have all the confidence in the world this will go our way once again," she said. "We just need our pride. We went out and we played Newman softball. We looked like last year's state team.

"Now that we got this win, everybody is looking at us thinking 'What are we going to do to beat Newman?'

Zach Martin is a sports reporter for the Globe Gazette. Reach him via email at and follow him on Twitter @zach_martin95.


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