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Hats Off To Cromwell For Competing With The Big Schools
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/30/2013 11:55:54 AM

The lineup of teams at Monday’s Joe Lane Invitational was pretty typical of track and field meets at giant suburban high schools. You had the host school, Minnetonka, which has an enrollment of 2,750 students. Also at the meet were Burnsville (2,530), Rochester Century (1,275), Minneapolis Patrick Henry (747) and one other school.

That one other school has more of its students on the track teams – per capita – than any of those larger schools. That one other school was Cromwell, enrollment 74. Yes, you read that correctly: The Cromwell Cardinals, with seventy-four students in grades nine through 12, were on the track with the big schools.

How the Cardinals came to be at Minnetonka is a story that involves the weather. With spring schedules blown up by the disastrous spring conditions, administrators and coaches are scrambling to find places to compete. The original field of teams for the Joe Lane Invitational included Burnsville, Chanhassen, Chaska, Maple Grove, Mounds View, Prior Lake and Cooper.

But when most of those teams couldn’t make it to Monday’s meet because of scheduling issues, Minnetonka boys track coach Chris Cohen sent an email to all track coaches in the state, issuing an open invitation.

Dave Foster, who coaches the girls and boys teams at Cromwell and also is the school’s athletic director, saw the email and wondered, “I don’t know if he means us. So I sent him an email saying we were a small school up in northern Minnesota, would you take us? He said absolutely, come on down.”

So the Cardinals coaches and 31 athletes jumped in a bus for the 300-mile round trip. Cromwell is 40 miles west of Duluth, and Monday’s 2-hour, 30-minute drive to Minnetonka wasn’t the track team’s longest of the season. They earlier competed at an indoor meet at Bemidji State, which is a two and a half hour drive from Cromwell. The Joe Lane Invitational was Cromwell’s first outdoor meet of the season after five events were cancelled.

Minnetonka has some of the finest facilities in Minnesota, including artificial turf football, baseball and softball fields. Cromwell has a dirt track around its football field –the Cardinals were nine-man football state champions in 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2010 with four runner-up finishes in that span -- and the track teams have spent most of the spring running on streets and highways when not working out indoors.

“When we first showed up we made a joke: ‘What college is this?,’ ” said Cromwell junior Hunter Rauvola. “This is nice.”

Foster, a Duluth native, had never been to Minnetonka High School until Monday. He took a sneak peak via the internet, or as he phrased it, “I flew in this morning on Google to take a look at it. And the weather’s nice, we were going to be outside. I was just excited about coming.”

Both Cromwell squads finished fourth in Monday’s team scoring. The highest-finishing Cardinals placed third in their events: Andrea Hakamaki in the girls 1,600 and the 4x200, 4x400 and 4x800 girls relay teams, plus Josh Oliver in the shot put and the 4x800 team on the boys side.

“I knew we’d see some good competition,” Foster said.

The conditions were flawless, with a high temperature of 74 degrees under a strong, summer-like sun.

“It’s hot,” said Rauvola. “But you don’t want to complain about it being hot.”

You sure don’t. Especially knowing that Cromwell’s next meet is scheduled for Friday at Crosby-Ironton’s Ranger Invitational.

“It’s supposed to be 39 degrees,” Foster said. “I told the kids, ‘Enjoy this today.’ ”

--See a photo gallery from the Joe Lane Invitational on the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 612
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,472
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Another Milestone For World-Famous MSHSL Facebook Page
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/28/2013 10:19:01 PM

Since kicking off our MSHSL Facebook page three years ago, it has become more popular all the time. The page surpassed another milestone in recent days, reaching (and quickly surpassing) 11,000 "Likes" by followers from all areas of Minnesota and well beyond. Here are some details...

--We have Facebook friends in Canada, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Australia, Norway, Spain, Mexico and many other spots around the world.

--When looking at Minnesota cities and towns, the top 10 for number of MSHSL Facebook friends is Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Rochester, Mankato, St. Cloud, Lakeville, Burnsville, Fairmont and Apple Valley.

--Our Facebook page is being read by people who speak 19 languages, including Arabic, Thai, Turkish and English/Pirate.

--There are a few more females than males (50.5% female) among the ranks of our Facebook followers.

--The largest group age-wise is 18 to 24 years old, followed by 35-44 and then 25-34.

Thanks to all our followers, and please invite your own Facebook friends to Like us on Facebook!

Lewiston-Altura: Championship Golf From The Inside Out
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/24/2013 2:07:26 PM

LEWISTON – On the upper level of what used to be a barn, in a room that used to be a hayloft, is where the golf teams from Lewiston-Altura High School dream of what might be.

The Cardinals have a big indoor advantage during this spring that never wanted to be sprung. While other golf teams are endlessly hitting balls into nets or padded gymnasium walls, the Lewiston-Altura girls and boys teams are cranking out full-bore tee shots, working on their short game and even sinking actual putts into actual cups.

Since the official start of practice on March 18, the Cardinals have been using their indoor home away from home inside the non-denominational Crossings Center. The facility was built by Joel Hennessy, the brother of Lewiston-Altura girls and boys golf coach Julie Hennessy, and the erstwhile hayloft gives the golfers ample opportunity to prepare before heading outdoors.

“It gives us a head start on the season,” said junior Elizabeth Hennessy, Joel’s daughter and the Cardinals’ top returning player. “It gives us an opportunity to practice when there’s still snow on the ground in Minnesota.”

Senior Sydney Rinn said of the weather, “It’s not really what anyone wants, but it’s really frustrating. Last year we had a lot (of outdoor experience) by this time.”

The Cardinals girls team knows all about preparation and success, having won the last two Class 1A state championships. In 2011 they won with a 46-stroke margin over the field and four individuals among the top nine; their margin last season was 15 shots with three golfers in the top 10. Elizabeth Hennessy tied for seventh place at state as a ninth-grader in 2011 and shared ninth place a year ago.

After school Tuesday, the Cardinals took their clubs out of their cars and carried them up a stairway at the former barn. The upper level is split, with half of the space filled with comfortable couches, tables and chairs, and a stage for musical performances. Behind the stage -- in a heated room with netting on three sides, four turf mats, a lengthy strip of artificial “rough” and a putting green with five cups – is where the golf season begins. As of Tuesday, the Lewiston-Altura teams had been outdoors exactly once this spring, hitting range balls at Lewiston Country Club. So having the Crossings Center available has been very important.

“This spring it means everything,” said Julie Hennessy. “It gave us the opportunity to hit and just get the feel; it’s easier to make swing changes when they’re not outside. It gave them the opportunity to at least do something; you can’t go over rules for three weeks.”

The first available date for golf competitions was March 28, meaning teams across Minnesota have already missed nearly a month of their season. Lewiston-Altura is scheduled to begin subsection play on May 20, so once the season begins it will go by in a flash. (Pictured are returning girls players Elizabeth Hennessy, Brittnie Kieselhorst, Sydney Rinn and Mandy Ranvik.)

“It is going to be fast and furious. I can’t even imagine,” said Julie Hennessy, who also coaches the women’s golf team at Winona State University and is the course pro at Lewiston Country Club. Hennessy, a Lewiston native, was the Class 1A state champ in 1982, captained the golf team at the University of Minnesota and played on the LPGA tour. This is her ninth season as the Lewiston-Altura coach.

“I don’t recall anything like this spring,” she said. “The owner of the course said his latest opening date was April 23, and that was in my senior year in high school here.”

About $5,000 has been spent on equipping the indoor golf facility, which includes 400 golf balls. The Lewiston-Altura girls and boys teams practice there on alternate days, which helps ensure no one gets physically worn out before playing one round of outdoor golf.

“These guys are rapid fire in there,” Julie Hennessy said. “It’s fun to listen to them hit balls, because on that wooden floor (beneath the mats) you can hear the contact they’re making with the ball. You can tell the difference ability-wise.”

The Cardinals regularly hold indoor competitions, trying to chip balls through hula hoops or into small, round nets attached to the nets on the walls. And as the weather improves and spring actually arrives, the players will be well-prepared to play real golf on real golf courses. Which will be, uh, different.

“You forget what the ball looks like when it’s flying,” said Elizabeth Hennessy. “You’re so used to hitting into the net.”

--See a photo gallery from Lewiston-Altura on the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 607
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,410
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Building A Baseball Program: Skills And Fun But No Cookie Cutters
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/21/2013 5:27:52 PM

The relationship between youth programs and the high school varsity is critical to sustaining success over the long term. Brian Jerzak visited the defending Class 3A state baseball champion Eastview Lightning to explore this process. Read his story by clicking here.

Speech! Talented, Hard-Working Students Show What They Can Do
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/20/2013 10:13:22 AM

I was sitting in a classroom at Blaine High School on Friday afternoon, marveling at each student who competed in the state speech tournament, and one question kept popping up in my head: How many high-profile athletes could do this?

I am an experienced sports reporter, having watched and written about everything from youth sports to professional sports for decades. However, nothing I have seen in the sports arena can compare to what I see at the state speech tournament. The students who take part in this activity are bright, poised, confident and headed toward outstanding futures.

Friday’s event was the Class 2A state speech tournament; Class 1A competition was held Saturday, also at Blaine. In each class, 24 talented students from around the state compete in each of the 13 speech categories. The state entrants are determined through section events, with the top three advancing from each section. There are four rounds of competition at state; after three rounds the top eight participants advance to the championship round. Judges make the calls.

It can be a formal undertaking, with entrants dressed nicely; males in suits and ties and females in business suits. And oh boy are they sharp … in mind as well as dress.

I couldn’t attend sessions in each category, so I made some random selections and witnessed Serious Interpretation-Drama, Extemporaneous Speaking and Humorous Interpretation. (Other categories include Informative Speaking, Creative Expression, Storytelling, Great Speeches and more.)

Like most sports, speech uses a clock. In the categories I watched, the clock time was seven or eight minutes. Each competition room is overseen by a room manager, who keeps a stopwatch and holds up cards to inform the students of their remaining time. The room manager also informs spectators of the rules: no photos or video, turn off your cell phones, drinks are OK but sip only between speakers, please.

A very common sight at speech events might be reason for alarm elsewhere: students standing all by themselves in the school hallways, staring at the wall and talking to themselves. They are, of course, rehearsing.

In Serious Interpretation-Drama, students performed works with topics that ranged from clergy abuse of children to the heartbreak of a couple breaking up to a young girl dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome amidst family issues. Many hours of repitition and fine-tuning go into their performances, and they indeed are performances.

Extemporaneous Speaking is entirely different, with entrants given topics on the day of the event and then only 30 minutes to prepare their presentations. The topics Friday dealt with U.S. foreign policy, U.S-Israel relations, gun control, the federal budget deficit and immigration policy. The students spoke for seven minutes without notes; it wasn’t as smooth as Serious Interpretation-Drama, in which students rehearse and prepare their presentation during the entire speech season. But it was equally impressive.

Humorous Interpretation is, plain and simple, a riot. It’s stand-up, physical comedy with sound effects, multiple voices (little kids, Freddie Mercury, a drill instructor, teachers, parents, etc.) coming from one mouth, huge laughs and the largest audiences of any speech event. I watched the championship round in this category Friday, held in a small auditorium, and people were sitting in the aisle and on the floor in front of the first row of seats.

The 2A state champion in Humorous Interpretation was Nina Grollman of Moorhead High School, who performed an absolutely hilarious piece titled “Tammy: A Coming of Age Story About a Girl Who is Part T-Rex” by Julia Weiss (Nina is pictured above with Lori Crever of Wells Fargo.) During Nina’s performance (as well as all the other finalists), the crowd laughed and hooted and applauded wildly.

After the Humorous Interpretation championship round, I overhead two teen males discussing their favorite performance. One of the boys said to his buddy, “Dude! She pulled off five different people! With five different voices!”

Oh, and about my question concerning athletes? One of Friday’s state champions is also one of the state’s best track athletes. Eagan junior Emerald Egwim (pictured with Lori Crever) has qualified for state in the 100- and 200-meter events, and on Friday she was awarded her second 2A state speech championship, this one in Serious Interpretation-Prose. Last she won Serious Interpretation-Drama.

Emerald is typical of the students who compete in speech; they are very busy with lots of activities. She also participates in student government, National Honor Society and theater. Oh, she also works as a model.

“In everything that I do, I feel like I try and put in all the effort I can,” she told me. “So I try and allot time for things so that I can get everything done in time. It gets pretty crazy sometimes.”

She said one big reason she enjoys speech is because “it allows me the opportunity to really express myself. Even though I’m telling somebody else’s story, there’s always something in the stories I’m telling that I can find in myself.”

Congratulations to all.

--See a photo gallery from the state speech tournament on the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 605
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,180
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Signs Of Spring: Track And Field And Snow And Slush
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/17/2013 2:05:10 PM

In between getting runners aligned, yelling “Set!” and firing his pistol, starter Mark Gagstetter trudged through a snowy, slushy, sloppy infield to his various positions for each event during a track meet Tuesday at Rosemount High School.

He learned something new during this endeavor: his boots, advertised as waterproof, were not.

Almost everyone had a similar problem, with athletes and coaches high-stepping and quick-stepping through snow, ice and slush. But the good news was the all-weather track was clear and dry. And if ever a running surface needed to be all-weather, this was the day. And this is the spring.

The temperature zoomed all the way to nearly the mid 40s Tuesday, with a bright orb in the sky adding what some onlookers referred to as “sunshine” to the festivities. Athletes were bundled up except when it was their turn to compete.

And, oh, the mud. There were a few select low spots where moisture had settled and been trod upon until it made a suitable home for a family of swine. The worst such location was between the bleachers/concession area and the long jump/triple jump area. Someone at Rosemount, however, had devised a high and dry solution by placing three long, unused metal bleacher rows over the mud hole. So everyone walked a bit of a wide tightrope to get back and forth.

The long and triple jump competitions were a little less formal than at most meets. In both events Tuesday, girls and boys did their jumping together and in no particular order. On both runways, the jumpers stood in a line; when their turn came and the pit had been raked smooth, they took off running and did their thing. Each jump was measured and the distance was announced by the head official at each sand pit, who then asked the athlete, “What’s your name?”

The infield was nearly covered with snow, so using that as an area to warm up and lounge around was not going to work. There were no dry spots anywhere for teams to pitch their tents and similar shelters, so a few athletes simply sat in circles on patches of asphalt inside the entry gate … until the foot traffic became so heavy that they were in danger of being trampled.

The shot put and discus locations were really interesting. The concrete throwing circles were clean, dry and A-OK. But when the implements went sailing out from the rings, they returned to earth with a thud in the mud. I wish I had come to the meet with a truckload of clean towels because there was a lot of cleaning to do done.

Mounds View boys coach Ross Fleming, whose teams won Class 2A state championships in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2006 and 2007, has seen a lot on 29 years as a coach. But this spring is something new.

Tuesday’s meet was only Mounds View’s second outdoor competition of the spring. On the first Saturday in May the Mustangs hosted a boys quadrangular; this came during what Fleming called “that window” of decent weather.

“We went from noon until about 3:30 or 4,” he said. “Full squads, unlimited entries and we got everything in. We had a little rain at the end; the two-mile and the 4x4 got some rain. Other than that we had a wonderful day. It was a lot like this.”

Tuesday’s weather conditions were pretty superb, considering how this spring has clunked along. But Fleming made a good point, saying that in some years – when spring comes early and just keeps getting nicer – Tuesday’s event might have been called off because of the temperature.

“It’s beautiful, relatively speaking,” he said. “Last year we probably would have cancelled this; when you have 70-degree days and then you get 45.”

Another screwy aspect of the spring of 2013 is that teams not only haven’t been able to compete with any consistency, they haven’t even able to work out with any consistency.

“You lose meets sometimes,” Fleming said. “In the past we would lose some but you could train. It was always bad luck when meet day was a bad day for some reason. But you didn’t lose the training.”

As Tuesday’s meet went along from event to event and the starting line moved from place to place, Gagstetter kept sloshing his way through the slop on the infield. And despite his leaky boots and wet feet, he maintained a positive attitude.

“All my pay is going to sock money,” he said with a chuckle.

--See a photo gallery from the track meet on the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 572
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,098
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Throwing Star: For Maggie Ewen, All That Matters Is Improving
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/13/2013 4:11:07 PM

At least one more inch. That’s all Maggie Ewen thinks about when she steps into the discus or shot put circle. The St. Francis High School senior is not focused on state records or national records or her college career or the Olympics. Just one more inch. That’s it.

“For me, throwing is not about winning the meet, it’s about doing better than I’ve ever done,” she said. “I just want to do better than I did before, even if it’s an inch.”

With her senior season delayed by a late-arriving spring, Ewen already is one of the most decorated track and field athletes in Minnesota history. She is a three-time defending Class 2A state champion in the discus (she finished third at state as an eighth-grader) and a two-time defending champ in the shot put (she was third as a ninth-grader and eighth as an eighth-grader). She already holds the state record in the discus and is a safe bet to break the shot put record this spring.

Last season, Maggie was named the Minnesota Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year. This season she is the nation’s top returning high school discus thrower. Her best mark in that event is 172 feet, 7 inches; the national high school record of 191-6 is not out of the question for her this spring.

Ewen is the nation’s second-ranked returning shot putter with a 2012 season best of 48-06. In early March she threw 54-1 at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York City; the Minnesota high school record is 52-4¾, set by Lakeville’s Liz Podominick 10 years ago. Ewen’s toss in New York did not come during the high school season so she still ranks behind Podominick, but there is little doubt that she will beat that mark this spring. The national prep record of 54-10¾ also is within her grasp.

But again, she doesn’t think much about records or rankings or championships. It’s a simple matter of just improving.

“Honestly, right now there’s not really a long-term goal,” she said. “Having state records isn’t really what’s important to me. Just doing better than what I’ve done before is important to me.”

Podominick, who graduated from high school in 2003, finished fifth in the discus last year in the Olympic trials (the top three advanced to the London Games). Asked about possibly competing in the Olympics someday, Ewen smiled and said, “It’s not like it’s something I work for. But if it happens it would be pretty awesome.”

Maggie comes from an athletic family. Her father, Bruce Ewen, was a thrower at Illinois State who participated at the 1988 Olympic trials in the hammer. Her mother, Kristi Ewen, played volleyball at Columbia Heights and Ohio State and is an assistant volleyball coach at St. Francis (another sport in which Maggie is a star). Bruce and Kristi’s other child, Alicia, is a former St. Francis runner and thrower who plays volleyball at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D.

The Ewens have a throwing circle and weight-lifting equipment in a shed on their property, where Bruce and Maggie work on technique and strength. Genes and coaching are important, but few people are aware of how much time and effort Maggie puts in.

“When Maggie was a sixth-grader she watched her sister throw and she was writing down all the distances,” said Mark Hanson, who coaches the throwers on the Saints girls and boys teams. “One of the fondest memories I have is when she was an eighth-grader at state; she was practicing and she went through at least 40 dry runs without a discus in her hand all by herself. To see that drive in her, that young, was amazing.

“She’s the ideal student-athlete. She’s a good student and she takes some of the top classes we offer. She does everything right and she works hard at it.”

Maggie holds North Suburban Conference girls weightlifting records of 245 pounds in the clean and 205 in the bench press … which head track coach Andy Forbort (who also coaches boys basketball) points out would make her the third-strongest member of the boys basketball team.

“People will never know how hard she works and she will never tell them,” Forbort said.

Ewen’s quiet influence is seen in the number of students who have come out for track at St. Francis. The number of throwers went from 15 last year to 34 this spring, and the total number of track athletes jumped from 103 to 160.

“That’s a huge credit to her,” Forbort said. “Young kids aspire to be Maggie Ewen. She’s been instrumental for our program. Those that know track and field know what she’s about, and those that don’t know track and field are in awe of her and rightfully so.”

Maggie has signed a letter of intent with Arizona State University. The Sun Devils’ current freshman class includes Thomas Anderson of Andover, who set the Minnesota boys prep record in the shot put last year.

Arizona State throwing coach David Dumble, whose athletes have won 21 NCAA titles, said, “I’m very excited to coach Maggie. She is a phenomenal athlete. … I think she’s an athlete that can rewrite the record books here.”

Ewen, who has been accepted into Arizona State’s honors college and plans to study biomedical engineering, said, “I really, really like Coach Dumble. Knowing that I would be coached by what I believe is the best coach in the nation and knowing I would be throwing with some of the top throwers in the nation, all of that figured in.”

While all spring athletes in Minnesota wait for the weather to improve, Ewen is trying to remain patient while working out indoors.

“I think it’s more of a mental thing than anything else,” she said. “I’m still able to work on the shot put indoors and throw a discus against a curtain. There’s a mental block of not being able to see the shot put land in the dirt or see the the discus fly through the air. It’s kind of a bummer.”

One of these days, the snow will be gone, the ground will be firm and throwing will commence. And inch by inch, Maggie Ewen will be leading the way.

--See a photo gallery of Maggie Ewen on the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 566
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,084
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Student Media: “One Day That Will Stick With Me Forever!”
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/11/2013 1:00:35 PM

Several members of the MSHSL Student Media program attended recent Minnesota Wild and Timberwolves games as credentialed members of the media. They have written about their experiences and we are happy to share their stories with you …

By Colin Nelson
New Ulm Cathedral High School

I would like to tell you about my day with the Timberwolves, one day that will stick with me forever!

I arrived at the Target Center at about 11:15 a.m. I figured I was going to be the only person when I walked in, and I was right on the money! I waited for John Millea for a meet-and- greet before we started our day. He showed up and I introduced myself. I waited for the other two Student Media members, Preston Yaggie from Breckenridge and Zach Burnside from White Bear Lake, to enter the Target Center so we could all get our media credentials and free tickets for our families and get the day rolling. They showed up, and I got to start my adventurous day with the Minnesota Timberwolves!

My day started with meeting some media professionals. They included Chip Scoggins, Dawn Mitchell, Jerry Zgoda and others. I got the chance to listen to the professionals while each told me his/her life story. I was very intrigued by this. Every one of them told me that once you have found a job you really like, don't ever look back because if you do you will never be truly happy with your life. After each was done telling his/her life story, I had an opportunity to ask some questions, but I didn't have any as all my questions had been answered. I enjoyed the opportunity to listen to the group. It sounds like they bring excitement to their work.

Next, we got to eat. Yum! I really enjoyed the food. A Timberwolves representative told me that this was probably the best meal of the year … Brunch! I got to enjoy sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, fruit, etc. The food was very delicious, and the best part was that it was all free. I can honestly say that the meal was pretty good for being at no cost. While we were sitting at the table, John handed me that day’s game notes. The packet was literally like 50 pages long. While I was excited about the game that afternoon, I didn't feel like reading that entire packet!

After we got done eating I went to see Rick Adelman perform his pregame press conference. I couldn’t hear all that well, but I was still fascinated by the interview. What amazed me the most about the interview was the backdrop. The Timberwolves pull down a backdrop for coaching interviews. On TV, all I see is the backdrop, and I thought it was real, not something you pull down. Next, we got to go into the Timberwolves locker room. It was pretty quiet, so I headed out pretty quickly. Then I had a backstage tour of the arena and saw TV trucks from various networks. At last, I headed out to my seat.

Once I got to my seat, I couldn't believe the view I had. I was in the second row of the media box, which was on the floor. I watched the players warm up and then the game started. The Timberwolves started out playing well, and were up to a 16-point lead over Golden State by the end of the first quarter, but only had a little lead heading into the half. In the second half the Warriors outplayed the Wolves, and eventually won 100-99. Even though the Wolves lost, I had an awesome time. The crowd was electric!

After the game, I once again had the opportunity to go into the Timberwolves locker room. It was pretty quiet, but I suspected it was because a tough one got away from them. The reporters interviewed Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams. I thought that was cool, even though they were bummed.

I would like to finish by thanking everyone who was part of my day, especially John. Everyone made this day as enjoyable as they could, and it worked! I really enjoyed this experience, and I hope to be selected again. Thank you again to everyone!

Weather Or Not: Spring Sports Waiting Game Goes On
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/9/2013 9:44:40 PM

From the Canadian border to the Iowa state line, from the Dakotas to Wisconsin, the story is the same for high school sports across Minnesota: Next to nothing is happening. A spring that is quietly knocking on the door – but has yet to step through -- has put a wet and chilly damper on all outdoor activities.

Golfers are confined to hitting balls indoors, baseball and softball teams use parking lots as places to toss balls around, tennis players await dry courts, lacrosse teams check the forecast and sigh and a handful of track athletes (mostly distance runners) can get out and run while everybody else simply sits, waits and hopes for spring to finally arrive.

“Boy, it’s getting monotonous for our kids,” said Bruce Remme, the athletic director at Marshall High School in southwestern Minnesota, where the school day ended early Tuesday because of a winter storm. “I feel bad for them. But everybody’s in the same boat. There’s only so much you can do indoors.”

There is still plenty of snow in northern Minnesota, while the ground is relatively snow-free in many parts of southern Minnesota. But the ground remains frozen even in spots where there is no snow, and games are being cancelled and postponed at such a rapid rate that longtime coaches and administrators have trouble recalling a spring this miserable.

“I can’t remember having it this bad, this late,” said Jeff Whitney, who has been the athletic director at Rochester Mayo for 23 years and was the school’s baseball coach before that. “Obviously we have rainy days here and there every spring, but this is as bad as I’ve seen it this late.

“Once you feel like you’re going to get started, you take a look at the forecast and there’s more to come. Usually, right around this week you get started and then you’ll have some hit and miss dates. That’s the frustrating part of it; we just can’t get started.”

At Farmington High School south of the Twin Cities, only six outdoor sporting events have been held this month, with 33 others cancelled or postponed.

AT THIEF RIVER FALLS in the northwest part of the state, large snowbanks near the high school athletic fields have thawed slightly and refrozen, forming blocks of ice that stand six feet high or more.

“We just have no way to remove them,” said Prowlers athletic director Mike Biermaier. “I was kicking a snowbank that connects our softball bleachers to the concession stand, thinking, “No way this whole thing can be ice.’ It’s unbelievable.”

The Thief River Falls track has a unique look these days, as well. The track has been cleared of snow; that means there are eight black running lanes, with at least a foot of snow just outside lane eight.

“We’ve had a couple of practices on the track,” Biermaier said. “(Monday) we did not go out because it was 30 degrees with a wind chill of 15. Another good thing is that around our school most of the roads are dry. There’s a quiet stretch of road by our school with a 200-meter straight shot.”

Some schools have an advantage because their facilities include artificial turf fields or inflated “bubble” domes. The phones at Minnetonka High School have been ringing steadily, with other schools wanting to use the Skippers’ turf baseball field and/or turf football/soccer/lacrosse field. But there is barely enough space for the Skippers’ own teams.

“It’s insane. It is crazy,” said Minnetonka athletic director Ted Schultz. “We’re all crammed into places. We’re backlogged on our stadium field with track and lacrosse, softball has not been outside yet. It’s cold, and that throws another dynamic into it. … (Monday) was the first day it all came to a head and we didn’t have enough outdoor space to take care of everybody.”

The Irish Sports Dome in Rosemount is a hectic place this spring, with teams from Rosemount High School and elsewhere reserving space for practices in several sports.

Rosemount athletic director Mike Manning, who called this spring the worst he has seen in 18 years on the job, said his school’s spring athletes have rarely been outdoors, other than distance runners hitting the roads and sprinters sprinting across the parking lot.

“I kind of chuckle when my guys get a little restless,” he said. “There were years when we didn’t have a dome. And we’ve got a billion people running through that dome.”

TEAMS IN CROOKSTON have the advantage of the Crookston Sports Center, a three-year-old city facility. After winter sports conclude, the ice is removed from one of the center’s three hockey arenas and replaced with FieldTurf. Crookston High School baseball, softball and golf teams use the facility, as do athletes from the University of Minnesota Crookston.

“There is an allotment of times, and individual teams at best are getting an hour and a half each day,” said Crookston High School athletic director Don Donarski. “It’s super busy. You kind of take what you get.”

Teams are searching far and wide for places to play. Barring bad weather in central North Dakota, the baseball teams from Crookston and Thief River Falls are hoping to split bus and other travel costs this week and go to Bismarck -- a five-hour drive from Crookston – to play a doubleheader and then head home.

Marshall’s Remme said he chatted about the weather with Fred Almer, who coached golf teams there for more than 30 years and is now retired.

“He said he recalled a few years where it was the end of April before they got on the course but nothing recent when it’s been this bad,” Remme said. “In 2008 or so we had some late snow, it melted off and then it was a real wet spring and we seemed to cancel things every other day. But nobody seems to remember hitting the 10th of April and not being outside yet.”

In Thief River Falls,softball records show that previous teams have always been practicing outdoors by at least April 10 and track teams have had their first outdoor competition as late as April 25.

“I think we’ll be lucky to have that this year,” Biermaier said. “You look at the temperatures for the next 10 days and it just doesn’t get any better; 50 is the average temperature and we can’t even get to 30. And everywhere in the state it’s bad.”

EVEN AFTER THE SNOW disappears for good, many spring sports won’t be played until the ground has thawed. That means even more delays in finally getting seasons started.

Biermaier worries that the golf teams in Thief River Falls might have the shortest season on record. The Prowlers are scheduled to open subsection play on May 22.

“Their whole season might be trashed,” he said. “We may not get more than two or three rounds in before then.”

In the meantime, nothing can be done except wait, hope and glance outside.

“I went out and checked our fields this morning,” Rochester Mayo’s Whitney said Tuesday. “We have ducks swimming out there.”

The happiest faces in Minnesota might belong to members of the band, choir and orchestra at Crookston High School. They’re leaving later this week for a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida.

Lucky ducks.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 566
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,966
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

A Veteran Minnesota Coach's Insight On The Rutgers Situation
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/8/2013 6:22:42 PM

Skip Dolan, who coaches boys basketball and girls softball at Annandale High School – and has coached for a total of 72 varsity seasons – spoke at a Kiwanis luncheon last week. He was asked about the situation at Rutgers University, where men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was fired after a video surfaced of him hitting, shoving and berating his players.

While speaking at the Kiwanis luncheon, Dolan was asked about Rice and what he did in his practices at Rutgers. The following are some of Dolan’s comments, provided by the Annandale Advocate…

“Coaches getting intense is part of the nature of the beast, but what made me truly sick about the Rutgers situation is that I truly believe one of the best classrooms in our schools is the athletic fields and courts.”

“Mike Rice did not take advantage of the opportunity to teach these young men of our future so many things that are going to help them be successful in life. Instead, he destroyed a golden opportunity to be a quality teacher which had nothing to do with coaching.”

“Many of you sitting out in the audience listening to me either have hired young people or will be hiring them in the future. Wouldn't you like to hire a young man or woman that was taught the following qualities every day while they were in school?

* You need to show up every day
* You need to be on time.
* You need to be accountable.
* You need to work even harder today, to be better than you were the day before.
* You need to learn to work with a group of people and tolerate all of differences. Be a team!
* You need to learn to be confident, and yet be humble.
* You will learn to respect authority.
* You will learn how to show gratitude.

“I tell you and my players, if these traits are instilled, whether a young person goes on to college or joins the work force, they will be successful. That player will have pride in themselves and their life.”

“Shame on Rutgers for destroying such a classroom!”

“It makes me sick that we have people that don't get the real meaning of what we are trying to accomplish in the coaching profession.”

An Indoor Spring (Part 3): Running, Jumping, Throwing
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/5/2013 12:36:50 PM

BECKER – This opening week of April has been highly interesting. I’ve been looking at online conference calendars and finding red lines through a whole bunch of events, signifying postponements and cancellations due to the rotten weather that has camped out in Minnesota.

There has been plenty of time to look at those calendars because of the lack of outdoor events. I spent Monday at the Metrodome watching baseball and Wednesday at the West St. Paul Regional Athletics Center watching softball under a smaller inflatable roof. On Thursday I ventured to the fieldhouse at Becker High School to complete my indoor trifecta at the Granite Ridge Conference indoor track meet.

The marquee athlete at the meet was Foley senior Charlie Lawrence, the defending Class 1A state champion in the 3,200 meters. And what do you know … he has been hobbling around after a hip injury caused by slipping on ice. That’s somehow fitting during this spring of cold temperatures and frozen footing.

Thankfully, Charlie told me, his mishap took place in late February even before the start of team practices.

“I’ve been recovering from that, going to physical therapy four or five days a week,” said Lawrence, who won the 800 and 1,600 Thursday. “It got pretty bad at one point to where I couldn’t even run. … I’m not 100 percent now but I’m feeling good and I’ve been doing some decent workouts.”

The Becker fieldhouse has five lanes that circle the building and seven lanes on the main straightaway for sprints and hurdles. It was cramped Thursday, with shot putters throwing specialized indoor implements on one end, pole vaulters and high jumpers on the other end and long and triple jumpers dashing alongside a wall and leaping into a sand landing area in a cramped corner. Anybody wanting to throw a discus was on their own to step outside and try to find a dry landing zone.

One lap of the track equals 200 meters, so the track is half the size of an outside track. The 1,600, therefore, was eight laps instead of the usual four. Teams camped out in the nearby gymnastics room. Little Falls won the boys team title and Zimmerman was the girls’ champion.

The meet came during the annual convention of Minnesota's athletic directors in St. Cloud. On Wednesday, the Granite Ridge ADs met to discuss the scheduling issues that this spring presents.

‘It’s been kind of frustrating,” said Foley AD Michael Johnson. “We’re trying to come up with alternative schedules and work together. It’s a struggle but you work hard and try to come up with a plan and do what’s best for the kids. That’s all you can do.”

Johnson has been the Foley athletic director for four years and until this year the Falcons have played every baseball and softball game on their schedules.

“We got really spoiled. Last year we were lucky,” he said. “This is my first experience where we probably will lose some non-conference softball and baseball games and doing a lot more doubleheaders than we probably want to.”

The Falcons also have a fieldhouse for teams to use as practice sites. That’s a good thing because so far the only Foley athletes who have been outside are the distance runners on the track teams.

The situation is similar at Mora, where the distance specialists have been outdoors while everyone else is in the gym.

"Since day one I’ve told the distance kids we were going outside regardless of the weather,” said Chris Goebel, who coaches the Mora distance runners. “They know that and they’re prepared for that. Our sprinters, on the other hand, they have to spend a lot of time in our gym.

“We looked yesterday; half of our track is cleared off and the other half still had snow on it. The track is going to be cleared off long before jumpers can do anything, that’s for sure.”

Warmer weather will arrive eventually – knock on wood – but spring sports in 2013 will surely be remembered for a late start, a compacted season and lots of challenges.

“I went to the Twins game Monday with my kids,” Johnson said, “and it was hard driving back from the cities, where there is no snow, and heading north where we have more and more snow. But we’re better off than a lot of places up north, so we’re lucky.”

--To see a photo gallery from the track meet, go the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 566
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,966
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

The Price Of A Late Spring: Softball Under An Inflatable Roof
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/3/2013 8:28:14 PM

When the softball teams from Tartan and Mahtomedi faced off Wednesday, everything was business as usual … but not exactly.

For one thing the game was played indoors, under the inflated roof of a sports dome at the West St. Paul Regional Athletics Center. That meant no dirt, only artificial turf; which meant no cleats, only tennis shoes. Batted balls were likely to carom off the ceiling or scoot underneath plastic fencing that marked the outfield limits.

“The ball takes a completely different bounce on turf than it does in the dirt or on a gym floor,” said Mahtomedi coach Angela Vedders. “The girls have to read it completely differently. There are no cleats, so leading off and getting out of the box is much harder. The fences are off. It’s just very different. On Monday we slid past the bag a few times because they’re used to sliding and stopping in the dirt.”

This is the apparent new normal, at least in this year of a spring that is reluctant to make an appearance. As I wrote this week about baseball being played inside the Metrodome, softball is in the same boat, often a boat that is docked inside any warm and dry place to play. Teams are working out in gyms and sports domes that are scattered around the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota, and frustration with the weather is becoming as big a part of the game as balls and strikes.

“This is my fifth year (as Tartan’s coach) and this is the worst,” said Brian Larson. “Last year was the best and this year is the worst. We’re going to try to get through it.”

The teams from Tartan and Mahtomedi had already played one game inside the West St. Paul dome, so Wednesday’s setting was almost routine. Portable netting was set up behind home plate, the Tartan Titans bench was inside a batting cage, and fans watched from along the walls of the dome or stood beyond the outfield fence. There was no scoreboard, and the Tartan boys lacrosse team practiced on the opposite end of the dome while the softball game was played.

“You have to adjust to that ceiling,” Larson said, looking up. “The ball probably hit the ceiling 10 times in the last game and it did have an affect on one play. Foul balls are affected more; the umpires have to call whether it’s foul or fair coming up. If it hits the ceiling fair, you’ve got to play it.”

In the first inning Wednesday, a line drive bounced into right-center field and rolled under the fence. Two outfielders threw their arms into the air, signaling the ball was out of play and it was called a ground-rule double.

“Not being able to be outside we are not able to have a real game-like situation until we get to the dome,” Vedders said. “So our first real live game situation happens in the dome while we’re playing. Gyms aren’t made to be softball fields, so it gets really challenging when you’re trying to build a program and have girls adjust to positions they have never played before. It’s hard to play left, right or center when you don’t have a left, right or center indoors.

“We’ve thought about shoveling off the fields to try and get out there. But I’m glad we can get games in so we’re not backlogged.”

Tartan has an outdoor game scheduled Friday at Spring Lake Park, but on Wednesday Larson was not optimistic that it will be played there.

“I haven’t talked to them but I don’t think their field’s going to be ready,” he said. “Next week looks like it’s going to be dead, too.”

The same prognosis was found at Tartan and almost every other school in the area.

“Our AD talked to me today about being indoors next week for sure and possibly the following week because the frost needs to be out,” Vedders said. “Otherwise we wreck the fields.”

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


*Schools/teams John has visited: 558
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,826
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

As We Await Spring, Indoor Baseball Is The Only Option
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/2/2013 1:58:11 PM

Kolten Barker, a senior pitcher and shortstop on the Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial baseball team, could have been speaking for every baseball player – as well as every spring-sport athlete – in Minnesota when he made this statement Tuesday: “I think a bunch of guys are really disappointed.”

He was talking about the miserable weather that has harassed, delayed and played havoc with spring sports. The baseball teams from Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial and Maple River enjoyed a respite Tuesday afternoon by playing their season opener inside the vast expanse of the Metrodome. The game was scheduled by the coaches months and months ago, which turned out to be a pretty smart move.

“(LCWM coach) John Madsen and I have been around for quite a while,” said Maple River coach Randy Olson. “Last year we were saying, ‘We always get that first game delayed so why don’t we just play it up here?’ ”

The fee to use the Metrodome is $500 per hour, which includes use of the scoreboards and public-address system. But there is no shortage of teams on the high school and college levels from Minnesota and other states who have reserved time at the indoor ballpark.

Tuesday’s schedule began at 6 a.m. with a college doubleheader between St. Cloud State and Minnesota Crookston, followed by the Maple River-LCWM game, Henry Sibley vs. St. Paul Highland Park at 4 p.m., a game between Wisconsin high schools Menomonie and New Richmond at 7 p.m., and finally a 10 p.m. game between Maple Grove and Watertown-Mayer.

Baseball teams in the upper Midwest have few other options. There are a handful of outdoor fields that have artificial turf, but this spring’s bone-chilling temperatures make that a less-than-enticing proposition.

Minnetonka High School baseball coach Paul Twenge, whose school has an artificial turf diamond, said, “I’ve been here for seven years and we’ve only had this happen one other time, and that year it was snow. This year it’s the cold.”

Twenge receives several phone calls and emails a day from high school and college teams that would like to use the Skippers’ field. “You totally understand what they’re going through,” he said.

Here’s some even worse news: If spring weather in 2014 and 2015 are similar to 2013, there will be no indoor places to play baseball. The Metrodome will be demolished after the Vikings finish the 2013 season, with a new stadium next door to the dome not opening until 2016.

Temperatures are predicted to warm up in the days ahead, which would provide much-needed relief for all the baseball, softball, track, lacrosse, tennis athletes and golfers who have been patiently practicing indoors.

The Maple River and Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial baseball teams – both schools are southwest of Mankato -- have been working out inside their gyms, on tennis courts and anywhere else they can find some dry ground.

“It’s been tough.” said Maple River senior shortstop Michael Lewis. “(Monday) was actually the first day we got out on the field. It was still pretty squishy and we were basically playing at about 70 percent. It’s just been tough. You can only take so many cuts off a tee; we need to get out and play.”

Maple River senior third baseman and pitcher Jeremiah Ennen said he was “very excited, very grateful to have this opportunity” to play in the Metrodome. “It’s pretty spectacular.

“It was kind of discouraging to just keep going in the gym and going in the gym,” he said. “To be in here, it just looks huge. We haven’t really been able to get a feel for the outside, the weather, the space. Having a nice environment to play in, where it’s not blowing and cold with snow blowing around, is pretty nice.”

Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial has enough gym space to work on infield drills, hit in a batting cage and use live pitching. Madsen said he checked on the Knights’ field Monday evening, trying to gauge how long it might be before the team can practice and play outdoors.

“Everything was pretty firm,” the coach said. “We have a little bit of snow on the warning track in left field and I don’t know how much frost has come out of the ground. We haven’t had any snow for about a week.”

After Tuesday’s game at the Metrodome, all baseball eyes in Maple River and Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial were looking to Thursday’s weather. That’s when the two teams are scheduled to play again … on the Knights’ field.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Madsen said.

--To see a photo gallery from the game between Maple River and Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 556
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,789
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

Student Media Visits The Wild: “It was a night I will never forget”
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/1/2013 10:07:09 AM

Several members of the MSHSL Student Media program attended recent Minnesota Wild and Timberwolves games as credentialed members of the media. They have written about their experiences and we are happy to share their stories with you …

By Jared Rubado
Brainerd High School

Usually when I go to a Minnesota Wild game, I get to the game an hour before the doors open, go into the Hockey Lodge and wander around, waiting for the gates to rise. I sit there, waiting, watching the Minnesota Wild staff, reporters, janitors, cameramen and so many others who are allowed to go inside before everybody else. I sit there, jealous, wishing time would go faster. On March 3, 2013, I got to be one of the people who walked through early.

I am part of the MSHSL Student Media program. I write about the sporting events at Brainerd High School. Being an aspiring journalist, I want to take any advantage of real-life experiences I can. John Millea, the Student Media advisor, and the Minnesota Wild set up a day in which four students in the program could go to a Wild game and experience what it’s like to be a reporter. In addition to being a lifelong Wild fan I am a hockey player myself, so I was ecstatic that I was chosen to be part of this group.

We all arrived around five o’clock on that Sunday night. The Minnesota High School Press Association had four of their members join us, as well. The public relations representative for the Wild, Ryan Stanzel, was our guide for the night. He escorted us through the press entrance and up to the Al Shaver Press Box to drop off our things. We were then treated to a pizza buffet in the media dining room. While we were eating I noticed the Fox Sports North TV crew at the table next to us. We got a picture with play-by-play broadcaster Anthony LaPanta. (Pictured, left to right: JoNathan Chartrand, Chisago Lakes; Jared Rubado, Brainerd; Anthony LaPanta; Nick Wagner, Ada-Borup; Zach Halverson, White Bear Lake.)

When we were finished we went into a room right next to the Wild locker room where Ryan introduced us to two very important journalists, Michael Russo, the Star Tribune beat writer for the Wild, and Dave Schwartz, the weekend sports anchor for KARE 11. They explained to us the details of their jobs and what it takes to be a journalist. As an aspiring beat writer for a professional sports team, I’ve always looked up to Michael Russo and I was especially appreciative of the opportunity to talk to him.

When we were finished with our meeting, we went back up to the press box to watch the game. Our booth in the press box was a little crowded so I ventured off to look for an extra seat. I sat down in a row of vacant seats. There was one man sitting four chairs to the left of me. I didn't know who he was until I got a good look at him. I was sitting next to Wild goaltender Josh Harding. He was in the press box because he was injured.

When the game was finished, we observed the postgame press conference from Wild coach Mike Yeo. He straightforwardly answered a few questions, wrapping up the evening for those in attendance.

When that was finished it was time to go home. We said our goodbyes and left the Xcel Energy Center. It was a night I will never forget. I left with new insight into the responsibilities of a sports journalist and I am more excited than ever to start my career.

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