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Coaches vs. Cancer In St. Clair: Smiles, Love And Support
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/31/2014 12:51:07 PM

ST. CLAIR – The gesture was simple but powerful. It was silent but emotional.

Before the St. Clair boys basketball team played host to Minnesota Valley Lutheran on Thursday night, St. Clair coach Charlie Freitag held the microphone at center court and said a few words about the day’s Coaches vs. Cancer activities.

On this bitterly cold night, which had been preceded by a serious snowfall, basketball was played in the main gym and a wrestling triangular in a smaller, older gym. Between the two, the school commons was a beehive. Kids were having their faces painted, lollipops and valentine carnations were sold, dinner featuring pork sandwiches was available and pink was everywhere, including shoelaces and wristbands.

This is the fourth year the Cyclones have hosted a Coaches vs. Cancer night. Nine-hundred dollars was raised the first year and $7,800 the second year. Last year’s total was almost $24,000, making it the largest Coaches vs. Cancer event at any school in Minnesota and the seventh-largest in the nation. Money raised goes to the American Cancer Society.

But numbers tell only a small part of the story. Freitag talked about all the volunteers who pitched in, thanking everyone for their support. Everyone in the gym was standing as he spoke, and then he made a simple request. He asked everyone to sit down … everyone except those who were cancer survivors.

Six or seven people remained standing, ranging from grandparents to a member of the pep band. To honor them and their journeys, members of the basketball team went into the stands carrying a rose. Each survivor received a rose and a hug, offering a smile in exchange.

Freitag also talked about those who had been lost to cancer, including Neal Lang, who was diagnosed with cancer two weeks before the start of his senior basketball season in 2012. Neil was 19 when he died a year ago this week.

“It’s an unfortunate one, but it’s a great story that a community like this can come together,” Freitag, a 1997 St. Clair graduate, had said to me earlier in the evening.

Indeed, it is incredible to see a community of only 850 people raise so much money. Donations come in all sizes; the biggest single method is a program in which local and area businesses pledge a dollar amount for each point scored in the basketball game.

St. Clair beat Minnesota Valley Lutheran (which is in New Ulm) by a score of 72-52. Business had pledged a total of $80 per point, and the 124 points resulted in $9,920. When all the donations are finalized, the total could be in the neighborhood of $25,000.

Freitag was an assistant coach when he first delved into Coaches vs. Cancer. The main reason was pretty simple: he kept receiving mail from the American Cancer Society. And in a very short period of time, St. Clair became one of the nation’s top Coaches vs. Cancer sites.

“When you walk through the school, it’s unbelievable, with what the administration and the backers and some of the groups in the school have done,” Freitag said. “For us, to be the largest event in the state and seventh-largest in the nation, in a town of 850 people, it shows there is support not only here, but in Mankato, Madison Lake, all the surrounding area.”

Cancer has touched many families in St. Clair, including school staff and students. Amid the pain and sorrow that can result, Thursday’s event was filled with smiles. Cyclones cheerleaders sat on their matside pillows and performed synchronized routines as the St. Clair wrestling team hosted a triangular wth New Ulm and River Valley (which is a cooperative team involving Sleepy Eye and Springfield).

Little kids wearing painted faces played in the commons as their parents and grandparents enjoyed dinner. The pep band – wearing pink, plastic hard hats -- performed on the stage in the small gym and later played pregame music in the big gym. The walls of both gyms were covered with small placards in honor of cancer survivors; Coaches vs. Canver in the big gym and TakeDown Cancer (a wrestling-focused effort) in the small gym.

At halftime of the basketball game, a paper airplane contest was held, with winners successfully landing their aircraft inside the mid-court circle. After the game, both teams gathered for a photo. Again, smiles abounded.

Plenty of work goes into the event, work that is well worth the effort.

“I want to make sure it’s a great night,” Freitag said. “Not good, but great.”

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

*Schools/teams John has visited: 275
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,169
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

From Windom Exchange Student To MVP To The Super Bowl (In Denmark)
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/29/2014 4:58:19 PM

Sports Editor
Cottonwood County Citizen, Windom

First-year Windom Eagle football coach Bobby Elwell got a pleasant surprise after the first day of practice last fall.

A foreign exchange student was coming to live with the Wayne and Julienne Antes family, whose son, Kyle, was a junior on the Eagle football team.

"I thought, ‘Great. We’ve got a kicker,’" Elwell said.

It turns out August Nielsen meant a lot more to the Eagle program than the sterotypical exchange student on an American football team.

Nielsen played five years of American club football in his homeland, Denmark, before coming to Windom.

"Usually, a foreign exchange student that comes out for football is pigeonholed as being the kicker," Elwell said. "August told me right away that kicking was probably the one thing he wasn’t comfortable doing. Hopefully, it’s something that we see more of when exchange students come to the U.S."

Nielsen went on to be the Eagles’ leading rusher and one of the team’s leading tacklers. His teammates voted him as the team’s Most Valuable Player after the end of the season. (In the photo, a Danish TV cameraman films and interviews Nielsen last week.)

But now, Nielsen is bringing his football talent to an audience of 1.5 million.

Last Monday, a Danish television crew was in Windom, taping a segment with Nielsen. The segment will appear during the pregame of the Danish broadcast of the Super Bowl.

"They called me a couple of weeks ago," Nielsen said. "They wanted a Danish person who was in the States playing football to do a story on prior to the Super Bowl. They asked to come here to do a little story.

"The theme is on how the sport is growing in Denmark, but they are also going to talk about concussion awareness, so they’re talking to doctors about what concussions do to the brain and talking to someone who wrote a book on the effects of concussions."
Elwell noted that one of the co-workers of the video crew had known August and knew he was playing in the U.S., prompting the call to set up the shoot.

Nielsen talked to Elwell about getting some equipment and some of his teammates together for a little bit of a pick-up game for the crew to tape. School was out for a teacher inservice, but several Eagle teammates came to school to brave the elements for some football in the snow.

"Most of what they filmed was while I was playing, and they asked questions while I was in the locker room," Nielsen said. "It’s pretty exciting knowing I’ll be on TV in front of that big an audience."

Nielsen said that the Danish TV audience for the Super Bowl is relatively small compared to the U.S., but he noted that American football is growing in popularity in Denmark and throughout Europe.

Meanwhile, Elwell said he feels blessed to have had the chance to coach August during his first season as a head coach.

"It was a very unique situation, having a foreign exchange student with the kind of football skill set that August has," Elwell said. "In talking to some of the other coaches in the area, they all seemed to agree that he was one of the best foreign exchange students they had ever seen on a football field. It was something we weren’t expecting, but it was certainly beneficial for our program to get a kid with that kind of ability and talent.

"More important was his work ethic and his willingness to do whatever it took for the team to have success. He was a real pleasure to have on our team, especially as a first-year coach. The guys really had a lot of fun having him around, and he set a great example."

Elwell noted that many schools, and Windom in particular, encourage foreign exchange students to be active in extra-curriculars to become acclimated to American culture. This fall, Windom’s exchange student population was seen on the football field, the volleyball court and on stage during the fall musical.

"That's something Windom takes a lot of pride in, and we’re very happy we could help August with the adjustment to the U.S. But the impact he had on our guys and our program is what we’re going to take out of this experience the most," Elwell said. "Seeing August flourish socially was probably the most rewarding part of the experience. He was pretty shy and quiet the first couple of days, but he really became a big part of the kids’ group and the school in general, in a pretty quick fashion. A lot of that has to do with the passion he brought to the football team.

"He got to know the guys pretty fast and they got to know him. His host family was a great fit for him. August and Kyle are kind of cut from the same cloth. They enjoy a lot of the same things and the Antes family has done an amazing job getting August involved. There wasn’t a huge adjustment period for him."

Scott West: The Most Unique Wrestling Team In Minnesota
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/27/2014 5:49:18 PM

The most unique high school wrestling team in Minnesota is Scott West. If this fact leads a few folks to say things like: “Where is Scott West? … I’ve never heard of that town,” that’s OK.

Scott West is a cooperative team, with athletes from Jordan, Belle Plaine and Holy Family Academy in Belle Plaine. The towns are only seven miles apart on Highway 169 in Scott County ... the west side of Scott County, to be precise.

“A lot of people ask where Scott West is. They think it’s a city,” said junior David Flynn, a two-time state qualifier who finished fourth in Class 2A at 113 pounds last year.

What makes the wrestling team unique is that Jordan and Belle Plaine compete against each other in every other sport. But in wrestling, boys from both schools come together. The change from competitors to teammates is especially stark when football season ends and wrestling season begins.

“A lot of the guys on the wrestling team are in football and we compete against each other,” said junior Andrew Fogarty, who placed third (at 138 and 160) in the Class 2A state tournament as a freshman and sophomore. “It’s different when it’s wrestling season. In football we’re pretty competitive, our towns are close together and we’re really big rivals. Then the wrestling season comes and we drop all that and we’re friends again.”

There are 36 wrestlers in grades 9-12 this season, with 16 from Belle Plaine and 20 from Jordan. That’s a pretty even split for a team that always has high expectations.

The architect of the cooperative agreement was Kevin Slack. He coached wrestling from 1980 through the 2012-13 season, first at Belle Plaine and then with the cooperative, which was formed in the 1990-91 season. The accomplishments of his wrestlers and teams is first-rate: 134 state tournament qualifiers, 71 finishers among the top six at state, 14 individual state champions and 13 teams that qualified for state.

The cooperative team – which this season is one of 76 wrestling coops in the state -- was the best way to make sure neither school’s wrestling program fell victim to shrinking numbers.

“At the time, Jordan was having the start of a numbers problem,” Slack said. “At the same time, Belle Plaine was suffering a similar problem, maybe to a little lesser degree. The two towns looked at, ‘How can we get better?’

“Wrestling was an attractive situation to those in charge from the start and we were very happy with the way things were going. We worked very, very hard to never look at the program as two parts. We worked to make the program look as one, and it didn’t matter where the kids went to school. At end of the day they were all part of one program.”

The team practices at Jordan High School, with matches held at both schools. Belle Plaine teams are the Tigers, boys teams at Jordan are the Hubmen and girls teams are the Jaguars. The wrestling team has its own singular identity: the Scott West Panthers.

“I think that the success of the Scott West program over the years has helped create its own solid identity,” said Darren Ripley, who is a current co-coach with Jerold Stauffacher. “However it is still not uncommon for us to hear or to be asked, “Who is Scott West? Where is Scott West?’ We usually just kind of laugh it off and think to ourselves, ‘Maybe they haven't been following Minnesota high school wrestling for the last quarter century.’ ”

In the very early days of the cooperative, Slack said there were obstacles to overcome. Some people, for example, had a difficult time letting go of lengthy support of their hometown school and backing the new team.

“It takes a lot of work to make a coop work,” Slack said. “It’s very, very difficult to get two sides not to look inwardly and look at their own interests as the priority. That’s what makes some of the coops not be as successful as they want. It can be very difficult. That’s just human nature. Some of the parents grew up wrestling for Belle Plaine and Jordan. You have those feelings that don’t go away.”

These days, the routine for the wrestlers does not seem odd or difficult to anyone involved. When the school day ends and practice is on the schedule, wrestlers from Belle Plaine take the short bus ride to Jordan and go to the wrestling room. Once workouts begin, no one is a Jordan Hubman or Belle Plaine Tiger; they are all Scott West Panthers.

"What some may view as logistical hurdles, we just view as a way of life at Scott West,” Ripley said. “It’s just what we do. We have been together and at this for 24 years so those logistical hurdles really are just part of the process.”

A new high school was built in Jordan about 10 years ago. Before that, the practice routine was a little tougher. The team rotated practices every two weeks between the Jordan small gym/cafeteria and the Belle Plaine small gym/cafeteria, with wrestlers having to roll out mats every day.

With a spacious wrestling room now on hand in Jordan, “No wrestlers have to roll mats out and up for every practice and you also don't have to worry about ketchup, pickles or other food items on the mat,” Ripley said.

The Scott West Panthers will celebrate 25 years next season, and Slack was honored last week for his years of service – always without pay – to wrestling at Belle Plaine and Scott West.

A large new wrestling mat was dedicated to Slack before a match against Tri-City United. The mat is the largest in Minnesota, measuring 54 feet by 52 feet (the standard is 38 x 38). A large decal on the mat reads: “In Honor Of Kevin Slack/Coach 1980-2013.”

“Obviously, it’s very humbling,” Slack said. “You don’t have success like Scott West on the shoulders of one person. I’ve known from the start that no matter what my part was, it was only a part. We’ve had tremendous effort and time put in by so many people. It’s nice to be remembered, but sometimes it’s hard to accept.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 270
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,963
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Two-Year District Football Schedules Will Begin To Take Shape
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/24/2014 2:28:57 PM

Here's further information on the plan for district football scheduling that was approved by the MSHSL board of directors on Thursday...

A statewide committee will decide on district lineups in the spring, and they will be finalized by the MSHSL board of directors over the summer.

Schools with football teams grouped into the same districts will be able to meet no later than August with a goal of finalizing football schedules for 2015 and 2016 by November 1.

A Momentous Change In High School Football Is Approved
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/23/2014 2:57:15 PM

Thursday’s MSHSL board of directors meeting was stunning in a couple of ways. First was the manner in which the 20 board members discussed and debated a proposal to completely restructure the format of regular-season football. I sat in the board room as a reporter for several years before joining the MSHSL staff nearly four years ago, and the serious nature of Thursday’s meeting was striking.

The board always does serious work in a serious way, but this debate was different. The members knew that if they approved the district plan – which they did by a vote of 19-1 – it would have an impact on every football team in the state. The plan was created as a way to solve scheduling problems faced by many schools in filling their eight-game regular-season schedules.

The other stunning part of the day was how football will change, beginning with the 2015 season. As outlined in a previous installment of John’s Journal, the district plan will place teams into large groups (at least 16 or more schools whenever possible) and schools in each district will work together to create schedules for each team. The postseason playoff format will remain unchanged.

Visitors are always allowed to speak before the board takes any action, and today six athletic/activity directors spoke in favor of district football. Only one of them was from the metro area. Here’s a recap of what each of them said…

--Les Zellmann, St. James athletic director and former board president. “We do a lot of things in this state that to a certain extent I think are cutting edge. Doing something out of the norm in terms of football scheduling is cutting edge. … The issue is widespread and it’s not going away.”

--Jeff Boran, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown athletic director and Gopher Valley Conference representative: In some years “it has been virtually impossible to develop a schedule. … This plan is a much better option (than section scheduling in the reguar season).”

--Ted Schultz, Minnetonka athletic director: “History has shown that what we’re doing isn’t working. … Before you is an opportunity to solve the problem and provide these opportunities for student-athletes. … It’s time for this board to take a stand and do what’s right for all the student-athletes in all the schools.”

--Chris Chalmers, Albert Lea athletic director: “It’s an excellent plan, even for schools that have eight football games.”

--Mike Schmidt, Staples-Motley athletic director: “We travel too far and too wide ... Our Friday night lights are dimming in outstate Minnesota. … Our football travel budget is bigger than basketball. We had a volleyball gate that was bigger than football.”

--Rob Norman, Blue Earth athletic director: “I’ve been an AD for 18 years and every year I’ve struggled to fill a football schedule.”

Board member Mark Solberg (AD at Cambridge-Isanti) told the board about a conversation he recently had with Brainerd football coach Ron Stolski. He quoted Stolski as asking, “What would reasonable people do and is this the best thing for students who play football in Minnesota? … Wrestle with it, then stand tall and take a vote.”

Board member and Hopkins AD Dan Johnson said, “I don’t know how a school or a conference loses in this initiative.”

Board members come from Underwood, St. Charles, Montevideo, Jordan, Little Falls, Rosemount, Northfield, St. Cloud, Cambridge, Hopkins, Eagan, Sauk Rapids, Ada, Harmony, Lakeville, Orono, Minneapolis, Jackson and Stanchfield. The only member to vote against district football was Rosemount AD Mike Manning.

--To read more about how district football will work, scroll down to the next story on John’s Journal (which previewed Thursday’s meeting).


The board approved the timeline for the 2015 football season and playoffs. Because of the availability of TCF Bank Stadium, the Prep Bowl will be played two weeks earlier than normal that year, on Nov. 14-15.

The regular season will remain at eight games and the playoffs will not be shortened; those were options the board considered. Practice will start on Aug. 10 and the first games of the regular season will be allowed to be played on Saturday, Aug. 22 … that’s the normal day for preseason scrimmages. So preseason practices will last for two weeks instead of the usual three before the first game.

--Also, the board tabled a proposal to change the structure of the Class 6A football playoffs, with members saying they wanted more input and more time. The proposal calls for each of the four 6A sections to be seeded 1 through 8, and all 32 teams to be placed into one tournament bracket with eight four-team sub-brackets. Four of those sub-brackets would consist of teams seeded 1, 4, 5 and 8, and the others would include teams seeded 2, 3, 6 and 7. This plan would ensure that No. 1 section seeds would not meet until the state semifinals.


The board approved a request from the softball coaches association to add a fourth class in that sport, beginning in 2016. The current state tournament format will remain, with the six softball fields at Caswell Park in North Mankato able to handle four classes and consolation play in each class.


--Joyce Swenson, state director of Minnesota Academic Decathlon, spoke to the board about a proposed partnership with the MSHSL. Academic decathlon involves competition in 10 areas; six relating to knowledge in the areas of economics, fine arts, history, language and literature, mathematics and science; three written and verbal communication tests; and a Super Quiz. The board may act on the proposal at its April meeting.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 270
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,963
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Changes Possible In Regular-Season Football Structure
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/22/2014 11:53:58 AM

When the MSHSL board of directors meets Thursday morning, football will be a major topic for the 20 board members who represent schools of all sizes around the state. The biggest item on the agenda is a proposal to change the structure of regular-season football in the hopes of relieving problems in filling schedules.

A proposal called District Football Scheduling would group teams into districts, beginning with the 2015 season. The board’s deliberations will include seeing the results of a survey that sheds some light on the issue.

The proposal includes these possibilities …

--Scheduling groups would be created around the state, based on factors that include school size, geography, “like schools” and strength of programs. The groups should consist of at least 16 or more schools whenever possible. The minimum size of any group is 10 schools. Districts could include teams from more than one class.

--A placement committee with representatives from all areas of the state would place schools into scheduling groups. Those decisions would be reviewed by the MSHSL’s Activities Director Advisory Committee and would have to be approved by the MSHSL board of directors.

--Districts would be realigned every two years to make adjustments for enrollment changes, changes in nine-man teams, changes in cooperative programs and changes due to programs being dropped, school consolidations, etc.

--A guideline is that the enrollment difference in any group should be no more than a ratio of 2-to-1, and when possible the ratio would be less than 2-to-1.

--All schools would be able to provide information to the placement committee, including important rivalries, willingness to play against larger schools, travel issues or a willingness to travel farther for a competitive schedule.

--Class 6A would follow the same plan as other classes, and some Class 5A teams may be included in groups with 6A teams based on enrollment and geography.

--Each school must play all eight of its regular-season games within its district. The only exceptions are districts with an odd number of schools. In that case, Zero Week games may be used to provide a full schedule or games could be scheduled against out-of-state teams.

--Each district would create schedules for teams in the district. Districts may create conferences or other sub-groups within the district for scheduling purposes.

--The section playoff format would remain the same as it is currently, with section seeding based on regular-season results.

The board could go in one of several directions at Thursday’s meeting. The members could approve the plan as is, they could make changes in the proposal, they could ask for more input and time to make a decision, and they could vote to make no changes to regular-season football.

At the December meeting the board asked MSHSL staff to survey schools on this topic. There are approximately 375 football teams in the state, and 227 schools completed an online survey. Here are the survey questions and results…

1. All students who play football should have the opportunity for a full eight-game schedule against teams from Minnesota. Yes-204. No-21. (90% yes).

2. Does your school currently have challenges scheduling regular-season football games? Yes-41. No-186. (18% yes).

3. Has your school had challenges with regular-season football scheduling at any time in the past 10 years? Yes-94. No-133 (41% yes).

4. Has your school had challenges with regular-season football scheduling at any time in the past 20-25 years? Yes-94. No-133. (42% yes).

5. Resolving regular-season football scheduling issues would help solve issues which oftentimes lead to conference dissatisfaction. Yes-126. No-100. (55% yes).

6. Resolving regular-season football scheduling issues would be of assistance to me as an athletic/activities director. Strongly Agree-56. Agree-67. Disagree-52. Strongly Disagree-51. (54% agree or strongly agree).

--Another football topic for the board Thursday is the 2015 season. Because of the availability of TCF Bank Stadium, the season-ending Prep Bowl will be held two weeks before Thanksgiving in 2015. That means the normal season schedule must change; practices could begin sooner, the regular season could be shortened to seven games, one round of postseasoson play could be eliminated.

Another possibility is allowing teams to play their first game after two weeks of practice (instead of the usual three weeks). Many teams now take part in scrimmages after two weeks of practice, but the board could allow games to be played on the Saturday of the second week of practice in 2015.

--In another football agenda item, the football advisory committee will ask for a change in the playoff structure for Class 6A football. The proposal calls for each of the four 6A sections to be seeded 1 through 8, and all 32 teams to be placed into one tournament bracket with eight four-team sub-brackets. Four of those sub-brackets would consist of teams seeded 1, 4, 5 and 8, and the others would include teams seeded 2, 3, 6 and 7.

This plan would ensure that No. 1 section seeds would not meet until the state semifinals. The tournament bracket would be revealed on television or through some type of media event.

--The softball coaches advisory committee will ask the board to approve an additional class, moving softball from three classes to four.

Thursday's meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the MSHSL office in Brooklyn Center.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 270
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,963
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

At Rochester Lourdes, The Glass Is Always More Than Half Full
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/16/2014 5:34:46 PM

If numbers help define Myron Glass, don't look at the number of girls basketball state championship teams he has coached at Rochester Lourdes High School. Or the number of teams he has taken to state tournaments. Or the state titles his teams have captured in cross-country and track.

Those numbers are indeed impressive. Under Glass the Eagles have won eight basketball titles, which is a state record he shares with Faith Johnson Patterson, formerly of Minneapolis North and currently at DeLaSalle. And Glass has coached 15 teams to state tourneys, which is the most in girls basketball history.

The numbers that really count, however, are the numbers of girls he has mentored, taught, coached and led since his career as a teacher and coach began at Lourdes in 1968. He has been the Eagles' girls basketball coach since 1983.

"He's given his life to this school," said Lourdes athletic director Marv Peters. "That's the easiest way to say it."

Glass is one of the pioneers of girls athletics in Minnesota. He helped start girls programs at Lourdes, building models for many other schools in southeastern Minnesota and around the state.

"Look at how far the young ladies have come," Glass said. "That's something that myself and others can be really proud of. Once we ran a couple meets and got more teams doing it, it just took off."

Glass may or may not retire after this season -- more on that in a moment -- but no matter when he steps down he will leave big shoes to fill. He ranks second all-time in Minnesota girls basketball victories; his 713-134 mark stands behind only New London-Spicer coach Mike Dreier's record of 799-145.

Glass coached girls and boys cross-country at Lourdes for 40 years, winning four state championships with the boys team and two with the girls. His girls track teams also won two state championships. Lourdes owns a total of 42 state team championships and Glass was the head coach for 16 of them.

"I am perplexed about replacing him," Peters said. "It's going to be tough.''

Glass is waffling just a bit on retiring. He had originally talked about ending his coaching career after the 2012-13 season, but Peters convinced him to stay on while Lourdes departed its downtown location after 71 years and moved into a sparkling new campus in northwest Rochester. Now, in the midst of the 2013-14 season, Glass won't absolutely, positively confirm that he will retire at season's end. But it appears that he will.

He laughed when I asked him about retiring, saying that is the likely scenario "unless Marv talks me out of it, like he did last year."

Little has changed over the years. Glass still wears a wristwatch calculator, befitting a math teacher; he also taught social studies before retiring from teaching several years ago. He also still prepares some of the most detailed scouting reports of any high school coach in any sport. He puts together seven- or eight-page packets for each of his players to study before every game.

Glass has coached young athletes who grew up and had children, and then he coached the second generation. As he put it,"You have kids who you held as a baby, because you coached and taught their parents, then you're coaching them when they're 16, 17 years old."

Martha Macken, a Lourdes player in the 1980s, wishes Glass would stick around long enough to coach her fifth-grade daughter, Sydney Elliott, and hand her some of those famous scouting reports.

"The thing about Mr. Glass is he knows the team that you're playing. We know their offense and their defense before we play them. He's very prepared," said Macken, who made one of the biggest baskets in Lourdes history, a buzzer-beater that lifted the Eagles past Wheaton 33-31 in the 1987 state title game.

"Mr. Glass has really created a foundation here, and a legacy," Macken said. "He's built these programs. When I grew up we didn't have all the leagues and everything that they currently have, and it's due to him. He put in a lot of time and effort. He's a fixture at the school."

At both the old school and the new school, Glass is the person who opens the gym doors in the morning and locks up the place at night. He sweeps the floor, he mends uniforms, he runs summer basketball camps, he even runs the clock for ninth-grade girls basketball games.

"He's here every weekend," Peters said. "Every Saturday, and he comes in on Sunday. The thing about Myron is that there are so many layers, but every layer connects back to the school. It's been his vocation.

"I think he's one of the gentlest, kindest guys around. He really makes it all about the kids. He deflects so much; he deflects praise, he deflects congratulations. He deflects all those things, he's so old-school."

Glass' success as a coach is remarkable because he didn't play the game. He was cut from the basketball team at Minneapolis South and worked his way through St. Cloud State as a non-athlete, working at a gas station in Minneapolis during summers, weekends and holidays. After graduating, he interviewed for teaching jobs at Albany, at a Minneapolis junior high and Lourdes. The first offer came from Lourdes and he happily accepted.

Now 46 years later, as a lifelong bachelor in his late 60s, he is pondering a transition to a post-coaching lifestyle.

"That's the hard part about deciding on retirement," he said. "What do you do? Being a single guy you don't have that 'honey do' list that the married guys have. The mind is no problem, it's the body that as you get older has a little trouble keeping up. I'm probably looking forward to a knee replacement and stuff like that."

When Glass retired as a classroom teacher, he began working as a scheduling coordinator at Lourdes. As any administrator knows, putting together schedules for classes, teachers, students and classrooms can be a tedious, difficult process. And that's right up the coach's alley.

"He's just been a whiz at that because of his math skills," Peters said. "Even if basketball comes to an end, I really hope we can keep him on as our scheduler and helping in the guidance department."

Glass has not only taught and coached generations of athletes at Lourdes, he also has had a major impact on other coaches at Lourdes and southeastern Minnesota.

"I'm sure he stole or figured out everything he did, and now he's the most copied coach around," Peters said. "Everybody in this area who's successful does what he does. It's unbelievable. That's the best form of flattery."

*Schools/teams John has visited: 259
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,855
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Debate, Football, Band And More: Edina Junior Is A Busy Young Lady
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/14/2014 2:22:13 PM

If there are any busier high school students in Minnesota than Annika Smith-Ortiz, it has to be a very short list. The Edina junior will compete in the state debate tournament Friday and Saturday at the University of Minnesota, and that activity is just one of many for her.

“There’s so much to do in life and I might as well get it all in there when I’m young,” she said.

In addition to taking part in Lincoln-Douglas debate, Smith-Ortiz was a junior varsity kicker on the Edina football team last fall, plays softball, is on the Nordic ski team, is vice-president of her school’s Latin club and a captain for Sober Squad. Her current classes include Advanced Placement U.S. History, AP U.S. Literature and Language, AP Three-Dimensional Art and Design, Enriched Biology, Pre-Calculus and Latin 4. She also plays tenor saxophone in the varsity band, baritone saxophone in jazz band and marches in the football halftime shows while wearing her football uniform.

Oh, and she biked across the country last summer from South Carolina to California, nearly 3,200 miles over six weeks.

When I asked if she ever had any free time, Annika laughed and said, “I try and work it in there. It usually comes in the form of sleep and napping, maybe reading.”

This will be her first time competing at state debate. Her Twitter username offers a clue about why she is talented in debate; it’s“I LIKE ARGUING.”

“I really like to argue,” she said. “I think for me, it’s a lot of looking at the news. I’m really interested in the news and being able to see the full side of things. In debate you’re forced to debate both sides of the argument, and you get caught up. It’s fascinating for me to see the world and get caught up in topics that you never would have thought about otherwise.”

Annika isn’t alone in being a very busy member of a debate team; the activity is populated by bright, energetic, well-rounded students. One of her Edina debate teammates, Arvind Veluvali, for example, will compete in Lincoln-Douglas at state and also is a member of the Hornets swimming and diving team.

Annika (in the center of this photo) became interesting in kicking footballs in eighth grade, when students got to try it in gym class.

“I thought it would be really cool to do this,” she said. “It was so much fun to get onto the team, form relationships and play a sport I love. I try to be as much of a team player as I can.”

Annika didn’t have any time for football last summer while biking across the country, but in previous summers she worked out with linemen and defensive backs, “trying to get a feel for the team. I love football and just being part of it is awesome.”

She enjoys watching football on TV. When I asked if she had seen any of last weekend’s NFL playoff games, she said, “because of debate I came home and took a nap and got ready for finals.”

This is indeed finals week at Edina, and Annika will miss two final exams Friday because of the debate tournament.

“I think the leadership and the voice that debate gives people is really incomparable to other activities,” she said. “It really teaches you to get up in front of crowds, and as you advance further, more and more people are expecting you to do well. It’s kind of like pitching or kicking; you’re the only one being watched. In every sport it’s a different sort of activity while debate is more of a mental awareness, a mental game.”

She is uncertain of her career plans, saying the medical field is one possibility.

“I would love to go into medicine of some sort. And last year I did an English project called a passion project, and my project was on teen homelessness. I’d like to do anything that gives back to the community. Anything that encourages leadership and people to step forward and make a difference.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 259
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,811
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Boys Swimming: Rochester Century Reaches The Century Mark
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/10/2014 1:07:53 PM

ROCHESTER – One-hundred is a nice round number. And when the boys swimming team from Rochester Century reached the century mark in victorious dual meets without a loss Thursday evening, it was a very nice deal for a team that doesn’t even have a home pool. And notice that I didn’t refer to the Panthers as a “swimming and diving” team … because they have no divers.

No pool. No divers. And here they are, 100 dual victories in a row and counting since their last dual-meet defeat in December 2004. The Panthers outscored Rochester John Marshall 94-84 Thursday at John Marshall’s pool, and celebrated with little more than cookies … some of which were topped with “100” in frosting.

“It’s a great achievement and it’s unreal,” said Century coach Linda Freeman (pictured). “It will obviously end at some point; this is a competitive sport and someone always loses and someone always wins. No one goes through life never losing so this is a fairy tale.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the national record for consecutive dual victories in boys swimming and diving is 165, set by Brophy Prep in Phoenix, Arizona, between 1977 and 1993. It can be difficult to find such records in Minnesota, but St. Thomas Academy went 125-0 in dual meets from the beginning of the 1995 season through 2009.

Freeman did not have any assistant coaches for her first three years as head coach. This season, however, her staff includes Scott Diercks, who has a dozen years of experience as a high school swim coach, and her brother Doug Freeman, a volunteer coach. Doug was a champion swimmer at John Marshall in the early 1970s and swam at the University of Arizona.

The Panthers practice in the Mayo pool, often working out from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

“We have to rely on the good graces of our buddies,” Freeman said of Mayo. “We never get first choice, we’re always second. It’s tough, but no pool, no problem.”

No boys swimming team from Rochester has won a state team championship since 1964, when the winning school was simply named Rochester High because it was the only public high school in town. Century has had five individuals win state titles during the 10 years of the current streak; the most recent was Chris Freeman (Doug's son) in the 500 freestyle in 2011.

“We don’t have open enrollment down here,” Linda Freeman said. “ So it’s swimming upstream when we get in with the big fish.”

At the Class 2A state championships last year, Alexander Kofler placed sixth in the 100 breaststroke and Jason Tri was 12th in the 200 individual medley and 50 freestyle. The Panthers placed 17th in the team standings.

The Panthers have competed without any divers since 2007. The reason?

“I wish I knew,” Freeman said. “We go into every stinking meet 13 points behind.”

Indeed, John Marshall outscored Century 13-0 in the diving competition Thursday. The Panthers led the team scoring 44-18 before diving and 44-31 afterwards.

The lack of divers, while a little odd, doesn’t dim the team’s accomplishments.

Kofler said being part of a program that has won so many consecutive dual meets “means a lot to me. Just seeing the whole team pull together and really work hard during all those years, all these generations and classes of swimmers. It means a lot to finally know we did it, we made it to triple digits. It’s a big benchmark for us. Obviously we want to keep it going, but that hundred was the big thing we wanted to go for.”

Freeman became the Panthers’ head coach four years ago when the streak was at 76 consecutive wins. The team’s original co-coaches were Kent Quackenbush and Dale Magnuson (Magnuson currently coaches the Century girls). Magnuson was the solo boys head coach for six years before Freeman took over four years ago, when the streak was 76 in a row.

Freeman and the swimmers almost never talk about the streak, instead taking the position that working hard and staying together will result in good things.

“It’s a situation that I have downplayed quite a bit, and every season and every meet we have to go out and start again,” Freeman said. “I don't talk about it a lot except to say, ‘Forget it and just swim.’

“It’s been a great opportunity for them to realize what a champion is. A champion is humble, has great pride, and lets his swimming do the talking. I always tell them it’s one meet at a time, one swim at a time. It will take care of itself.”

--To see a photo gallery from the Century-John Marshall meet, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 256
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,611
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Old Dutch Honors Go To Apple Valley Wrestling, Cretin's Sam Neumann
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/9/2014 2:53:01 PM

The wrestling team from Apple Valley and Cretin-Derham Hall basketball player Sam Neumann are the recipients of this week's Old Dutch Team and Athlete of the Week honors.

The Apple Valley Eagles continued their wrestling domination by capturing the championship of the 12th annual Clash national duals tournament in Rochester. The Eagles defeated teams from Alabama, Illinois, New Jersey and Minnesota in winning the 32-team tourney.

Apple Valley, which is ranked No. 3 in the nation, defeated second-ranked Oak Park River Forest of Illinois to clinch the title. Apple Valley also won Clash titles in 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Neumann, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, had a memorable weekend, surpassing the 1,000-point milestone on Friday and putting on the best performance in the four-game Timberwolves Shootout on Saturday.

Neumann scored 25 points in a victory over Park on Friday night, moving him past 1,000 career points. On Saturday he made nine of 15 three-point shots and scored 39 points as the Raiders lost a close game to Bettendorf, Iowa, at Target Center in the Timberwolves Shootout.

Neumann scored 24 points in the second half, and his 39 points rank sixth all-time in the Timberwolves Shootout. Duluth East’s Rick Rickert tops the list with 44 points, and Kevin Love scored 41 at the Shootout when he was in high school.

Congratulations to the Apple Valley wrestling team and Cretin-Derham Hall's Sam Neumann for being this week’s Old Dutch High School Team and Athlete of the Week!

Caleb Thielbar: From Randolph To The Major Leagues
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/3/2014 10:37:59 PM

The first time I interviewed Caleb Thielbar was nearly 10 years ago, during the spring of 2004. He was a junior at Randolph High School and part of a Rockets baseball team that was attempting to reach the state tournament for the first time in school history.

Here’s an excerpt from my story that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune …

--The Rockets have been playing together since they were little kids running around on the picturesque ball diamond on the west edge of town, and they consider that their strength. “We've been playing together for so long, since at least third grade," said junior Caleb Thielbar, who is 6-1 on the mound and hitting .483.

Caleb not only has a copy of the story, he told me Friday night in the Randolph gym, he has the actual printing-press plate of that page from the sports section. Hearing that is an honor for any reporter, but the hometown honors all went to Thielbar on Friday, which was proclaimed “Caleb Thielbar Night” as the Randolph girls and boys basketball teams played host to Maple River in a Gopher Conference doubleheader.

Caleb had autographed baseballs, hats, a jersey and other items, and he shook the hand of every raffle winner who took home a prize. Randolph and Twins uniforms, along with several photos of Caleb, were framed, unveiled to the crowd and will be displayed in the school.

Think about that 2004 baseball season and fast-forward to the 2013 baseball season, when Thielbar made his major league debut with the Twins. The lefthander had a 3-2 record with an outstanding 1.76 earned-run average in 49 appearances, all in relief. He was named the Twins’ rookie of the year.

He played college baseball at South Dakota State and was selected by Milwaukee in the 18th round of the 2009 amateur draft. He was released by the Brewers in late 2010 and was with the St. Paul Saints in 2011 before signing with the Twins in August that year.

It’s pretty much a dream come true – based on hard work and great support -- and Caleb said as much when we chatted after the formal ceremony between games.

“I guess when you grow up in a town like this, you have to be accountable for yourself,” he said. “If you’re not a good kid, people know about it within the next day. I don’t think it’s that hard to carry that over later in life. There are people who get caught up in different things and change a little bit; I’m trying my best not to do that.”

Thielbar made his first two major league appearances in Atlanta last season, and Randolph superintendent Mike Kelley told the crowd Friday that the games were on TV in the school commons. “I had a tear in my eye,” Kelley said. “For all the students sitting here, the real hope for us as educators is that they have the confidence to chase their hopes and dreams.”

Caleb wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. “At that point I wanted to go to college, I wanted to play ball, I wanted to find a college that had the major I wanted (wildlife and fisheries management),” he told me as we talked in the school kitchen. “I just kind of stumbled into South Dakota State and it ended up working out. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

He was an all-state baseball player in high school (with a 9-0 record and 0.69 ERA as a senior) and honorable mention all-state in basketball. He was a four-year basketball letterwinner, averaging 23 points per game. He has spent time working out in the Randolph High School weight room with the local kids. But he recently bought a house in Brookings, S.D., and now calls that his home base.

“I like pheasant hunting a lot so South Dakota is a perfect fit,” he said. In addition, he can throw with catchers from South Dakota State during the winter.

When Caleb spoke to the big crowd in the gym, he began by thanking all his coaches, starting with his father. He told the kids to pursue their dreams.

“You need to believe in yourself and have a good supporting cast,” he said. When we talked privately, he told me, “I had a good group of coaches around me who taught me to work hard and go after whatever you want to be. It doesn’t have to be baseball. You’ve got to have something that you want to strive for, and whatever that is, just work hard.”

Not long ago Thielbar was just another journeyman ballplayer, hoping for a chance to prove himself. He’s taking nothing for granted as a new season nears. He said the only difference now is what he called “the wondering.”

“The wondering whether you can play there,” he said of the major leagues. “I feel like I proved myself, so it’s just a matter of being able to keep doing that. They say the toughest thing is staying there, not getting there. I just want to prove that I can belong.”

He’ll always belong to the folks in Randoolph.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 254
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,477
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

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