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The Best of John's Journal: No. 1/ Henning’s State Champions Will Gather Again For Jacob
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/24/2019

Before a recent Minnesota Twins game at Target Field, the boys basketball team from Henning High School was honored. The Hornets made history in March by winning the Class 1A state championship in one of the most memorable postseason runs in Minnesota high school history. The Twins had a special gift for Angie Quam, whose late son Jacob was the inspiration for the Hornets; the Twins presented her with a jersey that had "Quam" and Jacob's number, 33, on the back. The story of Jacob and the Hornets is my favorite piece from the 2018-19 school year, and the reasons are obvious. The story was originally posted on April 10.

HENNING – On Saturday, three weeks to the day after winning their school's first state championship, members of the Henning Hornets boys basketball team will go to the gym and play. And laugh. And remember their friend and teammate Jacob Quam.

Saturday will mark the second anniversary of Jacob's death. Early in the morning on April 13, 2017, Jacob was driving six miles from his home in Vining to Henning for a before-school weightlifting session when the driver of a semitrailer heading in the opposite direction crossed the center line and collided with Jacob's vehicle.

Later that morning, the Henning students were informed of Jacob's death as they gathered in the gym. Four days after that, his funeral was held in the gym. He would have been a senior this year.

After the boys play basketball Saturday, they will go to Jacob's grave a mile away at St. Paul’s Cemetery. Jacob’s mom, Angela Quam, will meet them there and they will celebrate Jacob with fireworks.

"We’ll do five grand finales," Angela said. "All the boys will be there, then they’re going to somebody’s cabin for a sleepover. Hopefully that’s a tradition they’ll be able to carry on."

The Hornets were the story of this year’s basketball tournament, coming to state for the first time since 1966 as a team that few outside of Otter Tail County knew much about. Their dedication to Jacob -- evidenced by his No. 33 jersey being on the bench for every game since his death – made the Hornets an easy team to cheer for.

Coach Randy Misegades is still receiving emails from strangers offering congratulations and wanting to order state championship apparel.

"Some of them had never heard of Henning before the tournament,” he said, sitting with the team’s four seniors Tuesday afternoon.

The Class 1A state championship trophy and net from Target Center are on display in the school office. Memories of Jacob are everywhere in the community of 800 people. Signs in the windows of businesses say “6 on 5” … a slogan about Jacob’s memory serving as a sixth man on the court. His 33 is a common sight. His locker, a few steps from the gym, bears a nameplate with his name and number; his basketball shoes are still inside, with his combination lock in place. A chain-link fence on the school grounds carries the message “6 on 5. Hornet Pride.”

A plaque in the school, with a photo of Jacob, says, “There are some people in life that make you laugh a little louder, smile a little bigger and live just a little bit better.” Jacob’s jersey, along with his gold medals from the Section 6 and state tournaments, hangs in assistant coach Mark Oscarson’s classroom.

Angela Quam calls herself “a lucky woman” because of how Jacob, her only child, is being remembered.

“It’s meant the world to me,” she said. “I was worried that people would forget about him. That was my big concern. And now he’s a part of history. I knew these boys were out there playing their hearts out for themselves and for Jacob. And for me.”

The players not only dedicated two seasons to Jacob, they also dedicated themselves to improving their skills in his memory.

“That summer after (Jacob’s death) we had basketball at 6 in morning,” said senior Dylan Trana. “I know I wasn’t excited to wake up before 6 but he would have been there, too, if he could.”

Fellow senior Adam Lange said, “It definitely united us all. It made us better friends.”

Trana added, “We wouldn’t have been nearly as close. It’s pretty much like we’re all brothers.”

Basketball is the only boys sport in which Henning still fields a stand-alone team. The others are cooperative teams with kids from Battle Lake and Underwood; those teams are known as the Ottertail Central Bulldogs.

“We hope we can hang on because you can look out there and see how much pride there is in the orange and black,” said Misegades, who is a special ed teacher and Henning’s athletic director. “We want to hang onto it.”

Senior basketball players Trana, Lange, Sam Fisher and Jack Bjorklund hope their state championship helps the program remain Henning-only forever.

Lange said, “It’s like we’re all a big family here. Once you add other schools it doesn’t mean as much.”

Henning has long been a basketball town; photos of the 1965 and 1966 state tournament teams hang in the gym lobby as a testament to history and tradition. Neal Oscarson played on those teams and later became the head coach of the Hornets. Misegades played for Neal, and now Neal’s son Mark is Misegades’ assistant.

“It’s really important,” Trana said of the town’s basketball tradition.

In Misegades’ first season as head coach, 14 years ago, the team won one game. Two years ago the Hornets finished 7-20 and last season they went 19-9. This season they finished 31-1, losing to Parkers Prairie in overtime in the regular-season finale but defeating the Panthers by two in the section title game.

“I’ve got to be honest; you go through those first years and think, ‘Is this worth it?,’ ” said Misegades, whose career record is 184-183. “Obviously this is pretty special, but you learn a lot when you get your brains beat in.”

The players and coaches still receive congratulations on a daily basis. They recall with amazement the giant crowds wearing Hornets orange and black at the state tournament.

“A number of people thanked me for creating an all-school reunion at Target Center,” the coach said with a smile. “I told these guys that for the rest of their life they’re state champions. We talked a lot about the journey, and the destination was pretty special, too.”

Like the players and coaches, Angela Quam continues to hear from people who offer support, along with memories of Jacob and what a special young man he was.

“It’s remarkable, I don’t even have words for it,” she said.

“As horrible as it was, I am blessed. I’m thankful for everyone and everything that people have done for me. The basketball team is always going to have a special place in my heart. Always.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.



The Best of John's Journal: No. 2/ Spartans For Life: Lessons Learned On The Football Field
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/22/2019

Story No. 2 on the list of my 10 favorite John's Journal entries from 2018-19 is something I will never forget. As I wrote when this story was originally posted on October 27, "what transpired Saturday afternoon after a football game was unlike anything I've ever seen." It was a true testament to "team" and what that word really means.

WATERVILLE -- Spending time on the sideline at sporting events – and on the field of play after contests come to an end -- you see and hear different things. Some are fantastic, some are troubling. I witnessed something Saturday that was extremely inspirational and says a lot about what high school activities can mean to our kids and communities.

Before I go into details on what took place Saturday, we need some important perspective, because everything isn’t always peaches and cream at high school games. This fall I saw two things that made me sick to my stomach: 1) An adult, upset with the officials, yelled something so vile I won’t repeat it here; 2) In the final seconds of a soccer game, two opposing players got tangled up in pursuit of the ball. As they went down to the turf, one of them wrapped the other in a headlock and pulled it tight, then punched the other kid in the stomach. He got up as the final horn blew on his team’s victory, looked at the person he had just punched and waved "bye-bye.” It was despicable.

I don’t know how those things can be stopped, but what transpired Saturday afternoon after a football game was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The setting was the football field in Waterville, home of the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Buccaneers. They hosted the Spartans of St. Clair/Mankato Loyola in a Class 2A Section 2 semifinal playoff game.

Both teams came in with 8-1 records, but this was expected to be a tough lift for the Spartans. The kids from St. Clair and Mankato Loyola almost didn’t get to play football at all this season. Neither school had enough available boys to field a team, so they formed a cooperative team for the first time.

Had each school fielded a team, they both would have been assigned to Class 1A. But the coop system means the two schools had to use their combined enrollment, and that number bumped them up into Class 2A for the postseason. During the regular season, six of the Spartans’ eight opponents were 1A teams.

Waterville-Elysian-Morristown opened the season with a four-point loss to Redwood Valley and hasn’t been beaten since. Saturday’s result was a 35-13 victory over St. Clair/Mankato Loyola, moving the Buccaneers into next Friday’s section championship game against New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva.

W-E-M is an impressive team. Grant McBroom ran for a touchdown and threw to Tanner Ranslow for two scores. The Buccaneers defense made things tough for the Spartans, but the visiting team had some highlights. The biggest came on the Spartans’ third possession, when senior Noah Schruin sprinted 97 yards for a touchdown to forge a 7-7 tie. That pushed Noah past 3,000 career yards.

And to think … he and his teammates almost didn’t have a season at all.

After the game ended at 4:08 p.m., the teams shook hands; players, coaches, managers, cheerleaders in a long, snaking line across the middle of the field. The coaches from St. Clair/Mankato Loyola congratulated the kids and coaches from W-E-M, saying, “Good luck,” “Keep winning, boys” and “Keep it going.”

The Spartans then walked slowly to the north end zone, where they kneeled as head coach Dustin Bosshart spoke to them. Before practice began in August, some of the now-teammates didn’t know each other. And here they were, at the end of the season, brothers, kneeling, some of them in tears and all of them emotional that the end had come.

Bosshart, who is the principal at St. Clair and represents the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals on the MSHSL board of directors, talked to the boys about togetherness, memories, pride and the future.

He thanked them for working so hard and giving everything they had to the team. He talked about the bonds they had formed not only with each other but with their coaches, who come from both schools.

“The coaches who coached you will be there for you for the rest of your lives,” Bosshart said.

“You will remember the lifetime memories you created,” he said as sniffles were heard. “You did it the right way.

“You are a great group and you will accomplish incredible things in your life. Spartan family for life, that’s what you guys are.”

Think about that. Spartans for life. For sports in which the schools don’t have cooperative teams, kids from St. Clair are Cyclones and Mankato Loyola teams are the Crusaders. But during football season, everyone is a Spartan.

With the coach’s remarks complete, the players broke it down for the final time. The boys stood, gathered in a tight bunch, raised their hands together in the middle and said, “One, two three! Brothers!”

Bosshart walked to his wife Cheryl and gave her a kiss. The players’ families and friends stood 20 or so yards away, waiting for the team’s private moment to end. And then another incredible thing happened: It didn’t end.

The players remained together, some hugging, some finding one or more of the coaches to say thank you and share an embrace. Coaches patted boys on the helmet, returned the thank you and told them they loved them. The boys then gathered together once more – not wanting the moment to end -- each of them kneeling, for a few private words. Helmets removed and heads bowed, they prayed.

And then, only then, did the boys begin reuniting with their families. A strapping teenager hugged his grandpa and wept on his shoulder. Moms, dads, friends offered congratulations and condolences on the end of a great season.

“We’ve talked about it all year,” Bosshart said quietly, standing in the end zone. “This is about more than football.”

Good job, Spartans. Well done.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.



The Best of John's Journal: No. 3/ Vaulting Into History: Champlin Park’s Chaney Neu
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/20/2019

Entry No. 3 on the list of my 10 favorite John's Journal stories from 2018-19 is all about perfection. The scene was absolutely electric when Champlin Park High School gymnast Chaney Neu made history by recording the first perfect 10 in state meet history. The story was originally posted on February 24.

Someone attending Saturday night's Class 2A gymnastics state championship at the University of Minnesota’s Maturi Pavilion had a great seat, just a few steps away from the vault table. That’s where athletes sprinted down a runway, leaped onto the vault table with their hands or feet and sailed through the air, flipping and twisting, in the hopes of sticking the landing.

When something spectacular took place, this attendee started Tweeting about it. The Twitter posts tell the story…

Standing ovation at #mshsl 2A state gymnastics as Champlin Park sophomore Chaney Neu scores a perfect 10 on the vault. She's the defending all-around state champion.

THE FIRST PERFECT SCORE IN MEET HISTORY.

Previous state-meet record score was 9.95 by Courtney Norman (vault) of Cretin-Derham Hall in 1998 and Danielle Pallas (vault) of Watertown-Mayer/Mayer Lutheran in 2007.

Chaney Neu's 10-point vault happened right in front of me and I still don't believe what I saw.

One of many reasons why gymnastics is so great: After Chaney Neu's incredible vault, coaches FROM OTHER TEAMS screamed and smiled and used both hands to flash TEN fingers. Incredible.

I swear... sitting next to the vault, it looked like that kid touched the ceiling before landing.

I've seen game-winning half-court shots, walk-off home runs, overtime touchdowns and lots of other great things. But what Champlin Park's Chaney Neu did on the vault tonight at #mshsl gymnastics tops them all. It was absolutely electric.

Pretty good night for Champlin Park sophomore Chaney Neu at #mshsl 2A state gymnastics: she became first to score a perfect 10 (vault) and won every other event and her third all-around title. Can you hear the jingle from those 5 gold medals?

The only other #mshsl gymnast to sweep all four events and the all-around was Bonnie Berning of Burnsville in 1975. That was the first year of the state tournament and it was a one-class event.


It was spectacular, remarkable, stunning, astounding … use any word you like.

"It was electric,” said Champlin Park coach Jon Wynia. “You could feel it in your body.”

Chaney is just a sophomore and she already owns three all-around state championships. After the competition ended Saturday night, she posed for photos for just about everyone who wanted one … including the vault judges. The judges even gave her the pennant-shaped green flag that is used to signal the next vaulter that she can begin her sprint to the vault table.

Neu’s 10-point vault is known as a Yurchenko Layout; it’s named after Soviet gymnast Natalia Yurchenko. Gymnasts making the attempt sprint down the runway, perform a round-off back handspring entry onto the vault table, and then do a series of twists and flips before landing.

Chaney knew it was good. Upon landing, she threw her arms up, put her head back and smiled the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. She hugged Wynia and high-fived everyone she ran past.

“I was like, ‘It’s probably gonna be a 9.9 or a 10,’ ” she said. “And when I saw three of the scores, I’m like, ‘Please be a 10, please be a 10.’ And then the fourth one was a 10 and I was super happy.

“I’ve been working on sticking them all year, because I figured if I stuck it at state that I’d earn a 10. I’m just happy that all my hard work in the gym has paid off.”

She also won the balance beam, floor exercise and uneven bars. Her all-around score of 39.10 was the first 39 of her career. The state-meet record is 39.325, set by Stephanie Benson of Eagan in 1999.

Chaney’s gold medal in floor exercise was her third; she also won the vault in 2017. Her golds on beam and floor exercise were her first in those events at state.

“Any time anyone does something amazing, you’re still surprised, right?” Wynia said. “I told her going into this that she was going to break 39 and I was hoping that would be with a 10 but I would have taken a 9.95 or a 9.975. She’s been incredible this whole season.”

Yes, incredible. That works, too.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.






The Best of John's Journal: No. 4/ Making Beautiful Music: Tyra Wiles And The Austin Band
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/18/2019

Here's No. 4 on the list of my 10 favorite John's Journal stories from 2018-19. Like No. 5, music is a big part of the story. The tale of Tyra Wiles and her friends in the Austin High School band program is unforgettable. It was originally posted on April 4.

Tyra Wiles is not always very verbal but she loves music. The senior at Austin High School has Down syndrome, which doesn't stop her from performing as a percussionist in the Packers band program. And if you saw the 160-member pep band play at the girls state basketball tournament last month – like I did -- you might have seen Tyra playing a snare drum.

I found it intriguing as well as inspiring.

"She loves to play, and there's nothing better than being on the bus and going with the other kids," said Tyra's mom, Linda Gibeau.

When Tyra started middle school, Linda asked about having her be part of the middle school band program. "I said, 'I don't care if you give her foam sticks and a foam drum, I want her in the band.' "

Watching Tyra play with the band is a real treat. Her skills have improved to the point that she can perform the national anthem perfectly. But hanging out with the other band kids and being part of the group is the best part.

"I never played a musical instrument and was never in sports," said Linda, who works as a substitute teacher in Austin, her hometown. "I live vicariously through my kid. I work the same hours as she's in school, and if the band is heading to a game in the morning I cancel my job and go. I'm the only substitute teacher at every game and I've got a (school employee) badge so we go for free. Wrestling, girls or boys basketball, volleyball, track meets, everything, I go."

Tyra is also a six-year member (and a captain) of the Packers adapted bowling team, which has competed at state. When a pepfest was held for the bowlers last year, Tyra entered the gym with the pep band, then put down her drum and joined the bowlers. Her mother had helped her write a speech, which went like this: "I’m Tyra Wiles, I like bowling. Go Packers!”

Another highlight of Tyra’s high school career was going to the prom with Derek Olmschenk, a 6-foot-6 hockey player who was with the Austin Bruins junior team after graduating from Cretin-Derham Hall and is now playing at the University of St. Thomas.

Band is Tyra’s only mainstream class, and Austin band director Christoph Dundas said her impact has been bigger than most people realize.

“It’s good for both Tyra and for the other students,” said Dundas, who is the parent of an elementary special needs student. “For Tyra it’s a chance to experience something that a lot of students with special needs never get to experience just because of the way life happens. And it’s good for the other students, too, because they get to experience a class with somebody they don’t see in other classes.

“Band is multi-grade, multi-age, and Austin is a big enough school that a lot of kids really don’t see kids from other grades other than in music classes. She’s impacted students three years older than she is and students who are three years younger. Tyra’s impacted seven different grades of students.”

Brad Mariska, currently a band director at Farmington High School, used to teach in Austin. In his final year there, he worked with Tyra when she was in ninth grade.

“She was involved in middle school band and had a great band director, Nino Tarara. I met with him when Tyra was in eighth grade,” Mariska said. “We asked, ‘How can we make this work at the high school level?’ We kind of brainstormed and we wanted to help her be involved as much as possible.

“It was great. She was able to be a part of the band. She comes to concert band every day, she plays in concerts. We had weekly band lessons when she and I would work one on one.”

During the 2018 football season, Dundas received an email from a member of an opposing team. The player, also a band student at his school, had noticed Tyra in the band during a game in Austin and wrote to Dundas to tell him how neat it was to see Tyra in the band.

“So Tyra even reaches students from other schools,” Dundas said.

This is Tyra’s last year as a member of the band, although she will continue attending school in a job-training program for up to three years. She will graduate with her class in June; Linda admits to shedding a few tears when she wrote a check to pay for Tyra’s cap and gown.

“She’s a cool kid,” said Mariska. “That’s why we teach. That’s why we do this.”

Dundas said, “In the grand scheme of things Tyra may not realize her impact. There can be everyday experiences that people take for granted. And she gets to take that for granted, too.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.




The Best of John's Journal: No. 5/ Hockey And Music: Farmington’s Husband And Wife Team
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/16/2019

We have arrived at the top 5 on the list of my favorite John's Journal stories from 2018-19. No. 5 is an interesting tale of a very busy married couple from Farmington High School. Jon Holmes coaches girls hockey and boys golf, Erin Holmes is a band director, and they have three kids. As Jon said, "I don't want to say it's chaotic because my wife is such a good planner. But there’s always something to do. I’m a head coach in two sports, and she’s busier than I am. Life in the house is certainly interesting." The story was originally posted on February 21 during the girls state hockey tournament.

Thursday was an exciting day for the Holmes family. Jon Holmes stood on the bench at Xcel Energy Center as head coach of the Farmington High School girls hockey team. Erin Holmes stood in front of the giant Farmington pep band, directing them during the Tigers’ Class 2A state quarterfinal game against Andover.

Jon and Erin’s three sons -- ninth-grader William, third-grader Henry and kindergartener Duke – cheered for the Tigers ... the hockey players as well as the musicians.

This was a special day, but most days are hectic when one parent is coaching a sports team, the other is coaching musicians and their children are busy with school and activities.

“I don’t want to say it’s chaotic because my wife is such a good planner,” Jon said. “But there’s always something to do. I’m a head coach in two sports (also boys golf), and she’s busier than I am. Life in the house is certainly interesting.”

Jon is a 1999 Farmington graduate who was the school’s male athlete of the year as a senior, lettering in hockey, golf, tennis and cross-country. They met when Erin, a musician since her days as a student at Bethlehem Academy in Faribault, was on a Farmington faculty committee interviewing candidates for a social studies teaching job. Jon was interviewed and hired.

“We started dating a year or so later, got married a couple years later, and we just keep getting busier,” Erin said.

The unseeded Farmington Tigers, making their sixth state tournament appearance, lost to second-seeded Andover 7-1 Thursday. Farmington will play unseeded White Bear Lake in Friday’s 10 a.m. consolation game at TRIA Rink.

“We didn’t really have our best stuff. Everything kind of went haywire,” said Jon, whose team is the youngest in the tournament with three seniors, three juniors, six sophomores, four ninth-graders and four eighth-graders.

While he was in charge of 20 hockey players, Erin and co-band director Bradley Mariska were leading 190 talented musicians.

The band played a wide variety of songs, including Escape (the Pina Colada song), Eye of the Tiger, My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up), and of course the school song.

Afterwards, Jon admitted that in the midst of the game he didn’t have a chance to focus on the band.

“I notice it more when we’re scoring because they play our school song,” he said. “And at home games, definitely, because we walk right through them to our benches.”

Farmington has nine different bands during the school day, with marching band offered as an after-school extracurricular option. Erin is in charge of two jazz bands, two concert ensembles, is director of the marching band and teaches individual lessons.

Last year she was named the first female jazz chair of the Minnesota Music Educators Association and one of School Band and Orchestra Magazine's 50 Directors Who Make a Difference.

If there is a typical day during the hockey season in the Holmes household, it goes something like this: Erin leaves home first because her teaching day begins earlier than Jon’s. After school Jon goes to hockey practice and Erin picks up their boys.

“We high-five each other and run our kids around to where they need to go,” Erin said. “And meet up at the end of the day and catch up.”

The night before the state tournament began, the two of them had some quiet time together while the boys were being watched by grandparents. Since their jobs are very similar – coaching, directing, mentoring, positively influencing young people – they talked about some of those themes.

“We must have had a two-hour conversation about culture and how things can really get turned in certain directions from certain events,” Jon said. “And obviously because it’s a state tournament we were talking about how this was going to be positive for the little kids.

“I’ve been to their band camps, watching her and Brad Mariska run their camps. I just take notes. She loves to sit and watch our practices. It’s really cool.”

Erin said, “We compare each other’s philosophies a lot. Music certainly relates to sports and we talk a lot about what we’re doing. These are very much team efforts, very much family-oriented situations, where you lean on each other and push each other to get better. Band is just like any sport.

“It’s such a great relationship when you’ve got each other’s passions in your hands. We feel very much supported by each other.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.




The Best of John's Journal: No. 6/ A Season On The Road With The Windom Eagles
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/14/2019

This is No. 6 on the list of my favorite John's Journal stories from 2018-19. I rode the bus with the Windom football team to a game in Jackson, which was nothing special because the Eagles played every game in the fall of 2018 on the road. They are a very inspirational group. This story was originally posted on September 23.

WINDOM – Kevin Heggeseth turned the key and fired the engine in the school bus at 5:15 p.m. on Friday. The Windom Area Eagles football team was on the road again, players sitting side by side and their gear loaded onto a trailer pulled behind bus No. 23.

As the bus headed south on U.S. Highway 71, one of the last sights on the edge of town was Island Park, home of the Eagles football and baseball teams. The place was nothing but mud, and that had little to do with recent heavy rain. Flooding from the Des Moines River, which circles the park like a mean, muddy snake, took a big bite into Island Park over the spring and into summer, and it was now a construction site. New irrigation was being sunk into the earth, low spots were being raised and grass seed and sod will come soon.

It will be a showplace once again, but during this football season the Eagles are homeless. Friday's 21-mile trip to Jackson County Central was another chapter in an eight-game regular season of loading the bus at school, unloading the bus at someone else’s field, playing the game and returning to Windom.

"It’s pretty sad, not being able to experience the environment of playing at home again,” said senior Nick Nolt. “The Friday night lights, your home crowd, there’s nothing better than that.”

The Friday night lights were certainly shining in Jackson, where the JCC Huskies are one of the top programs in Class 3A. They brought a No. 5 ranking and 3-0 record into this Week 4 game and defeated the winless Eagles 51-0. The JCC band was on hand, as were cheerleaders waving three giant flags bearing a J and two Cs, folks from the local American Legion post marching with the pregame colors, and the Lions Club selling pork chops on a stick.

Nobody in Windom is experiencing anything similar this autumn. The situation is the same at Kenyon-Wanamingo, where a new football field and the school’s first track are being constructed this fall, leaving the Knights with only road games.

The Windom school board approved the work at Island Park in August, shortly before football practice began. Head coach Travis Martin, who was an assistant the past two years, immediately let his players know what the 2018 season would entail.

“It’s a credit to the kids, they haven’t let it bother them,” said Martin, 28, a native of Grand Forks, N.D., who teaches science. “Most of my kids play baseball and the summer town team didn’t get to play any home games, either.

“I’ve got a tremendous group of seniors, really solid kids. They’ve been resilient. Last year we rolled through our season with 28 players. Now we have 36, and our eighth grade has 25, so there’s hope on the horizon. They’ve gone through some battles, so at this point it’s just one more thing for them to handle.”

Windom is not currently known as a football town. The Eagles won three games in 2015, two in 2016 and finished 3-6 last season. Numbers have been an issue, but Martin is confident that things are on the upswing. The 2018 team is young, with a sophomore quarterback and freshmen playing important roles.

Things were not looking great a few days before the game in Jackson. A handful of players were ill, but thankfully almost everybody was on the bus Friday night.

Like most of the players, Martin listened to music through earbuds during the ride to Jackson. “The same kind of stuff I listened to when I played,” he said; Eminem, “The Boys of Fall” by Kenny Chesney.

The bus was quiet as it rolled past cows, corn and soybeans, the crops having made the big turn from summer green to autumn shades of gold and brown. Swans paddled around on Laurs Lake, giant wind turbines rotated in the sky and before long the Jackson water tower and grain elevators appeared in the distance under a patchwork of clouds and blue.

A sign stated that the Jackson County Central National Honor Society was in charge of keeping this stretch of roadway clean, followed by notice that the bus was entering Jackson (population 3,299). The bus ducked under Interstate 90, with ramps marked for Albert Lea to the east and Sioux Falls to the west.

The field in Jackson was damp but not soaked; Huskies coach Tom Schuller explained the site was once a gravel pit and drainage was not a problem.

After warmups, Martin spoke to the Eagles on a practice field behind the north end zone. “This is our opportunity,” he said. “We only get so many of these. Let’s take advantage of it.”

Jackson County Central took advantage quickly, scoring a 50-yard touchdown on the game’s second play. The busiest Eagles player might have been senior punter Tim Ingram. The halftime score was 24-0.

“We can still make a fight out of this,” Martin said to the boys during the intermission. “We’ve got to believe. They expect us to come out and roll over. Don’t do it.”

Although outnumbered and outsized, the Eagles did not roll over. Neither did their cheerleaders, who remained upbeat throughout the evening as a large contingent of Windom fans cheered for their boys. None of that, however, changed the outcome; running time was used in the fourth quarter and the game ended at 9:08 p.m.

As the players climbed back aboard bus No. 23, they grabbed sandwiches, chips and drinks that had been prepared – as for every game this season -- by their mothers. Martin, the last to board, asked one of his assistant coaches, “Got 36, coach?” Yes, all 36 players had been accounted for and the wheels began turning at 9:28.

Quiet talking, joking and laughter were heard on the ride back to Windom, with a few faces illuminated by cell phones. Someone turned up music on his phone, which caused the head coach to stand and say, “Hey guys, turn the music off.” Celebratory music may come following a victory. As the bus pulled into Windom, a loud burp emanated from the back of the bus.

In a darkened school hallway, Nolt and fellow senior Alex Borsgard talked about the flooded field, the season and the weekly bus rides.

“I saw it coming,” Alex said. “I was disappointed, obviously, but it is what it is. You’ve just got to deal with it. I guess it is kind of hard to get used to the thought that you won’t play another home game in your hometown on your home field in front of the home crowd.”

Nick said, “Obviously I was pretty upset. I had a little bit of anger about it. But there’s really nothing you can do about it.”

Martin told the team to get some rest; they would gather again in the morning to officiate middle-school football games. The coach would be at school for another hour or more into the night, going through video of the game and posting it online for the players to view.

Martin said he wasn’t worried that the road-only schedule, coupled with the losses, would sap the spirit of his players.

“Early on in the year, that was a concern for me. Jackson is the second really good team we’ve played this year. We had a tough one with Pipestone and our kids don’t quit. That’s what every coach has told me, ‘Your kids keep fighting to the end.’ In this day and age, that’s good to see.”

Go Eagles go.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.



The Best of John's Journal: No. 7/ Great Kate: ‘She’s Just Like Any Other Teenager’
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/12/2019

Here is No. 7 on the list of my favorite John's Journal stories from 2018-19. Kate Jorgenson from Westbrook-Walnut Grove is one of the most inspirational people I have ever known as well as being one of the most down-to-earth. This story was originally posted on December 13.

WESTBROOK – Kate Jorgenson stood a couple steps behind the three-point line and she was ready when the basketball came to her. She took aim at the basket, fired quickly and the ball hit nothing but net as fans of the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers cheered. It was a remarkable shot by a remarkable athlete.

I first wrote about Kate when she was a ninth-grader on her school's golf team. She's now a 16-year-old junior, and the fact that her left arm was amputated above the elbow after an ATV accident in 2013 has never slowed her down.

"She’s just like any other teenager," Chargers coach Adam Kletscher said before Westbrook-Walnut Grove dropped a 45-42 decision to the Adrian Dragons in a Red Rock Conference game Tuesday night. “She likes to joke around, she likes to have fun.”

Tuesday was a long day for Kate. She was awake at 4:45 a.m. and on a school bus bound for the state Capitol in St. Paul – three hours away from her home in southwest Minnesota -- by 6:15 with other American Government students who are involved in a program called “We the People.” They toured the Capitol, made a We the People presentation to a panel of judges as part of the program’s competitive process, then headed back home in the afternoon.

Kate played the first half of that evening’s B squad game and came off the bench throughout the varsity game. “I’m tired,” she said with a smile afterwards.

Her parents, Nikki and Jim, watched the games from the stands. Nikki teaches fifth grade in the district and Jim runs the family farm two miles outside of Westbrook. They, like everyone else, love their daughter’s positive attitude and are amazed by what she continues to accomplish.

“The only thing she gave up was playing the violin,” Jim said, adding that Kate continues to practice the piano and perform at recitals. She plays volleyball in the fall, golfs in the spring, is a lifeguard and certified swimming instructor.

When she came off the bench in Tuesday’s varsity game for the first time, four minutes in, she wiped the soles of both shoes with her right hand and went to work. On defense she was positioned in the lane, displaying quick footwork in the Chargers’ zone, blocking out would-be rebounders and inbounding the ball after Adrian scored.

She brought the ball upcourt at one point, passing to point guard Grace Woelber once she reached the center line.

Imagine trying to catch the ball, shoot the ball or rebound the ball with one hand. It’s not an easy proposition.

Asked if he does anything differently in coaching a player who doesn’t have two hands, Kletscher said, “Right away I wondered, I debated but then I said no. She doesn’t want to be treated any differently. She’s a normal teenage girl on my basketball team. You might talk with her about how to curl a rebound or things like that. I’ll tell her, ‘Keep your arm straight up’ (to avoid fouls) and you’re doing the same things for every other girl on the team, too.”

Kate said, “It’s really hard for me to catch the ball in the post and go for a layup, so I usually try to stay on the outside and shoot my outside shot. I can just like feel it when I let it go. I’ve spent a lot of time catching the ball and releasing it.”

In Kate’s first basketball season after the accident, Jim coached her sixth-grade team. At one of the first practices he asked for volunteers to dribble the ball upcourt. Everyone was quiet until Kate said, “I’ll do it.” That was an early example of her fearlessness.

In the wake of Kate’s accident, people in Westbrook, Walnut Grove and surrounding communities rallied around her and her family. A 2014 benefit concert in Westbrook was a great success, which inspired the Jorgenson family to create the Keeping Up The Kourage Foundation. The foundation awards college scholarships to youth from the area who have faced medial challenges and also assists families with medical expenses.

Kate headed home Tuesday night looking forward to some much-needed sleep. But the next day – like most days -- would be another busy one, starting when she drove 43 miles to Marshall early in the morning. She’s interested in becoming an anesthesiologist, and she had an appointment to job-shadow someone in that profession, beginning at 7 a.m.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.



The Best of John's Journal: No. 8/ Sack Hunger: A Night Of Celebration In Spring Grove
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/10/2019

Here is entry No. 8 on the list of my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from the 2018-19 school year. The focus here is on Spring Grove High School and the entire Spring Grove community, which went to great lengths to gather donations of food and cash to support the Houston County Food Bank as part of the inaugural #mshslSackHunger food drive involving the MSHSL and Second Harvest Heartland. The story was originally posted on January 14.

SPRING GROVE – The school colors at Spring Grove High School are red and black, and the Lions girls basketball players wore their colors with pride during Friday night's Southeast Conference game against Lanesboro. The visiting Burros' colors are orange and black.

And yet, an intriguing shade of light blue was seen everywhere inside the gym. Both teams wore light-blue t-shirts during warmups. The Spring Grove pep band wore the same shirts. Little kids, moms and dads; it seemed like there must have been a hundred of those same light-blue t-shirts in the gym.

That's because there were 100 shirts in the gym. Along with the basketball game – and the familiar tradition of a community gathering for a ballgame – the evening was designated as a celebration of Spring Grove’s community commitment to serving others. And it was my great pleasure to bring those 100 t-shirts to town as part of the celebration. The shirts carried the logo of a collaboration between the MSHSL and Second Harvest Heartland, which provides millions of meals every year in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

I was honored to use the @MSHSLjohn Twitter account to help publicize what we called the #mshslSackHunger campaign during the football playoffs in November. All 28 schools that had teams play in the state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium were invited to collect food donations and feed the hungry. Spring Grove did a phenomenal job, collecting more than three and a half tons of food to help their neighbors in Houston County.

During a pregame ceremony, Spring Grove Student Council president Rhiannon Skauge told the crowd, "Students, staff and the community have donated cash and food items. Together we are feeding people and changing lives. Let’s give ourselves a big round of applause for coming together as a community to support this cause."

The numbers are remarkable. For a community of 1,330 people and a K-12 school of 350 students to gather so much food – plus thousands of dollars in cash donations to purchase more food – is a real testament to the people who inhabit a southeast Minnesota community known as the first Norwegian settlement in the state.

Traveling with me to Spring Grove was Marcus Schmit, the director of advocacy at Second Harvest Heartland. Marcus was a fine athlete at Red Wing High School not too many years ago, and he and I loved spending a few hours with the great folks in Spring Grove.

During the pregame ceremony, Marcus presented a framed certificate of recognition from Second Harvest Heartland to Spring Grove High School. It read: "In recognition of their heroic dedication to hunger relief and achievement as the 2018 Sack Hunger champion, on behalf of Second Harvest Heartland and those we serve, thank you for your support and commitment in providing 11,466 meals for the one in 11 neighbors facing hunger.”

This was a true community effort. Rhiannon (pictured) mentioned many of the leading contributors during her remarks.

“We have a lot of community support during the food drive,” she said. “Bekah Leafblad and the Trinity Youth worked with student council to canvas the town collecting canned goods and cash. Teresa Fegyak and Merchants Bank hosted a two-day bake sale with student council members and bank employees donating baked goods for the sale. Patrick and Red Longmire from Red’s IGA (grocery store) are huge supporters of the school and community. They had a turkey takeout dinner with proceeds going toward the food shelf and also provided a spot in the store for us to have a bake sale. Ellingson Elevator weighs all the food items before they are taken over to the food shelf. Renee Eiken, past student council advisor, has laid the groundwork for the success of this standing tradition.”

If you click on a website called www.springgrovemn.com you’ll see a wonderful slogan: “Pretty. Neat. Small town.”

Indeed. Congratulations to everyone in Spring Grove.

---Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.



The Best of John's Journal: No. 9/ The Pride Of Marshall: Four Sports, Ten Trips To State
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/8/2019

Here is No. 9 on the list of my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from the 2018-19 school year. This story is about Kaia Sueker of Marshall High School, who made a tremendous impression on her teammates and coaches during her career.

The question was very straightforward, as was the answer from Marshall High School girls basketball coach Dan Westby: "No, no, no."

The question: Have you had any other athletes like Kaia Sueker in your coaching career?

No, no, no.

Kaia, a 5-foot-5 senior, is a rarity for several reasons. She's a four-sport athlete, competing in both volleyball and cross-country in the fall, basketball in the winter and track and field in the spring. She plays marimba in the school band and violin in the school orchestra. She's been involved in so many other school clubs and events that it's hard to keep track.

And then there’s this: She has now competed in 10 state tournaments … or 11 if you count her stint as a basketball team manager when she was in eighth grade. And that number is likely to reach 11 (or 12) when her final track season rolls around this spring. That’s how it all began, when she qualified for the state track meet as an eighth-grader.

"I don’t know where she gets the energy,” said Westby – also the Tigers volleyball coach -- after Marshall lost to Becker 68-67 in Wednesday’s Class 3A state quarterfinals at Maturi Pavilion. “She’s a pretty amazing kid.”

Kaia had 14 points, three assists and three steals in the game. It was a heartbreaking loss, coming in the final seconds, but she was all smiles afterwards.

“I think it’s really cool to be up here,” she said. “It’s such a great experience and I’ve enjoyed it with all my teammates. I’m really proud of everyone.”

Kaia is the only player who was also a member of Marshall’s last trip to the state basketball tournament in 2016. In the fall she’ll be a freshman on the cross-country and track teams at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. The end of her high school days will certainly be felt back in her hometown.

“There just aren’t kids like that anymore,” Westby said. “She’s quite a kid. It’ll be different in all sports, not having her. She’s been a part of it for so long.”

I asked Kaia to look ahead 10 years or so and predict what she will remember most about her high school career. Her answer said a lot about herself, her family, Marshall High School and how important school activities are everywhere.

“I think I’ll remember these moments with my team and how special they are,” she said with that big smile. “I’m never going to forget them. I’m going to miss it a lot, I know that, and I’m going to miss my teammates for sure. It’s just been a great experience.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.



The Best of John's Journal: No. 10/ From 1983 To 2019, Two Ballplayers And A State Record
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/5/2019

Today we begin counting down my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from the 2018-19 school year. No. 10, which was originally posted on May 5, features two baseball players, one who set a state record in 1983 and another who broke that record in 2019.

Tim Gullickson, who was a record-setting high school baseball player in 1983, has never felt more like a celebrity than he has over the last week. That's because of a young man from Litchfield who topped Gullickson's record streak of 33 consecutive games with a hit.

After Owen Boerema stretched his hitting streak to 34 games a week ago and the news came out, Gullickson started getting calls and texts.

"I'm more famous now that I don’t have the record anymore," said the 53-year-old who lives in Bemidji.

Thirty-six years is a long time for a record to stand. Among the top 10 hitting streaks in Minnesota high school baseball history, all but Gullickson’s 33 were set in the last six years.

Boerema is a senior who throws and hits lefthanded and plays center field when not pitching. In a 4-0 win over Rockford on Thursday, he went hitless to end the streak but pitched a two-hit shutout with eight strikeouts for the Dragons (8-1).

"I’d rather get a win than anything else,” he said. “I wasn’t too frustrated because I was pitching well. And at that point I already had the record. If I had been at 32, then I would have been pretty frustrated.”

Owen had hits in every one of the 26 games he played last season. After the season he learned from coach Jeff Wollin that his 26-game streak put him in the top 10 all-time. His teammates, knowing this fact as the 2019 season began, loudly updated the number each time he extended it.

Wollin said, “Every game when he got a hit, usually in the first inning, you heard somebody in the dugout, ‘That’s 29! 31!’ It doesn’t seem like it weighed on him. I just think he wants to get on base. And if you walk him, he’s probably on second.”

That’s because Boerema, a long and lanky kid with wheels, stole 13 bases in the first eight games this season.

His speed was on display early in Friday’s home game against Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (which was halted by rain in the third inning with Litchfield leading 6-0). On the game’s first pitch, Howard Lake’s Noah Bush hit a looping liner into center field that looked for all the world like a hit until Boerema raced in and made a diving catch. In the bottom of the first inning, Owen hit the first pitch deep and it banged off the left fielder’s glove. Boerema ran to second for what everyone assumed would be a two-base error, but he kept motoring and ended up on third.

“You couldn’t find a finer young man to break this record,” Wollin said. “He’s a great kid, very humble, great student, from a very nice family. He’s got it all in the right perspective. He helps coach summer rec with the little kids, helps with the field in the summertime.”

Owen has been on the Dragons cross-country team in the fall and plays basketball in the winter. He plans to attend the University of Northwestern in St. Paul and play basketball and baseball.

Owen’s batting average this spring is .677. Gullickson, a righthanded pitcher and hitter, still holds the Deer River school record for batting average, hitting .589 in his senior year of 1983. Gullickson said he wasn’t aware of his state record until about 10 years after he graduated.

His coach at Deer River, Jim Erzar, informed him of the news after scouring scorebooks. Erzar was the head coach there for 37 years before retiring after the 2017 season. He was inducted into the Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2013; he’s still involved with the game, now as an umpire.

The person who handled statistics for Erzar in Deer River all those years ago was a young girl named Robin Edgeton … who married Tim Gullickson. “She was a good student,” Erzar said, “someone I could rely on.”

The 1983 season was Erzar’s second as head coach. He recalls a game early that spring when Gullickson was at the plate with the score tied and a runner on second base in the bottom of the seventh inning. He gave Tim the green light to swing away with a 3-0 count, and the senior drove in the winning run.

“That’s how he was,” Erzar said, “kind of clutch.”

Sounds like a young man, 36 years later, from Litchfield.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.




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