John's Journal
Shutdown Diary: Sports Teaches Us To Prepare For The Road Ahead3/27/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, officials, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at jmillea@mshsl.org

Hey John,

I’ve been reading the stories and processing all of the ideas conveyed by those voicing their opinions and thoughts. I think everyone has valid points and also some great food for thought. These are strange and different times that we live in, so everyone has a thought or opinions about the world we live in today and wants to be heard. That’s what is great about our country, we all have a voice and there is no right or wrong about this subject. So here is mine …

Sports has been in my life ever since I can remember. Either playing, coaching or producing sports for TV. I’ve covered the Super Bowl, the Olympics, Final Fours and World Series. The Stanley Cup, major fights in Las Vegas and All-Star games in 13 different cities. But what I’ve really enjoyed has been producing the Minnesota State High School League Tournaments; through 16 years and 782 state tournament games, meeting all those involved, especially behind the scenes as well as the coaches and players and families and communities that have put their heart and soul into every game. This is the last vestige of pure athletics. There are no big-money contracts, no commercials or endorsements waiting for any student-athlete; just the chance to say "I played in the state tournament” or “We won a state title” and doing so with your friends. But also, along the way, no matter what role you play … you’re learning and preparing yourself for the road ahead, which is what sports teaches us.

I hate that seniors and other team members don’t get to finish out a season or play that final game before moving on. I feel for parents who watched their child’s last high school game, knowing there are no more cheers from the stands or they didn’t get to see them cut down the nets or pour Gatorade all over their coach. So many things that we’ve become accustomed to, they just seem like a rite of passage. But these are not the same days we grew up in. Things are different now. Times always change and we move forward. It’s called a learning experience and we all have to learn from life and move forward.

While it’s just awful that we didn’t get to finish the winter season, it’s time for our children, our friends, neighbors and ourselves to learn the new normal. There are those who are hoping to stay healthy, others who are self-quarantined, and most of us are just trying to stay sane and hoping the economy doesn’t go bust.

I’ve witnessed so many life lessons and I’m only 57 years old. I remember Vietnam, Watergate, gas lines, the Berlin Wall, Rodney King, the O.J. Trial, 9-1-1, the conflict in the Middle East and now COVID-19. We didn’t like any of them, but we need to learn from them and we need to teach our children that life sometimes isn’t fair. So no matter what sport you played, coached, watched or cheered for, now is the time to think about what we can do to move forward and learn the new normal. Because if we don’t learn from history … we’ll repeat history.

Dennis Silva
Executive Sports Producer
KSTC-TV Channel 45

Shutdown Diary: Why We Need Football Now More Than Ever3/26/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, officials, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at jmillea@mshsl.org

The past weeks have produced developments at the speed of light. The threat that we are confronted with is global and largely invisible. The response to this threat has been dramatic, necessary, and not without fear or panic. It is times like this that we need football more than ever.

As we continually see depleted shelves at local stores and people buying multiple years’ worth of toilet paper and hoarding essential goods, one thought continually crept in my mind: how would this look if we all realized that we are on the same team fighting the same enemy? Unfortunately, that enemy is often looking at us in the mirror.

Football has long been valued as a game that teaches life. This is no different. We coach this game and teach young people what it means to be on a team, what tangible sacrifice for others and the greater good looks like. We need more of that right now. We need individuals to understand that this whole event is so much bigger than any one of us.

When an offensive lineman selfishly acts on their own to benefit on any given play, the entire play fails. When defenders abandon their gap, it compromises the integrity of the unit. What we are seeing playing out all over our country now is just that; actions that benefit the individual and abandon the rest of the team. We all must do what needs to be done to protect our families and loved ones. That can still be done in a manner that benefits all. We all win when we all win.

What we need now is more people who understand that we are all in this together; that our actions impact those around us in innumerable ways. We need to demonstrate the values that football teaches now more than ever: sacrifice for the greater good, putting off short-term desires for long-term results. And we need to do this together.

I can’t help but think what our current situation would look like if more had learned these values and demonstrated them on a daily basis. We need football now more than ever and even more when this current situation subsides. We need more individuals who are willing to give of themselves for something bigger; individuals with empathy and compassion who realize that we are all on the same team. We need individuals who, because of love for each other, are willing to do the hard thing instead of the easy thing.

There’s no doubt that this is an incredibly difficult time for our players. Many have lost competition opportunities this past winter and will lose their opportunity to compete this spring. This difficulty is eased by the promise of better days. If we all do what is needed and not what is easy, those better days will come sooner rather than later.

Greg Spahn
Head football coach
Grand Rapids High School
Shutdown Diary: A Speech Coach Says ‘Look At The Positives’3/25/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, officials, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at jmillea@mshsl.org

Good Morning John,

In reading many of your articles regarding sports, I felt it was a time to bring up other activities that have a major influence on our young men and women … speech. I have been coaching speech for nearly 20 years (18 at Mankato Loyola) and after a two-year hiatus decided to return to coaching at St. Clair High School, a school that has not had a speech team for over a decade.

With all of the learning curves to be thrown at me in starting up a new team, this one has been the most disheartening, COVID-19. With Sub-Sections around the corner all of this came to a realization as students were sending me messages about what was going to happen with the season. Of course my reaction was to simply say, "It is out of our hands at this time, but we hope your first season can be salvaged.” We can see that this, sadly, is unlikely.

That was over a week ago when this was all coming to light and the unknown was there. I only have one senior on my team, so the other team members will have their chance at a postseason in coming years, but it still saddens me to think of this first season for him as well as the other team members that their first taste of speech came to an abrupt halt. Then I began thinking about why I coach speech, to teach these young people a life skill that can NEVER be taken away from them.

My senior may not have gotten a chance to advance in the postseason, but he has certainly learned a skill that will help him in the remainder of his life. I have also received encouraging words from younger members, specifically a seventh-grader, thanking me for all the work that myself and my coaches have put in throughout the year. This also triggered a reaction to not dwell on the negative impacts of this situation we are all facing, but to look at the positives. Reach out to others to let them know the positives and to thank them for the hard work that was put in, even though the outcome that you had hoped wasn’t reached. A simple “Thank You” goes a long ways to brighten up a dim situation.

So, for those students who are reading this, reach out to your coaches and thank them for the life lessons that they have taught to you. Coaches, reach out to your other coaches, administration (without ours at St. Clair we would not have a speech team), and students that have also taught you many lessons along the way!

Doug Smith
Head Speech Coach
St. Clair High School
Shutdown Diary: This Can't Be The End For My Seven Seniors3/24/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at jmillea@mshsl.org

Hi John,

I appreciate the idea of having spring sports participants, coaches and administrators write you about their thoughts and feelings at this time. I know you will get more emails than you could ever use, but this is the outlet that I've needed to put some of my thoughts on paper (or computer screen).

As a softball coach, I'm feeling so many different emotions as we go through something that none of us could have ever imagined. Being a teacher and coach in Becker, this all became real for us as we cheered on our girls basketball team in their quest to reach their second straight state championship game. After watching our Bulldogs pull out a close victory over a feisty Alexandria team on Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting at home working on lesson plans for my sixth grade class so I could attend the semifinal game on Thursday afternoon when my phone started buzzing with news of the last-minute postponement of NBA games. This really got me thinking about covid-19 having an impact on our country, communities, schools and teams.

By the time I arrived at Williams Arena on Thursday afternoon, they had announced that only a limited number of fans would be allowed to attend games on Friday and Saturday. As the Bulldog offense caught fire and built a huge halftime lead, my phone continued to buzz with news of the NCAA tournaments and NCAA spring seasons being canceled. I can honestly say that I sat in complete disbelief through the entire second half of the Bulldog victory. It became obvious to me that this was going to have a big impact on our spring sports season.

By Friday morning it had been announced that there would be no championship rematch with DeLaSalle for our girls basketball team and deep down inside I feared that our softball season would be next. When I showed up for practice on Friday afternoon, it was clear that my team, and especially my seniors, had a sense of fear and disbelief. We talked as a team about what was known, what was unknown, and I tried to reassure them that I would get them information as soon as I had it.

About 10 minutes later, my assistant came into the gym with the news that there would be no scrimmages or games until at least April 6. To be honest, this hit me as the best of the options I had running through my head. Yes, this meant that we would have to cancel our dome scrimmages. Yes, it meant that our season-opening trip to Wisconsin Dells on April 3-4 was not going to happen. But it also meant that our season wasn't over! I pulled the girls back together and gave them the information. You could hear an audible sigh of relief from our seniors. They proceeded to have a great practice and began coming to me with ideas for how we could get reps without bringing in another school (including challenging our baseball team to a scrimmage!)

Then Sunday morning happened. At 9:40, as word began to leak on social media that Governor Walz was going to close down schools for two weeks, one of my captains (and Ms. Softball candidate), Corrie Wiese, texted me and asked, "how can I run captain's practices the next two weeks." After listening to the governor's message, I knew that I would have to break the news that there would be no practices (captains or otherwise) during this time. Once again we would be in limbo as we waited for more information. And that's where I sit tonight, in limbo. My heart hoping that my seven seniors haven't played their final high school softball game, but my head telling me that they likely have.

This is my 17th year as a head softball coach and this unimaginable sequence of events would be painful in any year, but this may be the toughest year of all. After finishing 20-7 and fourth in AAA state last year, our team returns all but two starters and a whole group of talented underclassmen ready to play a larger role. Our girls cruised through an undefeated dome ball season. We have one of the best players in the state, pitching depth that almost any team in any class would be jealous of, and a deep lineup of talented hitters. But more important than all of this talent, this group of girls showed me last year that they are probably the most unselfish collection of student-athletes that I've ever coached. Despite all of the talent, I never dealt with players hanging their heads or parents complaining due to a lack of playing time or not getting to play their favorite position. They all wanted one thing, to play in Becker's first-ever state championship game. They were willing to sacrifice their own personal goals to get back to North Mankato and make another run at a championship.

I've spent the past few months watching what has happened in China, Italy, and to people across the globe. I've spent the past week watching all those same things begin to happen right here in the United States. I've spent the past two days helping sixth graders and their parents pick up their school supplies and prepare for the possibility of distance learning. Each night I talk to my wife, an RN at a nearby hospital, about what's coming next. I know this is so much bigger than high school sports. I know that this is an opportunity to teach my team about making sacrifices for the greater good and putting others before themselves. However, as I sit here typing my thoughts, I keep coming back to one thought. This can't be the end for my seven seniors, many of whom I started coaching when they were 12U players falling in love with softball. They deserve one more season of miserable indoor practices, laughter-filled bus rides, tough losses and thrilling victories. They deserve one more chance at North Mankato.

Thanks again for letting me vent!

Jason Baune
Becker High School softball coach
Shutdown Diary: We’ve Been Prepared For This3/23/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at jmillea@mshsl.org

Yellowjacket Coaches, Advisors, Students and Parents,

I read an article today from the Positive Coaching Alliance that struck me and is referenced in some of my following thoughts.

It is certainly a time of unrest and unknown for all of us! As we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, with school closures, businesses closing or changing their mode of operation, and all of us being asked to do our part through social distancing or quarantine, we face a number of challenges and opportunities at the same time.

In our Yellowjacket Activities/Athletics world recently, it’s been difficult to navigate all the cancellations and postponements. It’s hard to wonder about whether or not we will have a tournament game, or even a State Tournament at all. We’ve been told to limit crowds only to see events cancelled. We wonder aloud if we will even have our spring activities season. It’s been hard for our students, especially seniors, who have had seasons abruptly end, practices suspended, and competitions canceled. It’s been frustrating for coaches and advisors to watch their students have to deal with disappointment, dashed dreams, and the unknown. We’ve seemingly had plans and preparations change almost hourly in the last week!

But I want to encourage you in a difficult, unprecedented, and historical time.

I have found myself thankful in all of this, knowing that we have tremendous coaches and advisors. You all do so well at seeing the big picture and understanding perspective. As ironic as it sounds in this suspended time, this is where students may need your coaching and connection more than ever. This is where we focus on our true purpose, not wins and losses, or how we finish in a competition. We are reminded about the relationships, the lessons, and the character qualities that you teach each day to our young men and women. This is our chance to encourage and use some of those best life lessons like: Supporting one another; Leaning on each other as teammates; Being servant-leaders in our community; and Facing adversity together in order to overcome challenges and to achieve goals.

I am also thankful for our students. These are young men and women who make us all proud in so many different ways! Students, this is a time to do what you do best ... face your new "opponent” in front of you (COVID-19) and take on the adversity and challenge! Use your skills and gifts and the things your coaches have taught you, like being resilient, controlling what you can control, performing well, and knowing your role.

We are all being called to a different kind of competition of sorts right now. It’s a “bigger-picture” competition. We are being asked to perform a difficult, civic responsibility for our own health and the health of our neighbors in our community and world, and to live up to that challenge of isolating for a bit. This is an important and serious task. We’ve been prepared for this. Our coaches and advisors have taught us well about resiliency, challenges, planning, hard work, overcoming obstacles, and achieving success.

It’s an interesting and difficult time. It’s still a time to coach and be coached. We can do this!

Go Jackets!
Erin Anderson
Activities Director
Perham-Dent Public Schools