John's Journal
One Year Later, Lessons Learned From A Tragedy And A State Title2/11/2013
A crew from the NBC Sports Network was at a Benilde-St. Margaret’s boys hockey game last week, and everything was business as usual. A camera operator, sound technician and producer followed one former Red Knights player everywhere he went, preparing a segment that will air on the national network. Nobody batted an eye, because that sort of attention has become commonplace for the Red Knights.

The ex-player, of course, is Jack Jablonski. Everyone knows about Jack’s spinal injury last season, which is the reason he now gets around in a motorized wheelchair. Jack is a junior at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, the school in St. Louis Park that produced last season’s state championship boys hockey team.

We know about Jack’s injury. We also remember the star-studded performance of the Red Knights’ Grant Besse in the Class 2A championship game at Xcel Energy Center, when he did all the scoring in a 5-1 victory over Hill-Murray. We remember those things. But what has changed? What kind of impact have Jack’s injury and the state title had on the current team and others at the school?

“It’s tough, because we had so many ups and downs last season,” said Besse, now a senior. “When you think of one it kind of brings up the other.”

Indeed, Jablonski’s spinal injury, Besse’s big game and the Red Knights’ championship will forever be intertwined in history. But there are also lessons in these things.

“People are very appreciative of what they have,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s athletic director Jerry Pettinger said, reflecting on the last year. “People are very thankful for all the good opportunities and things they have. It’s well appreciated. I think people appreciate their classmates, their friends, teachers, coaches and a caring faculty.”

Jablonski’s title this season is Student Assistant Coach. Red Knights head coach Ken Pauly asked Jack to concentrate on the team’s power play, and that’s what the young coach does during every game. He watches the power play and makes notes that will be used during practices and meetings.

“I work a lot with the power play and certain roles with the forwards, on things we can do to improve,” Jablonski said. “I go to practice one or two days a week and all the games, and I work on the power play strategies; what they do, what we do.

“I’d rather be playing but it’s the next best thing. It’s all I can ask for. I’m definitely happy that I’m working with the team as much as possible.”

Pauly admits that he is still processing the experiences of last season, but he knows that what happened to Jack is something that will have far-reaching implications.

“You tell guys, ‘This is fun, this is great, we love the competition, but there is life beyond all of this,’ ” Pauly said. “Clearly Jack’s thing is tragic. One thing that we’re watching now is him basically demonstrating ‘You know what? There’s life beyond this, too.’ As I process it, I’m hoping it gives everyone perspective. There are things you do with yourself and with your life that don’t involve skating around on a rink. And we all know that, but do we really know it?

“I think Jack’s a living embodiment of it, and of course he’s a dramatic example of courage and keeping an incredible attitude. And his story hasn’t been completely told; he’s a young man.”

Jack still has a locker in the team room at the St. Louis Park Rec Center, although the Red Knights no longer have stickers with his number 13 on their helmets or similar patches on their uniforms, as they did after his injury last season. It’s all part of the process of moving on with life as well as hockey.

Before the season began, Pauly talked with the team about the challenges that this season would present.

“Last year we felt that there were two tracks; there was the hockey track and there was the Jabby track. And we still have that,” Pauly said. “That’s something we talked to the captains about right away: ‘We’re defending state champs and you guys think you’re prepared for that but you’re not. You never are, you cannot be.’ That’s just the way it is. The second challenge was how do we continue to embrace Jack as the teammate that he is and treat it as something that’s authentic.

“The role that he has on the team this year, as a student assistant coach, is an authentic thing. That’s not a made-up role. He’s not a mascot, he’s doing real things. He breaks down tape, he’s looking for specific things, and he’s got a coach’s eye. He has a great mind for the game and he’ll continue to get better at that. … He gets out his iPad and sits down with some of the guys on the power play and they go to work.”

Besse said of Jablonski, “He sees all the little nuances of the game that we don’t see on the ice. He’s got an eye for the game and it’s really starting to show.”

Ask Pauly or Besse about last year’s state championship game and they are likely to smile and shake their head in disbelief all these months later. It was an unbelievable way to end a season that was memorable for reasons that go far beyond hockey.

“No matter what happens it will probably always be the top moment in my hockey career,” said Besse, who will play college hockey at Wisconsin. “You hear these NHL stars saying that winning a high school state championship was the best thing that ever happened to them. And with everything we went though with Jack, that just creates a memory you’ll never forget. And you wouldn’t want to forget. Coming together as a team, getting closer to Jack through all of it, it was a good experience but it’s still hard to think about because of everything that happened.”

Pauly agreed that it will be very hard for Besse to match what he did against Hill-Murray 11 months ago. And that’s just fine.

“What stands out to me,” Pauly said, “is that coaches dream and players make coaches’ dreams come true. The fact is that championships and great moments belong to great kids. That’s a great example of a player who has incredible abilities basically keeping that date with destiny, keeping that appointment. When those things come together it’s magical.

“Clearly there have a been a lot of great players who have come through that tournament, and that was Grant’s moment. He’ll have other moments coming down the pike, but I don’t know if he’ll ever have one like that. As I reflect on that, it was the perfect combination of ‘Here’s the moment, and the player who has that ability.’ Given everything that was swirling around that, the emotion, at the end of the day you need to have some guy step up and say, ‘I’m taking charge.’ And that’s what he did. You can’t coach that.”

The Red Knights are nearing the end of the regular season; with two games remaining they are 18-5 and ranked No.2 behind Hill-Murray in Class 2A. The memories of last season remain, and the lessons continue to be learned.

“It’s still here but in a different way,” Pauly said. “Last year there was an incredible tragedy, and now you’re in a reactive, moving-on mode. Now we’re trying to make it part of our lives. Jack’s still a student at BSM, he’s part of our program, he’ll be with us for the next two years. He’s part of this forever.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 431
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,282
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
Coming Soon: Student Media Days With The Timberwolves, Wild2/7/2013
It’s an exciting time for the MSHSL Student Media program, with upcoming outings to a Minnesota Timberwolves game and a Minnesota Wild game.

Thanks to the wonderful people behind the professional franchises, high school students who are members of the Student Media program will attend the games as accredited media members, watch the games from media seats and get a true behind-the-scenes look at these events.

Selected students will be at Target Center on Sunday, Feb. 24, when the Timberwolves host the Golden State Warriors at 2 p.m. One week later, on Sunday, March 3, selected students will be at Xcel Energy Center for a 7 p.m. game between the Wild and the Edmonton Oilers.

For students to be considered for these games, they need to do two things…

1) Be actively posting stories about the activities at their school on their school's page on mshsl.org

2) Send an email to MSHSL media specialist John Millea to let him know you want to be considered. The email address is jmillea@mshsl.org

For more information on the Student Media program, scroll down to the right side of the MSHSL website and click on the Student Media link.
Osseo Wins Round Two vs. Park Center, Thoughts Turn To The Rematch 2/5/2013
If the clean-up routine after Osseo and Park Center met in a big boys basketball game Tuesday night was anything like what took place on the court, every player took time to clean out the dirt from under his fingernails. It was that kind of game: scratch, claw, dive after loose balls, fight for possessions and do everything humanly possible to win.

This round went to the defending state champion Osseo Orioles, who recorded a 66-56 victory inside their own spacious gym. The Orioles are ranked No. 4 in Class 4A and Park Center came in carrying the No. 1 ranking. The pollsters will sort everything out again this week, but as soon as the final horn blew Tuesday, attention turned to what everyone assumes will be a rematch in the Section 5 championship game.

The Pirates (17-2, 13-1) had won round one with a 73-62 victory over Osseo at Park Center on Dec. 18. The two teams are now tied for first place in the Northwest Suburban Conference, but the Orioles (17-2, 13-1) won this lastest battle between schools that are both in District 279.

“Park Center is a district rival, they’re the No. 1 team in the state,” said Osseo coach Tim Theisen after moving his career victory total to 250. “It means a lot.”

The key for Osseo was defense. Park Center came in averaging nearly 80 points a game, which is tops in the state. The Pirates were handicapped by the absence of Devin Buckley, their second-leading scorer who sat out with a back injury. Buckley’s loss put a little extra pressure on Park Center’s Quinton Hooker, who averages 25 points.

The defensive assignment on Hooker went to Osseo’s Bridgeport Tussler, a rough-and-tumble guard who roughed and tumbled his way to being named Minnesota’s Mr. Football last fall. Hooker was held to 14 points, with Treyton Daniels getting 19 for the Pirates. Tussler led Osseo with 22 and 6-foot-9 center Ian Theisen (no relation to the coach) had 21.

“Bridge Tussler had a championship performance once again,” Tim Theisen said. “He’s one of the toughest kids in the state, both football and basketball. He is hands down one of the better defensive players around. It was no easy task; Quinton Hooker is one of the best players in the state and Bridge Tussler did a fantastic job guarding him tonight.”

There were almost as many fouls and free throws as spectators (or so it seemed), and Osseo got the job done at the line. The Orioles made 23 of 31 free throws and Park Center hit 14 of 27.

Osseo never trailed, but the Orioles had to work darn hard to keep the Pirates from taking control of the game. Osseo led 33-24 at halftime, and by then the Orioles’ defensive effort in choking off three-point attemps and clogging the lane had set a definite tone. The margin swayed some early in the second half and Park Center carved Osseo’s lead down to two points when Daniels soared to the boards, grabbed a missed shot and put it in the hoop before returning to earth.

That made the score Osseo 46, Park Center 44 with 8:15 remaining. Tussler made two foul shots, the Pirated missed on their end and Ian Theisen powered through traffic to shoot from underneath the hoop. As the shot went in and the officials called a foul, the big junior let out a roar that was drowned out by the roar of the home fans. He hit the freebie to make it 51-44 and all but secure the win.

“It was a gutty win, and that’s what we had to pride ourselves on this whole past week in preparing for this game,” coach Theisen said. “We knew Park Center was a team that loved to drive to the basket, they love to shoot threes. I thought we did a good job of taking away the three-point shot tonight; we fouled a lot at times, as well, but we took away the three. And that’s one of their main strengths.”

The rematch, if both teams should reach the Section 5 title game, will be held March 15 at Rogers High School.

“We will see them again and we look forward to it,” Tim Theisen said. “We want to play the best teams and we want to make sure that we’re ready for them again. And I think we are.”

--To see a photo gallery from the game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 425
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,198
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
The First Family of Simley High School Wrestling2/4/2013
As coaches and wrestlers, members of the Short family at Simley High School form one of the most influential wrestling families in Minnesota. Read Brian Jerzak's story by clicking here.
700 And Counting For Wabasso/Red Rock Central’s Hindt 2/1/2013
WABASSO – Except for one big banner, the walls inside the wrestling room at Wabasso High School are pretty bare. But that banner speaks volumes about a program and the only coach the team has ever had.

The banner commemorates the 2003-04 Wabasso team, which was the state runner-up in Class 1A. In advancing to that state championship match, the Rabbits recorded the 500th victory in school history. It also was the 500th career victory for coach Gary Hindt, but his name is nowhere to be seen on the banner. And that’s exactly how he wants it.

“I just guide them,” Hindt said. “I didn’t do that. I helped, I had a hand in it.”

Since that 2004 state tournament, he’s had a hand in a couple hundred more victories. The 67-year-old Hindt, who was hired in Wabasso right out of college in 1968 and started the wrestling program, now has 702 career wins, which ranks third all-time in Minnesota and No. 1 among active coaches.

In 45 years of coaching he has had only two losing seasons. Victory No. 700 came Jan. 19 when the Wabasso/Red Rock Central Bobcats (the schools have had a cooperative wrestling team for four years) defeated Luverne. The only Minnesota wrestling coaches with more victories than Hindt are former Owatonna coach Scot Davis with 984 and former Goodhue coach Bill Sutter with 760.

No. 702 for Hindt and Wabasso came Thursday night when the Bobcats defeated visiting Minneota 40-21. Wabasso/Red Rock Central is ranked No. 4 in Class 1A by The Guillotine and Minneota is No. 8.

Before the varsity match began, Hindt was honored with a plaque commemorating his 700th victory and a framed team photo that was autographed by this year’s wrestlers. He made no speech, and school officials knew better than to ask him to make a speech. That’s because it’s never been about him.

He said to me, “You want to know the truth? The last wrestling match that I won by myself was in 1963.”

That was when Hindt was a high school senior in Fulda, another southwest Minnesota town. He played basketball through his sophomore year, but joined Fulda’s new wrestling team as a junior.

“I thought it sure beats getting slivers on my butt, being about the 10th guy on the basketball team,” he said. “I knew nothing about wrestling. I wasn’t sold on it because I didn’t know anything except grab on and hang on.”

He wasn’t sure he would wrestle as a senior, but then he was voted a team captain. “I thought I better stay with it,” he said. “I’m not a quitter.”

It’s safe to say, however, that he didn’t plan to be the Wabasso wrestling coach for nearly half a century. When he was hired to teach, he agreed to take over the school’s new wrestling program with the expectation that he would hand the reins to someone else after a few years. All these years later, he has no plans to retire.

He underwent a knee replacement after the 2005-06 season, but the spark is still there when he enters the wrestling room.

“I can get down, but it’s hard to get back up,” he said. “That’s why we’ve got younger assistant coaches. I still enjoy it. I don’t want to see the program go to pot. I have seen some programs that were very successful get into wrong situations and have no consistency.”

Hindt also coached football at Wabasso for many years but gave that up when his daughter Heather was playing college volleyball at Southwest State in Marshall and his daughter Erika was in high school. (“I got to watch my girls grow up,” he said.) Hindt and his wife Jenni have been married for 43 years.

His co-head coach is Brett Bartholomaus, who teaches at Red Rock Central. The wrestling team splits its practices and meets between Wabasso and Red Rock Central, which is 12 miles away in Lamberton.

“He’s the papa bear,” said Bartholomaus. “If they need a wake-up call he’ll give it to them, and then he’ll explain why.”

Hindt is a coach who will bark at a wrestler, then smile and put his arm around the kid’s shoulder.

“If he gets mad, he’ll say what he has to say and then he’ll sit back down in his chair and he’ll pop a smile right back on,” said senior captain Tanner Rohlik. “He’s an all-around great guy.”

Another senior captain, Blake Altermatt, said, “If you do something wrong, he’ll make you do it again to make sure you do it right and don’t get into any bad habits.”

Before the Bobcats took the mat against Minneota, Hindt talked to the team about always being on the attack. He offered these words of wisdom: “Your feet are made to move forward. If God wanted you to move backwards he would have put toes where your heels are.”

Hindt, who was inducted into the Minnesota Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1994 and is retired from teaching physical education, health and social studies, has coached three teams to state tournaments (the most recent in 2011). Five Wabasso individuals have won state titles: Dan Zimmer in 1976, Johnny Frank in 2004, Cory Schunk in 2004 and A.J. Jenniges and Brandan Schunk in 2005.

“I’ve been pretty blessed to have some kids who have bought in,” Hindt said.

Before and after Thursday’s match, Hindt was approached by many former wrestlers and other friends who offered congratulations on his milestone. After the night’s wrestling had been completed, he joined 42 alumni wrestlers who were on hand and posed for a photo. Some of them are now old-timers and some of them are still fresh-faced. Some of them are fathers and sons who both wrestled for Hindt.

The coach, the link between them all, sat in their midst and wore a big smile.

--To see a photo gallery from Wabasso, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 423
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,118
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn