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On Both Sides Of The Border, The Harvest Bowl Is King
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/31/2014 7:38:08 PM

WAHPETON, N.D. – There are border towns and there are Border Towns. If humans who had no knowledge of state lines but owned the ability to ignore signage drove around Wahpeton and Breckenridge, Minnesota, they would think it was one village.

The boundary between the two towns and two states is easy to miss. The Red River is little more than a meandering creek here. The meandering lends itself to the local golf course, the Bois de Sioux Golf Club, where the front nine is in North Dakota and the back nine is in Minnesota.

So yes, these towns – and the people who inhabit them – are very closely linked. This relationship is exemplified when the football teams from the two high schools face each other in what is known as the annual Harvest Bowl.

“When the stands are packed and there’s all this excitement, it’s a really big thing for both our communities,” said Chad Fredericksen, the athletic director and head football coach for the Breckenridge Cowboys. Frederisksen said this as we were standing on the Wahpeton Huskies’ home field at North Dakota State College of Science before Friday’s game, the latest chapter in a rivalry that began in 1920.

To say the rivalry game is important to these communities would be an understatement. The football players grew up together playing on youth sports teams and they often hang out with each other. Their fans are easily recognized in the stands wearing Wahpeton purple and Breckenridge green. Some marriages are a Husky-Cowboy mix, and a common t-shirt carries the colors of both schools and the words “Border Battle.”

“That green and purple clashes,” smiling Wahpeton athletic director Mike McCall said to two young ladies, one from each school, as they hugged before kickoff.

Friday’s game went the way of the Huskies, who were 10-2 last season and were the state runner-up in North Dakota’s Class AA. Wahpeton came away with a 28-6 victory, the Huskies’ fourth in a row over the Cowboys. Wahpeton’s Carson Zarak threw long touchdown passes to Mike Poppen and Blaze Irwin, Isaac Erickson ran 20 yards for a score and Thomas Nelson fell on a teammate’s fumble as the ball rolled into the end zone. Breckenridge scored on a 78-yard pass from Nathan Blaufuss to Zarek Reiff.

The winner of the annual football games takes home the shiny Harvest Bowl trophy, which is topped with a golden football and sponsored by the Cargill corporation. The Cowboys and Huskies usually meet in the first or second game of the season, and a crowd estimated at 3,000 people filled the stadium Friday. The schools take turns hosting the game, and two years ago ticket sales were worth nearly $10,000 for Wahpeton High School.

Wahpeton has a population of 7,853 and a high school enrollment of 385 students; Breckenridge’s numbers are 3,386 and 234. That’s a total of more than 11,000 residents, and the annual football game is the biggest thing in town(s).

“For these communities, this is an absolutely huge game,” McCall said. ‘The rivalry maybe isn’t as fierce as it once was, but it’s a very spirited rivalry. Both communities come together and it’s a fun rivalry.”

Earlier this year, there were a few doubts about the future of the Harvest Bowl. With Minnesota going to a new district football format in 2015, fears arose that Breckenridge’s schedule would not have a spot for the game with Wahpeton. But the MSHSL’s district placement committee -- made up of coaches and administrators from around the state – ensured that Breckenridge would have room on its schedule to allow the rivalry to continue.

If the rivalry had ended, “I think it would be very hard for both communities to handle,” McCall said. “You’ve got a river separating the two of you and you can’t play each other? When you talk about ticket sales and everything else that goes on, seeing this game go away would be a very hard financial hit for both of us.”

Fredericksen said, “We’re so fortunate that the High School League was able to maneuver it and allow us to keep this game going. It’s worked out, we can’t ask for anything more.

“This game is something that our communities come together on. They really pride themselves on this. The atmosphere for these guys to play in; for a small town to have this kind of opening-date atmosphere, it’s just outstanding.”

--To see a photo gallery from Friday’s Harvest Bowl, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 20
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,408
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Bethlehem Academy Volleyball Is Team To Beat In Class 1A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/27/2014 3:14:06 PM

The volleyball team from Bethlehem Academy in Faribault wins state championships on a regular basis, and when the Cardinals don’t win they generally finish second. Check out this consistency: Class 1A state titles in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012, and state runner-up finishes in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.

This year’s team may be the best one Bethlehem Academy has ever had. The Cardinals, who are ranked No. 1 in the 1A coaches poll, opened the season with a 25-17, 25-12, 25-20 victory at Lakeville North on Tuesday night. North is not ranked in 3A, but as Bethlehem Academy coach Franz Boelter said afterward, “I don’t care how good we’re supposed to be, if you look past somebody they’re going to smack you with a two by four.”

The Cardinals are talented, experienced and deep. The lineup includes 2013 All-State selection Payton Nutter and All-State honorable mention picks Lauren Mathews and Maddie Strodtman. When you add Payton Schultz -- who missed most of last season because of an injury – and others, the team’s depth is something rarely seen on the small-school level.

“Once we can get some continuity going here, this is a group with a lot of flexibility to do some different things that we’ve never been able to do before,” said Boelter. “Sometimes Schultz and Nutter will flip sides, and in almost every rotation we can do that and take advantage of mismatches.”

Boelter is in his 23rd season as Bethlehem Academy’s volleyball coach. He also coached the boys basketball team for 36 years before resigning from that after last season. He is a Minnesota Hall of Fame coach in both sports and has a combined total of 1,124 victories; 613 in boys basketball and 511 in volleyball. He works as the school’s director of advancement, and he said those duties conflicted more with basketball than volleyball.

“I never anticipated I’d go 36 years,” he said of coaching basketball. “There were really two big factors. One was with most of our volleyball seasons extended to the point that they are, I was going into basketball season exhausted and I didn’t feel like I could prepare as well and I didn’t feel I had the energy that I wanted to have. And you do that for a few years in a row and it starts to catch up, it’s like you never catch your breath.

“The other thing is that in my advancement job, our busiest time is from early November to the end of April, and that’s the whole basketball season. It was just time. I’ve enjoyed the heck out of it and loved all the kids I’ve worked with, but it was just time.”

He said he has no plans to step back from coaching volleyball.

“Let’s see if they’ll keep me on for a while. I’m having fun, I’m enjoying it. When coaching is part of your fiber, it’s nice to be able to hang on to one of them.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 17
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 925
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

One Weekend, One Game, One Scrimmage, One Great Time
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/24/2014 7:20:36 PM

Use your imagination and think about the sounds of football. Cleats on concrete as a team walks to the field. Players cheering for each other, their exhortations muddied a bit by their mouthguards. Coaches relaying instructions from the sidelines. Cheers from the stands. The whistles of officials.

I heard those sounds and saw some equally great sights during a 360-mile weekend road trip for a Zero Week game and a six-team scrimmage. The game on Friday night between visiting Brooklyn Center and St. James lasted nearly three hours – which is not atypical for a season-opener filled with fumbles, penalties and extra water breaks on a hot, humid night – and the scrimmage Saturday morning in Tracy was two and a half hours of practice for teams that will play their first game in a few days.

The fall sports season is in full swing all across Minnesota, with cross-country, volleyball, girls tennis, soccer, and girls swimming and diving under way and adapted soccer beginning this week. My first big journey of the fall was a grand one, on highways accompanied by lush green fields, some of the prettiest little towns in the world and roadside sales lots filled with behemothian tractors and other farm gear.

A few things I learned between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening…

--A starter’s pistol is one way to signal the end of each quarter in a football game. In St. James, the pistol is fired out of the front window of the press box, causing spectators who aren’t paying attention to jump.

--The best use of a cell phone might be as a flashlight inside a pitch-black porta-potty. This observation is based on very personal experience.

--A very lengthy football game can mess with radio talk-show plans. I was booked to utter a few syllable on WCCO AM’s “Radio Rally” scoreboard show at 9:35 p.m. Friday for what we assumed would be some postgame comments. As it turned out, the game was still in the third quarter when the radio guys called.

--Those poor, poor souls who have never lived away from a city don’t know what they’re missing. Along with the scenery on my weekend tour, the season’s crop conditions and bin-busting capabilities are always a topic this time of year. At halftime in St. James, I enjoyed chatting about how the corn and soybeans are looking in different parts of Minnesota, as well as a recent downpour that soaked the St. James area and greened things up very nicely.

--Dining on the road is sometimes an adventure. I left St. James at about 10:30 Friday night, headed for a motel in Marshall 90 minutes away. I saw one or two convenience stores that were open over those 85 miles, but opted to gamble that an actual fast-food emporium could feed me in Marshall. I hit a McDonald’s drive-through at midnight, then was back for breakfast at 8 a.m. Doesn’t make me a bad person, right? Right?

--Dining at athletic events is always easy and fun. The St. James Lions Club provided a fantastic pregame meal of burgers and all the fixings as a fundraiser for new restrooms built by club members. And after the scrimmage in Tracy, pork sandwiches and yes, all the fixings, were provided for all players, coaches, officials and fans for a small donation.

In the Zero Week game, Brooklyn Center was successful in its trip from the Twin Cities to southern Minnesota, defeating the St. James Saints 50-25. Both teams finished 2-7 last season, and the first few minutes of Friday’s game made onlookers believe this would be an even matchup.

Each team scored its first touchdown after recovering a fumble by the opponent, and Brooklyn Centaur’s Jason Barto returned an interception 60 yards for what became the go-ahead score late in the first quarter. The momentum stayed with the visitors after that, with Centaurs quarterback Chester Whalley throwing for two scores and running for two, and Tyrell Beasley scoring two TDs on the ground. For St. James, Chris Johnson ran for two touchdowns.

“We got after it and some of our athletes made plays,” Brooklyn Center coach Willie Finley said. “Our O line blocked well, our quarterback checked down, the kids played and they stayed with the game plan. They stayed faithful, they kept their heads up the whole game, even when we were down in the beginning.

“There’s nothing better for a family than a road trip, right? It brings all the true colors. So we came together as a family and it was great.”

Saturday’s scrimmage was well-planned as a way for teams as well as officials to get their games in line for the upcoming start of the season. The six teams were from Wabasso, Springfield, Minneota, Dawson-Boyd, Red Rock Central and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. The field was split down the middle, with two teams using 50 yards and switching between offense and defense while two teams sat out during each 30-minute session. On the adjoining practice fields in Tracy, B squads did the same.

This is the ninth consecutive year that Tracy-Milroy-Balaton has hosted this scrimmage. The teams haven’t changed much; Windom chose not to come this year so Red Rock Central took that spot. And the teams bring some heavy football tradition: Minneota was the Class 2A state runner-up last season and Dawson-Boyd was the 1A runner-up, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton was a 1A state playoff team, Wabasso went 9-2 and lost to Dawson-Boyd in the Section 5 title game, and Springfield is a traditionally powerful program. Three of the teams come from the Little Sioux Conference and three from the Southern Minnesota Conference.

“There’s some pretty good football down here,” Tracy-Milroy-Balaton co-coach Derek Flann – owner of a world-class Fu Manchu moustache -- said in an understatement.

As the scrimmage schedule wound down, everyone headed to the school parking lot for lunch. The hungry horde sat on wooden benches at wooden tables; sweaty, tired players demolished their paper plates filled with food.

“The parents have really taken care of all the work away from the football field for us,” Flann said. “We’ve got a group of parents who go out and get a bunch of sponsorships, they set everything up, they get the food ready. All we’ve got to do is coordinate the teams that are coming.”

Indeed, kudos to the parents from Tracy-Milroy-Balaton for a solid lunch that sent visitors home with full tummies. And thanks to all the friendly officials, coaches, players, parents and fans who said hi.

I can’t wait for my next trip.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 15
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 915
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Fairmont Police Officer Takes Good Care Of Visiting Team
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/21/2014 5:25:33 PM

The following is a letter to the editor that was published this week in the Fairmont Sentinel. It details the lengths that a Fairmont police officer went to for players from a team that was playing in Fairmont …

To The Editor:

My name is Brian Michelson. I am the (boys) soccer coach at Tracy Area High School. On Saturday we competed in the (Fairmont) Cardinal Soccer Scrimmage. During the last scrimmage we had a young man suffer heat stroke; 911 was called and both the police department and ambulance responded.

Both departments were professional and did a great job. But one officer went above and beyond the call of duty. As my player was being well taken care of by the ambulance staff, I informed my team that we would not be able to stop and eat as we had originally planned because we would need to get the young man home who had the heat stroke.

The police officer overheard this and asked the rest of my team, “Do you guys like McDonalds?” Of course they all said yes.

The officer then said, “If I do not have an emergency to respond to in the next 30 minutes, I will go to McDonalds and get you something to eat.” Well, my young man quickly recovered and was released from the ambulance after about 20 minutes. We then thought we should wait for the officer so we found a shady spot and parked the bus and waited 20 more minutes. I then told my players that it was time to go as the officer may have had an emergency he had to respond to.

We then loaded the bus and headed toward the interstate. As we approached the interstate, some of the players noticed a police car was following us. We found the nearest spot to pull over and it was the officer who said he would get the kids something to eat! He had bought them 20 double cheeseburgers and 10 large fries! When I tried to give him some money, he said no and wouldn't take it.

I wanted you to know what a great police department and ambulance crew you have.

Brian Michelson
H/PE Teacher
Tracy Area High School

Starting The Year Right At St. Charles High School
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/20/2014 1:37:14 PM

ST. CHARLES – Playing time. Conflict resolution. Expectations. Academics. In an auditorium filled with high school athletes and their parents, these themes and more were discussed Tuesday evening. It was an annual event at St. Charles High School; a meeting to kick off the new school year with the right kind of mindset for athletes, parents, coaches and administrators.

Athletic director Scott McCready has held this meeting for the past seven years. Athletes and at least one of their parents are required to attend. I was honored to be a guest speaker on Tuesday, talking about some of the special stories I have written over the years, how much high school activities mean to me, and why winning and losing is only one part of the experience.

Each person was given a six-page packet as they entered the auditorium at St. Charles Elementary School. The athletes and parents signed one page and returned it as proof of their attendance. At the top of the first page were listed “Some things to think about:”

--As parents you have had your opportunity as athletes, now it is your turn to be a supportive parent.
--Let the kids own their athletic experiences.
--Teach them how to self-advocate with coaches and teachers.
--Enable them to be successful on their own with your background support.
--The best way to get college tuition assistance is through academic scholarships – NOT athletic.

McCready told the crowd that only three percent of all high school athletes will play at any level in college and only one out of 12,000 will ever become a professional athlete. The information packet also included these facts: For every professional athlete there are 325 job openings for teachers, 60 for physicians, 80 for computer programmers, 40 for social workers, etc.

In St. Charles there are specific policies for playing time in seventh- and eighth-grade sports, ninth-grade sports, B squad sports and varsity sports. The chain of command to resolve a conflict goes from athlete to coach(es) to athletic director to principal to superintendent to school board. The info packet spelled out these things, along with specific points about the role of coaches and parents.

The packet also included information about school attendance and its impact on athletic participation; how academics can impact participation; and how the school dress code also applies to athletic events.

McCready talked about social media, as well. Students and parents were informed that if anything was posted that appeared troubling, the administration would have to investigate. He told the students that the best way to avoid this was to stay away from events and gatherings that could lead to issues.

The information packet ended with this strong, positive message: “We want to provide a positive and enjoyable experience for your student through educational activities. We don’t claim to be perfect in all that we do, but we do want what is best for your children. Please work with us to enhance the experience through communication and cooperation.”

Let’s all have a great year.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 7
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 555
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Krissy Wendell, Tori Holt To Co-Host New Prep Sports TV Show
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/18/2014 11:31:47 AM

Here is a press release announcing an exciting new weekly prep sports TV show that will air Saturday nights at 11 on KSTC Channel 45, the television partner of the MSHSL...

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA – School Space Media announces today that they have agreed to partner with Hubbard Broadcasting to air MN Prep Spotlight on 45TV (KSTC). MN Prep Spotlight will be co-hosted by two-time Olympic hockey player Krissy Wendell, and returning for his second year will be host Tori Holt. Prep Spotlight is a half-hour show containing human-interest features and highlights/scores on all parts of Minnesota high school athletics.

“I am really excited to join the show,” said Wendell, a pioneer in girls sports in Minnesota. “I have always talked about how passionate I am regarding high school athletics and I am very eager to get started this coming fall.”

The coverage will begin with the first show airing on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 at 11 p.m. on 45TV. Prep Spotlight will continue to air in that time slot throughout the fall, winter and springs sports season, covering all MSHSL athletics. The program also will be available on the internet at www.schoolspacemedia.tv.

“Adding Krissy to our team demonstrates our commitment to providing knowledgeable and insightful analysis into prep sports in Minnesota,” said School Space Media president Brian Nicohlson. “Her experience as a prep athlete, a two-time Olympian and lifelong athlete helps Prep Spotlight share stories of interesting and exceptional young athletes and those who help shape them.” (Pictured are Tori Holt and Krissy Wendell.)

“MN Prep Spotlight is a wonderful way to showcase the outstanding athletes and teams in Minnesota,” said Dave Stead, executive director of the Minnesota State High School League. “And as a co-host Krissy Wendell is a recognizable, knowledgeable, and well-respected athlete whose successful career has continued to stay connected to our Minnesota schools and communities.”

Last season School Space Media produced the Conference Spotlight that streamed on Schoolspacemedia.tv. Besides Conference Spotlight, which has been re-branded as MN Prep Spotlight, Schoolspacemedia.tv also will produce up to 18 live game streams of football, soccer and basketball games each week. School Space Media will produce 40 MN Prep Spotlight shows for the 2014-15 high school sports season.

Wendell is a Park Center High School graduate where she was an all-state athlete in hockey and softball. She continued her career in hockey at the University of Minnesota, where she was an All-American, co-captain, and Patty Kazmier Award winner (given to the top collegiate women's player in the nation). In addition to being part of two NCAA championship hockey teams, she also competed in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Wendell recently joined the 45TV broadcast team as a studio analyst during the MSHSL girls state hockey tournament. She is an assistant coach of the girls hockey team at Cretin Derham-Hall High School in St. Paul; the head coach is her husband Johnny Pohl, a former Red Wing, University of Minnesota and NHL player.

In 1994 Wendell became the fifth girl to play in the Little League Baseball World Series and the first to be in the starting lineup.

Host Tori Holt is a 1993 Apple Valley High School graduate who has been a play-by-play broadcaster and sideline reporter for the past four years on the MSHSL tournaments on 45TV. Holt has twice been part of a team that has won a Regional Emmy for “Best Live Program Event/Special.” He currently is on staff at School Space Media, attended St. Cloud State University and coaches varsity high school baseball at Apple Valley.

In addition to hosts Tori and Krissy, Eric Nelson of WCCO Radio will file weekly reports, as will newcomer Charlie Beattie.

More on School Space Media:

School Space Media, LLC is a St Paul-based company that provides media platforms focused on the audiences that attend prep sports. SSM connects fans to information about prep sports, advertisers to the audiences that attend varsity level events and shares revenue with partner locations.

For more information contact Andy Price at aprice@schoolspacemedia.com (612) 366-0421 or Tori Holt at Tholt@schoolspacemedia.com or (970)567-7723. Follow MN Prep Spotlight @mnprepspotlight and “Like” our School Space Media Facebook page.

Coming Off Dream Year, Chatfield Football Ready For More
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/14/2014 1:43:02 PM

CHATFIELD – Jeff Johnson, the head football coach at Chatfield High School, was chatting in a quiet classroom Wednesday a few moments after the football players had wrapped up a whiteboard cranial session and returned to the practice field.

I mentioned the 2013-14 school year, which is one that will live forever in the memories of residents in this town of 2,700 south of Rochester. The Gophers won the Class 2A football state championship, the 1A wrestling state title, and the baseball team finished third at the 1A state tournament.

“Dream year,” Johnson said. “Dream year. Truthfully, if that ever happens again, it might not be for a long time. It was unbelievable.”

The Gophers girls teams didn’t have a bad year, either. The volleyball team came within one victory of the state tournament, the basketball team reached the subsection final and the softball team (also coached by Johnson) came within a whisker of winning the section title and going to state.

“It was an unreal year, for the boys and the girls,” Johnson said.

Ten minutes later, Johnson was on the football practice field along with three assistant coaches and a band of Gophers that is hoping to experience another unreal season. Chatfield lost 10 seniors to graduation, and that group set a high bar. Chatfield’s state championship in 2013 was the school’s first since a three-year run of titles in 1994, 1995 and 1996.

“It started with a group of kids who really loved the game of football,” said Johnson, a Pine Island native who played football at Winona State and is in his ninth year as the Gophers head coach after two years as an assistant. “And they realized year in and year out, every year as they got closer to their senior year, the more work they had to put in during the offseason if they wanted to beat some of our biggest rivals.

“Caledonia was a powerhouse down here for many, many years and they were tired of getting outmatched by them. We had a little bit of disappointment the year before, we only lost 6-0 when we really thought we could beat them. But those kids said, ‘Hey, we didn’t and we’ve got to put in that much more time.’ And they really worked their tails off and started really working hard in the offseason. That’s where it starts. It starts with the kids and wanting to win.”

Wednesday’s two-hour practice (the second of the day) was an exercise in precision, detail and hard work. The players were split into four groups, each working with one of the coaches. There were passing/defending drills, work on the blocking sled, a station for offensive reps, defensive line drills and more. Since the Gophers will play a Zero Week game (vs. Fillmore Central on Aug. 22), they had been in full pads for nearly a week, but there was a much stronger focus on technique than contact.

Neighborhood dogs occasionally barked at the commotion of whistles and voices.
When water breaks were called, the players sat in the shade under a storybook stand of large pines that ring two sides of the practice field. The practice began at 11 a.m.; when the end came two hours later, the sun was high and hot. But the Gophers know what it takes to become a champion.

“I think that we’re going to have a really, really great year,” said spectacularly named senior Julius General. “Everybody’s very connected and everybody will get time to play and just have fun together.”

Chatfield’s only loss last year came against Caledonia 19-18 in the season opener. The tide turned in the Section 1 championship game, when the Gophers defeated the Warriors 13-10 in overtime (ending Caledonia’s six-year run of state playoff appearances, which included five titles). The Gophers followed with state tourney victories over Jackson County Central, Hawley and finally Minneota in the Prep Bowl.

Playing six postseason games (after eight in the regular season) is a big bonus for young players looking for future playing time.

“All those sophomore who dressed with us last year, they got to practice in the R.C.T.C. (Rochester Community and Technical College) bubble, on the turf at Kasson-Mantorville, they played in the Metrodome,” Johnson said. “So that’s a huge advantage going into this year. If you do that for two or three consecutive years, like Caledonia did before that, those kids are almost getting a full extra football season in once they become seniors.

“We lost 10 seniors, which isn’t a lot. But all 10 of those seniors were very good athletes and they all contributed big time. So we’ve got some holes to fill. But we return a lot of kids who got either a lot of playing time or a little bit of playing time.”

The players know what needs to be done as a new season approaches.

“Last year’s success really helped us see that we can be on top again,” said senior Hank Friederichs. “It’s not going to be given to us, but if we work hard and get the job done it will be us again.”

Senior Tommy Jech said, “Everybody’s kind of bought into the program over the last two years because we’ve had such good success. Even though we did lose a lot of people, we’re getting new people in because everybody’s buying in. We have a bunch of people that can step up.”

--To see a photo gallery from Chatfield, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 6
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 369
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Day One: 17 Hours, Five Teams, 191 Miles And Lessons Learned
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/11/2014 6:42:14 PM

I was walking from the football locker room to the gymnasium at Park High School. The closer I got to the gym, the louder the music became until I recognized the tune: the Ozzy Osbourne classic “Crazy Train.” I walked into the gym to see the cheerleaders doing their stuff while the pep band played before a large contingent of students and other fans.

This was at 11:40 p.m. Sunday. Monday was the first day practices could be held for fall sports in Minnesota, and the Park football team was getting a jump. The Wolfpack team entered the gym shortly after I did, which had the fans on their feet as the band played the school song. Coach Darin Glazier took the microphone and thanked the band, cheerleaders and fans for being there, introduced the team captains and talked about the season ahead.

Shortly before midnight, Glazier said “Let’s go” and everybody went out to the stadium. The lights were turned on at the stroke of midnight as the football players whooped and hollered and began drilling.

For the 2014-15 school year, Monday was day one. Or Day One if you prefer. After my “Park After Dark” visit, I returned home and slept for a bit before visiting four other teams on Day One. Here’s what happened …

11:35 p.m. Sunday/ 12-year-old Jake Kuemmel, son of Park activities director Phil Kuemmel, handed me my first Diet Coke of the new year. It was a 12-ounce shortie, since we all know late-night caffeine can be a sleep-stopper. Jake and his dad stood at the panel of switches that operate the lights at the stadium, with Phil waiting until Monday’s official arrival to flip them on. By this time the team was waiting in one darkened end zone and the fans were in the darkened stands. And then: Let there be light … and a new season.

1:06 a.m./ Arrive home and hit the hay (miles traveled: 51.6).

6:30 a.m./ Alarm clock blows the whistle and off we go.

6:58 a.m./ Turn the key in the John’s Journal Toyota Camry and hit the road.

7:52 a.m./ Arrive at Wayzata High School in Plymouth (miles traveled: 87.6).

The Trojans won Class 2A state championships in girls and boys cross-country last year, after which girls coach Dave Emmans was named girls cross-country coach of the year by the National High School Coaches Association.

Boys coach Bill Miles, who began his cross-country coaching career 45 years ago at Cretin High School and has been at Wayzata for 39 years, welcomed 140 boys and five assistant coaches to the first day of workouts. With those large numbers, it was no surpise that Day One logistics included eight color-coded clipboards that carried various informational categories.

“It’s a new start, obviously,” Miles said. “It’s exciting to see all the kids and sort of thrilling to see the new kids, the kids who haven’t been here before. You hope that they end up having a four- or six-year high school experience for a lifetime of running and being part of that running community. It’s very fun that way.

“It’s like the first day of school. It’s a new start and everybody can relate to that.”

9:02 a.m./ Arrive at Minnetonka (miles traveled: 101.8).

The girls soccer team is practicing on one of the schools’s four artificial-turf fields. Coach Jeff Hopkins -- whose team won the 2A state championship last season – and his assistants are watching juniors and seniors in the tryout phase of the preseason. Twenty-nine players are wearing numbered jerseys, playing seven-on-seven on two shortened fields as the coaches make marks on clipboards.

The Skippers’ practice began at 8 a.m. and ends at 9:30. They will return later in the day for another workout. Before they depart, Hopkins leaves them with a few brief messages: “Have a passion and be able to compete.” And “We want you to have an impact on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”

“We’re really excited,” Hopkins told me as we chatted about Day One. “It’s an opportunity for the kids to come in, and we look for kids who are passionate to be here. I always tell the girls on the first day, ‘The best job you can ever have is to play soccer and be with your friends.’

“I think the expectations are high. But I always say that we have a whole different team each year. The expectations are that we continue to try to be competitive and try to develop players and also try to win.”

Rebekah Thoresen, one of the seniors on the team, said, “The total goal would be to win state again. That’s like a total dream of everyone. Even though we won last year, winning it two times would be the best gift ever in our senior year.”

10:16 a.m./ Arrive at Southwest Christian High School in Chaska (miles traveled: 119.8).

The Stars won the Class 1A state volleyball championship last year with a team dominated by a superb senior class. On Day One, 29 girls (ninth-graders through seniors) are on the court with coach Greg Sayuk. The first day of practice means working on more than volleyball skills, however.

“On Day One every year we spend a lot of time talking about expectations; what the coaches expect of the players and more importantly what the players expect of each other,” Sayuk said. “We kind of have three things that we’re looking for. One is represent the program; two is love everybody else first, making sure you put your teammates before yourself; and the third thing is personal responsibility.”

Sayuk and his wife Kari were expecting the volleyball season to be interrupted by an important event: the birth of their first child. The due date was Sept. 1, but Dominik Sayuk chose his own birthday, arriving five days before practice began.

11:47 a.m./ Arrive home, grab some lunch and get some other work done (miles traveled: 152.3).

3:45 p.m./ Arrive at South St. Paul (miles traveled: 171.7).

Everything was different on this practice field. This wasn’t Day One for the Packers but Day Six; they will play a Zero Week game against Chanhassen and began practice a week early in order to do so. They were wearing full pads and playing full-contact football. This was spirited, this was up-tempo.

One of the quarterbacks lined up behind center and shouted “Ninety-Eight! Ninety-Eight! Milwaukee!” The ball was snapped and the pads popped. Head coach Chad Sexauer exhorted the defense, “Eleven helmets to the football!”

“For us it’s been five kind of fun days, enjoying and talking about kids and the great things they’re doing,” Sexauer said. “And then Day Six becomes kind of that contact thing, and four or five kids who were off your radar, all of a sudden they put pads on and they pop onto your radar.”

South St. Paul has one very un-secret weapon in assistant coach Paul Miller, a 1968 Packers grad who coached Apple Valley to three big-school state titles in 16 years, is a former Packers head coach as well as a head coach on the collegiate level at St. Olaf, Hamline and Minnesota-Crookston.

“He’s that Russell Crowe, Beautiful Mind,” Sexauer said. “He just has that ability; he thinks football and lives it and is always doing what’s best for kids. What a mentor for me. I’ve learned so much from him.”

That’s what Day One and Day Six and every day to come is all about for every team. Learning, having fun, doing what’s best for kids.

5:01 p.m./ Home sweet home (miles traveled 191.9).

--To see a photo gallery from John's Day One visits, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 5
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 191
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

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