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Track Record Watch Gets Rolling At Hamline Elite Meet
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/29/2011 11:06:56 PM

Friday was on the cool and blustery side, which is probably fitting considering the kind of spring weather we’ve all been seeing across Minnesota. All sorts of outdoor athletic events have been cancelled or postponed in recent weeks, including lots of track meets.

Those kinds of scheduling problems usually mean that athletes are not in the condition they might be in under better weather conditions. But any doubts about the state of high school track – especially in a couple of boys field events – were slapped in the face during Friday evening’s Hamline Elite Meet.

In other words, be prepared for a bona fide Record Watch to take us through the rest of the track season. We very nearly saw the state record in the boys triple jump fall at Hamline on Friday, and the boys high jump record is another one to keep an eye on as the season continues. Here are the details:

--Eden Prairie senior Michael Sandle (pictured at right) won the triple jump with a distance of 50 feet, 3 1/3 inches, which ranks second in state history. The state record is 50 feet, 4 inches, set by Reondo Davis of Blaine in 1999. Sandle, who won the Class 2A state title last year with a jump of 49-5 ½, will have several more chances to break the all-time record. If the weather is favorable at the June 10-11 state meet, right back at Hamline, big things could happen … if Sandle doesn’t get the record before then.

--In the high jump, senior Trevor Yedoni of Benilde-St. Margaret’s came within two inches of the all-time state record. Yedoni’s winning height Friday was 6-11 before he failed three times at 7 feet, one-quarter inch. The record of 7-1 is shared by Rod Raver of Rochester John Marshall (1973) and Jon Markuson of Chaska (1993). Yedoni also won the long jump Friday.

(To see video of Yedoni clearing 6-11, as well as a photo gallery from the Elite Meet, go to the MSHSL Facebook page. In the photo below, Yedoni clears 6-11.)

The Elite Meet’s most decorated individual was senior Devin Crawford-Tufts of Edina, who has signed to play football at the University of Minnesota. He was a triple champion, capturing the 100 and 200 titles and anchoring the Hornets’ winning 4x100 team with a breathtaking come-from-behind leg. (Video of his anchor leg also can be found on the MSHSL Facebook page.)

Other stars of the meet included senior Analisa Huschle of Bagley-Fosston , a decorated state championship veteran who won the 200 and long jump Friday. St. Francis sophomore Maggie Ewen, the best young thrower in the state, captured the shot put and discus titles.

The Elite Meet, now in its sixth year, is easily the top track event of the season other than the state championships, also held at Hamline University’s Klas Field in St. Paul. The Elite Meet plan is simple: Gather the state’s top athletes in each event and turn them loose. All events are one-race finals except the 100 meters, which has preliminary races. It is a fabulous event.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 625
*Miles John has driven: 9,354

--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

Terry Steinbach: Major League Player, High School Coach And Dad
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/27/2011 1:39:59 PM

Terry Steinbach played in more than 1,500 major league baseball games during a 14-year career, but some of his favorite baseball memories have come after his retirement as a player. Coaching your sons will do that.

Steinbach, who played with the Oakland A’s and Twins before retiring after the 1999 season, is in his fourth year as an assistant coach at Wayzata High School. He took the job when his son Lucas was in high school; Lucas is now playing college baseball at Minnesota-Duluth and Jake Steinbach (pictured here with his dad) is a junior catcher, second baseman and outfielder at Wayzata.

“For me it was a natural fit because I was going to be at the games watching my kids play, anyway,” Steinbach said before a game this week. “It’s nice just to be able to be here, to help all the kids and try to give back some of the stuff that I’ve learned.”

Steinbach grew up in New Ulm, where he was a baseball and hockey star, and he played baseball at the University of Minnesota before being drafted by Oakland in 1983. He played in three All-Star Games with Oakland as well as three World Series, including the A’s 1989 World Series championship. In 2007 he was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame as well as the National High School Hall of Fame.

I remember sitting in the Twins dugout at the Metrodome late in the 1998 season, interviewing Steinbach. He was 37 years old at the time, knowing his playing career was in its closing stages. Back then, Terry and Mary Steinbach’s children were 11 (daughter Jill), 8 and 5 years old.

He told me back then, “The kids are getting pretty active in a lot of their sports. They're like, ‘Hey Dad, can you come and watch my game?’ And I’d love to, but Dad's got to be down at the field, too. They understand, but I don't think it makes it any easier.”

This week, the 49-year-old Steinbach sat in the home dugout at the Wayzata field and talked about spending time with his kids on the ballfield. There was a clear sense of contentment as he spoke.

“It’s fun,” he said of coaching his children. “It’s a little bit of a challenge, too, because here I’m their coach and at home I’m their dad.”

The Steinbachs aren’t the only connection between Wayzata High School and the major leagues. Freshman infielder Mickey Leius is the son of former Twin Scott Leius and brothers Maris (senior) and Matt (sophomore) Blanchard are grandsons of the late New York Yankees player Johnny Blanchard.

Trojans head coach Bobby DeWitt said that whenever Steinbach talks to the players, “Literally, there’s a hush. He’s a guy with experience and know-how, and he’s been where every kid dreams of going. The people he’s played with and played against, those are all the pros that guys like me grew up watching in the '80s.”

Luke Steinbach fondly remembers when he was little, playing baseball with his father on the Metrodome field. His dad became a coach when Luke was 13, and Luke admitted it was a little strange.

“I didn’t know what to say, Dad or Coach? But now it’s 100 percent natural. I’d definitely say it’s a benefit having him out here. He teaches what he calls perfect form, how to throw faster, good footwork and most of all how to be a good catcher. Respecting the game is his main priority.”

Terry Steinbach said he has noticed some differences between his own days as a high school athlete and today.

“I think it’s a little bit different because of the competition for the kids’ time," he said. "In our era we didn’t have the internet and the social networking that they all have now. Not that that’s good or bad.

“I remember my group, we’d get up on Saturday morning and go to the ballfield. We’d just meet there, you didn’t have to call and it wasn’t orchestrated. You’d find ways to play games. Now everything has to be orchestrated. Again, I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. And it’s that way in all sports. But the game’s the same. And there’s better training, better equipment, even some better fields.”

He also has realized that not all players dream of playing baseball beyond high school.

“When you spend a lot of years in pro ball, everybody has aspirations of being a pro ballplayer,” he said. “When you come to high school, there are a few people who might have aspirations of playing college ball, and there are probably more kids who are like, ‘this is it.’ And that’s OK. But when I first got here I would have assumed that everybody would want to play college ball. The reality of it is there’s a select few who would move up that ladder.”

Steinbach still plays baseball with the Searles Bullheads amateur team; his older brothers Tim and Tom are teammates. (Terry Steinbach’s bio on the Bullheads website says he “was a perennial last pick for kickball on the playgrounds of New Ulm in elementary school. … Unfortunately for Terry, his years in the majors prevented him from recognizing his childhood dreams of becoming a corn de-tasseler.”)

Playing amateur baseball “is competitive enough and you’re still playing baseball,” he said.

I’m tempted to write “You can take the kid out of the game but you can’t take the game out of the kid.” But that would be incorrect, because Terry Steinbach and the game remain together. And that’s a great thing.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 600
*Miles John has driven: 9,172

--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

Wrestling Weight Changes Announced For 2011-12
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/26/2011 10:42:35 AM

Today's news is two-fold: 1) Another wet, cold day that is knocking outdoor sports off the schedule; 2) Big news in the wrestling world.

Starting with the 2011-12 season, high school wrestling will see a change in weight classes. There will still be 14 classes, but some of the weights have changed.

Here's a statement issued today by the National Federation of State High School Associations:

In the most significant changes in weight classes in the high school ranks in 23 years, the NFHS Wrestling Rules Committee approved an upward shift of the weight classes, beginning with the 103-pound class moving to 106 pounds, which resulted in new weights for 10 of the 14 classes. The changes in weight classes, along with 17 other rules revisions, were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

The 14 weight classes approved by the committee for 2011-12 are: 106 pounds, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220 and 285. Three middle weight classes -– 145, 152 and 160 -– were retained, although they are 7-8-9 in order now rather than 8-9-10. The largest weight class (285 pounds) remains unchanged as well.

“The change in weight classes resulted from a three-to-four year process utilizing data from the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Optimal Performance Calculator,” Dale Pleimann, chair of the NFHS Wrestling Rules Committee and former assistant executive director of the Missouri State High School Activities Association, said in a statement. “The rules committee was able to analyze data from almost 200,000 wrestlers across the country, with the goal to create weight classes that have approximately seven percent of the wrestlers in each weight class.

“Throughout the process, each state association was kept completely informed and was provided multiple opportunities for input. The results of the last survey of each state association indicated that the majority of states favored a change, and the committee listened and acted accordingly.”

The last wholesale shift in weight classes occurred in 1988, when the lowest weight class was increased from 98 to 103 pounds. The only other changes since then were in 2002, when the number of classes went from 13 to 14 and the 215-pound weight class became mandatory, and in 2006, when the 275-pound class was increased to 285 pounds.

Among changes in wrestling holds, the Figure 4 around the head has been ruled an illegal hold/maneuver. Previously, the Figure 4 was illegal around the body or both legs.

“This move was being used by high school wrestlers more and more on the head, so to minimize the risk of injury, the committee voted to outlaw the Figure 4 on the head as well as around the body and both legs,” said Bob Colgate, NFHS assistant director and liaison to the Wrestling Rules Committee.

Another significant change was made in Rule 2-1-3, which now makes the boundary line inbounds and, thus, expands the wrestling area. Previously, a wrestler was out of bounds if he or she was touching any part of the 2-inch-wide line which marks the wrestling area.

Wrestling is the sixth-most popular sport for boys at the high school level with 272,890 participants in 10,363 schools during the 2009-10 season, according to the NFHS athletics participation survey. In addition, 6,134 girls were involved in wrestling in 1,009 high schools.

Let’s Get Outdoors And Enjoy Some Sunshine
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/25/2011 10:15:57 AM

Other than a little cold and wet bump in the road, the weather forecast looks promising as we continue to wait for spring to arrive in our part of the world. Seeing “90 percent chance of precipitation” for Tuesday is a little daunting, but we’ll get through it. Temps in the 60s are forecast for central Minnesota later this week, which should be a good sign statewide.

Members of the MSHSL staff will hit the road this week for the twice-yearly area meetings. These gathering with school administrators offer them an opportunity to stay abreast of what’s happening with the MSHSL, and also is a great time for MSHSL folks to get a strong feel for what’s happening across the state.

This week’s meetings will be in Mankato on Tuesday and Rochester on Friday. Over the following two weeks, meetings will be held in Fergus Falls, Thief River Falls, Chisholm, Brainerd and the Twin Cities.

I’m planning to be in Mankato and Rochester for the area meetings this week, while also attending as many outdoor activities as the weather allows. I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to squeeze in, but on my calendar this week I’ve penciled in a baseball game, a softball game, a golf tournament and three track meets.

The biggest event of the track regular season will take place Friday. It’s the Hamline Elite Meet, which will be held for the sixth time on the same track that is the site of the state meet in June.

The Elite Meet format is unique in that the athletes who have posted the top nine times/distances this spring are invited to compete. All races are finals with the exceptions of the 100 meters, which has prelims. We won’t know the entry lists until they are posted on Thursday, but this meet always draws the best track and field athletes from schools of all sizes across the state. The meet will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Klas Stadium on the Hamline campus in St. Paul.

There are other important events in spring sports this week. The Edina Invitational boys tennis tournament on Saturday will be a gathering of some of the top talent in the state, the North St. Paul Polar Classic softball tournament on Friday and Saturday is one of the top regular-season events in that sport, and the Tri-State Invitational Friday and Saturday at Edinburgh USA in Brooklyn Park is a high-level event for boys golfers.

I’m confident we’ll make it through whatever Mother Nature will throw at us this week. Hopefully it will be tons of sun.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 597
*Miles John has driven: 8,994

--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

Spring Sports Weather Report: Cold, Wet And Waiting
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/20/2011 2:42:36 PM

Rochester Mayo athletic/activities director Jeff Whitney keeps his school’s sports schedules in a handy, easy-to-read, single-page format on his desk. When an event is postponed because of bad weather, he marks it in red. You can guess at the appearance of his paperwork during this cold, wet spring of 2011.

“It looks like I’ve spilled ketchup all over my schedule,” Whitney said Wednesday. “We’ve postponed 12 events in the last five days.”

From Rochester to Marshall, from Crookston to the Iron Range, from the Twin Cities to all corners of Minnesota, the theme of spring sports is the same: Cold, wet and waiting. Practices for softball and track began March 14 and other outdoor spring sports fell into line later in March, but rotten weather all over the state has put almost everything on hold. Some examples:

--If Thursday’s weather cooperates, Hibbing High School’s baseball and softball teams will play their first home games of the spring; the track, golf and tennis teams have yet to compete at home, and the road schedules have not been much better.

--In the week that ended Wednesday, teams from the varsity level on down at Farmington High School had seen 44 events cancelled or postponed. Baseball and softball games against Northfield had been postponed once, were postponed again Wednesday and the teams will make a third attempt to play on May 9.

--In Thief River Falls, the baseball and tennis teams have played once, the softball team has played two games and the track teams are still waiting for their first competition. In the past week, 35 events have been postponed or cancelled. One exception was a boys tennis match at Moorhead, which was played Tuesday in 41 degrees on dry courts surrounded by snow.

--Teams at Marshall High School have been practicing on parking lots while waiting to play games. The baseball and softball teams have only played once, with a total of seven games rescheduled. Two track meets have been called off and will not be rescheduled, one golf tournament has been cancelled and another postponed.

In other words, it’s getting ugly out there.

“Mother Nature has given us a little wake-up call,” said Hibbing athletic/activities director Tim Scott. “But our people are pretty good at improvising, even if it means the first time our kids catch a fly ball it might be in our first game.”

With the weather taking a turn for the worse in the last week, and this being Easter week, rescheduling some events can be nearly impossible. Many schools are closed late this week with no activities scheduled … or rescheduled.

Adding to the spring uncertainty are the weather forecasts. Southern Minnesota got snow on Tuesday into Wednesday, but the worst of the snow didn’t materialize as far north as some predicted. A large track meet scheduled at Farmington on Tuesday was called off early Tuesday, even though the weather turned out to be not as bad as predicted.

“We had to think about the number of kids coming, where the schools are the, release times and other things,” said Farmington athletic/activities director Jon Summer. “We made that decision fairly early in the morning when we were looking at the forecast. One of the challenges of being an AD is everyone kind of has different guidelines in how and when you make that decision. And it’s hard. The AD side of me is thinking of the headaches of rescheduling, but in the end you want to walk out the door feeling that you did the right things for kids and health and safety.

“Sometimes people expect ADs to be better weather forecasters than the professional weather forecasters. When I was working on my master’s degree in sports management, I never took a class where I needed to read a Doppler radar.”

A year ago, excellent spring weather arrived in early March and cooperated all the through the completion of the seasons. Rochester Mayo’s Whitney only had to reschedule seven spring events in 2010.

In 2011, however, spring teams all over Minnesota are making use of indoor practice space, which can mean gymnasiums as well as hallways. Mayo is a “round” school, and athletes can run five laps around the building to cover a mile. That also means, however, that teachers exiting classrooms and custodians pushing carts have to keep an eye out for fast-moving students.

In Thief River Falls, there is a plethora of outstanding outdoor athletic facilities as well as Ralph Engelstad Arena for hockey teams. “But when it comes to indoor stuff, we are really, really short,” said athletic/activities director Mike Biermaier.

A middle school track meet was scheduled for Monday, with members of the high school track team helping run the meet. But weather killed the event, meaning 90 middle school athletes and 80 varsity athletes needed indoor space to practice. Biermaier and others scrambled.

“We couldn’t be outdoors, so we sent 25 kids to Ralph Engelstad Arena to work out with Tim Bergland, our boys hockey coach,” Biermaier said. “We put 50 or 60 kids in the pool, we put more in the middle school gym and others in the high school gym. We had them everywhere.”

The baseball and softball teams had to wait their turns, using the indoor spaces when the track athletes were finished.

Some schools have more indoor options, including Crookston High School. The Pirates can work out at the Crookston Sports Center, which opened last year. The center has three full-size ice rinks, with one covered by artificial turf this time of year.

“It’s getting a lot of use,” said Crookston athletic/activities director Don Donarski. “We’ve been very fortunate. Our baseball, softball and golf teams have been making great use of it. It’s incredible and it’s taken a lot of pressure off our gym.”

As the cancellations and postponements pile up, the odds of playing a full season grow longer. May will soon arrive, followed by the end of the regular season and the onset of playoffs. If the weather does ever return to normal (cross your fingers), teams may be jamming a lot of games into a very short time frame.

“We’re coming to the realization that we’re not going to be able to reschedule everything,” Biermaier said. “Percentage-wise, I would say more than half of our games that have been postponed will not be rescheduled.”

Marshall athletic/activities director Bruce Remme said, “You come down to about a three-week season when you get to May. You just cram it in.”

Farmington’s varsity baseball team has games scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday next week and a tournament on Saturday.

“Pretty much everybody on the team better be able to throw some strikes,” said Summer.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 593
*Miles John has driven: 8,944

--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

Fairmont’s Sarah Bankson: A History-Making State Champion
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/18/2011 12:33:39 PM

Wearing a black jacket and matching skirt, black shoes, a purple shirt and matching headband, the Babe Ruth of Minnesota high school speech smiled and ducked her head slightly as a gold medal was placed around her neck.

In what has become an annual event, Fairmont High School senior Sarah Bankson won the Class A championship in the Informative Speaking category of the state speech tournament Friday evening at Chanhassen High School. It was her fourth gold medal, making her the first four-time state speech champion in Minnesota history. That’s 42 years of history.

“There are a lot of feelings,” she said after the awards ceremony. “It’s joy, relief, happiness. It’s just kind of overwhelming.”

Her speech this season -- titled “Tearing Up or Breaking Down” -- was an explanation of tears. That sounds so simple, but gold is found in the preparation and presentation. Using an easel and homemade visual aids, Sarah explained to the judges and the audience that tears are a mixture of water, mucus and oil. She showed posters from the movies “The Notebook” and “Bambi” … both are listed among the top tearjerkers of all time. She showed teary-eyed photos of John Boehner and Hillary Clinton.

Sarah spoke and moved effortlessly. Watching her speech, it was clear that she knows how to do research and prepare her material.

“She works hard,” said Cliff Janke, who along with his wife Roxy coaches the Fairmont speech team. “Sarah’s the champion and it’s because of her hard work. She has support from her family and support from her teammates, but Sarah’s a hard worker.”

But there’s more than that to a gold-medal performance. There’s creativity. There’s talent. Sarah ended her speech with these words: “There is more to a tear than meets the eye.” Boom. Gold.

“She’s an amazing, amazing kid to work with,” said Roxy Janke.

Sarah’s fourth gold medal was only part of the weekend success story for Fairmont. The Cardinals and Mounds Park Academy each took home three gold medals, and this was the seventh consecutive year in which Fairmont has finished either first or second in the Class A medal count. Thirteen Fairmont students qualified for the state tournament, seven reached the championship round and the Cardinals had three first-place finishers for the first time in history.

Senior Craig Gemmill won the Storytelling category for the second year in a row and junior Matt Nordquist finished first in Creative Expression. And no one was more proud than the Jankes.

“We’re lucky to have motivated students,” Cliff said (that's Cliff hugging Sarah in the photo at left.). “A lot of it is self-motivation, and they motivate each other. There’s a strong team spirit, and we’ve always said success breeds success. We’ve had some success and they learn from each other. The other thing is that when kids don’t reach finals they watch and they see what makes other students good.”

Roxy said, “It’s a lifelong skill, it’s dedication from the students, it’s class, it’s playing right, that’s what speech is.”

Sarah became interested in speech by watching her big sister Leah compete in the activity.

“I would go to the open houses every year and watch everyone,” Sarah said. “I just thought it was a real different, unique activity. And I saw informative speech and it just really drew me out; ‘This is something I’d like to do.’ ”

Settling on a topic for Informative Speaking is the first hurdle, she said.

“I just read books or I get books recommended to me by other people. One year my uncle recommended a book, and that’s where I found my topic. This year, I was reading a magazine, I think it was Good Housekeeping, and I saw a little article about (tears) and I thought, ‘I should look into that.’ It’s just something that catches my interest and you go from there.”

Sarah was aware that she was on the doorstep of history before the tournament, but if she felt any pressure it didn’t show.

“She handles it so well,” Cliff said. “No one would suspect that there’s any kind of pressure there.”

Sarah said, “Everything changes every year, you don’t take anything for granted when you come here. You never know. You just do what you’ve got to do and don’t take anything for granted.”

She certainly doesn’t take her coaches for granted, saying the Jankes offer “so much support and it’s so important to have someone you can go to every week. They give us so much positive feedback and so much help. They’ve just set such a high bar for our team as far as respect and how we act and how we perform. It’s been an awesome experience to be coached by them.”

Not surprisingly, Sarah is involved in other activities. She’s in choir and orchestra, has been on the Fairmont cross-country and track teams and stays busy with church activities, too. She plans to attend North Park University in Chicago.

“Right now I think I’m going to major in communications,” she said.

Sounds about right.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 593
*Miles John has driven: 8,944

--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

Adapted Bowling: An Exceptional Activity At Cambridge-Isanti And Elsewhere
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/13/2011 3:03:04 PM

Cambridge-Isanti is a high school that has nearly 1,500 students and offers a wide range of activities. But ask athletic/activities director Mark Solberg about his favorite student activity, and his answer comes without hesitation: Adapted bowling.

“Nothing against anything I ever used to coach, but it’s my favorite activity,” Solberg said. “It’s exceptional.”

Adapted bowling – which offers coed divisions for Cognitively Impaired (CI) and Physically Impaired (PI) athletes – is a popular sport at Cambridge-Isanti and many other schools around Minnesota. As a prelude to the Bluejackets’ appearance in last year’s state tournament, the bowlers were honored during a send-off rally in the school gym. The team received thunderous ovations from their fellow students, faculty and staff.

“Probably the loudest our gym has been for years was when the bowling team came out of the tunnel,” Solberg said. “That was pretty darn cool.”

The Bluejackets give everybody plenty to cheer about, too. Junior Dominic Slattery is a two-time state champion, juniors Chrissy Schermerhorn and Austin Sprandal placed second at state in 2009, junior Todd Champion finished sixth in 2009, junior Cody Beardslee was seventh at state in 2009 and junior Jon Furlong – who along with junior Jackson Larson is a 2010 team captain – also competed at state last year. Other members of the current Cambridge-Isanti team are ninth-graders Austin Johnson, Haley Stoehr-Magnuson and Victoria Koukol.

“This is fun,” Furlong said. “I always feel real happy to do this. It’s really fun and I just feel like I’m home.”

Coach Susie Kaspar knows the athletes well, because she is a developmental and adapted physical education teacher at Cambridge-Isanti. She also coaches the Bluejackets girls swimming and diving team.

Asked what coaching the adapted bowling team does for her, Kaspar said, “Pride, a sense of pride. I just get excited watching them. I’ve had a lot of these athletes in elementary and middle school, so to watch them mature physically, emotionally, socially, from point A to point B is just incredible. And we get some good laughs. I enjoy their personalities. Sometimes I get a little quiet because I get emotional; I’m so proud of them.”

The Bluejackets practice once a week at Junction Bowl in Isanti. The first practice of the 2011 season coincided with the Minnesota Twins’ home opener, so the Bluejackets wore Twins hats along with their blue team jerseys. The athletes posed for team photos before bowling, with smiles and positive encourgament the theme of the morning from the athletes, their coach and a group of aides who are vital to the enterprise.

“I was Susie’s teacher years ago, and she does a bang up job,” Solberg said. “She’s very caring and she treats the kids exceptionally well. And all those aides who help, it’s an extraordinary group of people.”

Regular-season competition in adapted bowling can be unique. In some cases, teams that are competing against each other bowl in their respective home alleys, with the coaches exchanging scores via email or fax to determine the outcome. The season will culminate with the May 20 state tournament at Brunswick Zone in Eden Prairie.

As the opening practice wound down, Kaspar informed Furlong and Larson that they had been chosen as captains for the season. When Larson asked about the duties of the captains, Slattery – a past captain – spoke up.

“You kind of do what the coaches do,” Dominic told Jackson. “You cheer people on and if they’re having a bad day you help them.”

Dominic smiled as he talked about what he enjoys about being part of the team: “We get out of school (during practice).” Then he added, “We do stuff we like to do, associate with people that we know throughout the school, people we have common interests with.”

Talking about being a two-time state champ, Dominic’s smile never wavered. “It feels great,” he said. “You get a lot of notoriety around the school, a lot of respect by your peers and throughout the community. I’ve been in the paper four times now. I got interviewed by the Cambridge Star, so that was pretty great.”

Kaspar said Dominic’s bowling success is based on attitude and enthusiasm.

“He has the ability to improve consistently. And that’s what I stress as a coach,” she said. “I don’t care who has the highest score, it’s where you start and where you finish. From the beginning of the season to the end of the season, he always improves. Also, his enthusiasm; he’s a very outgoing and positive individual. He’s always looking at the positives versus whining about he doesn’t have. I think that really makes him a state champ. He gets in there with the attitude of a professional athlete.”

Adapted bowling, along with adapted softball, soccer and floor hockey, are offered by the Minnesota State High School League. Adapted programs began in Minnesota in 1975, when the Metro Association for Adapted Athletics (MAAA) instituted an indoor floor hockey league. The MSHSL adopted adaptive athletics in 1992. The four adapted activities have participation numbers that range from 390 individuals in bowling to 573 in softball. Adapted bowling has the highest number of teams, with 31 CI teams and 25 PI teams in 2009-10.

Kaspar said the benefits of adapted athletics are nearly immeasurable.

“It represents the PI and CI communities,” she said. “It gives people awareness of what’s out there, and the lack of opportunity they have. So to have the Minnesots State High School League provide this and to have our school support it is just such a blessing.

“A lot of these athletes cannot be on other mainstream sports teams, and with their cognitive impairments they can’t always make the honor roll, so their names are in the paper and a picture in the paper is just an awesome thing. So it means a lot to them. I had them write an essay, and a lot of them wrote, ‘It’s the one thing I can do, and I do it well.’ ”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 567
*Miles John has driven: 8,885

--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

Welcome Home: WNBA Draft Brings Robinson, Alexander To Lynx
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/11/2011 6:52:12 PM

The Minnesota Lynx acquired two Minnesota natives in Monday’s WNBA draft, and one of the biggest resulting smiles was seen inside MSHSL headquarters.

After former St. Paul Central star Angel Robinson -- who played collegiately at Marquette – was taken by the New York Liberty with the 22nd overall pick, the Lynx traded No. 13 pick Jessica Breland of North Carolina to New York for Robinson. The Lynx also selected former Benilde-St. Margaret’s star Kachine Alexander from the University of Iowa with the 26th pick.

The big smile was worn by Sheila Robinson, Angel’s proud mother and an MSHSL administrative assistant. It’s one thing to follow the draft and see your child selected; it’s even better to see the hometown team trade for her.

"I couldn't be more excited for Angel," said Marquette coach Terri Mitchell. "She is the epitome of hard work, heart and passion. It is great that she has been recognized to play on the professional level and this is another step in her career. Angel was consistent all season and got the recognition she deserved during the NCAA tournament. People have now seen in Angel what we have seen all along. She is mentally and physically tough and has the talent to be successful at the next level."

Angel was an all-Big East selection at Marquette this season. Before her college career, she was named Minnesota’s Miss Basketball in 2007 after leading St. Paul Central to the Class 4A state championship and an undefeated season. She also was named the metro player of the year by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the state player of the year by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

I wrote the Star Tribune story announcing Robinson’s selection as player of the year. Here’s how that story began…

For Angel Robinson, the devil is in the details. And the senior guard from St. Paul Central leaves no detail unattended. Just ask her about her role for the undefeated Minutemen, who are heavy favorites to win the Class 4A girls' basketball championship this week.

“My role? Since I'm captain and point guard, I have a big role," said Robinson, who has been voted by coaches as the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year. "I have to be a big leader, make sure my teammates' heads are together and make sure I'm setting everything up right, make sure everybody stays positive.”

The details of Robinson's game can be seen all over the court. She breaks the press, she directs the press. She blocks shots and makes shots. She passes the ball and draws oohs from the fans, she shoots the ball and draws aahs. On a team packed with an impressive array of talent, Robinson makes everything go. "She flat-out is the best overall player I've ever coached," Central coach Willie Taylor said. "She's kind of like the lead guy for the Miami Heat, Dwyane Wade. She can block shots, get steals, drive to the basket, shoot it and is about as tough as any girl you'll find on the floor. She can't be pushed around. She's also a very good defender and a quick jumper. She pretty much does everything."

Alexander, a Minneapolis native, has a similar high school pedigree. Kachine helped Benilde-St. Margaret’s win the Class 3A state title in her junior season; as a senior in 2006-07 she was a Miss Basketball finalist and was named to the St. Paul Pioneer Press All-Defensive team.

"I can't put into words how thrilled I am to be selected in the WNBA Draft," Alexander said. "I have wanted a chance to play in the WNBA since I started playing basketball as a kid. I would like to thank the Minnesota Lynx organization for the opportunity to play at the next level. I would also like to thank all of my coaches and teammates at the University of Iowa for helping me reach this goal. I can't wait to get back home to Minneapolis and begin the challenge of making a WNBA roster."

There are some proud parents and family members here at home, too.

Notes On Football, Track And Other Spring Sports
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/11/2011 10:27:49 AM

The sun is shining here at MSHSL World Headquarters, making me think (hope) we’ll have a nice week with temperatures heading in the right direction and spring sports going at a good pace.

Let’s kick off the week by revisiting a big news item from last week: The addition of a seventh class in football. Some clarifications seem to be in order, based on feedback following Thursday’s decision by the MSHSL board of directors to add a new class for the largest 32 schools beginning in 2012. Some of the screamers and shouters seem to think this is about awarding more medals and trophies. It is not.

First, the size disparity between Class 5A schools was a major factor in the decision. Ideally, the largest football schools in a class should not have an enrollment more than twice the enrollment of the smallest schools. Under the current 5A setup, the disparity is approaching 3 to 1.

A related reason for the change is very simple: the safety of the athletes. Concussions and other injuries are a real concern in high school athletics, and at the board of directors meeting in January, safety issues in 5A football were addressed by Rochester Century athletic director Mark Kuisle.

Kuisle, a former board member as well as past president of the board, told the members that 5A football “needs to be fixed” because of the size disparity between schools. Kuisle suggested adding a new class for the largest schools, telling the board, “The disparity of a 3-1 ratio is becoming unsafe for kids. 1,200 vs. 3,000; it’s wrong and I’m tired, as an athletic administrator, of trying to defend this and tolerate this disproportionality.”

So the next time you hear someone complaining about how “the MSHSL wants everyone to win a medal,” tell them that the MSHSL is just a bit more concerned with safety than medals.

A possible football change that was not approved was section football scheduling. This issue centers on the difficulties some schools have in filling their regular-season football schedules. For several months the board has received input and discussed the issue. The members voted against instituting section football on Thursday, although if the problems persist the question will be revisited at some point in the future.

Now for another clarification: If section football had been approved, everything’s not as simple as some appear to think. There have been questions about travel and long road trips, but people are not realizing what section football might change besides the scheduling system.

Bottom line: If section football were implemented, the sections might not look like the current sections. So don’t go down that, uh, road and assume the section your team is in right now will look exactly the same under section football scheduling.


Also on Thursday, the board approved three wheelchair events in track and field. The events are the 800, 1,600 and shot put, and the change takes place with the current season.

In the 800 and 1,600, wheelchair athletes will compete in races that are separate from the able-bodied athletes. In the shot put, wheelchair athletes may be placed in flights with able-bodied athletes but their results will be tabulated separately.

Wheelchairs used must meet various specifications, including: the chair shall have two rear wheels and one front wheel.

Wheelchair events can be held at all track meets this season, including sections and the state meet. It’ll be interesting to see how many wheelchair athletes take advantage of this change. Several other states have high school wheelchair track events, and we’re happy to join that group.


There’s going to be a very special track meet at Foley High School on Tuesday. It’s been more than 10 years since Foley hosted a track meet. But the Falcons’ new football/track complex is good to go for Tuesday’s meet against Sauk Rapids-Rice. Congratulations to all in Foley.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 566
*Miles John has driven: 8,807

--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

A Busy Day At MSHSL World Headquarters
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/7/2011 3:33:28 PM

Whew. The dust has begun to settle from today’s meeting of the MSHSL board of directors. The big headlines come from football, with two big decisions.

First, the board voted down the concept of revamping football scheduling. There has been much discussion of going to section football scheduling during the regular season, because of the issues some schools face in finding enough opponents to fill eight games. Such a move would have changed the face of many conferences, but the board seemed to base its decision (on a roll vote vote of 12 to 5 after a voice vote was unclear) against section football on questions about changing football for everyone because a minority of schools are having problems.

The one big change that was approved was the addition of a seventh class in football, beginning with the 2012 season (it passed on a voice vote, so no roll call of votes was taken). It will be composed of the largest 32 schools in the state … but it’s not that simple. A few of the largest 32 schools will opt down from Class 6A, and some who are not among the biggest 32 will opt up to play in 6A.

All we know at this point is that 6A will have 32 schools, split into four eight-team sections. All will be metro schools with the exception of Brainerd, which is 29th by enrollment on the list of schools that will play 5A football in 2011. Using the current number of football schools, the football classes should look something like this in 2012 …

6A: 32 teams
5A: 48 teams
4A: 48 teams
3A: 54 teams
2A: 61 teams
1A: 61 teams
Nine-man: 77 teams

Currently, football is structured like this…
5A: 57 teams
4A: 51 teams
3A: 65 teams
2A: 66 teams
1A: 66 teams
Nine-man: 77 teams

There are many, many questions to be answered. Will state football semifinals move from two days to three at the Metrodome, or will 6A semifinals be played elsewhere? Will the Prep Bowl add a third title game on Saturday? How will 6A sections and the postseason be structured? The board has more work to do on this.

--Before the board voted, Wayzata athletic director Jaime Sherwood, a former president of the MSHSL board, asked the members to approve section football scheduling. In recent years Wayzata has played games in Wisconsin, llinois and Michigan, and last season Wayzata played only six regular-season games en route to the Class 5A state championship. Next season, Wayzata plans to play Carmel Catholic (Ill.) in Dubuqe, Iowa, pending approval from the MSHSL board.

--In other football news from Thursday, the Ohio High School Athletic Association board of directors denied a request from football coaches to begin holding spring football practice.

--How many football classes do other states have? That was a popular question on Facebook and Twitter after the MSHSL board voted. Here’s a sampling: Texas has 12; Michigan and Illinois have eight; Wisconsin, Missouri and Kansas have seven; Iowa, South Dakota, Ohio, Kentucky and Washington have six; Indiana has five; North Dakota has four.


This was a lengthy board meeting, with many other discussion items and decisions. Here’s a taste of what else happened …

--The addition of three wheelchair events (800 meters, 1,600 meters, shot put) in track and field was approved for regular-season, postseason and state meet competition, beginning immediately.

--The board approved a change in the schedule for the state baseball tournament in all three classes, for this year’s tournament only. Currently, each class uses two fields to play quarterfinal and semifinal games on the same day. Under the current plan, two teams in each class are eliminated on the first day. With the change for this year, only quarterfinals will be played on the first day (at one site), with semifinals, consolation games and third-places game held the second day. All championship games are scheduled for Target Field. The format beyond 2011 will be decided at a later date.

--Holy Family Catholic was placed in the Wright County Conference.


--New Prague boys basketball coach Tim Dittberner announced he was stepping down from his coaching job. As I wrote during the boys state basketball tournament, Dittberner took over as head coach when the late Jeff Gravon was dealing with cancer. Dittberner will remain as the principal at New Prague Middle School.

And finally, in case you missed it in an earlier post, here is the list of the largest football teams in Minnesota (using enrollment numbers for the 2011-12 school year). But remember, these aren’t necessarily the 32 teams that will play 6A football in 2012…

1 Wayzata 3060
2 Eden Prairie 3007
3 Minnetonka 2750
4 Stillwater Area 2670
5 Champlin Park 2571
6 Blaine 2551
7 Burnsville 2530
8 Anoka H.S. (Coop) 2521
9 Edina 2436
10 White Bear Lake Area 2257
11 Prior Lake 2154
12 Eagan 2147
13 Maple Grove 2142
14 Coon Rapids 2120
15 Hopkins 2070
16 Eastview 2056
17 Centennial 2017
18 Rosemount 2013
19 Osseo (Coop) 1996
20 Forest Lake 1952
21 Roseville Area 1840
22 Elk River (Coop) 1792
23 Robbinsdale Armstrong 1789
24 Lakeville South 1774
25 Minneapolis South (Coop) 1744
26 Shakopee 1736
27 Woodbury 1715
28 Lakeville North 1711
29 Brainerd 1685
30 Mounds View 1671
31 North 1671
32 Park 1656

*Schools/teams John has visited: 566
*Miles John has driven: 8,807

--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

A New Football Class Has Been Approved
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/7/2011 12:02:36 PM

The MSHSL board of directors has voted to add a seventh class in football, beginning in the 2012 season.

The new Class 6A will include the 32 largest schools in the state (others may choose to opt up to 6A).

The board also voted against going to section football scheduling during the regular season.

Using enrollment numbers for the 2011-12 school year, here are the largest teams in Minnesota ...
1  Wayzata   3060
2  Eden Prairie   3007
3  Minnetonka   2750
4  Stillwater Area   2670
5  Champlin Park   2571
6  Blaine   2551
7  Burnsville   2530
8  Anoka H.S. (Coop)  2521
9  Edina   2436
10  White Bear Lake Area   2257
11  Prior Lake   2154
12  Eagan   2147
13  Maple Grove   2142
14  Coon Rapids   2120
15  Hopkins   2070
16  Eastview   2056
17  Centennial   2017
18  Rosemount   2013
19  Osseo (Coop)  1996
20  Forest Lake   1952
21  Roseville Area   1840
22  Elk River (Coop)  1792
23  Robbinsdale Armstrong   1789
24  Lakeville South   1774
25  Minneapolis South (Coop)  1744
26  Shakopee   1736
27  Woodbury   1715
28  Lakeville North   1711
29  Brainerd   1685
30  Mounds View   1671
31  North   1671
32  Park   1656

Updates From The Board Of Directors Meeting …
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/7/2011 8:22:52 AM

11 A.M. UPDATE...

--Wayzata athletic director Jaime Sherwood asked the board to approve section football scheduling. In recent years Wayzata has played games in Wisconsin, llinois and Michigan, and last season Wayzata played only six regular-season games en route to the Class 5A state championship. Next season, Wayzata plans to play Carmel Catholic (Ill.) in Dubuqe, Iowa, pending approval from the MSHSL board.


--New Prague boys basketball coach Tim Dittberner announced he was stepping down from his coaching job. As I wrote during the boys statebasketball tournament, Dittberner took over as head coach when the late Jeff Gravon was dealing with cancer. Dittberner will remain as the principal at New Prague Middle School.


Good morning from MSHSL World Headquarters, a stone’s throw off Interstate 94 in Brooklyn Center. Committee meetings are taking place, leading up to the start of the board meeting at 9:30.

Updates to come …

MSHSL Board of Directors Will Meet On Thursday
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/6/2011 11:09:19 AM

Members of the Minnesota State High School League board of directors will gather at MSHSL World Headquarters in Brooklyn Center on Thursday morning for their April meeting. The agenda is a busy one, with several items of interest to those who participate in and follow high school activities.

The placement of schools into competitive sections for 2011 through 2013 should be finalized at the meeting. The placements were announced on mshsl.org a few weeks ago. The board also will discuss having the MSHSL become a partner in robotics competitions.

In the realm of athletics, football, baseball and track and field will be discussed at Thursday’s meeting. Here’s a brief look at each …

--FOOTBALL/ The board will talk about issues facing schools in finding enough games to fill their football schedules. This topic has been discussed for a long time by coaches, administrators, at MSHSL area meetings and by the board of directors. A football task force also has held several meetings to discuss this, and input has been received from schools all over the state. One possible option is revamping football into section play during the regular season. Another is to add a seventh class in football, helping to remedy a large disparity in enrollment among current Class 5A schools. There are currently 54 schools in 5A football, with enrollments ranging from 1,246 to 3,091. The MSHSL policy on classes seeks no more than a 2-to-1 ratio in enrollments, and 5A does not meet that policy. Thus the consideration of adding a new class for the largest schools in the Minnesota.

--BASEBALL/ The board will hear a proposal to adjust the schedule for the state tournament in all three classes. Currently, each class uses two fields to play quarterfinal, semifinal and consolation games on the same day. Under that plan, two teams in each class are eliminated on the first day. Under the proposed change, only quarterfinals would be played on the first day (on one field for each class), with semifinals, consolation games and third-places game held the second day (on two fields). All championship games are scheduled for Target Field.

--TRACK AND FIELD/ The board will hear a proposal to add several wheelchair events to this sport. The proposed events are the 800, 1,600 and shot put.

The board of directors consists of 20 people who represent the following groups…
8 from administrative regions
4 from the public
2 from the Minnesota School Boards Association
2 from the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals
1 from boys sports
1 from girls sports
1 from the Communications and Theater Association of Minnesota
1 from the Minnesota Music Educators Association

Thursday’s meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. I will post live updates throughout the meeting. Immediate information will flow on Twitter (@MSHSLjohn), updates will be posted on the MSHSL Facebook page and I’ll update John’s Journal as well.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 566
*Miles John has driven: 8,807

--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

A Big Move For Perham’s Zach Gabbard
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/5/2011 1:42:32 PM

The last time we saw Zach Gabbard, he got out of his wheelchair to walk and high-five his Perham basketball teammates during introductions before the Class 2A state semifinals at Target Center. The Yellowjackets went on to capture the state championship the next day, with a worn-out Zach watching on television from Bethesda Rehabilitation Hospital in St. Paul.

Zach has made another big move. He and his parents have returned to Perham, where Zach is in a transitional rehab unit at Perham Hospital. Zach was able to sleep in his own bed at home on Saturday and Sunday and moved into the hospital unit on Monday.

Here’s a message that was posted on Zach’s CaringBridge site Saturday evening:

“Unfortunately, I didn't have access to a computer yesterday. Zach had a great day. Today was an even better day! He was very willing and happy to accompany his parents on a road trip home! We made a surprise entrance into the middle school during the Spring Fling tournament and received a very warm welcome. He gets to sleep in his own bed for two nights and on Monday will be admitted into the transitional rehab unit in the Perham Hospital. We are looking forward to spending a quiet, restful Sunday at home alone because we need to monitor his blood pressure throughout the weekend.”

This update was posted on the site Monday:

“Zach is settled into his new surroundings. What a nice facility!!! He likes the fact that he can help himself to food! :) He met with each of his different therapists and his doctor today. Tomorrow full blown therapy will begin. It is so nice that his friends are close by and can visit him daily. Therapy, however, is first priority. There is a Wii at the facility so he and his friends can have a good time while visiting. :) I will try to update here but it won't be as often. Maybe once or twice a week until he is home for good. Thank you ALL for the generous posts and so many prayers throughout this ordeal. God is Great!”

A Few Scattered Tidbits On A Spring Day
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/4/2011 11:33:42 AM

Happy spring! It’s a balmy 38 degrees (above zero) today at MSHSL World Headquarters, where spring is the thing as we get into April. Before we know it, spring state tournaments will be held and another school year will be over.

But first we need to get a warmup going across Minnesota. According to a weather report from Fairmont – via the MSHSL Facebook page – it was 62 degrees down there in that beautiful city on Sunday and the first track meet of the year will be held Tuesday.

A report from Springfield in southwestern Minnesota, home of the Class 1A boys basketball state champions, says that flooding and wet ground are slowing things down for spring athletes.

The forecast looks like things should improve this week, but that usually depends on where you live. Especially from south to north, there can be a wide range of conditions for outdoor activities this time of year. It’s safe to say that Fairmont’s 62 degrees wasn’t felt in, say, International Falls. But I am certain that warm weather will arrive (fingers crossed).

--While taking a few days off last week, I did some traveling. Nothing exotic, no warm beaches or palm trees. Looking at this photo, see if you can figure out where I went (while wearing my “One Clap for Zach” t-shirt).


Warming weather gives me the itch to get in my car, visit schools and teams and write about the great things taking place around our state. I’m always on the lookout for story ideas, so feel free to send me an email telling me what’s happening where you are.

The best stories are the true human stories. Take a moment to think about what’s happening with your team, your school, your conference, your area. I always tell people that there’s at least one dynamite story at every school in Minnesota. Let me know about yours.


As the school year begins winding down we start seeing coaching changes. There are a couple I’d like to mention today. One is at Park Center High School, where former University of Minnesota quarterback Ricky Foggie has been named head football coach. Foggie, 44, replaces former Minnesota Vikings player Rufus Bess, who coached at Park Center for four years.

Foggie played for 10 years in the Canadian Football League and also played in the Arena Football League. He previously worked as an assistant football coach at Burnsville High School.

The other coaching change is at Ellsworth, where Tyler Morris has resigned his positions as sixth-grade teacher and boys basketball coach. He will move to Tekamah, Nebraska, to become head boys basketball coach and teach fifth grade in the Tekamah-Herman school system.

I have been a regular visitor to Ellsworth, which is one of the great little communities in Minnesota. You may recall a story that appeared here – as well as in the program for the boys state basketball tournament – about Coaches vs. Cancer. Ellsworth was a primary focus of that story, and Tyler has done great work in organizing Ellsworth’s annual Coaches vs. Cancer event.

The move to Nebraska means Tyler and his family will be closer to his wife’s family. He told me it was not an easy decision because of how much he enjoyed his time in Ellsworth. And knowing how special Ellsworth is, I can appreciate the difficulty of his decision.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 566
*Miles John has driven: 8,807

--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

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