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A Broken Leg, A Magical Season And A Return To State
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/29/2012 8:36:42 PM

When the 2011 softball season ended and the players from New Life Academy were celebrating their school’s fourth consecutive Class 1A state championship, there was one common thought as the dust settled: That was a great run for the Eagles.

Indeed it was. New Life – a Woodbury school with 239 students – made Minnesota history a year ago by becoming the first team to win four softball crowns in a row. Last year’s trip to the state tournament in Mankato also was the Eagles’ sixth in a row; the state record is eight straight appearances by Winona Cotter from 2000 to 2007.

New Life’s six-year string of success included a total record of 138 wins and only 22 losses. During the four-year championship run, the Eagles were 93-16. But as thoughts turned to the 2012 season, there was another glaring fact about New Life: The Eagles’ roster included a grand total of zero seniors.

Most people figured that the good times were over … including New Life coach Mick Ramey.

“I did, too,” he said Tuesday. “I hoped we’d go 50-50 this year.”

He issued that statement with a grin on his face, the grin of a guy whose team was headed back to Mankato. On the strength of a 5-3 victory over Minneapolis Washburn at Hamline University, the Eagles claimed the Section 4 title and their seventh consecutive state tournament appearance.

Their record is 16-6. They are not ranked in the Class 1A top 10. Oh, and their starting first baseman watched Tuesday’s game with a giant yellow cast on her left shin and foot. While sitting in a wheelchair.

Sometimes there is magic at work. Sometimes a team is better than everyone thought it would be. And sometimes both.

“I’m as happy as ever,” said sophomore Jessica Lamb from her wheelchair in the midst of the postgame celebration. “I’m so proud of us.”

Lamb was hurt on Friday during a 6-3 win over Washburb that knocked the Millers into the loser’s bracket. Washburn then defeated Heritage Christian Academy 6-4 on Friday, setting up Tuesday’s game. The injury came in a play at the plate.

“I was sliding into home on a passed ball, the catcher came down and we kind of like collided,” Lamb said. “Her knee drove into my shin.”

Bang. Crack. One broken tibia and one cracked fibula later, Jessica was undergoing surgery. Her teammates were frightened by her injury, but they held things together and kept winning.

“It was very frightening,” said freshman pitcher Valerie Hohol. “But we all got our emotions in check and kept our cool. We prayed about her and just kept going. She really motivated us and just put a little fire in our gut and helped us keep going.”

The challenge for Washburn was a steep one. The Millers -- trying to become the first Minneapolis public school to reach the state softball tournament -- needed to win Tuesday’s game in order to force a final, deciding rematch on Thursday. Washburn out-hit New Life 7-4 Tuesday but made too many errors and gave the Eagles too many chances.

With the aid of three walks and a hit batter, the Eagles scored twice in the first inning on a bases-loaded walk and a bunt in the same situation. They got two more in the second with singles by Hohol and Malorie Giere driving in runs, and three fourth-inning errors helped the Eagles score their fifth run. Lauren Post drove in two runs for Washburn and Lia Gambucci had one RBI.

Many of the Eagles had Lamb’s number 7 written on their arms, and they rushed to her side when she arrived in her wheelchair a few minutes before game time. They had spent time with her in the hospital over the long holiday weekend, but seeing her on a softball field again was special.

“She just got her cast on today, so that was the first time we’ve all seen her out of the hospital,” Hohol said. “It was great.”

Her spot at first base is being filled by sophomore Chloe Westlund, who made the move from center field. It was probably fitting that Tuesday’s game ended on a ground ball to sophomore Amanda Heidmann at third base, who threw to Westlund. Chloe caught the throw with her foot on the bag, raised her fist in the air and joined her teammates in a mob at the center of the infield.

In the middle of the mob was Hohol. Like her coach – and most everyone else who had an opinion about the Eagles before the season began – Hohol had her doubts about where this season would end.

“I really don’t have many words to express it,” she said. “People didn’t expect us to go to state, and at the beginning of the year I didn’t even expect us to go state. We just grew as a team and grew as people. It was great.”

And it continues to be pretty great.

--To see a photo gallery from the New Life Academy-Washburn game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 573
*Miles John has driven: 7,766

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

Racing For Records: Park’s Alowonle Clears Every Hurdle
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/25/2012 2:13:28 PM

R.J. Alowonle is fractions of a second away from making Minnesota track and field history. And if – when? – the senior from Park High School in Cottage Grove carves his name into the record books, those closest to him will remember the days when he was a little kid carrying his Pokemon cards and tagging along with his big sisters when they were Park athletes.

Alowonle is the youngest of five children and the only boy. Track runs in the family; his sister Jummy was a two-time state champ in the long jump and won one triple jump title before competing at Iowa State.

“When I was younger I would always come with my sisters to practice,” R.J. said. “People remember me as Jummy’s little brother, who had his Pokemon cards at every practice.”

Park boys track coach Mike Moran, who has known Alowonle since he was small, said. “His sisters ran for us and he hung around the pole vault pit. We knew he was going to be a good track guy.”

He has turned into much more than a good track guy. As a sophomore, Alowonle won the big-school state championship in the 300-meter hurdles, finished fourth in the 110-meter high hurdles and was a member of Park’s third-place 4x200 relay team. A year ago he won both hurdles races at state, placed fourth in the triple jump and ran a leg on the Wolfpack’s third-place 4x100 relay unit.

And this season he is on the cusp of breaking two of the oldest records in state high school history. The record in the 110 hurdles is 13.85 seconds, set by Owatonna’s Rick Schroeder in 1981; Alowonle’s best time this spring is 14.13. The 300 hurdles mark is 36.97 by Minneapolis North’s Dan Bannister in 1987; Alowonle’s best is 37.03.

But he’s not just a hurdler with the best times in the state in 2012. He also ranks No.1 in the 100, the 400 and the triple jump while ranking second in the 200 (to Park classmate D’Monte Farley). Park’s 4x100 relay team also has the second-best time in Minnesota this spring (behind North St. Paul). And for good measure, Alowonle ranks 18th in the long jump.

“He’s a really good student, top 10 in his class,” Moran said. “He’s got everything going for him. He’s really, really popular and the kids all love him. Mention ‘R.J.’ and the whole school knows who he is.”

Alowonle, who also is one of the state’s best soccer players, was “untouchable” on the junior high track team, according to Moran. As a ninth-grader he fell just short of qualifying for the state meet in the 110 hurdles. And as a sophomore he exploded onto the scene.

He didn’t run the 300 hurdles as a freshman and stayed away from that event for most of his sophomore season. “I just thought it was way too hard and I didn’t want to try it,” he said.

Late in his sophomore spring, however, he ran the 300 hurdles for the first time in a meet for sophomores and freshmen. He finished first, practiced for a few days and then won again at the Suburban East Conference championships. He won once more at the section championships and took home a gold medal at the state meet.

That means Alowonle has never been beaten in the 300 hurdles. Which, as Moran said, “is amazing.”

Alowonle’s legend became even larger in recent days, when he expressed a desire to run the 400 meters. He had run in the 4x400 relay but never in the open 400. So what happened? He set a school record of 48.28, which is 1.1 seconds off the state record and the fastest time in Minnesota this year. (Other 400 runners will be relieved to learn that Alowonle will not run the 400 in this year’s section or state meets.)

Park has had a boys track program since the 1940s and all-time standings have been compiled in each event. Alowonle ranks first or second in the 100, 200, 400, both hurdle events, the long jump and triple jump.

“And if he ever high jumped he could probably be in that, too,” said Moran.

Alowonle’s high school career is winding down. The Suburban East Conference finals were held Friday at East Ridge, the Section 3 meet is scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday at the University of St. Thomas and the state championships will be held June 8-9 at Hamline University. Alowonle will compete in both hurdles races, the triple jump and the 4x100 relay in those meets. If all goes well, his dreams will be fulfilled.

“I would really like to get four firsts in the state meet, and more importantly I really want Park to take first (in the Class 2A team race),” he said. “Last year that was never one of our goals, but getting third last year really opened a lot of kids’ eyes and everybody’s been training really hard this year.

“My times, I would like to see them drop as well because I want to get the state records in the 110s and the 300s.”

Alowonle and Farley will be key components to the Wolfpack’s team title aspirations. They have been good friends and teammates since junior high.

“We’ve been really close, always,” R.J. said. “In junior high we did some of the same events. We push each other so hard in practice and we love each other so much that if we are going to lose, we want to lose to each other. That relationship is what’s helped me a lot. We’re super competitive but super friendly. Him without me or me without him, I don’t think we’d be nearly as good as we are.”

Farley has signed with the track program at North Dakota and Alowonle has the done the same with North Carolina. A year ago they became the first male Park track athletes to qualify for state in four events. They hope to do the same this year and end their high school careers in high style.

As for breaking a state record -- or two? Alowonle has envisioned what that would feel like.

“It would mean the world,” he said with a smile. “It’s a crazy feeling; even beating any Park record is fantastic. It’s one of the greatest feelings ever.”

UPDATE: Alowonle broke the state record in the 300-meter hurdles at Friday's Suburban East Conference championships. His time was 36.38 seconds, breaking Dan Bannister's 1987 record of 36.97.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 571
*Miles John has driven: 7,734

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

From Germany To Rosemount, A Surprise Tennis Star
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/23/2012 1:50:48 PM

When the Rosemount High School boys tennis players gathered for their first preseason meeting this spring, there was a new member of the group. A sophomore foreign-exchange student named Andreas Dinkelmeyer wasn’t known to many of the tennis players. He had played soccer and basketball, but no one had pegged him as a tennis player.

Practice began in late March, and it didn’t take long for Dinkelmeyer to become known.

“He started beating all the varsity players, one by one,” said Irish coach Dana Beck. “He ended up being our top player, and we knew we had a good player on our hands.”

Dinkelmeyer has been more than good. He has been ranked among the top 10 Class 2A players in the state and is seeded third in the individual portion of the Section 3 postseason tournament, which begins Friday.

Dinkelmeyer, 16, began opening eyes in the Minnesota tennis world by defeating Bloomington Jefferson’s No. 1 player, senior Luke Robertson, during an early-season tournament in Woodbury. Robertson is currently ranked sixth in 2A. Dinkelmeyer also defeated Eagan senior Brady Radermacher (ranked seventh) and Eastview senior Will Biernat (ranked eighth).

A shoulder injury sidelined Dinkelmeyer for a couple of weeks during the season, he lost a match after returning and is currently listed among the honorable mention players in the 2A coaches poll.

“Now he’s back at full force again, and we wanted to make sure that the timing was good,” Beck said. “We overdid it a little bit on the rest, but that’s better than not enough rest.”

An even more surprising aspect of Dinkelmeyer’s success this spring is that he had not swung a tennis racket since arriving in Minnesota last summer.

“The first day of tryouts was his first day using his racket,” Beck said. “He played two other sports and he wasn’t hitting any tennis balls. So he came in a little rusty and he has great strokes and skills that just needed a little tweaking.”

Dinkelmeyer’s host parents are Tom and Mindy Wychor of Rosemount, who have three children. He arrived in Minnesota last summer in time to visit the State Fair.

“It was really nice,” he said. “I liked the food.”

He has visited the Mall of America, attended a Timberwolves game and took a spring break trip to South Carolina with his host family.

“I really like it here,” Andreas said. “It’s really been a successful year. If I had heard ‘Minnesota’ (before planning to spend a year here) I would have said, ‘Where is that?’ Actually I think it’s way better than somewhere in a big city. Rosemount isn’t that big but you’re still close to a bigger city.”

He learned tennis from his parents (“They took me out on the courts when I could walk”) and is involved in tennis in Germany through a club called 1. FC Nurnberg near his hometown of Treachtlingen, which is near Nuremburg.

He played soccer until he was 11, “and then I had to choose between tennis and soccer.” His family – he has one older sister and one younger sister – likes to travel to Austria to ski.

Dinkelmeyer began learning English in fifth grade and speaks the language very well. While he’s learning about Minnesota and the United States, his teammates and others at Rosemount are learning about Germany.

“He’s nice to have on the team,” Beck said. “He uses some different terminology, with the cultural thing. Some of the guys will use an accent sometimes, and he’ll use (the German phrase) for ‘Let’s go!’ He says that all the time, so you’ll hear that on the courts.

“He’s really been a good motivator and the guys really like having him as part of the team. He fits in, he’s bonded with some of the players. He’s a good role model.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 570
*Miles John has driven: 7,682

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

One Weekend, Three Wonderful Activities And Opportunities
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/21/2012 1:18:23 PM

When people think of the Minnesota State High School League and the activities that take place under the MSHSL umbrella, many minds surely turn to the Prep Bowl or the state hockey tournament or any of the other “traditional” sports.

Those types of activities – particularly the events that draw big crowds as well as large television audiences -- are certainly a major part of the MSHSL’s mission. This past weekend, however, demonstrated how far-reaching the MSHSL has become in providing opportunities for students who do not always fall into the realm of “traditional” activities.

Nearly a thousand students from all over Minnesota were involved in three events at three Twin Cities venues. The atmosphere at these activities ranged from the quiet dignity of an art gallery to the cheers of a crowded bowling alley to bright lights and loud music as robots played basketball.

--The Minnesota State Visual Arts High School Exhibition ran for nine days and ended Saturday at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul. It showcased the work of 100 students in the categories of media arts, drawing, painting, crafts, sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, 2D mixed media/collage and graphic design.

--The Adapted Bowling State Tournament, held Friday at Brunswick Zone in Eden Prairie, brought together 320 students in divisions for cognitively impaired and physically impaired bowlers. Competition was held in singles, doubles and teams.

--The inaugural Minnesota State Robotics Championships was held Saturday at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena. A total of 551 students from 28 Minnesota high schools took part in the event, which was held in conjuction with FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). FIRST, a not-for-profit public charity, was founded in 1989 to inspire young people to pursue science and technology.

The three events are certainly different, in venue as well as theme. From viewing the artistic expression of a sculpture or a self-portrait … to watching a student in a wheelchair concentrate on pushing a bowling ball down a ramp and on toward the pins … to seeing a team of robotics engineers, wearing their team uniforms of capes and crowns, celebrate success … well, those are achievents that are equal to anything accomplished by anyone in any MSHSL activities.

The adapted bowling tournament is a happy madhouse, with families and friends of the athletes packing the venue and cheering wildly. The competition can be fierce, as demonstrated when the CI team from North/Tartan won the state title with a one-pin margin (1,627 to 1,626) over Albany. The awards ceremonies are as boisterious as any other, with athletes and fans holding their breath as the medalists are announced, then cheering and applauding for everyone.

In the 1990s, the MSHSL became the first statewide high school activities body in the country to create and govern adapted sports. Also part of the yearly MSHSL schedule are adapted softball, floor hockey and soccer.

Robotics is a different sort of madhouse, with team members often dressed in fun get-ups as they combine hard work with enjoyment and camaraderie. The robots are designed and built from a common set of parts during a six-week period before competitions begin. For the 2012 FIRST season the contest was called Rebound Rumble, with robots designed to shoot basketballs through hoops. Robotics is a very fan-friendly environment, with energetic in-arena announcers and lots of raucous music. Students from different schools often gather to dance between rounds of competition. It’s a blast.

As with adapted sports in the 1990s, the MSHSL is the first high school governing body in the nation to officially sanction FIRST robotics. Minnesota has the third-largest FIRST contingent in the nation with 153 teams and has the most teams per capita of any state.

There was no loud cheering or wild rounds of applause at the visual arts exhibition, where adults and artists quietly studied each piece before moving on to the next. Occasionally, parents would snap photos of their children standing next to their artwork.

The most powerful piece at the exhibition was a simple self-portrait of a young girl wearing glasses and a scarf over her head, her face turned slightly but her eyes focused on the viewer. The painting was done by Claire Frick, 18, a student at Roseville Area High School who died in March after a two-year battle with a rare form of cancer. Claire had planned to study at the College of Visual Arts after graduating from high school.

There is a quiet dignity to Claire’s portrait. The same word – dignity – can be used when describing the other weekend activites. Amid the cheers, hugs, music, costumes, dancing, competition and celebration, that’s a word that describes all MSHSL activities. Dignity.

--To see photo galleries from all three weekend events, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 570
*Miles John has driven: 7,658

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

Andover’s Anderson Is An All-Weather Record-Holder
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/16/2012 2:21:09 PM

For a guy who craves warm sunshine in the desert, Thomas Anderson does pretty well under cold Minnesota conditions. The first-person evidence is this Twitter message dispatched by the Andover High School senior on April 21: “Broke the minnesota state shot put record today 65'8 in 45 degree weather.”

The 6-foot-4, 260-pound redhead made history on that chilly day during the Pony Relays at Stillwater. His distance of 65 feet, 8 inches bettered the previous state shot put record by two inches; the prior mark had been set by Mounds View’s Nate Englin in 2003 in the same Stillwater throwing circle. Anderson will return to Stillwater on Saturday for the Class 3A True Team state championships (1A and 2A competition will be held Friday).

The forecast for Saturday predicts temperatures in the 80s, which is more in line with Anderson’s warm-weather wishes. He has signed a letter of intent with Arizona State, and that decision was two-pronged: his affinity for warmth and a desire to be coached at the highest level. He called Sun Devils throwing coach David Dumble “one of the best coaches in the world, hands down.”

Anderson knows about quality throwing coaches because he has been raised by two of them. He is the only child of Colin and Lynne Anderson, two Olympic throwers turned coaches. Lynne, a former American discus record holder and an Olympian in 1976 and 1980, is in her 31st year as a throws coach at the University of Minnesota. Colin, a 1980 Olympian in the shot put, is a former Gophers assistant coach who now coaches the throwers at Andover.

The first college to offer Thomas a track scholarship was not Minnesota, but Iowa. That happened long ago.

“It’s a pretty funny story,” Thomas said. “The coach at Iowa offered me a full scholarship at birth. So when he was recruiting me, he technically had first dibs.”

Despite his family’s ties to the University of Minnesota, Anderson said he didn’t feel any pressure to become a Gopher. He took official recruiting visits to Arizona State, Minnesota and Kansas before making his decision, and his choice was not very popular on the Minneapolis campus.

“They were not happy with me choosing ASU,” he said of the Gophers coaches who are not members of his immediate family. “They understood but they weren’t happy.

“There wasn’t any pressure; it was wherever I wanted to go. When it finally came down to it, (my parents and I) were discussing where I wanted to go. I had already made my decision and I was getting their unput, and we all agreed that Arizona State was the best place.”

Anderson was the MSHSL Class 2A state champion in the shot put last year and finished second in the discus. This season Anderson has a discus best of 177-2, which ranks second in the state behind Champlin Park’s Bryce Johnson (185-3).

Anderson easily won both events during a dual meet with Anoka on Tuesday at Andover. His distances were 63-10 in the shot put and 170-10 in the discus. (He is pictured here with his father and fellow Andover throwers Kevin Olson and Joe Putz.)

“It wasn’t a bad day,” he said. “It was a dual meet so there wasn’t much adrelanine pumping.” (On the same day a few miles away, St. Francis junior Maggie Ewen threw the discus 172-7, breaking her own girls state record.)

Anderson’s performance Tuesday was a tuneup for Friday’s True Team event in Stillwater. When Anderson thinks back to his record-setting performance there in April, he still seems slightly surprised.

“It was really cold and I wasn’t feeling all that great. I didn’t think I was going to break the state record. I got into the right position and got a big one off.”

Among Anderson’s goals during this final season of high school competition is reaching 70 feet in the shot put.

“That’s the benchmark number that I’m looking for,” he said. “It’s going to take getting in the right position and it’s going to take warm weather. When it’s cold the muscles don’t fire like they do when it’s warm.”

There’s a message on Twitter that says otherwise.

--To see more photos of Anderson, plus video, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 513
*Miles John has driven: 7,553

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

Representative Assembly Rejects Ski Change, Waits On Other Proposals
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/14/2012 11:36:49 AM

When references were made to former University of Michigan and NBA player
Chris Webber, it became clear that Monday morning’s annual meeting of the MSHSL Representative Assembly was going to be interesting. And that was certainly the case, as two proposed MSHSL bylaw changes were put on hold and the 48-member legislative body defeated another proposal.

By the time the meeting at Edinburgh USA Conference and Event Center in Brooklyn Park ended, after one hour and 20 minutes, the result was that no bylaws were changed.

Webber was brought into the discussion because of what took place during his high school career in Michigan. When he was in the NBA, claims were made that Webber and his family had received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a University of Michigan booster while Webber was in high school in Detroit. After that was revealed, the Michigan High School Athletic Association attempted to have Detroit Country Day School forfeit three state championships it won while Webber was a team member. In 2004, Webber was sentenced to community service after pleading guilty to criminal contempt for lying to a grand jury about his dealings with Martin.

And why did this matter to the Representative Assembly? Because of a proposal to change the wording in two eligibility bylaws. After the meeting was called to order, MSHSL Executive Director Dave Stead asked the members to refrain from voting on those changes. He said that because of questions that were gathered during recent MSHSL area meetings, more discussions needed to be held before those proposed changes were considered by the assembly.

The proposed bylaw changes deal with student eligibility and violations that are discovered after students have participated. In Bylaw 205 (Chemical Eligibility) and Bylaw 304 (Student Eligibility), it was proposed that the following language be added: “Student who has violated an MSHSL Bylaw; has participated; and is subsequently found to be in violation of an MSHSL Bylaw shall forfeit any honors won as an individual as determined by the MSHSL Board of Directors.”

The issues with the proposed changes included a worry that there may be no end to the time limit of when questions could arise ... as in the Chris Webber situation. For example, what if an athlete competes in a state tournament but it is revealed a year or more later that the athlete violated eligibility rules shortly before the tournament? Should there be some sort of statute of limitations?

The only item on which the Assembly voted involved post-state tournament training between Alpine skiing coaches and athletes. Under the proposal, coaches would have been allowed to continue working with their school’s skiers after the state ski meet through the second Saturday in March. Thirty votes were needed for passage and it received only 18 votes. The ski proposal may be amended and returned to the Representative Assembly in the future.

The Representative Assembly is the legislative body of the MSHSL. In order for proposed bylaw changes to reach the Representative Assembly, they must be approved by a majority of the state’s 16 region committees. Once that has happened, the MSHSL Board of Directors can recommend that the proposal be sent to the Representative Assembly for final approval.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 511
*Miles John has driven: 7,523

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

5,000 Games And Counting: Brainerd’s Scearcy Still Going Strong
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/8/2012 11:06:59 PM

BRAINERD -- Lowell Scearcy estimates that he has been involved in somewhere around 5,000 athletic contests over the past 45 years or so. That’s not bad for a guy who jokes about studying engineering in college but wondering if that meant he would learn to operate trains.

Scearcy is best known as the baseball coach at Brainerd High School, a job he has held for 40 years. His teams won state championships in 1995 and 2000, went to state 10 times between 1981 and 2010 and own 14 conference titles. But there’s more. Much more.

Scearcy, 66, also has coached basketball. And track. And cross-country. And football (a job he still holds). And he worked for many years as a basketball and football official, working state tournaments and Prep Bowls. Add up all those games, and the number he comes up with is 5,000. Plus, the total is growing because he isn’t thinking about retiring.

“At my age it’s like it’s always been, a year-to-year thing as far as coaching,” Scearcy told me Tuesday evening, after the Warriors dropped a 7-0 game to Rocori at Don Adamson Field. “I think when you get to the point where you can walk away and not look back, it’s probably time to walk away. And you never really know, I think, when that’s coming.”

Scearcy was a three-sport athlete before graduating from high school in 1963 in Pillager; that’s where he first coached in 1967 and where he returned as the head football coach in 2007. Before that, he was an assistant football coach at Central Lakes College in Brainerd for 35 years.

He taught and coached in Pillager for two years, spent three years at Verndale and arrived in Brainerd in 1972. This all came after he began college (at Brainerd Community College and Bemidji State) with a plan to study engineering.

“I’m not even sure I knew what an engineer was at that time; I probably thought I was going to learn how to drive a train,” he said with a chuckle. “After a couple years in that I decided I wanted to stay involved in athletics in one way or another, and the way to do that was to go into teaching.”

Oddly, Scearcy – who retired as a math teacher in 1999 -- said he has never considered himself a career coach.

“It was always kind of, ‘Well, let’s give it another year and see how it works out,’ ” he said. “It’s a strange thing because I don’t know how many years ago that was, 45 or something like that? But it’s been a lot of fun. It’s rewarding and I don’t really know what I could have done that was more rewarding than working with young kids every day and listening to what they have to say about things and how they feel about things. That’s an interesting part of the job.”

Brainerd’s baseball success has helped Scearcy build a career record that currently stands at 664-265. His victory total ranks No. 2 in Minnesota high school baseball history behind retired New Ulm coach Jim Senske (707-171). It’s been so long since Brainerd had a losing season that nobody can easily recall it happening.

“I’ve always hoped that we would have a program here that if we were really down, it would still be at least a .500 year,” Scearcy said. “And we played another one of those teams tonight, Rocori. And they’re not down this year.”

Having coached for all these years, Scearcy has seen a lot of changes. But the ballplayers, whether you’re talking the 1970s or now, haven’t really changed, he said.

“I hear people say kids are different. I don’t think kids are different, I think everything around kids is different,” he said. “With all the disruptions around them, it’s so different from what it was 30, 40 years ago. My gosh, when we were in athletics you either played ball or you went home and milked the cows. That was pretty much it. Things are so different now. Everything that’s pulling on the kids is different today.”

Another thing that hasn’t changed is Scearcy’s firm belief that school activities play a vital role in the development of young people.

“I preach to kids constantly about the value of activities. I tell them, ‘Don’t go through school and not be involved in something.’ That’s really the way I feel about it. You can probably learn as much about later life in activities as you can in the classroom. And I taught math for an awful lot of years.”

Lowell and his wife Diane will celebrate 45 years of marriage in June. Watching from the press box during Tuesday’s game, Diane was asked how many games she has seen as a coach’s wife. Her answer was in perfect sync with her husband’s count. She said, with a smile but no hesitation, “5,000 games.”

--To see a photo gallery from the Rocori-Brainerd baseball game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 511
*Miles John has driven: 7,523

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

Championship Experience Pays Off For Hastings Softball Team
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/4/2012 1:20:48 PM

Last year was a dream softball season in Hastings. After finishing third in the Class 3A state tournament the previous two years, the Raiders capped a 23-2 season by capturing the school’s first state softball championship.

Let’s fast-forward. Today the Raiders have a record of 5-9 with more close defeats than they care to remember. There is a level of frustration, but it is swamped by a work ethic and determined attitude to keep improving as the season continues.

“I think we’re getting better each game,” sophomore infielder and team captain Michaela Mills told me before the Raiders hosted Cretin-Derham Hall on Thursday. “We started off a little bit rough but our defense is really coming along, our hitting is really coming along, more people are starting to step up. It’s cool to watch.”

Hastings began the season with five consecutive losses and then won five of seven games before losses this week to Forest Lake and Cretin-Derham Hall, both by two runs. The Raiders have lost seven times by two runs or less, and getting over that hump is high on the team agenda right now.

“We’ve been in every game, that’s the big thing,” said coach Dean Robinson. “We’ve been right there, it’s just a matter of having that big hit. We’ve gotten girls on base, had the bases loaded in every game; a couple games ended with the bases loaded and we couldn’t get the hits we needed.”

Hastings lost some key players to graduation. Two of them, Treya Connell and Brittani Robinson, had been on the varsity since eighth grade. Both were named to the all-tournament team at state last year, as was Mills. Connell’s departure left a big hole in the pitching circle, and sophomore Courtney Van De Velde (pictured) has stepped in.

“Courtney’s learning as she’s going along and she’s pitched every game this year,” Robinson said. “She’s playing a huge role, too. It’s a matter of our defense stepping up and helping her out. I told her she doesn’t need to replace Treya from last year, she just needs to do her part.”

The returning players from last year’s championship team know what it takes to get to the state tournament, and they hope to put that knowledge to good use as the regular season winds down and the Section 1 playoffs begin.

“The biggest thing I think our team learned (last season) is team unity,” said junior center fielder Hailey Lundquist. “In order to win we have to be playing together and be focused.”

Senior right fielder Kaitlin Stark said, “I don’t think our record shows how good we’re playing, but I think by the end of the season people will know we’re a good team. It’s kind of cool because we’re kind of under the radar. When the end of the season comes, no one expects us to do what we hope to do.”

Losing so many close games can become discouraging, but Mills said the Raiders are using it as motivation.

“You have to make it a positive thing and learn from it,” she said. “If you see someone kind of getting down, you have to go over and say, ‘You’re fine, just let it go and just be you. Don’t let whatever happened before affect you. Play like we know you can.’ ”

Robinson said it’s encouraging to see his players continually stick together and keep moving forward.

“That’s the big thing, they’re backing each other and the parents have been awesome,” he said. “We’re right there and everybody can see that. It’s just a matter of one or two things in each game. The big thing is that we peak at the end of the season and that’s what we need to do, just keep working hard.

“They’ve been there, they know what it takes. You can’t coach experience; they either have it or they don’t. It’s just a matter of coming together.”

--To see a photo gallery of the Hastings softball team, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 509
*Miles John has driven: 7,369

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

A Game For The Ages: Orono’s Flemmer Hits The Record Book
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/2/2012 9:14:39 PM

Before a baseball game at Orono High School on Tuesday, I asked Jake Flemmer what he thought of the new bats that are required across the nation on prep diamonds this season.

“They don’t have as much pop but I don’t mind them,” said the Orono sophomore catcher. “They’re all right.”

Yes, they indeed are all right. Judging by Flemmer’s accomplishments this season – including a state-record-tying performance in a game last week – you get the feeling the lefthanded hitter could swing a crooked tree branch and knock the ball all over the park.

In an eight-inning, 14-8 victory at Dassel-Cokato on April 26, Flemmer (pictured) went 6-for-6 to tie the state record for the most hits in one game. The mark is the state’s oldest hitting record, established 61 years ago (in 1951) when New Ulm’s Walt Keckeisen had six hits against St. Peter and matched in 2001 when Bryan Kramer of Blooming Prairie did the same thing vs. Medford.

Flemmer, who had six singles at Dassel-Cokato, said, “I’ve had pretty good days but I’ve never seen the ball as well as I did that day.”

As the Spartans’ leadoff hitter, Flemmer singled in the first, third, fifth and seventh innings, then batted twice in the eighth and got two more singles. His hitting streak actually was eight in a row, because he had ended the previous game with a hit and did the same in his first at-bat in the next game.

Flemmer, who also is a talented hockey player, became Orono’s starting catcher early last season.

“This year he’s continued to grow and learn,” Spartans coach Dick Crandall said. “He has a really good awareness in the batter’s box, he knows what pitchers are trying to do. He’s a smart hitter.”

Flemmer’s statistics are astounding. Through the season’s first 10 games he had a .639 batting average with 23 hits in 36 at-bats. He had three doubles, one triple, one home run and 15 RBI with five walks and two strikeouts.

Orono has a solid lineup, with Will Sperduto hitting .500, Jack Halverson .486 and Tommy Wachman .469. The Spartans are 6-6 after losing to Hutchinson 2-1 Tuesday.

Immediately after Flemmer’s 6-for-6 game, no one was aware that he had tied a record. He learned about it the next morning in school via a text message from his mother.

“I hadn’t really thought about it too much,” Jake said. “We were just thinking about winning.”

Offense in high school baseball has been dialed down this season by the mandated use of BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats. The bats, which reduce the speed of the ball as it is struck, are now required by the National Federation of State High School Associations as well as the NCAA.

Crandall said the changes in the game are clear.

“I’ve only seen one go out of the park in batting practice this year,” he said. “There were some in every round in past years. Everybody will get used to it and it will be fine. But there is a difference.”

In an odd twist, the new bats may have played a role in Flemmer’s 6-for-6 game.

“Maybe that had something to do with the bats,” Crandall said. “Maybe he would have flown out instead of hitting singles.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 507
*Miles John has driven: 7,332

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

Monson The Miler: Albert Lea Champion Balances Work, Fun
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/1/2012 9:23:04 AM

ALBERT LEA -- Chrissy Monson works hard, trains hard and loves to run. But the Albert Lea junior is learning that the work of being an elite athlete can sometimes interfere with the fun. An important reminder came early this spring.

Monson made a big splash at last year’s state track championships, outpacing some of the state’s headliners in winning the Class 2A 1,600 meters. She finished third in the 3,200 at state last year; she also ran those events at state as an eighth-grader and ninth-grader.

But she had a disappointing cross-country season last fall, was coming off an injury when the spring track season began and did not win her first outdoor 1,600 race of 2012. There was a reason for that.

“One of our captains, Ashley Tewes, said to me, ‘Chrissy, your parents have been trying to tell you but you just aren’t seeing it. You’re getting too worked up, you’re getting too involved. You need to smile. I’ve never seen you run a race without a smile on your face, and you haven’t had that. There’s something different.’ ”

Chrissy was smiling as she told me that story last week during a four-team meet at Hammer Field. But then, she almost always is smiling. When she doesn’t smile, people notice.

“I think it was kind of a rocky winter,” she said. “My dad was like, ‘Chrissy, smile. This is fun, that’s why you do it.’ I have great support that can get me focused. I have so many different people looking out for me. I love the sport and I’ve met so many great people and have had so many great opportunities. Obviously I want to be the best I can but I don’t want to get caught up in it.”

As an eighth-grader Monson placed seventh in the 3,200 and 13th in the 1,600 at state. As a freshmen she finished third (3,200) and sixth (1,600). Last year’s big-school title in the 1,600 catapulted her into the top echelon of Minnesota milers, and she is continually committed to improving.

“She’s totally focused,” said Albert Lea coach Margo Wayne. “She eats, lives and breathes track and running. She’s a wonderful spokesman and role model and just does everything right from the amount of sleep she gets to what she eats to how she trains. She is the whole package.”

My first chat with Chrissy came after she outdueled Shakopee’s Maria Hauger and Alexandria’s Jamie Piepenberg to win the 2A 1,600 last year at Hamline University’s Klas Field. Her father, Maurie, was cheering near the finish line and their embrace after Chrissy’s victory is one of the scenes that endures from that day. When I was in Albert Lea last week – where Chrissy won the 1,600 and 3,200 against competition from Rochester Mayo, Winona and Owatonna -- athlete and father continued the tradition of post-race hugs.

Chrissy has not run as well as she would like in the early part of the season, but she knows that thousands of strides remain to be taken before the state meet June 8-9. In past seasons she would often scan the statewide honor rolls, checking the competition. She doesn’t do that any more.

“I think it was always like, ‘Where can I go next?’ I told myself, ‘You are there. Act like it. Present yourself like it. Don’t get cocky.’ My dad checks (the honor rolls) and I’ll ask him what’s going on?

“He’ll say, ‘Some girls are running some really fast times and you’re not running as fast as they are.’ He’ll tell me, straight out. And I’ll say, ‘OK, let’s do some crunches!’

That’s the kind of commitment that builds state champions. Wayne, however, said Monson can sometimes push herself too hard.

“We talk about that a lot,” the coach said. “If she feels fairly fresh after a workout, she thinks, ‘Should I be doing more?’ It can hard to convince her, ‘Nope, you’re done. That’s your workout.’ ”

The competition among female distance runners in Minnesota is historically strong. Hauger and Piepenberg have battled each other for numerous state tites on the track and in cross-country, and Monson has inserted herself into the discussion. She said the transformation from young unknown to state champion was as simple as trying to run faster than the competition.

“It’s kind of strange,” she said. “I came in as a seventh-grader, eighth-grader, just thrown into varsity right away. No one knew who I was. There was this little girl, ‘Is she in the wrong race?’ All I was trying to do was get the next person. The people in the running world are amazing. Everyone who competes is a down-to-earth, great person. Just getting to know the people has made me want to be that sort of person. I can see that they have fun, they love what they do and they have a passion. I wanted to get that passion, and I have gotten there.

“I want everyone to do their best, and I obviously hope my best is better.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 505
*Miles John has driven: 7,290

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

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