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A Day Of Leadership Training In The Granite Ridge Conference
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/30/2015 1:48:07 PM

ST. CLOUD – Wednesday was in important day in the Granite Ridge Conference. An event was held at St. Cloud Cathedral High School: the fifth annual leadership conference for students from all eight member schools.

Administrators at each school selected 20 students to attend, meaning 160 gathered for three and half hours of learning and togetherness (and lunch). The schools in the Granite Ridge are Albany, Becker, Foley, Little Falls, Milaca, Mora, Cathedral and Zimmerman.

The topics were wide-ranging: concussions, social media, leadership, college recruiting, relationships with officials and more. I gave a presentation on social media, with the message that social media is a fantastic tool but it must be used wisely.(During a short break, all 160 students posed for photos with the John's Journal Toyota Camry.)

Cathedral activities director Emmett Keenan told the students that they need to realize how much they have in common. Yes, they compete against each other in athletics, but they are all on similar paths.

“You need to respect what the other person is doing. You need to respect where the other person is coming from,” Keenan said. “When you go to practice today, everybody on the other team is going to practice today. When you go to the game on Friday night or Tuesday night or in December, everybody that you compete against will have worked to get to that same point where you are.

“And believe me, when you respect that you’ll be better, you’ll focus more on what you’re doing and everybody will have a much better time at every one of our events.”

He also told the students that their paths are likely to cross in later years.

“You may end up working for the same company. You may end up teaching in the same school. You may end up in the same job at different schools and work with each other. That is the beauty of athletics and athletic competition.”

Kevin Schlagel, former men’s basketball coach at St. Cloud State, gave an outstanding presentation on what it means to be part of a team, to compete every day and to be disciplined. He first congratulated the students on being selected to attend the conference.

“Obviously somebody saw something in you at your schools that brought you here,” he said.

He used quotes from Alabama football coach Nick Saban, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and others to make some important points.

“Being part of a team is being part of something bigger than yourself,” Schlagel said.

In discussing competition, he told the students to compete every day in every way, reminding them that everyone in every walk of life competes against time, norms, opponents and themselves.

“You’re part of something bigger than yourself,” he said.

Paul Conrad, assistant principal at Albany and a veteran official in several sports, helped the students understand who officials are and why they officiate.

His challenge to athletes was simple: “Make your team and your school better, every day.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 100
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 2,870
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Tiny Runner Makes Giant Impact At The Griak
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/27/2015 10:55:36 AM

A field of 419 girls from 49 teams in 10 different states competed in the Gary Wilson Gold high school girls cross-country race Saturday at the Roy Griak Invitational.

The race was one of four for high school runners and six for collegiate athletes during the 30th annual Griak, one of the nation’s top cross-country events. As that massive army of 419 wound its way around the University of Minnesota Les Bolstad Golf Course, a new name began to emerge on the running scene.

Her name is Grace Ping and she is a seventh-grader competing for Cotter High School in Winona. She turned 12 years old in July. And she astounded the field as well as the high school cross-country world with a dominating victory Saturday.

The astounding facts extend beyond her age. The race was only Grace’s second as a high school athlete and the first time she ran a 5K as part of the Cotter team. And the 5-foot, 80-pound dynamo was a tiny whirlwind of churning legs and arms.

Her winning time was 18 minutes, 12.5 seconds, four seconds ahead of runner-up Judy Pendergast, a senior from Naperville North (Illinois). Placing third was Bismark (N.D.) freshman Mattie Shirley-Fairbairn and fourth was Forest Lake senior Emma Benner.

“It was really fun,” is how Grace summed up the experience. The plan was for her to go with a 5:40 first mile, but she was too fast to hold back.

“Our coach (Mike Costello) who set up our training plan for our team, and my dad, they were like, ‘She could go out in a 5:40 mile.’ And I ended up going out faster than that. I always end up going fast at the start in races.”

She led almost the entire distance, too. Grace had run a race in Stewartville this fall, but it was shortened from a 5K to two miles because of excessive heat (another meet was canceled due to lightning). She is no stranger to running, however, having competed in U.S.A. Track and Field age-group events and other non-school competitions for years.

“She’s been doing fun runs since she was 2,” said her dad, Ryan. “She did her first 5K when she was 8. She did really, really well and fell totally in love with running.”

At the USATF Minnesota Junior Olympic Championships in June, Grace set a national age-group record in the 3,000 meters for 11- and 12-year-olds, winning in 9:56.45.

“She’s been looking forward to this for some time” Ryan said. “She said she wasn’t too nervous because she’s been going to Junior Olympics for cross-country and she’s been in big meets. But my wife and I were kind of nervous because she’d only had one meet in the high school season this year and it was a two-mile.”

Grace was excited to reach seventh grade and finally be eligible to compete on the high school level. She came into Saturday’s race ranked sixth among Class 1A girls cross-country runners, and her aspirations are big.

“That was my goal, to win,” she said of Saturday’s race. Asked about winning a Class 1A state championship this season, she smiled and said, “My goal is to win that, too. I’ll just keep training my best and working my hardest.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 98
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 2,674
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Fifty Years Later, South St. Paul Honors The Heroes of ‘65
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/25/2015 11:55:59 PM

High school athletes are always busy with school, sports and their families and friends. It’s never a bad thing, however, to give them something else to consider: Tradition.

Tradition runs deep and thick at South St. Paul High School, which will send its 102nd graduating class out into the world next spring. Homecoming week was capped Friday night when the Packers improved to 5-1 this season by defeating Tartan 46-30. But for the high school football players, there was much more to Homecoming than one football game.

The Packers spent time with some very special guests who stood in their cleats 50 years ago. The school held an induction ceremony for its athletic Hall of Fame before Friday’s game, and the stars of the show were 32 members of the 1965 football team, which went 9-0 and was ranked second in the state; there were no postseason playoffs back then.

The individual inductees were Frank Arend ’91, Richard Lick ’54, the late Glenn Novack ’70 and Gregg Veldman ’78. Memories were shared and thank yous were delivered by each inductee (in the case of Novack, his family accepted the honor). It was a moving ceremony in the school commons, capped by 32 men wearing white T-shirts that bore their jersey numbers from back in the day. At halftime of the football game, the inductees were introduced to a standing ovation.

Smiles, handshakes, hugs, more smiles and countless photos.

The star of that 1965 team was Jim Carter, who went on play linebacker for the University of Minnesota Gophers as well as the Green Bay Packers. He replaced retired Packers legend Ray Nitschke at linebacker, played in Green Bay from 1970 to 1978 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1974.

When I asked Carter about his high school memories, he smiled and said, “The best kind.”

Packers football coach/athletic director Chad Sexauer worked with Carter in planning the weekend. The 1965 and 2015 football teams had dinner together at the school Thursday evening and the old guys were in the locker room with the young guys before Friday’s game.

“We talk a lot about one of the great strengths of South St. Paul, which is its tradition,” Sexauer said. “We hang onto that pretty closely. So to be able to break bread with those guys last night, and for them to share stories about their experiences in South St. Paul, and the stockyards and a blue-collar town is really special.

“We’re still kind of blue-collar kids. We’re a small city five miles from the capitol, we still have strong traditions, from eastern European immigrants to now it’s Hispanic kids and African-American kids. It’s people who are working and we don’t lose that identity.”

During the Hall of Fame ceremony, 1965 assistant coach Dennis Tetu talked about the team and the season that they all remember.

“Although Jim Carter has got tremendous stats, it took all these guys here to open those holes, to play defense,” he said. “You have to give this whole team credit for it.

“If you watched all those games in that 1965 year, you would see a great tackle by somebody here, a fumble recovery here, an interception here. Everybody pitched in. It was just one great group of players. “

The ’65 team ran the single-wing offense, with Carter and Paul Kenady carrying the ball. Passes weren’t necessary or counted on by the boys from South St. Paul.

“I was about 210 and our offensive line was about 160, 170 but we had a bunch of tough kids,” Carter said. “We just ran power football. We didn’t throw much. We had two double teams on both sides of the holes. We ran for a lot of yards, scored a lot of points and we had a lot of fun.”

Carter, who lives nearby, invited his teammates to his home Friday afternoon. Stories were swapped, tales were embellished, bonds were renewed.

“I told the guys that it was kind of payback for me to throw a party for them and have them here,” Carter said. “I’ve had so many great opportunities in my life. I was a captain at the University of Minnesota, I was a captain in Green Bay. Things like that could not have happened had I not played on this team in South St. Paul. It really changed my life. I got lucky, man.”

--To see a photo gallery from South St. Paul, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 70
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 2,648
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Hasz Sisters: One Final Run At Cross-Country History
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/23/2015 8:41:50 PM

ALEXANDRIA – Wednesday was the first day of autumn, which seemed like a fitting day to sit down with the girls of fall, otherwise known as the Hasz sisters, Megan and Bethany. The breaking news from our interview, conducted late in the school day in the commons area of Alexandria High School, was that the identical twin seniors will become collegiate cross-country and track athletes at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2016.

Until talking with them, I was unaware that they had made a college choice. They had done so in low-key fashion, informing the Gophers coaches that they would indeed accept Minnesota’s offer and telling coaches from other schools – most notably North Carolina and Michigan State – that they were headed to Dinkytown.

There was no news conference, no Tweets (neither of the girls has a Twitter account), not even a story in the local paper, the Alexandria Echo Press. The Hasz sisters are low on drama and low on flashiness. They just run, and run, and run, and run … until they win. (And they also don’t mind poking each other with a joke stick. More on that in a moment.)

They have made a significant mark at the MSHSL cross-country state championships. As eighth-graders in 2011 the sisters finished fourth (Megan) and fifth (Bethany). When they were ninth-graders in 2012, Bethany finished third at state and Megan was sixth. The last two years have been extra special.

In 2013 Bethany won the Class 2A state championship in dominating fashion; Megan was the runner-up, finishing 20 seconds behind her twin. At last year’s state meet the roles were reversed: Megan finished first with a four-second lead over Bethany.

Their farewell to high school cross-country will come at this year’s state meet, Nov. 7 at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Their prep careers will end next spring at the state track meet, where they also have made a lasting impression.

Bethany won the Class 2A 1,600- and 3,200-meter races last spring at state (Megan was injured and did not compete). In 2014 the twins placed second (Megan) and third (Bethany) in the 1,600 and third (Bethany) and fourth (Megan) in the 3,200.

Megan was slowed by a stress fracture in her left tibia last spring and the injury has resurfaced this fall. She raced in the season’s first meet, but pain in the leg came back.

“Right now my goal is to get back into running,” she said, a little frustrated with cross-training and elliptical workouts. “I think I might try running this weekend.”

The twins turned 18 on Sept. 9. Megan is the oldest, having been born 28 minutes before Bethany. Bethany stands 5 feet, 6 inches tall and Megan is 5-4 ½.

They both play the cello in a school orchestra. With a bit of a chuckle they admitted that they don’t practice much and aren’t in any danger of becoming the top cello players in Alexandria.

“Orchestra is pretty fun,” Megan said. Bethany added, “We are very close to the bottom (of the cello players in their orchestra). But we’re close to the bottom of the TOP orchestra.”

When they aren’t running or studying they like to bake or read. “Any kind of dessert, anything chocolate,” Megan said about baking. As for reading, their likes include Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and the Divergent series.

They said the choice to attend the University of Minnesota – 136 miles down Interstate 94 from Alexandria – was what Bethany called “a pretty easy decision.”

Megan said, “We stressed about it quite a bit at first. Then we kind of decided to make it easy for ourselves.”

Roommates since birth, they haven’t decided if they will room together in college. “She’s not that interesting,” Bethany said, looking at her sister with a smile. Megan replied, “Thank you, I appreciate that. I’m not that interesting. That’s true.”

There was also this humorous exchange about the distance from the high school to their home, a route they sometimes run … Bethany: “It’s a couple miles.” Megan: “It’s like four miles.” Bethany: “It’s probably about four, but it’s still not that far.”

And this discussion of trying to be more comfortable during interviews … Bethany: “I like to think I’ve gotten less awkward.” Megan: “You haven’t.”

They began receiving college recruiting letters when they were in ninth grade. They sometimes tried to make their parents nervous by suggesting they would attend different colleges.

“We definitely joked about it,” Megan said. “We joked about it with our parents, just to make it difficult for them. But they knew we wouldn’t go to two different places.”

Megan’s injury has caused some squirming, because it’s hard for any athlete to sit on the sideline while others are training.

“It’s so frustrating,” she said. “I want to be running and training. One of my biggest competitors (Bethany) is training really hard and I can’t.”

“It’s a friendly competition,” Megan added, to which Bethany said, “We’re very competitive. Megan is probably more competitive than I am.” Megan said, “We’re always happy for the other one if they do better.”

That’s indeed what cross-country fans expect to see at the 2015 state meet. Two girls from Alexandria, identical twin sisters, breaking away from the pack and racing to the finish line as the throng cheers them on.

The order in which they’ll finish? It doesn’t really matter.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 68
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 2,608
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Physical Limitations Can’t Limit This Tennis Player
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/18/2015 2:06:27 PM

Allegra TeBrake, a junior at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School, has played tennis since she was in seventh grade. She’s a member of the Jaguars varsity team and she looks just like every other player on the court … until you notice how she serves.

“There was one girl I played last week who was amazed,” Allegra said Thursday after competing in a doubles match with sophomore teammate Mallory Bents at New York Mills. “She said, ‘I’m amazed that you can do that so fast.’ ”

It does happen quickly, and it’s a testament to Allegra’s abilities as an athlete and as an inspiration to others. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was five years old, and her left hand doesn’t operate at full capacity. She swings her tennis racket righthanded; when serving she tucks the racket under her left arm, tosses the ball up with her right hand and then quickly grabs the racket and strikes the ball.

It’s reminiscent of former major league baseball pitcher Jim Abbott, who was born without a right hand yet spent 10 years in the big leagues.

“Without the help of her left hand, she hits backhands, hustles to every ball and never gives up,” said Jaguars coach Katie Kienitz. “It is something truly remarkable.”

Allegra -- who lives with her sister Chandler, 13, and parents Mark and Denise on a farm outside of Glenwood – is a veteran of medical treatments. Her brain tumor was discovered after she had trouble using her left hand and began having bad headaches. She was diagnosed with juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, a rare childhood cancer.

She underwent surgery 10 years ago, in which 90 percent of the tumor was removed. In 2008 she underwent an 18-month regimen of chemotherapy. The treatments meant she lost her hair and experienced weight loss, but she also was able to spend time at a Wisconsin camp for kids with cancer, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation made it possible for Allegra and her family to visit a dude ranch in Montana.

The treatment stopped the remnants of the tumor from growing and chemotherapy was halted for a while. Last December she began taking oral chemo treatments in order to deal with fluid pockets near the brain tumor that were growing and began affecting her left hand. (Allegra, right, is pictured with doubles partner Mallory Bents and coach Katie Kienitz.)

“They took me off (chemo) at the end of August for a few weeks so I could enjoy the state fair and begin school without any side effects or anything,” Allegra said.

“They’re going to be putting me back on a higher dose because they don’t think it’s working. If not, they’re going to take me off at the end of December of this year. There’s a laser surgery they’re putting in at the Minneapolis Children’s Hospital, and I’m one of five kids, I think, waiting for this machine to be put in. Then they’ll go in and laser my fluid pockets, which will kill my brain tumor and it will go away.”

Allegra is an inspiration, and she has spoken about her experiences to groups ranging from her fellow 4H participants to gatherings of outdoor- and hunting-themed organizations.

“I’ve done a few speeches about myself,” she said. “I spoke in front of 300 National Wild Turkey Federation members last winter and shared my story.”

Through 4H, Allegra has shown llamas and goats, and she is a state ambassador for a 4H project called Minnesota State Shooting Sports and Wildlife. She is applying to become a national ambassador and will be doing training in that capacity either in California or in Minnesota early next summer.

On the tennis court, it didn’t take long for Allegra to figure out how to hit a serve.

“I kind of played around with how I served for a few weeks until I kind of got it down,” she said. “I just like to compete against the other people. And the bus rides and stuff are really cool with the girls. There’s a lot of team bonding that goes on between us because we’re all about the same age. We’ve become closer as a team.”

Kienitz, a second-grade teacher and first-year coach, called Allegra “an amazing person inside and out. … she has never had a complaint about anything. She has a different perspective on all that she does and she doesn't let her disability faze her. She has been a great source of positivity, courage, and leadership on my team. She is truly a remarkable person.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 46
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 2,252
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Rookie Cross-Country Runner Really Stands Out
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/16/2015 12:58:50 PM

Bodey Behrends stands out in a crowd. The good-natured, popular senior at Jackson County Central was named the Huskies’ homecoming king last week and everyone enjoys his company.

But he really, really does stand out in a crowd. That’s because Behrends stands 6 feet, 9 inches tall. He’s a top-shelf basketball player who will continue his hoops career on the NCAA Division II level at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S. D., after graduating.

He added a second sport this fall, one in which he – yes – stands out. Seeing a 6-foot-9 cross-country runner is a rare sight, but Behrends is indeed a rookie member of the Jackson County Central team. (He's pictured here with teammates Kia Holm and Annika Lilleberg.)

The first cross-country meet he ever witnessed was also the first cross-country meet in which he was a competitor. He runs on the Huskies’ junior varsity squad, which is just fine with him.

“I figured I should probably get in shape,” Bode said after running 5,000 meters at the Titan Invitational in Montgomery. He wants to be in tip-top condition for his senior basketball season as well as for his college career. He towers over most other runners.

While also trying to fit basketball workouts and weightlifting sessions into his schedule, Behrends said he really enjoys being on the cross-country team.

“It’s definitely a lot of work, but I like how everybody is together, for sure,” he said. “Everybody’s so supportive when you’re running and it’s a great atmosphere.”

The styles of running in basketball and cross-country couldn’t be much different, and that’s been an adjustment for Bode.

“Basketball is a completely different kind of being in shape,” he said. “It’s a lot of up and down and cutting, it’s a burst sport. This is a stamina and conditioning sport. It’s getting better. I used to struggle doing the mile, now I can run three miles.”

Jackson County Central cross-country coach Rafe York also is an assistant basketball coach, so he knows Bode well. After another senior basketball player, Jordan Hutzler, decided to join the cross-country team, it didn’t take long for Behrends to take the plunge.

“Jordan started recruiting guys,” York said. “Carter Heinrichs (a varsity runner and basketball player) ran last year, too. I know they’re about basketball first, but they know it’s going to get them in shape.”

Bode, who weighs 190 pounds, is trying to gain more weight for basketball. He said he added 10 pounds over the summer. That’s also when he knew he could be in better condition.

During the AAU basketball season, he said “I realized I started to huff and puff after the first two minutes of the game. I figured I better get in shape.”

Cross-country is a sport in which no one gets cut from the team and every meet and every bus ride can quickly turn into a social affair. Behrends fits right in.

“We have such a great group of kids,” York said. “They take care of business and they have great camaraderie. Bode contributes to that. He’s a fun kid, he’s got his ducks in a row and he helps out a lot.

“We’re working on strategy. Bode’s figuring it out. We have so many new guys and they’re all kind of figuring it out together. They kind of run in a clump and finish together.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 43
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 1,872
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Volleyball: A New Team At The Top And A New Team In 3A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/14/2015 2:07:32 PM

MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota Challenge is indeed a challenge. The volleyball tournament, played at Marshall High School and Southwest Minnesota State University, brings together 32 teams from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota with two days of matches deciding how every team stands, from No. 1 to No. 32.

The identity of the No. 1 team in the 2015 tournament may surprise some people. Lakeville South, a team that has never qualified for a state volleyball tournament, came out on top Saturday in results that were a testament to the wide-open nature of big-school volleyball in Minnesota.

Four teams ranked among the top 10 in Class 3A played in the tournament, as did five other teams that received votes but didn’t crack the top 10 in last week’s rankings. It was no surprise, then, that the final four teams were all from 3A: Top-ranked Champlin Park, No. 3 Prior Lake, No. 4 Lakeville South (pictured) and Wayzata (which received votes).

Prior Lake avenged an early-season loss to Champlin Park by defeating the Rebels in the semifinals, and Lakeville South – which beat defending 3A state champ Chaska in the quarterfinals -- defeated Wayzata in the semis.

In the finals, Prior Lake won the first set 15-25 before South took the next two, 25-23 and 16-14. (In this week’s rankings released Monday, South is No. 1.)

The Cougars’ tournament title may not have seemed likely before the event began, considering that No. 1 setter Sydney Case was sitting on the bench with a broken wrist and the rest of the lineup was jumbled. Emily Hoff has been playing setter, and doing a great job.

“Emily really has never been a setter,” South coach Steve Willingham said. “I can’t say enough about the game she played today. And her teammates have been great, lifting her up. This is a really good win for us.”

A lot of volleyball remains to be played, but the weekend results made it clear that a large group of teams can compete for section and state titles.

“I think we can play with anybody,” Willingham said. “And there were probably not a lot of expectations that we would, but we’re really confident that we can play with any team. And we were fortunate to put ourselves in a place to win all the matches this weekend.

“There are a lot of good teams out there.”

ANOTHER THING TO CONSIDER this volleyball season is Marshall’s move from Class 2A to 3A. The Tigers have qualified for the past 14 state tournaments, a state record they share with Columbia Heights (1985-98).

In the first six years of Marshall’s streak they were in 3A. But they spent eight years in 2A, including state titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013, before moving back to 3A this season.

“Over those years in triple A our kids always kind of had the mentality that it was David against Goliath and they always enjoyed that,” Marshall coach Dan Westby (pictured) said. “Now we’re trying to get that back.”

Marshall always plays one of the toughest schedules in the state. The Tigers defeated Burnsville and Totino-Grace in Friday’s tournament matches before losing to Champlin Park in Saturday’s quarterfinals. They then beat Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (ranked second in 2A) and lost to Chaska to finish sixth in the tournament.

Marshall is ranked 10th in the 3A poll, and “The kids, in their words, didn’t feel like they got a lot of love early in the year in the polls and that sort of thing,” Westby said. “So they’re pretty determined to try and make something happen, which is kind of fun to watch.

“We’ve said that we need to have triple A practices now. We can’t practice like a double A team any more, we have to practice like a triple A team. That means expectations are higher and to our kids’ credit they’ve really done a good job. Hopefully that will continue.”

When the postseason rolls around Marshall will be in Section 2, which is power-packed. The 12-team section includes Chaska, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Prior Lake, Shakopee and Waconia.

“I think it’s undoubtedly the toughest section in the state,” Westby said. “I think just about any one of seven or eight teams could put a streak together and win that thing. It should make for some good volleyball at tournament time.”

If Marshall should survive in the section and advance to a 15th consecutive state tournament, it would be a major accomplishment for a school and volleyball program that has a smaller number of single-sport athletes than many 3A teams.

“They know it’s going to be tough,” Westby said. “I think volleyball has changed a lot in the last 10 years. I think with club volleyball the kids have become more specialized. Our kids don’t do that. The majority of our kids still play multiple sports. That part is going to be tough.”

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

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 33
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 1,796
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

A Great Night, An Entertaining Game (But Stay Out Of The Cemetery)
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/11/2015 11:57:00 PM

DAWSON – There is nothing quite like football in a small town, in a unique setting, on a beautiful autumn evening. Friday night’s game between Minneota and Dawson-Boyd went 3-for-3 on those counts, and the final score was less important than the formula that went into the thing.

--Small town? Check. Both of the teams compete in Class 1A, the smallest level of 11-man football in Minnesota. Minneota has an enrollment of 201 students in the top four grades and Dawson-Boyd comes in at 142. Last season the Minneota Vikings defeated the Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks 28-14 in the 1A Prep Bowl.

--Unique setting? Double check. R.B. Clay Field is bowled in by hillsides on both sidelines and one end zone, meaning fans who park their vehicles early enough – in some cases days early – can sit in comfort and watch the game through their windshields. Twice during Friday’s game the PA announcer had to ask a favor of fans/drivers: “People parked on the hill, please shut off the lights on your car!” (Hash tag: #FridayNightHeadlights.)

The game program also listed some reminders for fans, especially youngsters: “No rough play or tumble games are allowed at football games” and “Students should not be on the softball fields or in the cemetery.”

Indeed, a cemetery borders the northeastern corner of the football field. And since the complex is not ringed by any fencing, people pay for their tickets either on foot or through the windows of their cars as they arrive on the top of the hillside. A second ticket table is located near the cemetery just in case any sneaks try to wiggle through the headstones and save a few dollars.

--Beautiful evening? Oh my gosh, temperatures in the 60s and just enough chill in the air that you needed a jacket.

There was a good amount of expectation for this game, considering the Prep Bowl theme. Minneota came in with a 3-0 record and an average victory margin of 47-7. The Blackjacks were 2-1 after a last-minute loss to Laq qui Parle Valley a week earlier. Friday’s result, a 42-13 Minneota victory, assured the Vikings of retaining their No. 1 spot in the Class 1A rankings while Dawson-Boyd is sure to fall from its spot at No. 10.

At halftime, however, all of that was in doubt. After Minneota took a 7-0 lead on a scoring pass from Alex Pohlen to Kyle Hennen, the Blackjawks surged. Dawson-Boyd quarterback Jess Hansen – who completed 26 of 42 passes for 240 yards – hit Eli Weber for a 3-yard score and Hunter Olson for a 75-yard TD before halftime and the hometown lads led 13-7 at the break.

Vikings senior Garrett Hennen, a bruising running back and an even bruisier linebacker, explained what went on.

“Going into halftime we felt like we hadn’t played as well as we should have in the whole first half,” he said. “We kind of came out slow and they obviously were fired up, probably a little bit upset about last year’s loss to us. We were a little bit on our heels in the first half. At halftime we knew we had to step it up. We did pretty well, I thought, in the second half.”

Yep, outscoring your opponent 35-0 in the second half is doing pretty well.

Give the Blackjacks credit for playing hard and never giving in. As evidenced by Hansen’s statistics, Dawson-Boyd has an explosive offense and receivers were open over the middle all night. But the Blackjacks ran for only 16 yards thanks to Minneota’s swarming defense.

Pohlen completed seven of 15 passes for 157 yards and four touchdowns; one to Bryce Bruner and three to Kyle Hennen (cousin of Garrett). Garrett is an old hand at scoring but Kyle’s touchdowns Friday were the first of his varsity career.

These teams carry leather-bound pedigrees. Dawson-Boyd won a state title in 2011 and was the state runner-up in 2013 and 2014. Minneota brought home state championships in1986, 1987, 1988, 2009 and last year.

Minneota has had to replace four of five starting offensive linemen this season, and the new guys looked solid Friday. Dawson-Boyd had a bunch of seniors last year. When I asked coach Cory Larson what his team lost from last season he summed it up quite nicely: “Everything but our underwear.”

The Blackjacks have only six seniors and five juniors on the roster, and using freshmen and sophomore to fill important holes can be a challenge. “At times we may have seven freshmen and sophomores on the field,” Larson said.

The fact that these two teams -- which are 37 miles apart and annual conference and now district rivals -- met in the 2014 Prep Bowl is a testament to the quality of football in southwestern Minnesota.

“I think every area of the state has good, competitive teams. Some areas have a little bit more,” said Minneota coach Chad Johnston. “I think we’ve taken pride in the fact that we’re usually represented well in the state tournament and teams that get there usually do well.

“There are good kids down here, they work hard, some good farm kids, that kind of stuff, and good coaches. There are so many things that come into play in these programs. The communities have to commit, the schools have to commit. Once you start getting some success, that tradition comes into play.”

That’s exactly what was on display on Friday.

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

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 17
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 1,598
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Thinking Back To Fourteen Years Ago This Week
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/9/2015 11:14:00 AM

I’ll always remember where I was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I had an appointment to speak to a class at Bloomington Jefferson High School, and I turned on the radio at home as I was getting dressed for the day.

There was talk of something bad happening in New York City. I turned on the TV in the kitchen and saw a big black smoldering hole in the side of one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. A plane had apparently struck the building, but nobody knew anything more than that. Before long another aircraft blasted into the other twin tower.

I drove to Bloomington Jefferson, arriving a few minutes early. I listened to the radio in the car for as long as I could and then walked into the school and was escorted to the room where the Sports Literature class was meeting. There were televisions in the classrooms, but because of construction work in the school none of the TVs were working. I told the class everything I had learned from listening to the radio, and then we were all in blackout mode.

After the class period ended, I drove to the Star Tribune building in downtown Minneapolis. Like everyone else in the newsroom, I watched the scenes on television. The Pentagon was on fire … a plane had apparently gone down in Pennsylvania.

Fast-forward a few years and I was back at Jefferson, writing about a memorial stone that had been installed at the school in honor of former Jaguars quarterback Tom Burnett, who died when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. I also wrote about former Blake linebacker Gordy Aamoth, who died in one of the twin towers on Sept. 11. The stadium at Blake now bears his name and a twisted beam from the World Trade Center is on display at the stadium.

In the Sept. 14, 2001, edition of the Star Tribune, I wrote a column under the headline “High school sports can help the healing.” I had spoken with people at Colorado’s Columbine High School as well as Osceolo High School in Wisconsin, where a traffic accident had claimed twin brothers a few weeks before Sept. 11. That column seemed to resonate with readers at the time, and to this day people occasionally will mention it to me. I have heard from a few people who say they saved that column, and they read it every day as Sept. 11 comes around. That is equally touching and humbling.

Here is that column as it appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sept. 14, 2001…

High School Sports Can Help The Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Was A Night To Celebrate In Jordan
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/6/2015 1:41:39 PM

JORDAN – The biggest play of Friday night’s football game here was a short pass. The ball had some wobble on it but the receiver timed his route and made the grab with ease. The pass landed in the soft hands of Jordan junior quarterback Zach Kes after it was launched by a veteran athlete named Dick Ames.

As the two shook hands, Jordan superintendent Matt Helgerson said – with the assistance of the stadium sound system – “I declare Ames Field officially open.” A big cheer rang out from the fans filling the grandstand and standing along the fence line, because that declaration was huge and long-awaited.

Dick Ames (pictured) founded his own construction company in 1962, and Ames Construction now has offices all over the U.S. and in Canada. That same Dick Ames, a civic-minded resident of Jordan for 48 years and counting, donated the funds to transform a run-of-the-mill grass playing field into one of the showplaces for Minnesota high school sports.

Artificial turf, a new scoreboard, a new building to house ticket windows and concessions, new fences and a freshening up of the grandstand structure; the ballpark figure for the cost of the new ballpark is $1 million. You could tell how much the citizens of Jordan appreciate Dick Ames by the thunderous cheers that went up to the heavens during a pregame ceremony before the Hubmen played Belle Plaine … and you could tell how much Dick Ames appreciates Jordan by what he said during brief remarks.

“Probably the most important thing, if we want to be competitive with other communities, we have to have a good school system or young families are not going to move in and make our community grow,” he said.

“Buildings and fields don’t do too much. It’s people. … We have a nice school and athletic field, but it’s going to be the people around it that make things happen.”

Ames is also an important booster for the University of Minnesota and the Gophers football program. Thus, a man named Jerry Kill attended the event. The coach posed for countless photographs and shook every hand in sight.

During the national anthem, fireworks boomed as the crowd sung about bombs bursting in air. And after the game (a 37-17 victory for the unbeaten Belle Plaine Tigers), more fireworks closed out a remarkable evening.

The idea of revamping the football field (which also is now used for a new sport in Jordan: soccer) came after voters had approved the building of a new middle school. A master plan for facilities was put together, and one of the “wish list” items was artificial turf for a field that had taken regular poundings due to rain and a heavy rotation of use by various teams.

As Jordan activities director Jeff Vizenor said, “The feeling was ‘Why not turf?’ ”

Ames was approached and presented with the idea, and it didn’t take him long to say yes. Ames Construction employees did the excavation in preparing the site for turf.

“He’s been an awesome friend of the program,” Vizenor said. “We’re so lucky to have him. It’s been a really neat experience.”

Jordan first fielded a high school football team in 1907. Ames Field – or its predecessor on the same site, to be exact – was dedicated in September 1984, 31 years ago. Ames told the crowd, “In 1984 I personally did most of the work on this field out here.”

During the dedication, Helgerson said, “Jordan is a fantastic community. Those of us who live here know it’s a great place to raise a family and to allow others to compete. But it’s also a great place to come together. As we all know, strong communities come together to lift one another up during difficult times and they also gather to celebrate successes, triumphs and exciting events. Tonight, we gather to celebrate and show appreciation.”

Jordan school board chair Deb Pauly (also a member of the MSHSL board of directors) summed things up nicely in speaking to the crowd.

“Tonight is not only about celebrating the completion of this great stadium, far from it,” she said. “What we are celebrating is a long history in Jordan of support for our youth through our passion for sports and providing opportunities for our youth.

“Think of the thousands of youth who have set foot on this very field over the years, those who will tonight and the thousands who will in the future. Athletics are an integral part of the total education program here in Jordan. Each of you here tonight, and at every single event, are an important part. Your role as a player, a coach, a manager or a spirited fan makes a difference in fulfilling the mission of the Jordan public schools, which is to inspire a caring community, to ignite learning, innovation and success for all.

“We celebrate not only our youth as athletes, we celebrate the skills, values, teamwork and lessons they will have and have learned on this very field. Lessons that will help shape them into productive, strong, community-minded, caring adults who will keep this spirit going forever.”

Well done, Jordan.

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

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 15
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 1,286
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

A Hot Night, A Slippery Football And A 40-0 Final
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/3/2015 11:54:19 PM

MONTGOMERY – As I chatted on the phone Wednesday with Fairmont football coach Mat Mahoney, our conversation ended with me offering my keys to the next day’s game, which the coach repeated: “Hydrate and hang on to the football.”

The hydration half of the equation worked out for the Cardinals on Thursday night at Tri-City United. The hanging on to the football part? Not so much.

Fairmont lost the ball on turnovers six times and had a punt blocked, which gave the talented TCU Titans all the opportunities they needed in recording a 40-0 victory. Both teams came into this Week 3 matchup unbeaten and ranked in the Class 3A Top 10; the Titans are ranked No. 7 and Fairmont is No. 8. The goal for both teams Thursday was to stretch their record to 3-0. For the Titans -- who have a powerful ground game and showed they could throw the ball, as well -- it was mission accomplished.

“We think we have a special group,” said TCU coach Ken Helland. “We have nine starters back on offense and nine starters back on defense. Tonight we played a lot of kids, even in the first quarter. We think we have a lot of guys who can play.”

This was the first time these two teams had ever met on the football field, even in the days before TCU was created four years ago when the schools at Le Center and Montgomery-Lonsdale merged. The Cardinals and Titans are among 28 teams assigned to the South Central District; both are among 10 teams in the South Central’s Red Division.

Fairmont opened the season with victories over Blue Earth and Jordan. The Cardinals’ other regular-season opponents are Marshall, St. Peter, Worthington, Albert Lea and Waseca. Tri-City United, which had defeated Sibley East and New Ulm to open the season, also will meet Worthington, Albert Lea, Belle Plaine, Marshall and Jordan.

Once the postseason arrives, Fairmont will be in Section 3 and Tri-City United in Section 1.

This year’s move to district football scheduling has been a much-needed change for Fairmont and many other schools all over the state.

“When I first took over nine years ago we played Lennox, South Dakota, West Central (in Hartford), South Dakota, and we made some trips,” said Mahoney. “When we were in the (six-team) South Central Conference we had to find three nonconference games every year.

“I think (district scheduling) is a great thing statewide. The other side of it is nobody has to travel crazy distances. Two hours or less, that’s no big deal.”

Fairmont’s trip to Montgomery was the Cardinals’ longest of the regular season at 87 miles one way (or about 90 minutes).

For Tri-City United, the new format means more travel but also brings better competition.

“We were one of the fortunate teams,” Helland said. “We had an eight-game schedule and we didn’t have any problems. I kind of like playing these different teams, but the only thing I don’t like is our travel probably quadrupled over what it was before. We go to Marshall and we go to Worthington; I don’t have anything against playing those teams.

“One good thing that I do like is we play all teams that are in our class or above. In the Minnesota River Conference, half the teams were in our class and the other four were below us. Hopefully this makes us tougher and prepares us a little better for the playoffs.”

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

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 13
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 1,230
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Old Dutch Awards Return For the Fourth Year
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/1/2015 10:24:06 AM

In partnership with Old Dutch and WCCO-AM 830, the MSHSL is proud to sponsor the Old Dutch Quality Athlete of the Week award for the fourth consecutive year. The Old Dutch Quality Athlete of the Week award honors high school athletes for their contributions as athletes, students and community members.

We also honor an Old Dutch Quality Team of the Week. The Team of the Week will be recognized on WCCO AM 830 every Tuesday morning at approximately 8:12 a.m. on "The WCCO Morning News With Dave Lee."

Honored individual athletes are recognized on WCCO-AM 830 every Thursday evening at approximately 7:35 p.m. during the "Sports To The Max" show with Mike Max and every Friday morning at approximately 8:12 a.m. during "The WCCO Morning News With Dave Lee." Winners of the Quality Athlete of the Week award will not only be honored live on-air at WCCO-AM 830 and online by the MSHSL and Old Dutch, they will also receive a commemorative plaque for this achievement.

Old Dutch is the proud to recognize the Quality that lives within each of these honored athletes.

Athletes and teams can be nominated by emailing MSHSL media specialist John Millea at jmillea@mshsl.org

Nominations for athletes should include the following ...

--Student's name, school and grade.
--Athletic accomplishments during the past week. Please offer detailed statistics.
--Information about the student's academics and/or community involvement.
--A photo of the student.

Nominations for teams should include a summary of what the team accomplished during the week and a team photo or school logo.

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