John's Journal
The Play’s The Thing … And It’s Really Really Cool2/10/2011
I entered O’Shaughnessy Auditorium on the campus of St. Catherine University in St. Paul through a back door Thursday. In fact, it was the backstage door. I walked inside and immediately knew I was in uncharted territory.

The first issue was that I was still wearing my sunglasses, and going from bright sunshine to dim backstage light simply did not work. And once I dropped my bag and took off the shades I was in the midst of several strange creatures, creatures that seemed a little on the non-human side of things.

The creatures were young actors from Mountain Lake High School. They were in costume for their presentation of a play titled “Wiley and the Hairy Man.” Their performance was sensational, as were all eight of the performances by Class A schools at the one-act play state festival.

The event was the latest stop in my tour of new things. Coming from a newspaper background as a sports reporter, my job with the MSHSL has definitely expanded my boundaries. Debate, speech, one-act play; they are among the non-sporting high school activities that I had little or no knowledge of when I joined the MSHSL staff almost a year ago.

One-act play continues Friday with eight performances by Class AA schools. It is all kind of fun, too. There are four plays in the morning and four more in the afternoon.

On Thursday I saw an elderly lady in a wheelbarrow … a cellist … several spooky characters … teens dealing with loneliness, stress, fear … and even the angel of death. I heard the sounds of ocean waves … the chirping of crickets … the bell sounding the start of a workshift in an 1800s factory. I saw kids putting on makeup in a backstage dressing room and students cheering like mad when their classmates finished a performance.

Some schools brought fan buses, just like they do for state tournaments in athletics. As well they should, because students involved in fine arts work just as hard and are just as committed as their athletic counterparts. And many of the actors on stage Thursday and Friday are involved in other school activities, as well.

My major contribution Thursday was coming to the rescue of some of the judges. They use small flashlights to write notes in the darkened theater during performances, and some of the flashlight batteries were losing their mojo. I always carry some spare AAs in my bag, and I was glad to help out.

And one final note from a very enjoyable day …

--Diet Coke count: 2

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 339
*Miles John has driven: 7,641

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Support For Zach Gabbard Continues, And Other Notes2/8/2011
As I travel around the state this winter, it’s amazing to see how many people are pulling for Zach Gabbard. Zach is a 17-year-old Perham junior who collapsed during a game at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton on Jan. 20. After receiving emergency medical treatment in the gymnasium, he was taken to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, where open-heart surgery was performed. Once he was stable, Zach was moved to the University of Minnesota, where he remains.

Everyone wants to do something to assist Zach (pictured at right), his family and the folks in Perham. If you see a team wearing yellow shoelaces or yellow wristbands, it’s probably because the Perham colors are yellow and black.

A major event has been scheduled in Perham, called One Clap For Zach. The benefit will be held Sunday, Feb. 27 at Mulligan’s Pub & Eatery in Perham from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A spaghetti feed, gun raffle and silent auction will be held. One of the raffle prizes is a youth elk hunt in Colorado valued at $4,500.

More information on the auction can be found at www.oneclapforzach.com. In fact, the website is a great place to make a donation and order a One Clap For Zach t-shirt; on the back they say “GABBARD” and Jake’s Number 3. I ordered my t-shirt today.

In addition, Schwan’s is holding a truckload sale in support of Zach. The details…
Pre-order at www.schwansfundraiser.com
Click tab for Place an Order Online
Enter campaign ID: 32955
Complete your name and contact info and place your order.
Item product numbers can be found at www.schwans.com.
Or call 1-888-SCHWANS to order gift cards that you can use anytime. Inform the representative that you would like to purchase a gift card for campaign 32955

The game in which Zach collapsed was not completed, but it has been rescheduled.
Thanks to Concordia College in Moorhead, the make-up game will be held Friday, February 25 at 7 p.m. at Concordia Field House. Concordia will waive its rental fee, with admission consisting of a free-will donation and all proceeds going to the Zach Gabbard Fund.

Here's the latest news from Zach's CaringBridge site: "Zach had another great day (Monday)!He was awake most of the day and continues to show signs of response to simple yes and no questions. He really hates the breathing tube that is in his throat. We can't wait for it to be removed so he can talk to us. He continues to be on dialysis for his kidneys." The site can be found at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/zachgabbard

IN OTHER NEWS, I spent Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center, where the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota High School Press Association held their annual student media day. Student journalists from Lakeville South, Champlin Park, Eastview, St. Francis, St. Paul Academy, Minnehaha Academy, Robbinsdale Cooper and St. Louis Park took part. (In this photo, students view the ice from the press box.)

They toured the arena, watched the Wild practice and listened to several speakers, including Wild coach Darby Hendrickson, sports reporter Dawn Mitchell of Fox 9, Star Tribune Wild reporter Michael Russo, Wild TV play-by-play man Dan Terhaar and analyst Mike Greenlay, Wild vice president Bill Robertson, Wild radio pregame and postgame host Kevin Falness, Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press, Paul Rovnak from the University of Minnesota athletic communications staff, Xcel Energy Center director of public & media relations Kathy O'Connor and yours truly.

As part of the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program, I am in the process of setting up a similar student media day with the Timberwolves, and the Twins, Vikings and Gophers also will see me knocking on their doors.

THIS IS A BIG week as we start cranking it up for winter tournaments. We've got section competition in girls' hockey, Nordic and Alpine skiing and dance team, and the one-act play state tourney will be Thursday-Friday at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

Stay warm out there. Spring is on the way … I think.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 335
*Miles John has driven: 7,609

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Hats Off To The Braham Bombers2/4/2011
Here's a wonderful email that was sent to the MSHSL this morning. In case you have any doubts about sportsmanship in our schools, here is proof of the great things that take place on a regular basis. On with the email ...

Last night, Thursday February 5, 2011, Aitkin hosted the Braham Bombers in girls basketball competition. Over the years this has become a good rival between the teams. Braham is a very good and athletic basketball team; everyone who watches them play can see that, what you may not see is the character of the program.

Our girls basketball program has faced some adversity this year. In the past four weeks our three seniors have had season-ending knee injuries. Our girls and coaching staffs continue to battle and work very hard to improve. Last night we hosted the Braham Bombers, the number one ranked team in class AA.

Things did not look good for the Gobblers. The night started with a competitive C-Squad game, the JV game went to double overtime, so we were competing well with a good program. Two great games! Everyone in the stands knew what to expect when the varsity teams took the court.

What we did not expect is what happened at the introductions. As the Braham team was introduced, each of the Braham starters picked up a balloon, card or flower that they had brought with them, ran over to where our three injured seniors were sitting on the bench, gave them their gift, a hug and wished them the best. By the time the fifth starter was introduced, most of the gym was standing, giving the students an ovation.

Twenty years from now I won’t remember the score of the game (Braham did win!). I will remember the actions of the Braham Bombers girls basketball team. In a time when wins and losses are too often emphasized by what shows up on the scoreboard, we need to see the whole picture of how our kids treat each other and the respect they have for each other.

Nice job Braham Bombers girls basketball team and coaching staff!


Sincerely,
Daniel J. Stifter
Dean of Students/Director of Activities
Aitkin Public Schools
Great Competition, Hard-Working Athletes And Smiles Everywhere2/3/2011
A few weeks ago I received an email from Dan Slinden, inviting me to attend an adapted floor hockey game. The game was played Thursday, I was there and it was one of the great sporting experiences of my life. In chronological form, here’s how it went …

Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” played over the P.A. system in the Eden Prairie High School gym as the South Suburban Flyers and Rochester Raiders warmed up. The Flyers come from Edina, Bloomington, Richfield and Eden Prairie, and the Raiders attend Rochester Mayo, John Marshall and Century as well as Kasson-Mantorville.

Slinden, the Flyers coach, pointed out to me that No. 4 on his team, senior Roberty Doyle, has just signed a letter of intent to play wheelchair basketball at the University of Missouri.

Floor hockey is played on a basketball court, with short padded “walls” around the edges. Hockey sticks, hockey goals, helmets and facemasks, kids in tennis shoes, felt pucks that slide like crazy ... it’s a lot like ice hockey.

The P.A. announcer welcomes the fans to the game. The coaches, captains and officials meet at center court. The national anthem is played and the starting lineups are introduced.

The game starts, and it’s quickly noticeable how this game does resemble ice hockey. Players angle the puck off the wall and battle for control of it in the corners. Three 15-minute periods are played, icing is a common call and players are sent off for penalties, resulting in power plays. The game’s first goal is scored by Rochester’s Conor Jones. Some of the players use wheelchairs. The Flyers' Rachel Rosenthal runs all over the court in pink tennis shoes.

Between periods and during timeouts, the percussion section from the Eden Prairie pep band entertains everyone with rhythm and volume. It is grand entertainment.

The Raiders take a 2-0 lead on a shorthanded goal by Nicole Mock, who knocks the puck into the net off a faceoff in the Flyers zone. It is a very pretty goal. Rochester takes a 4-0 lead early in the second period on goals by Ben Jordan and Todd Claeys.

One of the two officials leaps over the boards to avoid being struck by the puck and/or sticks. Doyle flips the puck into the air, sailing it almost the length of the court, and it is caught by Rochester goaltender Wade Kuiper in the baseball glove he wears on his left hand.

The Flyers get on the board when Karen Kriedler gets a goal midway through the second period. Rochester gets goals late in the period by Jones and Jordan, and takes a 7-1 lead when Jones scores again early in the third period. But here comes Kriedler, a scoring machine, with three goals – Bang! Bang! Bang! – and suddenly it’s a 7-4 game with 10 minutes to play.

During a timeout, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” keeps things hopping. The Raiders are clamping down on defense and there is no more scoring. The game is over with Rochester on top 7-4.

As the game ends, the gym floor is suddenly filled with family members and friends. Hugs, handshakes, smiles, packing up, even some dancing as “YMCA” is played. Pizza awaits everyone in the lobby.

There was no booing during the game. No one questioned an official’s call or a coach’s strategy. This was a combination of athletics and pure positive vibes.

Someone congratulates a player by saying, “Great game, Jake!” Jake’s answer comes in two parts … A great big smile and these words: “Now it’s time for some pizza!”

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

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 333
*Miles John has driven: 7,439

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Some Short Items On A Wintry Wednesday2/2/2011
Is it cold enough for you? There’s a digital billboard on Interstate 94 in Minneapolis that shows a rotating series of ads. One of them is a tourism spot for Scottsdale, Arizona. The ad, which shows a couple relaxing poolside with sunshine and mountains in the background, also displays each day’s forecast high temperature in Scottsdale. This morning it informed Minnesotans that it would be 49 degrees today in Scottsdale. Uh, that isn’t very tantalizing for a winter getaway.

TUESDAY NIGHT was a good one for fans of Eden Prairie basketball. The Eagles boys and girls teams both defeated the state’s top-ranked Class 4A teams from Hopkins. I was inside the Eden Prairie gym, where the second-ranked EP girls beat Hopkins 71-65. A few miles away, the No. 3 EP boys beat Hopkins 75-71.

I was exchanging text updates with a friend at the other game, and several people from Eden Prairie were checking with me throughout the girls game for scores from the boys game. University of Minnesota women’s basketball coach Pam Borton was also at EP, watching some talented players.

When I covered professional sports, not once did a coach see me and say, “Hi John. Thanks for coming.” That’s what exactly what Hopkins girls coach Brian Cosgriff said to me Tuesday night. And he said the same thing after the game. That’s one of the 100 million reasons why high school sports are so great.

TODAY IS SIGNING DAY, about which I have always had mixed feelings. Some high schools had signing celebrations today, when all their scholarship athletes sit at a table and sign their letters of intent. That is wonderful, because those students have worked hard at their sports and deserve to be recognized. But here are two points to remember about signing day: 1. Very few “scholarship” athletes receive full rides. Division I football, volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball are the only sports that award full scholarships, and some athletes in those sports receive partial scholarships or walk on with no athletic aid. 2. It would be grand if students who receive academic-based scholarships were honored in the same way and received a similar amount of attention.

THINGS ARE BEGINNING to heat up as we move closer to the postseason for winter activities. Dance team section tournaments will begin Saturday and continue the following Saturday, the one-act play state tournament will be held Feb. 10-11, the state ski meet Feb. 16-17, wrestling team and individual sections Feb. 19 and 26, state dance Feb. 18-19, girls’ state hockey Feb. 23-26 and on and on through March.

That’s it for now. Keep warm, drive carefully and think about our friends in Scottsdale.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 331
*Miles John has driven: 7,391

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn