Think Ames logo

The Ames’ Sports Legacy: Setting the Groundwork for Greatness


People around the country are drawn to compete in all kinds of sports. Still more gather on the sidelines to cheer for their favorite athletes and teams. Nowhere do people more intimately connect to sports than in their hometowns.

Ames Main Street, in partnership with the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Main Street Iowa (MSI), is celebrating this connection as it hosts “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America,” a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program. Ames is one of six communities chosen to host the exhibit now until Nov 11, 2018.

The Ames exhibit features sports memorabilia and iconic athlete’s stories as you journey through history. The exhibit is so large it is housed in multiple locations: The Octagon Center for the Arts, Ames Public Library, Design on Main, and the Ames Historical Society. In conjunction with the exhibit, a special speaker series is open to the public, and includes topics  like Dan Gable: “A Wrestling Life”, How Iowa Met Baseball: John Liepa, and ISU Homecoming: A historic start to “Save the Girls”.

The Smithsonian’s Hometown Teams traveling exhibition examines the many roles that sports play in American society. Hometown sports are more than just games—they shape our lives and unite us and celebrate who we are as Americans and Iowans. For over 120 years, the mighty Iowa State Cyclones have been brewing up quite the storm in Ames and beyond. The Cyclone name dates to 1865 when the original Iowa Agricultural College football team defeated Northwestern University so badly that the Chicago Tribune headlined the story, “Struck by a Cyclone.”

Throughout the years, Ames has been home to many talented individuals who have progressed in athletics to pave the way for future generations.

Iowa State wrestler, Dan Gable, became an NCAA Division I national runner-up, and a two-time national champion. He finished his college career with a record of 117-1, with his only loss being his final match of his final season. After graduation, Gable followed his passion to the 1971 Wrestling World Championship where he then became a world gold medalist. He went on to the 1972 Olympics in Munich and took home the Olympic gold medal for freestyle wrestling.

Gary Thompson, Iowa State’s first multi-sport All-American, wore his Cyclone jersey with pride as he played basketball and baseball for the university. The All-American shortstop led his team to a third-place finish in the College World Series while hitting .311 as a senior. He was also the first Iowa State player to score more than 1,000 points in a career (he finished his 3-year career with 1,253 points)! Thompson’s basketball jersey number 20 was retired following his standout college career in 1957. Thompson joined the Bartlesville Phillips 66ers, though he was also drafted in the 1957 NBA draft by the Minneapolis Lakers.

Iowa State track and field all-star, Nawal El Moutawakel, competed in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and took home the Olympic gold medal for her home country, Morocco. She was the first Moroccan woman and first woman from a Muslim majority nation to win an Olympic gold medal. Upon her victory, King Hassan II of Morocco called her to give his congratulations and declare that all girls born the day of her victory were to be named in her honor. El Moutawakel was a pioneer for Muslim and Arabic athletes in that she confounded long-held beliefs that women of such backgrounds could not succeed in athletics.

Gable, Thompson, and El Moutawakel are just a few icons from Ames’ history who have laid the foundation for some of today’s current athletic superstars. Ames high school graduate, Harrison Barnes, completed his high school basketball career with 1,787 points. He was ranked number 1 among the class of 2010 in the ESPNU 100. Barnes played college basketball for the North Carolina Tar Heels for two years before being drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the 2012. In 2015, he won an NBA championship with the Warriors and then helped Team USA win the gold medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Barnes is currently playing for the Dallas Mavericks.

Fred Hoiberg, another Ames high school graduate, chose to play basketball for his hometown university in 1991. Hoiberg’s name is found among the top seven positions for nearly every statistical category in ISU basketball. He was given the nickname “The Mayor” after receiving several write-in votes during the 1993 Ames, Iowa mayoral race. Hoiberg finished his Iowa State basketball career with 1,993 points (third most in program history), and his number 32 was retired. After graduation, he was drafted by the Indiana Pacers and played ball for another 10 years. Hoiberg returned to Ames in 2010 as the head coach the Iowa State Cyclones men’s basketball team. He is currently the head coach for the Chicago Bulls.

2004 Gold Medal Winner Cael Sanderson won four NCAA Division Titles, three Dan Hodge Trophies, and four Big 12 Conference titles for wrestling while at Iowa State University. He was undefeated during his four years on the team, and later came back to begin his coaching career as a special assistant where he led ISU to more NCAA Division placements. Sanderson is currently the head coach of the Pennsylvania State University Wrestling Team.


For more information on the Smithsonian’s Hometown Teams exhibit, visit