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Owatonna Wrestling Coach Scot Davis Announces Retirement
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/28/2011 11:34:48 AM

Scot Davis, who has compiled an outstanding record of success during a 40-year career as a wrestling coach, has announced that he is retiring from teaching and coaching at Owatonna High School.

Davis compiled 984 wins on the high school level, which leads the nation. He was at Owatonna for 25 years after previously coaching at Belcourt, N.D., Bird Island-Lake Lillian and Hutchinson. His Owatonna teams won state championships in 1998 and 2005.

"I am extremely proud of the great people that have helped build our wrestling program here at Owatonna." he said. "Several being nationally recognized demonstrates their great value to not only our program but wrestling in general. I have been truly blessed to be associated with these great people.”

It's A Special Day For The MSHSL On Facebook
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/27/2011 3:39:41 PM

If you are a follower of the MSHSL on Facebook, you may already know what has taken place on the aforementioned social media site.

The magic number of 3,000 Friends has been reached. This is an outstanding accomplishment, a testament to people of all ages all over Minnesota and beyond who have a passion for high school activities in our state.

One year ago, when the MSHSL Facebook page was in its infancy, we had 250 Friends. To reach 3,000 so quickly is simply amazing and we can't say Thank You enough to all our Facebook Friends.

Many high school governing bodies around the country have Facebook pages, and our MSHSL numbers rank right up near the top.

Thanks to one and all!

Do You Believe In Miracles? Ben Cunningham Is Living Proof
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/25/2011 3:12:04 PM

HERON LAKE, Minnesota -- Trying to hit a nasty curveball can be a challenge for Benjamin Cunningham. Tracking the arc of a high fly ball and getting in the spot to make the catch is much easier now than it was a few weeks ago. Standing on the mound, the 18-year-old throws serious stuff.

Ben, who graduated last week from Round Lake-Brewster, is wrapping up his high school athletic career on the baseball field this spring. None of this is headline-grabbing stuff. But when you consider where Ben has been and where he is now … well, it’s no stretch to use the word “miracle.”

Let’s start with a skull that was turned into fragments of bone. And a broken neck. And facial injuries so crushing that Ben has no vision in his right eye. There were bloodclots, there was a tracheotomy. After his pickup truck went off a road in Nobles County last August and sailed into a guardrail on a bridge over Lake Ocheda, Ben began a lengthy journey that included a week-long coma, seven surgeries and countless prayers. Back then, back when no one knew for sure if Ben would even survive, the last thing anyone thought about was baseball.

But here was Ben on Tuesday, playing the outfield, pitching and swinging the bat for the Southwestern United Wildcats, which is a cooperative team between Round Lake-Brewster and Southwest Star Concept. He throws and bats righthanded, and everyone is amazed at what he can do.

“He’s a walking miracle,” said his mother, Miriam. “His determination is what got him through. There’s no stopping him.”

The right side of Ben’s face droops, but further surgery this summer will help in that area. A titanium plate covers the part of his skull that was crushed in the accident.

Sitting in the dugout before Tuesday’s game against Windom, Ben used a finger to trace the cranial scars that are now covered by hair. “I was cut from here to back here and kind of around here,” he said, drawing a half circle on his head. Then he pointed to the right side of his face, saying, “I don’t have vision in this eye and won’t ever until science comes up with something, which is possible with the things they come up nowadays.”

His smile, however, remains fully intact. Just like his positive attitude.

“His philosophy on life is really kind of amazing for being 18 years old,” said Southwestern United coach Tim Owen. “He’s been to the brink and nothing bothers him.”

BEN WAS DRIVING HOME from the Nobles County Fair in Worthington when the accident happened. He had been showing livestock at the fair, which meant long days, short nights and hard work. He was saying goodbye to friends when his mom left the fairgrounds to head home and begin preparing pork chops for dinner. Miriam was cooking when a sheriff’s deputy knocked on the door.

Ben said, “I remember going through town and out of town. Right after that I don’t remember anything until I woke up about a week later. Nobody knows what happened. They said I could have fallen asleep but nobody knows.”

Ben was alone in the pickup, wearing his seatbelt. When his family and friends saw him in the hospital, it was a jarring sight.

“I had just talked to him about 20 minutes before it happened,” said fellow senior and baseball teammate Tim Kennedy. “I went to the races (in Worthington) that night and I got a text and it was like, ‘Oh my god.’ I didn’t know what to think.”

Ben is a big, strong kid; 6 feet, 3 ½ inches and no stranger to working out and lifting weights. His physical condition surely was a factor in his survival. But as Ben began the recovery process, doctors told him to be patient about a possible return to athletics. They said he would be in the hospital until Thanksgiving and maybe until Christmas. But he was home by late September, a little more than a month after the accident. He was out of school through Christmas break, but was cleared to play basketball in late December.

“In November the neurosurgeon said I probably wouldn’t be able to play basketball for six months,” Ben said, smiling. “I only missed a few games.

“Ever since I was 3 or 4 I was shooting baskets with my older brother. It was hard not to be able to play when he said I couldn’t. And then when he said I could, I got right in there.”

SINCE THE CUNNINGHAMS LIVE across the street from the school, Ben was able to visit while he recovered at home. He returned to school full-time after the holidays. Once basketball ended, the focus turned to baseball.

Owen admits to being concerned about the dangers of Ben playing baseball.

“There was some fear early in the spring when we were practicing indoors and baseballs were flying around,” Owen said. “But I talked to him and he said he wanted to give it a try, and I said ‘Whatever you can do for us, we’ll take.’ Because he is a great kid. As it turned out, we kind of moved slowly with him. At about the middle of April we gave him a couple innings here and there on the mound and he was fine. He does very well.

“We were obviously concerned with his hitting. With his eye gone, that’s a tough position. Again, he’s battled. He’s had a few strikeouts and he struggles a little bit with the curveball, but he really doesn’t have any trouble.”

Ben said, “It was really different and hard to get used to. It wasn’t just the reaction time, it was the depth perception, too. It’s been getting way better.”

One of Southwest United’s biggest victories came three weeks ago against Adrian. After losing to Adrian 10-0 in their first meeting, the Wildcats won the rematch against the Red Rock Conference co-champs 8-3, with Ben belting a two-run single in the fifth inning to put them in front.

“When you see him playing with one eye, it really gives our whole team the thought that we really have no excuses for anything,” said Wildcats senior Alex Meyer. “To see him progress from day one, when he couldn’t catch a ball on his left side, to now when he’s starting and pitching, he’s come a long ways. “

As Ben fought his way back to health, he talked about what he wanted to do. His mother recalls him saying, “If I can have one thing back, I want it to be sports.”

Ben is the youngest of Paul and Miriam’s three kids; Thomas is 28 and Sarah is 27. Ben celebrated his 18th birthday on May 19. Miriam is a little agitated at her youngest child for not following his doctor’s instructions to wear protective eyewear when he pitches, but other than that everyone is overjoyed at how far Ben has come.

In the fall he will attend Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington, studying animal science and agronomy. The future is bright.

“I made some fast progress,” he said. “I’m doing everything I did before.”

--To see a photo gallery of Ben and a short video clip, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 657
*Miles John has driven: 10,233

--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 Visit To Coon Rapids High School, And A Tuesday Road Trip
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/23/2011 3:38:36 PM

I spent some time Monday visiting a class at Coon Rapids High School. Faculty member Stephanie Hicks invited me to her English classroom to talk to her students about journalism.

This was my second trip to Coon Rapids to discuss journalism, and the hour flew by. The students (pictured) asked great questions, many of them about writing and interviewing techniques. Students always like to ask about people I have interviewed, so today I went throught my mental checklist: Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley, Cal Ripken, Bobby Knight, Joe Mauer I (high school) and Joe Mauer II (Twins).

I also talked with the class about the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program, which is a wonderful way for students to gain journalism experience.

Thanks Cardinals!

--My assignment on Tuesday is a drive to southwestern Minnesota for a baseball game in Heron Lake. The Southwestern United Wildcats (a coop involving Southwest Star Concept and Round Lake-Brewstar) will face Windom Area at 4:30. There's a special story in play here, but my lips are sealed until the story appears here...

State Adapted Bowling Tournament: Where Smiles Dominate
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/20/2011 3:04:32 PM

Dominic Slattery’s smile told the story. The junior at Cambridge-Isanti came into Friday’s state adapted bowling tournament as a two-time defending champion, and he had visions of a threepeat. It didn’t happen, with Dominic finishing in a fourth-place tie in the PI (physically impaired) division of boys singles.

But his smile never wavered as another medal was placed around his neck and he posed for photos.

I met Dominick and his teammates earlier this spring, visiting practice and writing a story about their team and their sport. So I knew I would see some familiar, smiling faces when I walked into Brunswick Zone in Eden Prairie on Friday. And there they were, amidst a throng of athletes, coaches, families and friends.

Like all the adapted sports sponsored by the MSHSL (the others are softball, soccer and floor hockey), bowling is filled with joy and everything is positive. Cheers ring out as balls are rolled by hand or down a ramp. High-fives are the order of the day.

The day was not without a few bumps, which had nothing to do with the competitors or the competition. After 40 singles medals were awarded to the top10 boys and top 10 girls in the PI and CI (cognitively impaired) divisions, a scoring error was discovered. Everyone was patient while things were straightened out, and hopefully everyone was happy afterwards. Some athletes had to turn in the medals they had just received, but they were exchanged for participation medals.

The end result of the scoring error was that more than 40 athletes went home with medals. And it is always so neat to see the kids hang onto their medals as they smile with their friends and trade hugs and high-fives.

As I talked with Dominic and his teammates during the delay, they had one major concern: getting back to Cambridge-Isanti on schedule. You see, there was a big welcome home celebration planned for the Bluejackets. There was plenty to celebrate, too; along with Dominic’s fourth-place medal, Victoria Koukol placed eighth and Haley Stoehr-Magnuson placed ninth in girls PI singles.

A school administrator made a statement Friday that did a wonderful job of summing of adapted sports. He said to me, “Whenever one of our coaches thinks things are going a little rough for him, I tell them to go watch adapted sports.” In other words, if you want to see athletes competing for the challenge as well as the joy of sports, take in adapted sports.

It’s a wonderful thing.

--To see a photo gallery from the adapted bowling tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 654
*Miles John has driven: 9,913

--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

St. Francis' Ewen Extends Her Own State Discus Record
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/19/2011 10:56:07 PM

Updating a post from earlier this month...

St. Francis sophomore Maggie Ewen, who set a state record of 165 feet, 9 inches in the girls discus earlier this month, extended her record a bit further at Thursday's North Suburban Conference meet at Chisago Lakes with a toss of 166-8.

Student Journalists: Let's Visit The Twins And Timberwolves!
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/19/2011 3:25:06 PM

I'm proud to make this major announcement regarding the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program: The Twins and Timberwolves will sponsor "MSHSL Student SID Days" beginning next season.

Students selected to take part will experience stadium/arena tours, interviews with players and team officials, clubhouse/locker room visits and much more, including watching a game from a media viewpoint.

If your school is not yet part of the Student SID program, it's time to get started. Go to the bottom right corner of mshsl.org and click on the Student Sports Information Directors link for all the details.

More information on these exciting opportunities will be forthcoming. For now, let's offer a a big Thank You to the Timberwolves and Twins!

New Ulm Cathedral: Small School With Big Success
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/18/2011 3:32:03 PM

One wall of the gymnasium inside New Ulm Cathedral High School tells the stories … or at least the ending of some of the best stories. Ten banners celebrate state championships: six in softball, two in baseball and one each in dance and football.

The first baseball title came in 1964, but the rest of the championship stories are more current. Three softball state titles came in the 1990s and were followed by more gold in 2003, 2005 and 2007. The Greyhounds won a 2005 state baseball championship, the dance team brought home a 2000 crown and the latest banner to be hoisted honors Cathedral’s 2010 Class 1A football champions. Overall, Cathedral has won nine state titles in the last 18 years.

The banners are a testament to a small school with big aspirations, as well as an administration, coaches, teachers, families and students committed to excellence.

“We just kind of have an atmosphere right now of really trying to do the best we can,” said football coach Denny Lux. “And that’s in everything we do at Cathedral; it’s in the arts, it’s in athletics, in everything.”

Cathedral, which was founded in 1919, has an enrollment of 171. A large number of those students are involved in activities, and most of the athletes compete in more than one sport. The school’s facilities are spartan; the gym dates from the 1950s … the weight room is in the basement, where pads protect skulls from colliding with overhead vents … and the football team walks eight blocks to the practice field.

One of the thickest threads running through the athletic program at Cathedral is its corps of veteran coaches. Lux has been a teacher at the school for 26 years and the head football coach for 16. Baseball coach Bob Weier is in his 19th year and softball coach Bob Mertz has been on the job for 32 years. Weier, Mertz and longtime athletic director John Vetter are all Cathedral graduates from the 1960s.

“I think that we have an excellent coaching staff throughout, in all the sports,” said Weier (pictured at left), who recorded his 299th and 300th career coaching victories Tuesday when the Greyhounds swept Comfrey/Cedar Mountain in a Tomahawk Conference doubleheader.

The coaches’ career records tell the story, as well. Mertz is 642-114, Weier is 300-127 and Lux is 105-63. The Cathedral softball team is ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, the baseball team is No. 5 in 1A and the football team is coming off that state championship, a 13-1 season and 35-3 mark over the last three seasons.

“I look at it in two ways,” Vetter said of the coaches’ longevity and success. “One of them is we’ve been fortunate to have a tremendous sense of cooperation between coaches, players and parents. The other thing we’ve had here is that in order to be successful over a long period of time you need veteran coaches. And to have veteran coaches, people have to be able to coach in the right kind of environment. The board of education, the administration, parents and all the different stakeholders have to provide an environment in which coaches learn and grow and do their jobs.”

New Ulm has long been known as a baseball town, with a string of players signing professional contracts. At the top of that list is Terry Sterinbach, a graduate of New Ulm High who enjoyed a lengthy major league career and was profiled here on John’s Journal in late April.

“It’s tremendous,” Weier said of the town’s baseball tradition. “A kid in New Ulm, when he gets to 4 or 5 years old he wants to be a baseball player. You’re steps ahead. There are communities where kids want to be basketball players or football players. Here, they want to be baseball players.”

The story is similar in softball, said Mertz, who was an assistant coach when Cathedral started its softball program in 1979.

“Kids come to me with a lot of background in softball,” said Mertz (pictured at right). “We are able to work on some of the fancy pickoff plays, the slap bunting, and we’re able to do those things because they come to us with more knowledge of the game.

My whole thing is believing in defense. That puts those banners up in the gym. Bob Weier and I are fanatical about defense. We know that’s where it starts, and the kids know it, too.”

Defense also has played a major role in Cathedral’s success on the football field. After losing to Springfield 21-7 in the season opener last fall, the Greyhounds gave up only six touchdowns through the rest of the regular season. Their average margin of victory in the 2010 regular season and playoffs was 36-12.

Along with practices and hard work in the weight room, the football team’s long walk through the neighborhood to and from practice is part of their success, according to Lux.

“For practice we walk about eight blocks, and our athletes here don’t know any different because they’ve been doing it since the high school was founded,” he said. “It is a time, I think, to build that team chemistry as the guys walk down and walk back together. They’re joking around, having a good time. When our practice is over, they still have another 20 minutes to get back to the shower yet. That whole team concept continues for a while.”

The weight room has been a factor for all the athletic teams at Cathedral, even if it isn’t fancy. After all, what happens in that room is more important than how the room looks.

“We take a lot of pride in our weight room, we take a lot of pride in the fact that our athletes are dedicated to it,” Lux said. “In the summer, our weight room is open at 6:30 in the morning and it’s open again at 4:15 in the afternoon. When you hear the older generation talk about these younger kids and that they don’t know how to work, I tell them to come to our weight room at 6:30 in the morning and you’ll see the guys lined up to get in there. So they know what work is all about.”

In a small school, everyone helps each other, and that includes the coaches.

“I think we do learn from each other, and the athletes learn from all of us here,” Lux said. “We feel that our coaches, whether it be fall, winter or spring, are the kind of people who put in a lot of hard work. The kids trust us, they believe in us, and we do the same thing with them. We give them that respect back.”

--To see a photo gallery from New Ulm Cathedral, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 634
*Miles John has driven: 9,873

--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

Representative Assembly Makes Nine Bylaw Changes
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/16/2011 2:14:40 PM

The MSHSL Representative Assembly spent Monday morning studying, discussing and voting on a dozen proposed changes to MSHSL bylaws. During the 2 1/2-hour meeting, the 48-member Assembly approved nine changes and said no to three others.

The biggest decision was probably the Assembly’s “no” vote on a proposal to change transfer rules (Bylaw 111.00) regarding students who compete in high school activities while they are in seventh and/or eighth grade.

Under current bylaws, transfer rules take effect when a student enters ninth grade. Under the proposal, a student who participated in high school activities before ninth grade would be ineligible for varsity competition for one year if he/she transferred to another high school beginning in ninth grade. The proposal had 25 votes in favor and 23 opposed; 32 votes were required for passage.

Also under Bylaw 111.00, the Assembly approved a change in the language concerning parental custody of students. The new language reads, “A student of divorced parents who have joint physical custody of the student, as indicated in the divorce decree, who moves from one custodial parent to the other custodial parent shall be fully eligible at the time of the move:
1. At the public school in the new public school attendance area as determined by the district school board where the new residence is located; or
2. At any non-public school.
The student may utilize this provision only one time during grades 7-12 inclusive. The new residencecannot be located in the same public school attendance area as the previous residence. Rationale: Clarifies the divorce custody option.”

Here’s a rundown of other Assembly actions today that involved eligibility bylaws…

Bylaw 109.00: The Assembly clarified participation for seventh- and eighth-grade students who participate in MSHSL activities. Language was changed to allow six seasons of participation in any activity while in grades seven through 12.

Bylaw 101.00: The Assembly approved language that states: “A student who turns 20 during the 11th or 12th semester since first entering the 7th grade shall be allowed to participate through the completion of the 12th semester.”

Bylaw 103.00: The Assembly approved language that states: “Students must be full time students according to the Minnesota Department of Education criteria.Students must be on track to meet the school’s graduation requirements in six years (12 consecutive semesters) beginning with the first day of attendance in the 7th grade.”

Bylaw 104.00: The Assembly approved this language change concerning charter schools: “Charter School Students: Charter school students are eligible to participate in League-sponsored activities at their charter school or in a program cooperatively sponsored by the charter school and another member school or schools. For purposes of establishing residency, the public school attendance area where the charter school is geographically located shall be assigned to the charter school. Rationale: Provides a charter school transfer student the same family residency change option as the student who transfers to a public school.”

Bylaw 105.00: The Assembly changed the language regarding grade level eligibility. The new language states, “A student in grades 7, 8, or 9, who attends a school under a separate administrative head and governing board; which does not have a continuation high school and where no other opportunity for participation on a high school team exists; is eligible to participate for a high school team provided the high school and the non-continuation school have established a joint agreement for participation in all League activities. The participation agreement for each activity or athletic program can be formed with:
A. The public school in the public high school attendance area as determined by the district school board where the non-continuation school is geographically located. If the public high school in #1 above declines the request for participation agreement the non-continuation school may form a participation agreement with
any other public high school; or
B. Any non-public high school.
3. All participation agreements shall be established for a minimum of two years. If either or any of the schools involved in the participation agreement wish to dissolve the agreement, they may do so provided a minimum of one year’s notice is given to the other school(S) unless the schools involved mutually agree to discontinue the agreement.
4. A Non-continuation school can form only one participation agreement for each athletic or activity program. Rationale: Provides a clearly defined process for non-public high schools since non-public high schools do not have a “district” or “attendance area”.

Bylaw 106.00: The Assembly voted to remove language that allowed foreign exchange students to participate in fine arts after graduating from secondary schools.

Bylaw 110.00: The Assembly voted to change the language regarding semesters enrolled. The new language: “Students shall be eligible for participation in League-sponsored activities for twelve consecutive semesters (six years) beginning with their initial entrance into the 7th grade.
Counting Semesters: The student has twelve consecutive semesters for participation whether the student chooses to participate or not, and regardless of whether the student remains fully enrolled or not. The twelve consecutive semesters begin with the student’s initial entrance into the 7th grade. Rationale: Removes family positioning of students for multiple years of 7th or 8th grade.”

Bylaw 107.00: The Assembly voted against changing the language for required physical examinations.

In action outside the area of eligibility bylaws…

--The Assembly did not change the timeline for schools making requests to form cooperative sponsorships. The current bylaw states that requests must be made no later than the first day of practice for that sport season. Under the proposed change, requests must be made by May 1 for fall activities, Sept. 15 for winter activities and Nov. 15 for spring activities. There was no vote on this proposal, because no member of the Assembly made a motion to approve.

--The Assembly adjusted the rules for schools that schedule competitions against schools that are not members of the MSHSL. This is a very basic change, ensuring that non-MSHSL schools follow rules of their state’s governing body as well as the National Federation of State High School Associations.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 629
*Miles John has driven: 9,843

--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

Coming Up: Report From Representative Assembly Meeting
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/16/2011 10:41:45 AM

The 48-member MSHSL Representative Assembly is meeting today at Edinburgh USA Golf and Event Center in Brooklyn Park.

The group is studying, discussing and voting on several proposed bylaw changes, concerning eligibility, competition and cooperative sponsorships.

I'll post a full report this afternoon...

How About This For An Exciting Family Weekend?
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/15/2011 7:18:41 PM

The Dirth family of Apple Valley had an unforgettable couple of days. Proud parents Rod and Geri (Rod is the head coach of the boys track team at Apple Valley High School and Geri is head coach of the girls track team) saw their kids put on a display that might be hard to beat. And then the kids saw their mother receive a high honor.

--Their daughter Deidra, who graduated from Drake University last year and completed a Division I varsity track career there, received a master’s degree in business administration from Drake on Saturday.

--Their twin sons, Devin and Dalen, each captured conference track championships in the decathlon. Devin, a junior at St. Thomas, won the decathlon at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference meet, and Dalen, a junior at Luther College, won the same event at the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference meet. Dalen finished with a total score of 6,162 and Devin had 6,141.

And to top off the Dirth family’s big weekend, Geri was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon. She has coached track, cross-country and basketball during 31 years at Apple Valley. Her girls track teams have won 10 conference and True Team championships, 15 section titles and five state championships. She has coached 25 individual track state champions, including Olympian Shani Marks-Johnson. (Geri is pictured here with MSHSL board of directors president Les Zellmann.)

Congrats to the Dirth family!

--For photos of all the Hall of Fame inductees, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

Taking Some Time Off, And Taking A Look Back
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/10/2011 10:09:45 AM

The John’s Journal staff is taking some time off this week to attend to a regular rite of spring: graduation.

In the meantime, feel free to take a look at some of the recent stories posted here. Scroll down until you see “More of John’s Journal” and click away.

Here are just a few of the stories you’ll find…

--St. Francis sophomore Maggie Ewen, who recently set a new state record in the discus.

--A program at Spring Lake Park in which high school athletes spend time helping first- and second-graders improve their reading skills.

--Remembering 9-11 and how high school sports can help us heal.

--A big night for track at the Hamline Elite Meet.

--Terry Steinbach, former major league catcher now coaching high school baseball (including his son).

--Wrestling weight changes and more.

See you next week!

In A Few Quiet Moments, A Great Lesson In Sportsmanship
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/6/2011 12:57:11 PM

Thanks to a grateful parent and an administrator who understands that we need to share great stories from school activities, I am proud to pass along a wonderful lesson in sportsmanship as well as friendship.

The stars of this story are Hannah Barrett, a senior at Verndale High School and a member of the Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale track team, and Alexa Hoffarth, an eighth-grader on the track team at Osakis. They had never met until they were preparing to run the 300-meter hurdles at the recent Osakis Lions Invitational.

I’ll let the email from Gina Hoffarth (Alexa’s mom) tell the tale in just a moment. But my thanks also go to Bertha-Hewitt athletic director Steve Riewer. Steve and several others at Verndale and Bertha-Hewitt received the email below from Alexa’s mom, and Steve was kind enough to forward that email to me. Enjoy …

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to express my appreciation to one of your female athletes who participated in the Osakis Lions Invitational last night. Our eighth-grade daughter ran the 300-meter hurdles for the first time last night and was literally terrified.

“Hannah, a senior” from your school approached her while they were waiting to get on the track. I’m not sure of the exact conversation, but she basically asked her if she was OK (nerves must have been obvious) and then reassured her that she would do fine. She went on to tell her how long she had been working on them and that after much practice she now loved that race.

“Hannah” encouraged her to persevere even if the first time didn’t go perfectly and reminded her that God had a plan for her. Our daughter hit the first hurdle and almost went down, but did go on to finish the race. This short conversation that “Hannah” may not even remember made a significant impact on our daughter.

Our daughter was disappointed with herself for taking sixth place and hitting the hurdle, but she recalled her conversation with the kind girl who not only understood her fears, but was able to help her look at running hurdles in a positive way. It was the one solace that our daughter fell back on last night that may help her in other future athletic endeavors. From another athlete, these words of encouragement went much further than any encouragement we gave her as parents.

I am not one to write letters on a whim, but I wanted to thank this athlete from your school. It is impressive that she took the time to visit with an opponent. My husband and I believe this experience will stick with our daughter. We will challenge her to “pay it forward” to another athlete in the future. Please commend your athlete(s) and coaching staff for taking the time and making a difference in the life of another athlete.

Gina Hoffarth
Osakis Track parent

Meet Minnesota’s Newest State Record Holder: Maggie Ewen
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/4/2011 3:25:38 PM

There’s going to be some construction and landscaping going on at St. Francis High School. It seems that the area where the discus lands after Maggie Ewen throws it isn’t quite roomy enough.

Ewen made history Tuesday in a four-team track meet at St. Francis. She threw the discus 165 feet, 9 inches, which broke the previous state record of 162-4, set by Jessica Cagle of Grand Rapids in 2008.

There are two “wow” factors in this story. The first is that Maggie isn’t the prototypical thrower. She stands 5-foot-9, making her sort of a mid-sized thrower. And she’s only a sophomore, which portends even greater lengths to come.

St. Francis coach Andy Forbort said three of Ewen’s throws Tuesday surpassed 160 feet. Asked how far she might go before her high school career is over, he said, “I’m not sure how far she can throw. But we need to revamp our discus area, because it only goes 170 feet. I joked with our football coach that we might use the football field because it’s 300 feet.”

Tuesday’s record throw came midway through Ewen’s six attempts in the discus ring. “I’m pretty sure it was my third or fourth throw,” she said Wednesday morning. “The throw didn’t particularly feel like the best it could be, but when I let it go and saw the arc and the flight of it, it was like, ‘Oooh, this is going to be a good one.’

“At first I was like, ‘Hey, a new p.r. (personal record). Awesome.’ Then it was like, ‘Oh wait, a new state record, too.’ ”

In her last competition prior to Tuesday, Ewen won at Friday's Hamline Elite Meet with a toss of 147-3. She also won the shot put at Hamline at 45-11 ¾ (that's where this photo was taken). She won the Class 2A title in the discus at last year’s state track meet (159-4) and placed third in the shot put. As an eighth-grader she placed third in the discus and eighth in the shot put at state.

There are genetics at work here. Maggie’s father, Bruce, was a college thrower at Illinois State and came within a quarter-inch of making the 1988 U.S. Olympic team in the hammer throw. Her mom, Kristi, played volleyball at Columbia Heights and Ohio State.

Maggie began tinkering with the discus when she was in fifth grade and her older sister Alicia was throwing on the high school team.

“I didn’t really take it very seriously right away,” Maggie said. “I suppose it did come pretty naturally.”

Forbort called Maggie’s feat “unbelievable” but in the same breath said her success is not a real surprise. “Our throwing coach said as a sixth-grader she would have finished in the top 10 in our section.”

The national high school record in the girls discus is 190-3, set by Anna Jelmini of Shafter, Calif., in 2009. The best throw in the nation in 2010 was 180-9 by Alex Collatz of Stockdale High in Bakersfield, Calif.

That leads to a question for Maggie: How far can you throw?

“How far? I don’t know,” she said. “I haven’t really set any long-terms goals for myself. Right now I’m just worried about 166.”

In the meantime, somebody better get started on expanding that landing area.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 627
*Miles John has driven: 9,604

--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

Reading And Role Models: Spring Lake Park Finds Perfect Formula
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/3/2011 3:12:26 PM

Steve Brady will never forget the magic that took place when students from Spring Lake Park High School began visiting his first-grade classroom. The high school kids’ mission was simple: spend one-on-one time with struggling readers and help them improve their skills.

One little boy quickly became enamored with Jorde Ranum, a senior three-sport athlete.

“This boy plays sports and he wanted Jorde’s autograph,” Brady said. “And Jorde was such a nice guy to give it to him, and that really made a nice bond between those two. Every day the kid would ask, ‘Is Jorde coming today?’

“It’s just that little nudge, just one more effort that we can do to make sure the kids can read.”

Since January a group of about 20 Spring Lake Park high school students have been working with first- and second-graders at nearby Woodcrest Elementary, using a rotating schedule that has two, three or four students visiting three days each week. The high school students are invited to participate in the program and they go through training sessions.

“We wanted to give our children more opportunities to read, and to create relationships and to feel connected,” said Woodcrest principal Judi Kahoun. “We’re seeing gains in reading, and the kids love the connections. It’s real important for our kids just to have another person they can connect with who can make a difference in their lives.”

The process is not complicated. The high school kids (Bria Jones is pictured at right) and their reading buddies sit together in the hallway outside the classroom, and the children read as the older students help them. The high school students will offer advice, such as “Look at the first letter, make the sounds. Does it make sense?”

First-grade teacher Nikki Pudwill said, “They have a positive impact, the kids are excited to see them and they know them by name. I’ve overheard them using strategies, helping kids figure out the words. They interact and work together and it’s very, very positive.”

It’s so simple in its execution, yet so important in its benefits.

“It has really motivated the kids,” first-grade teacher Curtis Horton said. “It’s the same books they’ve read with me and other volunteers, but to be with the high school kids, they are so psyched to read to them.”

The positives work both ways.

“I just think it’s really good giving back to the kids,” said Courtney Nelson, a senior member of the hockey and golf teams. “It’s fun to see them and how much they progress. Going back each time and seeing the smile on their faces is just awesome. They love the experience, and I think it’s very humbling and good for us as well. I enjoy it a lot.

“I think it’s important that we have athletes going over to Woodcrest because it shows that you can excel both academically and on the field. It encourages both, but it shows that school definitely comes first and having those basic skills is necessary.”

The idea for the program sprang from Homecoming week last fall, when Spring Lake Park football players visited all the elementary schools in the district (which is in the northern Twin Cities suburbs).

“We saw the reaction from the kids,” said athletic director Mike Cunningham. The reading program began with team captains in January and has expanded to other students.

“The term I’ve been using with them is, ‘You guys need to leave a legacy here,’ ” Cunningham said.

Amy Bjurlin, a former Woodcrest teacher who now helps staff there improve their skills, trains the high school students before they begin working with young readers.

“We’ve gone through some strategies for coaching elementary students in reading,” said Bjurlin (pictured below). “It’s pretty simple texts that the students are reading, and I’ve modeled for them how a student might read that text, the errors they might make and how they can coach them without telling them the word, so the students have the chance to practice some of those reading strategies on their own with the student sitting with them. The goal is for them to be independent when the coach isn’t sitting there.

“And we remind them to just really encourage the kids in their reading, to offer praise and feedback for the good reading they do. What we’ve seen is the elementary students are pretty excited to read with the high school students. When we started this we really hit our first-grade students hard with a lot of volunteers, and their oral reading scores have gone up a ton.”

The high school students will often wear a sports jersey or other attire that identifies them as Spring Lake Park Panthers. The young readers receive stickers that say “I Read With a Panther.”

It’s a perfect win-win situation.

“The high school kids have really picked up on the coaching. They’re doing a great job of interacting with the students,” Bjurlin said. “Staff members will walk by and say, ‘Wow, these guys are the real deal.’ They picked up the training quickly and they’ve been super responsible and reliable. It’s fun to see them doing such a great job.”

--For more photos, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 626
*Miles John has driven: 9,544

--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

Remembering ...
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/2/2011 12:02:23 AM

In the wake of Sunday evening's news, I began thinking about 9-11 and what happened in the days and weeks that followed.

I recalled writing about a monument to Flight 93 victim Tom Burnett at Bloomington Jefferson, where Tom was a football team captain in the class of 1981. That story found it way to Tom's widow, Deena, who sent me a very nice thank you note.

I recalled writing about Gordy Aamoth Jr., who was killed in the Twin Towers. He was a football player while a student at Blake, where the stadium now bears his name and a section of beam from the World Trade Center is displayed.

Then I recalled a column I wrote in the Minneapolis Star Tribune the day after 9-11. It seemed to touch people at the time, and it might be worth reading today...

Headline: High school sports can help the healing

In the horrible wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all after-school activities were canceled Tuesday in the Jefferson County (Colo.) School District. This didn't surprise Ed Woytek, the athletic director at Columbine High School.

The day's events hit Columbine hard, especially the senior class. They were freshmen on April 20, 1999, when two students shot and killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

"Our coaches and all of us are on kind of a fine line, especially with what happened here previously," Woytek said.

Columbine still is recovering from that day. Recovery also is an ongoing process in Osceola, Wis., where twin brothers Eric and Aaron Kipp, 18, died in a car accident on the way to football practice 30 days ago.

With thousands of innocent people presumed to have perished this week, what do you say? How do you heal? Maybe it's best to listen to the kids. That's among the lessons learned at Columbine and Osceola.

"Pretty much all of them are saying to us, 'We need to be a family,'" Woytek said. "Because that's what happened a few years ago; they got with family. And that's where we need to be, that's where our American people need to be, is with family."

After the Kipp brothers died, football practices were stopped for a short period. But soon, everyone wanted to return -- or try to return -- to some sense of normalcy.

"Very soon, the kids were ready to go back," said Osceola coach/principal Mike McMartin. "They said, 'Coach, I need to keep busy.' And they were right. When we jumped back into it, although they weren't the best practices in the world, there was almost a big sigh of relief that they could start moving forward and take with us all the good things that the boys had shared with us for so many years, instead of thinking about the bad."

Activities went on as scheduled Tuesday in Osceola, the day of the attacks.

"We just really felt during that time it was massively important that we show to the kids, 'Hey, we're going on. We're not going to let these people defeat us or take us off our feet here. We're going to move forward and be proud,'" McMartin said.

At Columbine and Osceola, tragedy struck a specific community of people. This week, tragedy struck us all.

The Columbine Rebels take a 1-1 record into tonight's game at Dakota Ridge. Osceola is 3-0 and the homecoming opponent for rival St. Croix Falls. The games go on, as do our lives.

"Everybody keeps saying we'll never get back to normal, just like our nation will never get back to normal," Woytek said. "But hopefully we're going to get as close to normal as we can."

So if sporting events are part of your normal routine, stick with it. If you haven't been to a high school game in years, tonight would be a wonderful time to go. Get away from the television, escape the headlines. Find a seat in the bleachers and take a break, however temporary, from all that's gone so wretchedly wrong in this world.

Watch the team captains shake hands before the coin flip. Hold your hand over your heart during the national anthem as the flag flutters at half-staff. Bow your head during the moment of silence to honor this week's victims. Get on your feet for the opening kickoff. Watch our young people -- players, cheerleaders, fans -- as they smile, holler and laugh together during this evening that is tradition both athletic and social. Buy popcorn, listen to the band, cheer first downs, simply celebrate.

Maybe administrators at every school can find a recording of God Bless America, and across our states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and beyond -- we'll sing together when the game ends. Just like a family.

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