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Memorial Day 2016: Celebrating The Red, White And Blue
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/30/2016 8:34:52 PM

My mother was wearing the stars-and-stripes-themed shoes that my wife and I had given her for Mother’s Day this year. It was Monday morning, Memorial Day, and my mom and I were walking to American Legion Post 162 in my hometown of Graettinger, Iowa.

I had not packed any red, white or blue apparel before driving to my mom’s house on Sunday evening. My clothes were adorned by a couple Nike swooshes as we sauntered the two blocks “uptown” to the annual Memorial Day ceremony.

That was the beginning of a Memorial Day that ended when I returned home to the Twin Cities on Monday evening. Between that stroll to the morning ceremony and my arrival in my own driveway were 165 miles of mostly Minnesota blacktop, an inordinate amount of orange traffic cones, enthusiastic crowds of softball fans and a bounty of stars and stripes.

When Minnesotans ask about my hometown, my reply is always the same: “If you know where Fairmont and Jackson are, it’s about 30 minutes south from there.” So yes, I am a proud native of Iowa … who grew up watching the Vikings on television and taking summer trips to see the Twins at Metropolitan Stadium. Our eighth-grade class trip was classic 1970s Twin Cities: Bus ride to the Como Zoo, trip to the top of the IDS Tower, evening performance of the Ice Capades at the Met Center and late-night bus ride home.

The Monday morning ceremony (pictured) in my little hometown was touching. High school band and choir kids performed patriotic tunes, the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields” was read by a student (a duty I performed at this ceremony when I was in high school), prayers were offered, a rifle salute rang out and “Taps” was played. The main reason for the gathering, of course, was remembering those who gave their lives in defense of our country; several men from my town were killed during wartime. But all our veterans are recognized at this ceremony with the reading of their names.

The list began with several Civil War veterans, followed by those who served in the Spanish-American War in 1898. The bulk of the names came from the two World Wars, and they were followed by those who served in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan.

My dad, who served a non-combat role in the Navy and died a year and a half ago at 87, was near the end of the list of World War II veterans. The final name on the list belonged to my wife’s uncle Laurence (I wrote about him on April 14, shortly after he died).

One of the names from the Gulf War list belonged to a boy I grew up with. He served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne. After he took his own life in 2008, his obituary included this passage: “He enjoyed fishing, hunting, golfing and the anticipation of a Minnesota Viking football game.”

After the ceremony ended, Mom and I walked back home, swatting at gnats that had made an unceremonious entrance in the warm windless sunshine. I headed out of town, driving due north to the state line. I slowed down for pedestrians in downtown Sherburn before making my first visit to the little town of Trimont, one of the newest communities in Minnesota. Trimont was formed in 1959 when the twin villages of Triumph and Monterey merged.

Then came Madelia, St. James, Lake Crystal and finally North Mankato, where three different softball sections were playing tournament games. As I pulled into a parking lot at spectacular Caswell Park – home of the state tournament June 9-10 – I rolled down the car window and heard magical sounds coming from all six fields. The clang of metal bat belting the ball, crowds roaring, teammates yelling encouragement. Bliss.

Most folks were dressed in their school’s colors but some wore red, white and blue. Fans sat in lawn chairs under shade trees or umbrellas to block the bright sun while braver souls slathered on sunscreen and watched from the metal bleachers. Babies nodded off in strollers and athletes applied fresh eye black to their cheeks, which served a dual purpose of hiding the red and fighting the glare.

The scene was Memorial Day perfection: Americans watching kids play ball. Grandparents shuffled along, some with walkers and canes, in order to reach the field where their grandkids were playing. Little kids dug in the playground sand or played catch with each other. A dad tossed a small football to his son as they stood in the thick green grass beyond an outfield fence. Pizza, hot dogs and nachos sailed through concession windows. For a while I sat next to a grandma and was thrilled to see that she too was spitting sunflower seeds.

A winding path home from North Mankato (warning: Highway 169 between Mankato and St. Peter is closed for road work) took me through Eagle Lake, Madison Lake, Elysian, Waterville, Morristown and Faribault, where I picked up northbound Interstate 35. Rows of flags stood sentry along the highway in Elysian, people in kayaks and canoes paddled leisurely on quiet streams as cottonwood seeds floated in the air on their wispy sails. Kids rode their bikes, adults mowed their lawns.

Thank you, veterans, for giving us this day.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 714
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,593

Deaf Athlete Junior Peters Has Come A Long Ways
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/25/2016 4:03:43 PM

On the track, it doesn’t take long for Junior Peters to get from start to finish. The senior sprinter from Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf is quick out of the blocks – even though he cannot fully hear the starter’s pistol – and blazes his way to the end of the race. It’s always a quick, simple journey.

How he got to the Faribault school is a longer story.

Peters, a three-sport star who is one of the most accomplished athletes in MSAD history, has made history of his own. Last fall he set football school records for rushing yards in a game, in a season and in a career. He was a starter on the Trojans basketball team and now he hopes to finish his high school career with a flourish.

In April, Peters became the first MSAD athlete to compete at the prestigious Hamline Elite Meet, running in the 100 meters. And if all goes well he will qualify for the Class 1A state track meet next month. The first phase of that quest was completed Tuesday at a subsection meet in Medford. Peters advanced in the 100, 200 and 400 to next week’s section championships in Dodge Center. (Junior is pictured with his father Dan and Dan's girlfriend, Molly Sullivan.)

Running at state has been a major goal for more than a year. That’s because Peters missed the 2015 track season with a fractured knee patella.

“It was a freak accident during dorm's kickball activity and I got a serious knee injury a day before the first meet last year,” Junior said via email. “It really cost me the entire track season. I was devastated and determined to come back this year. And I did!”

In April, Peters was named a national athlete of the month by SportsMX and the National Deaf Interscholastic Athletic Association. The award recognizes athletes who have made a significant impact on their teams not just on the field but in academics, leadership and character.

MSAD boys track coach Steven Fuerst said (with the assistance of MSAD athlete and American Sign Language translator Josh Strom), “His heart was broken. But he’s back and Junior just wants to get there. Junior is a very determined person.”

Determination is apparently part of Junior’s DNA. His journey began with his birth at a refugee camp in Ivory Coast in western Africa. His father, Dan Peters, is a native of Liberia. They came to the United States when Junior was 7 years old.

“I remember running through the jungles every day with my brother and friends,” Junior said. “There were no televisions, no phones, no electrical power, no computers, and no family car before we moved to America.”

Junior attended public schools in Minneapolis until moving to MSAD, where students live in dormitories during the week and go home on weekends, as a seventh-grader.

MSAD athletic director Davey Olson says Junior “is probably the most sociable kid on our campus.”

“He not only excels on the basketball court or on the field, he also excels well in school,” Olson said via email. “Everybody looks up to him because of his leadership, positive attitude and hard work.”

Watching a deaf sprinter get out of the blocks so quickly is a marvel. Junior watches the starter until both arms are raised (the gun goes up when the starter says “take your marks” and the other arm does the same at the “set” command.)

Once he sees both arms raised, Junior drops his head. When the pistol is fired, “I can feel and slightly hear the gunfire's sound.”

Peters’ best time in the 100 this spring is 11.38 seconds. The fastest reported time among Class 1A boys is 10.78 by LeSueur-Henderson’s Rhett Streeter.

“Junior is a very determined person, he’s very dedicated and he’s fully committed to the track program,” Fuerst said. “He works hard. And what he does in track helps him in other sports, too. He is a natural-born athlete.

“Hopefully Junior gets to state. He needs to take it one day at a time. We’re very excited.”

Junior’s track career will continue after high school as part of the USA Deaf Track and Field team. He also has been selected to compete at the 2017 Deaflympics in Turkey.

Junior is a proud MSAD student-athlete, one who knows he is a role model on campus and beyond.

“It means a lot to me. MSAD is the only school in the state of Minnesota that offers great opportunities and a barrier-free communication environment for me as a deaf person,” he said.

“I have been seeing a lot of elementary students every morning walking to school and at the cafeteria. They look up to me as a great athlete and at the same time I give them words of encouragement. Maybe they can be like me in the future.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 698
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,250

As Another Spring Winds Down, Saluting Our Seniors
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/22/2016 12:24:23 PM

I was chatting with a guy on Friday afternoon during the state adapted bowling tournament at Brunswick Zone in Brooklyn Park. The tourney is a frenzy of fun and smiles, but this man – the father of a bowler who is a senior in high school – said something quite serious.

“It’s hard to watch them bowl that last frame,” he said. “Because that’s the end.” He was referring, of course, to the conclusion of his daughter’s MSHSL bowling career.

Similar sentiments are expressed at all high school activities, of course, when kids are finishing this stage of their lives. And with graduation ceremonies at hand, high school days are ending all over the state and the nation. Yes, that can be emotional. But it’s also worth celebrating what goes on at our annual spring events, when chapters close and new stories begin.

These are busy days for everyone: athletes, coaches, families, school administrators and even reporters.

I attended five events during this past week, and it was quite the mix of different activities…

Monday/ Owatonna at Rochester Mayo girls lacrosse.
Tuesday/ Blake at East Ridge boys tennis.
Wednesday/ Chaska at Chanhassen baseball.
Friday/ Adapted bowling state tournament in Brooklyn Park.
Saturday/ Robotics state tournament at the University of Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena.

From athletes sprinting toward the ball to kids in wheelchairs using a couple fingers to slowly tip a bowling ball until it succumbs to gravity and rolls down a metal ramp toward 10 pins standing 60 feet away, all these events have much in common. It begins with a sense of competition, of course, because scores are kept. You win some and you lose some but there is so much more.

Two vignettes from the week …

Chase Patchen is a student at Cambridge-Isanti. That school’s outstanding activities director, Mark Solberg, is a good friend of mine and I so respect him and the things he does for kids. Mark had told me about Chase previously, but not as a bowler. Chase is also a talented singer who has performed the national anthem at school events.

Chase bowls in a division that debuted this year. For years the MSHSL has held bowling competition for students with physical and cognitive impairments; new this year is competition for students who are autistic. Chase is in that group.

I was talking with Mark on Friday at the bowling tournament. Up walked Chase, who stuck out his hand and shook mine. He began talking about the medals that were soon to be awarded, and he was excited.

It wasn’t long before Chase had one of those shiny medals hanging around his neck. He placed seventh among boys singles players in the ASD (Autism spectrum disorder) division and he was immensely proud, deservedly so.

At the state robotics competition, the most well-known celebrity is Yoji Shimizu. His title is “master of ceremonies” but it could just as easily be “master of fun.” On Saturday Yoji wore, as per usual, a colorful outfit and multi-colored, battery-operated sneakers that lit up in varying colors with every step.

Yoji works at the University of Minnesota, where his online profile tells us this: Distinguished University Teaching Professor; Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology; Director, Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD); Assistant Dean for Graduate Education.

Go to Google and you’ll also learn about Yoji’s research interests: Signal transduction, lymphocyte activation, cell adhesion and migration. Oh.

But here he was, a man with all those impressive academic credentials, dancing around at a robotics competition in electric footwear, introducing the teams, waving their team flags and totally entertaining everyone. In many ways Yoji is the face of robotics competition in Minnesota.

As the tournament moved from qualification rounds to the semifinals, the process of selecting four three-team alliances was taking place. I won’t go into details, but each of the top four teams after the qualification rounds selects two other teams to join them for the semifinals and beyond.

Yoji took a moment to salute a special group of people: The students who are wrapping up their high school days.

“Seniors, please stand,” Yoji said. And all throughout the crowd, 12th-graders stood as everyone else applauded and cheered.

“We hope your experience in robotics,” Yoji said, “will help you do great things in the future.”

Well said. Good luck, seniors. And thank you.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 690
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,160

Chaska, Chanhassen Baseball Teams Remember A Friend
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/19/2016 1:48:53 PM

An entertaining baseball game, dominated by stellar pitching and defense, was played Wednesday evening at Chanhassen High School. The ballpark at the school, which opened in 2009, is an absolute showplace that’s part of a top-notch athletic facility. The setting, combined with an entertaining contest and an emotional pregame ceremony, made it a night to remember.

The Chaska Hawks defeated the neighboring Chanhassen Storm 1-0, with the run coming in the second inning. Joey Lilya hit a one-out single and scored on a double by Connor Ploen. Ryan Rodriguez was the winning pitcher, giving up four hits, striking out four and walking none in six innings before Luke Roskam got the save. Chanhassen starter Hunter Even struck out eight in six innings, also giving up four hits.

Defensively, there were two plays of the game. Chaska left fielder Trent Dawson made a spectacular diving catch in the second inning; there was a runner on second base and the play probably saved a run. In the fifth, Chanhassen shortstop Joey Costello hustled to his left, snagged a hard-hit ground ball behind the base and executed a major league flip to second baseman T.J. Truso to get a force out. Public-address announcer (and Chanhassen mayor) Denny Laufenburger called it “a nifty play” and nobody could argue otherwise.

Before all those things took place on a beautiful evening in a beautiful location in front of knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans, there was a quiet moment of remembrance. Seniors on the two teams -- six from Chanhassen and four from Chaska – stood at home plate holding three jerseys while Laufenburger read from a well-written script dedicated to Ethan Herman.

The jerseys were in memory of Ethan. The boys all knew Ethan, who would have been a senior this year. He took his own life in 2010, when he was 12 years old.

Ethan was a stellar athlete; a youth wrestling state champion, captain of his middle school wrestling and football teams and a talented baseball player. He also loved the outdoors, winning an archery state championship and bagging three deer before he turned 12. He rode dirt bikes and four-wheelers and loved to spend time with his buddies.

“He was a great ballplayer, great football player and wrestler,” said Costello, who has a tattoo in Ethan’s memory on the back of his left shoulder. “He always did stuff for the team, never for himself. He always wanted to make other people happy, not just himself. He was a real selfless guy.”

Ethan struggled with concussion-related issues, including headaches and depression, before he died. He may have experienced concussions in football as well as wrestling. His parents, Vicki and Jeff Herman, live in Carver (which like Chaska and Chanhassen is in Carver County).

In Ethan’s memory, The Hermans founded an organization called Head4Awareness. They conduct a 5K run every year, and this year’s event will be held Aug. 13 (information is available at www.head4awareness.com). This year the Hermans will award $40,000 in scholarships to students at Chaska and Chanhassen.

“Ethan was the guy who was always the most athletic on the field, always the strongest,” Even said. “And that could easily be credited to his work ethic. He had an incredible work ethic, even from that young of an age. And aside from sports, he was an even better person. He was always nice, always making jokes. He always kept the mood light.”

Ploen smiled when he talked about riding dirt bikes with Ethan “and then jumping into his neighbor’s pool.”

“He was a nice kid, very determined at sports. He would do pull-ups every morning, jump rope, he was a great kid. He was a great baseball player. He’d be out here starting on the varsity team if he were still here.”

All these years after his death, Ethan’s friends are still stung by his passing.

“I’ll never forget him,” Roskam said. “I remember the day he died. I was coming home from watching a boys basketball game at Eden Prairie and my mom told me in the car. That was probably one of the worst days of my life.

“He was an outgoing kid. He never left anyone behind. He talked to everyone, he wasn’t shy. He really brought the best out of everyone.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 690
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,044

Owatonna Girls Lacrosse: Conference Champs In Coach’s Final Year
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2016 1:58:16 PM

ROCHESTER – The Owatonna High School girls lacrosse team has several storylines. The main one today is this splendid fact: With a 13-4 victory at Rochester Mayo on Monday evening, the Huskies clinched the inaugural Big Nine Conference championship in their sport.

Owatonna has fielded a girls lacrosse team for eight years, all under coach Bill Bernard. But the 2016 season is the first in which the 12-team Big Nine has enough teams (six) to crown a league champion. So Monday’s accomplishment was big.

“We are really excited,” senior captain Meghan Rethemeier said after the game. “This was our goal, to win the first Big Nine championship. So we’ve all been working hard and it’s really exciting to get what we’ve been working for.”

Look back, however. And look into the future, too, because there is some interesting stuff in play here.

For example, Bernard, 54, is a Louisiana native who never played lacrosse. His wife is a South Dakota native, which is how Bernard (pictured) ended up in the Midwest. He’s basically a commuter coach this season, his final one with the Huskies.

Bill and Cathy Bernard have two daughters; one is a recent graduate of Augustana University in Sioux Falls and the other will graduate soon. The draw of Cathy’s family and the fact that their daughters now call Sioux Falls home has created an interesting arrangement.

The Bernards have already moved to Sioux Falls, with Bill spending weekdays in Owatonna, driving 200 miles to Sioux Falls on weekends, coaching lacrosse and living at a bed and breakfast as his coaching days count down to the end of a great year.

“We are having a special season,” said Bernard, who announced at last year’s end-of-season banquet that 2016 would be his last year with the Huskies.

The Bernards moved to Owatonna in the early 2000s. Cathy works out of their home as an employee of New Flyer, a Winnipeg-based company that manufactures buses. Bill had coached his daughters’ soccer teams, and when the high school began a girls lacrosse program, “They wanted to hire somebody with coaching experience,” Bill said.

With Cathy being the family’s main breadwinner, Bill was free to dive into learning about lacrosse (as well as serve on the Owatonna school board for many years). He attended clinics and leaned on veteran coaches such as Eden Prairie’s Judy Baxter.

“I have extreme gratitude towards Judy, who helped me whenever I asked,” he said. “I would go to her clinics and ask her every question under the sun. She wanted to help lacrosse grow.”

Bernard has done very well. There are 78 high school girls lacrosse teams in the state, and only five coaches have been with their schools longer than Bernard has been at Owatonna

Because many of his lacrosse players also participate in one or two other sports, he has taught skills using methods that he called “a little unconventional.”

“We try to help the girls who play basketball understand the basketball concepts of lacrosse, and it’s the same thing with soccer and hockey. We try to teach and strategize in manners they already understand from playing other sports.”

Rethemeier said, “We’ve gained a lot of athleticism throughout the years. We have a lot of fast players who have played a lot of sports before, so we pick it up quickly. The skill level has increased a lot.”

Senior captain Gabe Zeman said, “There’s a tremendous difference in the skill level of the girls. The catching and passing has gotten so much better and faster. It’s improved a lot.”

Even before deciding he would resign as coach, Bernard knew the 2016 season could be special. There are 12 seniors on the varsity roster, more than any previous season. And finally having enough Big Nine teams to compete for a league championship was a long-awaited goal.

“We’ve been waiting so long to get to the 50 percent threshold to be a conference sport,” he said. “With all these years doing it, we wanted to be the first team to win the Big Nine. We wanted it for our players.

“You really develop relationships and care about the experience these kids get out of the sport. When you have a transition year it’s not always the best of circumstances, but we wanted it to be a good senior experience for them. We wanted to make sure their senior year was a fun one.”

When the season finally comes to an end, whether that’s in the Section 1 playoffs or the state tournament, Bernard will continue a tradition. After the final horn blows and handshakes have been exchanged with the opponent, the coach and his seniors will gather at midfield.

“You enjoy the opportunities you have together and realize sometime it comes to an end,” Bernard said. “That will probably be the toughest point.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 686
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,934

Homecoming For A Former Shakopee Softball Star
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/15/2016 12:40:40 PM

Neil Johnson has witnessed a lot of memorable events during his 41 years as the only head softball coach Shakopee High School has ever had. The Sabers have gone to the state tournament in three different decades – the 1970s, 1980s and most recently in 2011 – and Johnson has been in the Minnesota softball coaches association Hall of Fame since 1995.

The 2011 season was special, and members of that team were invited back to be honored during a pregame ceremony prior to Friday night’s non-conference home game against New Prague. Seven 2011 Sabers were on hand. During the introductions, one of them walked out of the New Prague bench.

Ashley Walker was a star on that 2011 Sabers team, and now – after graduating from Winona State in December -- she is in her first year as head coach at New Prague. Johnson, meanwhile, has been in charge of the Sabers since 1975 and Walker is the first former player to become a head softball coach.

“It’s kind of a unique thing,” Johnson (pictured with Walker) said after the Sabers defeated the Trojans 7-6 in eight innings on Strikeout Cancer Night. “I’m just as proud as all get out.”

Johnson isn’t the only connection Ashley has to the current Sabers. The top assistant coach is her father, Rob.

Ashley is a physical education and health teacher who is working as a substitute this spring. She’s living at home, or as she put it, “I live in Shakopee with Coach Dad. This was like half a home game for me.”

Ask Johnson about Ashley the high school player and his eyes light up.

“She was one of the best players I’ve ever had in 41 years,” he said. “I still remember her game-winning home run in the bottom of the sixth inning against Mankato West to help us go to the state tournament. She came out in the seventh inning, when they had the potential tying run on third and winning run on second, and she struck the last batter out. She’s a heck of a competitor and she has been the real epitome of Shakopee softball. She’s quite a young lady.”

Ashley was a star at Winona State. She finished her senior season with a pitching record of 21-5 while striking out 106 and walking 38 in 170 innings. At the plate, she set a school record with 23 doubles while batting .372. In her college career, she ranks fourth at Winona State in doubles (53), seventh in home runs (23), eighth in batting average (.362) and ninth in hits (231). She also has the fourth-most career pitching wins with 62 and is sixth all-time in innings pitched with 515.2. She also was only the third player in Winona State history to be named an academic all-American, graduating with a 3.87 GPA.

She was named the New Prague softball coach last fall, and the announcement coincided with an important event in Shakopee.

“I found out she got the job the day the school board named the complex after me,” Johnson said, referring to the Neil Johnson Softball Complex, a fantastically manicured facility with three varsity-level fields. “It was a big day.”

Johnson, who was inducted into the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame last fall, has had a positive impact on countless softball players as well as students (he retired from teaching in 2014 after 39 years in the classroom). Ashley Walker is among that group. Here’s her answer to this question: Why did you become a coach?

“Honestly, it was probably because of (Johnson), how awesome he was and how he treated us,” she said. “He makes everybody feel special, and I know the impact he makes on the girls’ lives. I wanted to carry that on myself.”

Friday night’s extra-inning loss ended a seven-game winning streak for New Prague (10-4) and gave Shakopee a record of 5-10. Damara Theis had two doubles and four runs-batted-in for the Sabers, Ashley Herold hit a two-run home run, and Cortney Hokanson (who had three hits) drove in the winning run with a single in the eighth inning. Emily Schmitz led New Prague with three hits, including a two-run homer.

After the game ended, both teams put on Strikeout Cancer t-shirts and posed for a photo together. Coaches embraced.

“It was really fun, it was awesome,” Ashley Walker said. “It was fun to coach against Coach Johnson and against my dad. I have lot of respect for them. I couldn’t respect anybody more.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 684
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,784

"Always Remember That Your Daughters' Coaches Are Human Beings"
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/11/2016 12:20:21 PM

Abby Schneider, the girls swimming and diving coach at St. Cloud Cathedral, has announced that she is stepping down after four seasons. She informed the athletes at a meeting and followed up with this moving letter…

I have decided to step away from coaching swimming and diving.

Throughout the years, my husband and I have made many choices and sacrifices to try to make the best life possible for our girls. I was recently offered a promotion at work that will take me away from my family slightly more throughout the year. Due to this, I have made the heart-wrenching decision to step away from my dream job, as the swim/dive season would just be too much of a stress on my family, and, in return, on the athletes and other coaches.

The lessons these amazing athletes have taught me over the past four seasons have been lifelong. They are amazing girls who should be VERY proud of themselves. Every single one of them holds a special place in my heart.

Going forward, I ask you as the parents, to always remember that your daughters' coaches are human beings -- both swimming and diving coaches and adults in any other coaching or advising position in your daughters' lives. They need support, communication, honesty, and understanding just like we all do. Long-tenured coaches and officials are going to be harder and harder to come by if there is not a serious shift as a community to support and encourage them as they push your athletes outside of their comfort zone to help them improve, as well as learn to be a committed and dedicated part of something bigger than themselves. I was blessed with an amazing support system from parents in my time here, and I know without a doubt you will carry that on for the future coaching staff, and most likely get even better at it, because you are wonderful.

Lastly -- to the girls, the swimmers and divers. I love you. If you ever ever EVER doubt that you have someone in your corner, please remember I am an e-mail, text or phone call away. Thank you for your love, commitment, willingness to grow and improve, and honesty with me over the years. It is because of you I can walk away with my head held high, knowing I'm leaving an amazing group to move forward.

All my love,
Coach Abby

The Pride Of Edison High School: Jada and Jia Lewis
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/9/2016 2:04:11 PM

FAIRMONT – Minneapolis Edison High School and Fairmont High School are more than 150 miles apart, but that doesn’t stop the Edison Tommies from taking part in the annual Fairmont Sentinel Relays.

In fact, hardly anything outside of bad weather can stop Edison’s Lewis sisters, Minnesota’s most dynamic sprinting duo. Friday’s 61st edition of the Sentinel Relays was cut short by lightning with four races remaining. By that time, Jada and Jia Lewis had already made their presence known in the competition that includes 16 girls and boys team, most of them from southern Minnesota.

Between Jada (a junior) and Jia (a sophomore), they already own four individual state titles and one relays crown. Their performance in Fairmont was typical: Jia won the Class 2A 100 and 200 meters, while Jada won the 400 and finished third in the long jump. They also were members of the winning 4x200 relay team and were likely to be part of the first-place 4x100 relay team, but that was one of the events lost to the weather.

The Sentinel Relays were just another step in a season that leads to the state meet, June 10-11 at Hamline University in St. Paul. That has become the Lewis sisters' playground.

“We’ve been running since we were really young,” Jada said. “We officially started to run in fourth or fifth grade. Every coach we’ve ever had has taught us how to improve and keep going. We can always learn more.”

At last year’s Class 1A state championships, Jia and Jada finished 1-2 in the 100, Jada won the 200, they teamed with Linda Senephanh and Marianna Cress to win the 4x100 relay, and Jada was seventh in the long jump. All those medals pushed Edison to second place in the team race behind Belle Plaine.

At the 2014 state meet, Jia finished first and Jada was third in both the 100 and 200, and those points were enough to give Edison the state team championship.

Their goals this season are simple: improve their times and distances, set school records and win more medals at state. But the sisters also are all about team.

“We want to keep encouraging our 4x1 and 4x2 runners, so we can be better when it comes time for state,” Jia said.

The sisters’ impact on the track team at Edison cannot be underestimated. When Ernest Sutton became head coach of the girls team five years ago, the combined roster for the girls and boys teams consisted of six athletes. This year there are about 80 kids out for track.

“They’re excellent leaders, excellent kids,” Sutton said of Jada And Jia. “They’re like second coaches.”

The Lewis sisters’ influence extends down to the middle-school level, where they encourage participation and improvement to students who look up to them.

“Our middle schoolers get down on themselves sometimes,” Jada said. “They’ll say things like, ‘Oh, we’re not as good as you.’ And we’re like, ‘We were in the same situation you guys were in. You guys have so much potential. If you keep working, you guys will be just as good as us.’ And that’s without a doubt the honest truth. We say that to the freshmen and sophomores, too. We constantly tell that to everybody: ‘You can do it. Just keep working hard.’ ”

The sisters work hard at lots of things. They are members of the National Honor Society at Edison, they are active in the community and in school. Jada is a captain on the basketball team and Jia is a manager on the football team.

Sutton first came to Fairmont for the Sentinel Relays when he was an athlete at Minneapolis North.

“It was a great experience as a city program coming down to Fairmont and this wonderful track meet,” he said. “I wanted these kids to have the same experience.”

He first coached the Lewis sisters when they were involved in youth track and field programs. When he became a coach at Edison, he encouraged them to be part of the track team.

“We didn’t think we would ever make it to state,” Jia said.

But here they are, among the top high school athletes in Minnesota, as well as contributing to their school and their community.

“Those young ladies are great student-athletes,” Sutton said. “They work hard in the classroom and they work hard on the track. They’re not just track athletes. They’re well-rounded students. It’s a joy to have them and coach them. They’ve made an impact on the track but also on the whole community at Edison.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 672
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,611

Chanhassen Sprinter Sets State Record In 200 Meters
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/7/2016 7:28:27 AM

A fifteen-year-old girls state track record fell on Friday when Chanhassen senior Jedah Caldwell won the 200 meters at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Her time of 23.59 seconds broke the previous state record of 23.93 set by Bloomington Kennedy's Vanessa Clarida in 2001.

“I was not expecting those times,” Caldwell told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “I was happy to have really good competition. I was nervous, to be honest.”

The Argus Leader's David Nicholson wrote: With thousands watching from the stands – at a perfect time, no less, as the weather cooled and the sunset cast a shadow over the dusk-lit stadium – Caldwell burst out of the starting corner. She could feel the other runners behind her, and caught a glimpse of the competition out of her periphery.

“I saw people next to me on the curve,” Caldwell said, “and that’s when I said, ‘OK, I gotta go.’”

Caldwell nearly broke the Minnesota high school record in the 100 meters, as well. She had a time of 11.71 seconds in the preliminaries (the finals were Saturday but Caldwell went home after Friday's races). The state record in the 100 is 11.69, set by Alexandria's Wensia Johnson in 2013.

Caldwell, who is the defending Class 2A state champion in the 100 and 200, has signed with Kansas.

Baseball: Minnehaha Hopes To Have The Last Laugh
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/4/2016 12:54:01 PM

Two dates hold importance for the Minnehaha Academy baseball team. The first is June 15, 2015 and the second is April 30, 2016. In games played on those days, the Redhawks faced St. Cloud Cathedral.

The June contest was the Class 2A state championship game at Target Field. Cathedral rolled to a 10-1 victory over Minnehaha in claiming its second consecutive state title and ninth overall. The Redhawks, however, had an answer during the April game in St. Cloud, scoring six eighth-inning runs and defeating the Crusaders 7-1.

That was big. The Redhawks finished 26-2 last season, with both losses coming to Cathedral.

“It was kind of a monkey off our shoulders,” Minnehaha coach Scott Glenn said after his team defeated Providence Academy 18-2 on Tuesday. “We go up there every year. They do things right and it’s always a good test for us to see where we are.”

Minnehaha was second behind Cathedral in last week’s Class 2A state rankings, and the Redhawks moved into the top spot this week. They took a 12-1 record into a Wednesday game vs. Blake; their loss was to Belle Plaine in their second game of the season.

The Redhawks took advantage of a plethora of walks in beating Providence Academy. Minnehaha had 10 hits, with Alex Evenson hitting a two-run single and a bases-clearing double in addition to getting the victory on the mound. He struck out six and have up one hit in 3 2/3 innings.

Evenson said beating St. Cloud Cathedral was huge.

“We’ve wanted them since the state championship game last year. We definitely came in with a chip on our shoulder and we were ready to go from the start, for sure.”

Outscoring Cathedral was especially sweet for pitcher Jesse Retzlaff, who had a 9-2 record in 2015 with both defeats coming against the Crusaders.

“Jesse probably pitched the best game of his career,” Glenn said. “I think he really wanted that game and he pitched a heck of a game.”

The Redhawks made their first appearance at a state tournament in 2013, losing in the quarterfinals. Their run to the 2015 championship game made the returning players confident in what they could accomplish.

“Knowing how far we got last year shows us how far we can get this year, and continuing throughout the years,” Evenson said. “I think, overall, we come in and we know we can beat any team we play.

“We came in last year and wanted to win it really bad and we got blown out. They outplayed us, and because of that we know we need to keep working hard. We know what’s at stake and we want to go out and get it.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 656
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,339

You Go Girls: This Is A Golden Era In Track And Field
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/2/2016 2:40:38 PM

Is 2016 the best season in the history of Minnesota high school girls track and field? There is evidence to support that statement, and much of it was on display Friday evening at the Hamline Elite Meet.

The 11th annual Elite Meet – held in St. Paul at Hamline University’s Klas Field, the site of the MSHSL state championships June 10-11 – brought together a field of dominant female athletes. It included state champions in every individual footrace and most of the other events.

That’s right, at every distance from 100 meters to 3,200 meters, including hurdles races of 100 and 300 meters, at least one defending state champion was in the girls field for every race. The same held true for two of the four girls relay races and four of the six field events.

“Each year with the Elite Meet you can kind of pick out a particular event,” said Scott Stallman, who coached track and cross-country at Chaska High School for 36 years before retiring in 2011 and now works as a meet official as well as the stadium announcer at the Elite Meet and the MSHSL championships. “A year or so ago it was the boys 1,600 and it was going to be a premier event, it was a who’s who. But this year every event was like that. You just could go down the list.”

And here’s even more proof of the quality of female track and field athletes we’re seeing right now: The Elite Meet field included three girls who already own all-time state records. Those record holders are …

--Wayzata senior Ruby Stauber, whose time of 2:06.50 from last season is the state record in the 800 meters. She has signed with Louisiana State.

--Thief River Falls senior Meleah Biermaier, who set a state record of 42.13 seconds in the 300-meter hurdles at the 2015 state meet. She has signed with Minnesota.

--Rochester Century senior Andrianna Jacobs is a three-time state champ in the pole vault who set the state record of 13 feet, 7 ¼ inches last season and came into 2016 as the best female high school pole vaulter in the nation. She has signed with Nebraska.

Those three athletes won those events Friday at Hamline, and they have a lot of company among some of the most dominant female track and field athletes Minnesota has seen in a long time. Let’s run down the list …

--Chanhassen senior Jedah Caldwell, the defending state champion in the 100 and 200, won both events at the Elite Meet.

--Bloomington Kennedy junior Honour Finley won the 400 at state last year and did the same at the Elite Meet.

--Alexandria senior Bethany Hasz won the Elite Meet 1,600, adding to a resume that includes state titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 and two cross-country state championships. (Her twin sister Megan, who holds one cross-country state crown and state-meet medals in the 1,600 and 3,200, did not run Friday because of an injury.)

--Forest Lake senior Emma Benner (pictured above) won the Elite Meet title in the 3,200, outlasting two extremely young state champs. Finishing second was Winona Cotter seventh-grader Grace Ping (last fall’s Class 1A cross-country state champion); third was Breck eighth-grader Morgan Richter, the 2015 1A state champ in the 3,200.

--The girls 100-meter hurdles field Friday included two state champs and a state runner-up. The winner was East Ridge senior and defending 2A champ Karina Joiner. Staples-Motley junior Millie Klefsass (the 2015 1A state runner-up) was fifth and Biermaier was sixth.

--In the relays, defending state championship teams from St. Michael-Albertville (4x100) and Waconia (4x200) won Elite Meet titles. Pequot Lakes, the defending state champ in Class 1A, placed sixth in the 4x400.

--Along with Jacobs in the pole vault, other defending state champs in field events Friday were Eden Prairie senior Ashley Ramacher (high jump), Jordan junior Jenna Kess (1A champ in the triple jump) and Eastview senior Natalie Manders in the discus.

There are 18 events in Minnesota high school track and field, and 10 of the state records on the girls side were set from 2013 to 2015. (On the boys side, four state records were set during that time.) Two of the oldest girls records were broken last year: Stauber broke the 1984 record in the 800 set by Blooming Prairie’s Jeanne Kruckeberg and Biermaier broke the 1987 mark in the 300 hurdles set by Roseau’s Liesa Brateng in 1987.

“There’s no question” that this is the best era in Minnesota girls track and field history, said Stallman, who began his high school coaching career in 1975, three years after girls track became an MSHSL sport.

“I go back to the very beginning of girls track and this is by far the best era that I can remember,” he said. “There was a time, maybe in the mid ‘80s, where they looked pretty strong. But there’s been nothing like this, top to bottom.”

Kennedy’s Finley is following in the fast footsteps of one of the state’s top all-time sprinters, who also went to Kennedy. Vanessa Clarida, a 2004 graduate, was a ninth-grader in 2001 when she set state records in the 200 (23.93) and 400 (54.36). Those are currently the oldest girls state records on the books.

Pete Svien, who has been the girls track coach at Kennedy since 1998, coached Clarida back then and coaches Finley now. He wouldn’t be surprised if Finley breaks Clarida’s state record in the 400.

“I think the 400 is Honour’s sweet spot,” he said. “She’s got something special, that’s for sure. If I had to predict, I would say if we have a good day Vanessa’s record in the 400 will be gone by the end of the season.”

Weather can be a huge factor in record-setting track and field performances, and Friday’s conditions at Hamline were nearly perfect. Eleven meet records were established on an evening with temperatures in the upper 50s, clear skies and little wind.

Clarida set her state records on a hot day at the 2001 MSHSL track and field meet. If similar conditions are present at the 2016 meet on June 10-11, expect big things.

“If we get some heat,” Svien said, “that state meet is going to be a barn burner, that’s for sure.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 654
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,255

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