John's Journal
The Best Of John’s Journal No. 1: Hope For Henry7/28/2017
The countdown is complete and here is my favorite John’s Journal story from the 2016-17 school year. The story, posted on Feb. 8, is about a young boy named Henry who is the grandson of Annandale High School boys basketball coach Skip Dolan. As detailed below, Henry was born with heart defects and he and his family faced many daunting obstacles.

This story is my favorite because it combines so many great aspects of high school activities: Competition, community support, taking care of each other, working toward goals that extend beyond winning.

At the time the story was posted, Henry was nine months old and had never left the hospital. The postscript to the story is all positive, as you can see by going to “Hope for Henry Charles” on Facebook.

There were a total of 364 posts on John’s Journal between the first day of practice for fall sports in 2016 through the end of spring state tournaments in 2017. Here is the No. 1 story …

A Special Night In Annandale: Hope For Henry

ANNANDALE – Two comments overheard during a grand Tuesday evening of basketball in a packed gymnasium do a pretty good job of telling the story.

Quote No. 1: “This is just a game. There’s a little kid fighting for his life.”

Quote No. 2: “Those were two dang good teams going at it.”

Both quotes are accurate. These were just games, with the girls and boys basketball teams from Hopkins heading to Annandale for a varsity doubleheader. The overall focus was on a little boy who is in the minds and hearts and prayers of everyone who attended.

Henry Dolan is the grandson of Annandale boys basketball coach Skip Dolan. Henry was born with heart defects and given a two percent chance to survive for a week after birth. That was nine months ago. Henry, who has undergone a heart transplant, remains hospitalized and hopes are high for his long-term health. But the road will be long for Henry, his parents, Sam and Mollie Dolan, and his two big sisters. (Skip is pictured here with the Hopkins girls team.)

There were signs on the gym walls proclaiming it a “Night of Hope.” Hope For Henry t-shirts, hats and bracelets were sold. The teams wore Hope For Henry shirts during warmups.

The girls game was, well, one-sided. The Hopkins girls are the top-ranked team in Class 4A and ran their record to 22-0 with a 79-35 victory over the Class 2A Cardinals. The boys game was not like that at all. Here were the mighty Hopkins Royals, longtime power in Class 4A and currently ranked No. 6 in that class with a pregame record of 14-5, and the Annandale Cardinals, unranked in Class 2A and holding a record of 15-3.

Between warmups and tipoff of the boys game, Skip Dolan and Cardinals senior guard Connor Magrum each spoke to the crowd.

Magrum and his teammates have made Henry part of the team. He is an honorary Cardinal, with a number 13 jersey dedicated to him (that’s the number Henry’s dad wore). The players all wear Hope For Henry wristbands, which they hang on a makeshift wooden tree during games. The Hopkins players did something special, too, writing personal notes to the Dolans and hanging them on the tree before warmups.

“Tonight we would like to draw attention to a special little boy who has been in our hearts since long before the season began,” Connor said. He stressed the importance of organ donation, saying, “One way we can all be heroes in our community and beyond is by considering becoming an organ donor.”

Coach Dolan thanked the Hopkins teams for coming to Annandale, and thanked all the people behind Tuesday’s events. It was clear that Skip and his family have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.

“We are truly, truly thankful to this community, to this student body, to this school district,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder of a community and what you’ve done.”

The longest ovation of the night came when Skip introduced Sam and Mollie, who were in the stands while grandma was with Henry for a few hours.

“Imagine being told that there’s a two percent chance at birth that your child will live the first week,” Skip said. He ended his comments with this: “Let’s play basketball!”

And oh did they play basketball. The Royals shot the lights out early and led 29-11 midway through the first half. The Cardinals began finding the range and were only behind by five at halftime, 45-40.

The halftime entertainment included a free throw contest. The hopefuls paid a dollar for the chance to sink a shot and win a two-liter jug of pop. The 50-50 raffle winner also was announced. The pot was north of a thousand dollars and the winner would take home more than $500. But, as expected, the holder of the lucky ticket simply said, “keep it all” and the money went toward Henry’s care. Huge round of applause.

The boys from Annandale did not waver in the second half. The score was 50-50 with 14 minutes to go and the atmosphere was electric. After that? Bedlam.

A three-point play by Trent Pepper and a three-point field goal by Jarod Wilken gave Annandale a 61-57 lead with 8:56 left. The crowd was screaming and that never changed. Joe Hedstrom, Hopkins’ 6-foot-11 junior center, powered to the hoop to give the Royals a two-point edge and Wilken tied it with a layup. There were missed shots and turnovers in the final minutes, and the verdict was finally sealed with Hopkins senior Ishmael El-Amin making two free throws to give the Royals a 72-71 win that they will long remember.

The postgame scene was just as special. There were handshakes and hugs, “thanks for coming” and “wow, what a game!” Skip Dolan posed for photos with Hopkins players and coaches, big smiles on every face. It was truly a night to remember.

Someday, Henry will hear all about it.

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Best Of John’s Journal No. 2: Westbrook-Walnut Grove’s Kate Jorgenson7/26/2017
The No. 2 and No. 3 stories on my list of favorites from the 2016-17 school year are similar. No. 3 was Shan Donovan, who was born without a left arm but thrives as a high school student and athlete. Today I unveil No. 2. Kate Jorgenson, who will be a sophomore when school resumes, has taken tragedy and turned it into inspiration.

Here is Kate’s story, which was originally posted on May 9…

Nothing Stops Westbrook-Walnut Grove’s Kate Jorgenson

WALNUT GROVE – Carter Ross, who teaches sixth grade and coaches football and girls and boys golf at Westbrook-Walnut Grove, offered brief instructions before the golfers practiced one day last week.

“We have to dial in at 150 (yards),” he told the 13 boys and seven girls assembled not on a golf course but on a grassy field behind the elementary school. “Focus on the bump and run for conference and sections in Worthington. No matter how much rain they get, the greens will be as hard as a rock.

“You’re going to have bad shots but you have to recover.”

One of the Chargers golfers epitomizes that philosophy: When something bad happens, you recover, you bounce back, you accept the challenge, you thrive.

Kate Jorgenson probably wasn’t thinking along those exact lines as she worked through the hour-long practice, hitting short irons, then mid-range irons, long irons and finishing with her driver. With each swing, she rotated her right arm in a smooth arc.

Her left arm was not a factor because the ninth-grader does not have a full left arm. Nearly three years ago, Kate was driving an ATV loaded with rocks from the family farm when it rolled over on her left arm. Doctors tried to save the arm before it was amputated above the elbow.

Kate may blush if you call her a miracle. All she wants to do is go to school, participate in her favorite sports (basketball, volleyball, golf, swimming), spend time with her family and friends and be a normal kid.

As Kate waited to be released from the hospital, she told herself, “This isn’t the end of the world. I’ll still be able to play sports, I’ll still be a friend to all my friends.” Yes, she was going to be the same Kate.

“Kate’s just the kind of girl that you want to be friends with,” said her classmate and golf teammate Halle Steen. “She’s fun, she’s nice, she’s good to be around.”

Before practice on this day, Halle helped Kate put her long hair in a ponytail. Other than a few similar small tasks, Kate is self-sufficient. Just ask her mom, Nikki.

“From the beginning, she would get upset with me because I would try to lay out things so it would be easiest for her,” said Nikki, a fifth-grade teacher. “And she would get mad at me: ‘Mom, if I need help I’ll ask.’ And she does. I try not to say too much because she’ll say, ‘Don’t you think I can do that?’ ”

Kate was on the track team as a seventh- and eighth-grader. She’s giving golf a whirl this spring because it’s something new and a sport she can take part in for a lifetime. She wore a long-sleeved t-shirt at this practice, the empty left sleeve billowing as she struck balls. She has a prosthetic arm but it isn’t equipped to grip and swing a golf club.

“It’s actually quite amazing,” Ross said. “She’s done really well at it. It’s an attitude thing.”

Kate’s attitude since the accident has been everything. She hasn’t shied away from strangers, even little kids who look at her and ask, “Where’s your arm?”

“People are usually very accepting and very surprised by what I can do,” she said.

This day’s golf practice was typical for a Wednesday. Men’s league play takes over the Chargers’ home course, Rolling Hills in Westbrook, on Wednesdays so the team hits balls behind the grade school. There’s a grove of pine trees on the left side and a gravel road on the right. Five-gallon buckets of balls are taken out of storage in a bus barn, balls are dumped on the grass and the empty buckets are placed downrange as targets. When a school bus rolls up, headed for the barn, golfers yell “bus!” and no missiles are fired until the coast is clear.
Here, just like everywhere else, Kate is no different than anyone else. At times she is serious, at times she laughs with her friends. Just like any other day. A school dance was held over the weekend, and Kate was Kate; dressed up but with nothing covering her shortened left arm.

“She just owns it,” said Nikki, whose husband Jim manages the family farm. Their son Jack is a senior who also is on the golf team, plays football and stays very busy.

People in the community and well beyond came together after Kate’s accident. Multiple fundraisers were held, including sales of orange t-shirts (Kate’s favorite color) that carried the slogan “Kate’s Kourage.”

Kate has become a role model who inspires others with her tenacity and attitude. She also has been inspired by people in similar roles, including former University of Florida basketball player Zach Hodskins, whose left arm is similar to Kate’s. They met at a summer camp for young people with limb differences; the camp was sponsored by the non-profit NubAbility Athletics Foundation.

At one of those gatherings, Kate met another camper who was becoming a lifeguard. Always an avid swimmer, Kate returned to the pool after her accident. This spring, she will begin taking instruction in becoming a certified lifeguard.

“She doesn’t ever really hold back,” said Nikki. “She says, ‘I think I can do this. Is it OK if I try?’

“We’re very proud of her. It’s pretty amazing. She’s got quite a story to tell.”

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Best Of John’s Journal No. 3: Onamia’s Shan Donovan7/23/2017
We have arrived at the final three stories on my Top 10 list from 2016-17, and No 3 is very special. The story, posted on May 22, is a profile of one of the most amazing people I know. Shan Donovan was born in China without a left arm, and today he is a three-sport athlete and multi-dimensional high school student in a small Minnesota town. The word “inspirational” doesn’t even begin to describe Shan...

One Arm? That’s No Problem For Onamia’s Amazing Shan Donovan

ONAMIA – Shan Donovan was standing near the right-field foul line, playing catch with a teammate before the Onamia High School varsity baseball team hosted Pine City. After a couple of tosses, Shan (his name is pronounced “Shawn”) shouted, “Get a little closer. My arm’s not warmed up yet.”

As the boys got loose, Shan did what he does every day on the ballfield. He caught the ball in the glove on his right hand, flipped the glove off, grabbed the ball in mid-air with his bare hand and tossed it before leaning down to pick up the glove and re-start the process.

The fact that Shan does not have a left arm is no impediment for the Panthers’ sophomore starting catcher. He also plays football and basketball, sings in the school choir and acts in school plays. He is proficient with several musical instruments, including the tuba, trumpet and piano. And he does it all with one arm.

“If you tell him he can’t do it, he’s going to find a way to do it,” said Jason Runyan, Onamia’s head coach for baseball and boys basketball. “He lives the high school life. He’s involved in everything.”

Shan doesn’t know anything different. Born in China without a left arm, he was five years old when he was adopted by Cathy Donovan, a physican in Onamia.

Shortly after arriving in this small town a few miles south of Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota, Shan began getting involved in sports. First came karate and then taekwondo, followed by almost every other activity he could get his hand on.

“He just wants to be involved in everything and that’s how he got into sports,” said Cathy. When asked if Shan is so heavily involved in sports and other activites that he overextends himself, she laughed and said, “No. I get overextended, he doesn’t.”

Playing baseball presents specific challenges to Shan. He uses his teeth to tighten the Velcro strap on his batting glove. But like putting on shin guards and a chest protector, it’s second nature. Crouching behind home plate, he shakes off his mitt, flashes signals to the pitcher, puts the glove back on, catches the pitch and with one shake of his hand the glove flies off, he grabs the ball and throws it back to the mound. When a baserunner attempts to steal, Shan is lightning quick in getting the ball into his throwing hand and firing.

He is a switch-hitter who bats from the right side of the plate when the bases are empty; with runners on he moves to the left side and is likely to put down a bunt, using his speed to dash to first base.

“He has more power from the right side and he’s a lethal bunter from the left side,” Runyan said. “We ask a lot of him, in bunting situations especially. He’s very fast. He just works hard, that’s all there is to it.”

Runyan, who is in his first year at Onamia, admits he thought Shan was kidding when, shortly after Jason arrived in town, Shan told him, “I play catcher.”

“I thought it was a joke, honestly. I did. It wasn’t a joke, obviously. I put him back there at catcher and right away he was good, blocking every ball. What amazed me the most I guess was when the first kid stole, I didn’t know how it was going to go down. I’d seen a little in practice, but it was an instant flip of the glove and he throws.”

To perfect his catching/throwing motion, Shan watched online videos of people who had lost limbs but played baseball or softball anyway, many of them veterans.

“It’s one of those sports that’s pretty complicated because most everybody sees it as a two-arm sport,” he said. “You definitely have to use two arms; catch with one and throw with the other.”

Shan has been fitted with a prosthetic arm. He doesn’t use it, calling it “annoying.” His desire to try new things is a testament to his positive attitude.

“I don’t find really anything challenging, unless there’s absolutely ones where you definitely need two arms to do,” he said. “Most (amusement park) rides, they tell me I can’t ride them because you need to hold on with two hands. But that’s not really a problem. The one I really have an issue with is making friendship bracelets. I’m not a big fan of it and I don’t do it much.”

When his school schedule included a pottery class, he wasn’t thrilled about attempting to create pottery with one hand. In the end, though, he enjoyed the class and discovered he was a talented potter.

Playing mostly junior varsity basketball last winter, Shan didn’t do a lot of scoring but Runyan called him one of the leaders on the JV and the best defensive player. Shan’s basketball practice were sometimes limited because he had to rush off to other activities.

Runyan said, “There were three of four practices where he would come up and say, ‘Hey coach, I’ve got to go practice for the musical’ or ‘I’ve got to go practice with the jazz band.’ I thought, ‘You’re doing it all. You’re livin’ it, man.’ ”

While Shan realizes he is an inspiring figure, he doesn’t outwardly try to portray himself that way. He’s just a high school kid doing what busy high school kids do.

“I go to a camp where a lot of people look up to me,” he said. “I inspire people without realizing that I’m inspiring them. I’m not really trying to do that.”

His mom recalled when Shan helped a group of elementary students work on basketball skills. The kids, most of them righthanded, were less than excited about trying to shoot with their left hand.

“One or two of them were complaining, so Shan gave them a pep talk,” Cathy said.

Shan’s grandparents, George and Shirley Donovan, watched the Onamia-Pine City game in lawn chairs along with their daughter Cathy and the family dog, Flash. (Everybody, including Flash, nibbled on peanuts.)

Shirley talked about seeing a magazine photo of an amputee climbing Mount Everest and asking Shan, “Did you see this?”

To which Shan’s mom quickly interjected, “Don’t give him any ideas.”

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Best Of John’s Journal No. 4: Moorhead Speech Team7/20/2017
I attend the state speech tournament every year. For the 2017 state tournament I focused on one team throughout the day. I chose Moorhead High School for a couple reasons: The Spuds are routinely one of the strongest speech teams in the state and their coach is nationally known. The decision resulted in this story from April 22…

State Speech: A Day In The Life Of The Spuds

“Kaden, how do you feel?”

“You feeling good, Maryn?”

Rebecca Meyer-Larson was checking on her team a few minutes before Friday’s Class 2A state speech competition began at Apple Valley High School. The Moorhead coach knew the hay was in the barn after months of hard work, and she also knew the final day of the season held high expectations.

There are 13 categories in speech, ranging from Creative Expression to Extemporaneous Speaking to Storytelling to Original Oratory. Last year Moorhead went home with a state championship in one category (Izzy Larson and Devon Solwold in Duo Interpretation) and won enough second- through eighth-place medals to share the 2016 team championship with Eagan.

A few days before Friday’s event, Meyer-Larson talked to me about speech and what makes it different from other MSHSL activities.

“It’s not like wrestling, it’s not about getting a pin, it’s not about getting faster,” she said. “It’s so subjective. All you can control is how much you can control; sleep, preparations.”

This is Meyer-Larson’s 25th year as the Spuds coach. (She is on the right in this photo.) In her first year, the team consisted of five students. This year there are 74; 28 of them qualified for state via the Section 8 tournament.

“We always start with, ‘Who do you want to be later in life? What kind of person do you want to become?’ ” she said. “I’m biased of course, but I think this activity is the best at preparing these kids for the future. I’m amazed by their intelligence, their drive, their desire to do good and be good.”

As the Spuds knew, there were no guarantees Friday. Izzy Larson (the coach’s daughter) and Solwold were back to defend their Duo Interpretation title. That category has been a Spud specialty, with Matthew Wisenden and Jordan Hartjen winning state in 2014. Could Izzy and Devon make it three Moorhead Duo Interp titles in four years?

State speech is a torrent of cross-current performance streams. Classrooms are the competition sites, with speakers, judges, room managers, coaches and fans studying maps of the school to find the room and speaker(s) they want to see. In the first three rounds, six speakers are in each room and their lineups change during those rounds so different judges can see them.

Following the first three rounds, the top eight in each category advance to the championship round, with each category viewed by five judges.

In Extemporaneous Speaking, Moorhead’s Bridget McManamon’s first-round presentation centered on President Trump’s relationship with American workers and labor unions. As she made her points while discussing things like NAFTA and jobs in the coal industry, Bridget quoted articles from The Economist, Politico and other sources.

Evyn Judisch -- competing in Creative Expression with a highly entertaining presentation that he authored (titled “Greetings Mr. Ducksworth”) -- sat at a classroom desk waiting for the room manager to start the round. All the speakers dress in business attire; males in dark suits and females in skirts and jackets. Evyn (pictured), with slicked-back hair and large eyeglasses, owned the room as he voiced three characters and physically “became” them. He had seemed small as he sat at the desk but was larger than life during his performance.

In a nearby classroom a few minutes later, Moorhead’s Kaden Moszer was the opposite of teammate Evyn during his Serious Interpretation of Prose speech: “I’m Not a Serial Killer” by Dan Wells. While Evyn made Room 219C laugh, Room 211 was buried in absolute silence as Kaden glared, glowered, muttered, screamed and raised an invisible knife (no props are used).

“By the end of the season they’ve been giving these speeches for a while,” Meyer-Larson said. “It’s fresh every weekend, but we always tell them you walk up to the front of the room and they ought to see in you that you love your words, you love this activity, love your team and represent the activity and your school.”

After three rounds, lists of those who qualified for the championship round were posted on TV monitors throughout the bright, spacious school.

The results, as it turned out, were very good for the Spuds: 16 of them advanced to the final round. That meant 16 medals would be traveling home to Moorhead

The results were announced, with MSHSL speech rules clinician Cliff Janke at the podium. One by one, the eight finalists in each category came to the stage and stood in a line as winners of the eight medals were revealed, from eighth to first.

It quickly became clear that this was going to be Moorhead’s day. Storytelling state champion: “From Moorhead, McKensie Bedore.” Informative Speaking state champion: “From Moorhead, Sarah Schulz.” Serious Interpretation of Prose state champion: “From Moorhead, Noel Kangas.”

The first three categories to be announced resulted in three champs from Moorhead. Meyer-Larson sat in the bleachers with the team, standing, applauding and seeming breathless at times.

The Spuds’ Carolyn Solberg won gold in Great Speeches and teammate Maryn Cella placed third. In Serious Interpretation of Drama, Luke Seidel was second and Kenan Stoltenow was sixth. In Humorous Interpretation, Ariana Grollman finished as a state runner-up and Sophia Klindt was fourth.

The closers came through, too. Izzy and Devon were awarded their second consecutive state championship in Duo Interpretation and teammates Abby Dahlberg and Skyler Klostriech were fifth. Then came the team scores: Moorhead 84 points, Apple Valley 62, and Eagan and Lakeville North sharing third place with 34 points.

For the jubilant Spuds, this had become a day of Non-Extemporaneous Peaking.

“It was definitely kind of a trial to get through it,” Devon said of winning another title with Izzy. “I was really, really eager this year, even more than last year, to just be here. You of course want to do it again but you’ve got to swallow whatever happens. The fact that it went down this way is phenomenal.”

“The reason why these kids are so good is because Minnesota is so good,” said Meyer-Larson. “And that’s because of the Minnesota State High School League, the way they treat these kids. They treat them like rock stars. If you ask any kid here, they believe what they’re doing is every bit as important as what happened at state hockey or state wrestling. Because it is. The high school league does a brilliant job of making these kids feel special.”

After photos, hugs and even a few tears, the day – a remarkable day for the kids who were 250 miles from home -- had ended.

“It’s just so fun,” Izzy said. “One thing my mom says the most is that it’s not about the trophies and how well you do; it’s about the heart and how much passion you have for your speech and your team and sticking together and having an awesome time. And that’s we did. Sometimes it works out.”

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Best Of John’s Journal No. 5: Grand Meadow Superlarks7/17/2017
We have reached the Top 5 stories from 2016-17, and No. 5 comes from a small town that has become synonymous with success in nine-man football. I visited Grand Meadow -- which ended the 2016 season with its fourth consecutive state championship -- for a regular-season game on a brilliant Friday evening in October.

Here’s the story, which was posted on Oct. 3…

In Grand Meadow, Nine-Man Football Is Grand

GRAND MEADOW – When this little town was established during the Civil War era, it took its name from the picturesque prairie landscape of southeast Minnesota. Nowadays, the grandest meadow in Grand Meadow is a field of thick green grass on the eastern edge of town, 120 yards long and 40 yards wide, the home of the best little football team in Minnesota.

The Grand Meadow Superlarks have won the last three nine-man football state championships. They own the longest current winning streak in the state regardless of class, with Friday’s 80-34 victory over West Lutheran extending their run to 41 games. Their last defeat came in October 2013.

Friday’s victory capped Homecoming week, which was filled with the usual array of fun festivities that included themed dress-up days in the K-12 school, float building, an afternoon parade and introduction of Homecoming royalty at halftime of the football game. An unofficial tradition took place very late Thursday evening/early Friday morning when some merry pranksters TP’d the home of head coach Gary Sloan.

His dog, hearing the shenanigans, woke the coach. Sloan flipped on an exterior light “and I saw about a dozen of them out there,” he said with a smile Friday afternoon. “That didn’t even faze them.”

It’s hard not to have fun during autumn in Grand Meadow. Everyone takes great pride in the success of the Superlarks, filling a small set of bleachers and lining up along the fence that circles the field. The town itself is crowded all the time these days, with a growing school enrollment fueled by parents who work in nearby Rochester and Austin and want to raise their kids in a quiet town with a quality school.

The school building is unique: Five windowless monolithic domes that encompass classrooms, cafeteria, auditorium, gymnasium, computer lab and offices. The structure opened in 2002 and is being expanded this fall with the addition of larger gym, locker rooms, workout facilities and four classrooms. Geothermal energy powers the school via 26 miles of pipe under the practice fields a few steps away.

Grand Meadow’s current high school enrollment is 95 students. When the Superlarks won their first-ever state football title in 2013 the senior class consisted of 17 students; a year later that number was 18 and last year it was 29. The district's average current class size is in the upper 30s.

Many nine-man football schools struggle with numbers and some form cooperative teams with other schools in order to keep football alive. The opposite is taking place in Grand Meadow, where growth may push the Superlarks into 11-man football at some point.

“We won’t get to that 11-man number in the next four to five years but we’re getting close,” said Sloan.

Game nights in Grand Meadow include a few special amenities. Seats in a couch located behind an end zone are raffled off; an auction was held at halftime Friday with the game ball selling for $1,200. The press box is a roomy three-story building that seats coaches, video cameras, scoreboard operator and announcer on the top level, while the second story houses four “luxury suites” that also bring in funds.

The long winning streak means every team wants to play its absolute best against the Superlarks, and West Lutheran – the school is in Plymouth, two hours from Grand Meadow – did just that. The Warriors (enrollment 145) and quarterback Ben Beise had 311 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Grand Meadow is a running team, with senior Christopher Bain carrying nine times for 217 yards and three scores and junior Zach Myhre running eight times for 130 yards and one TD.

“I feel like there’s pressure in every game,” Myhre said. “And I know we’re going to get every team’s best effort, no matter who they are, the No. 2-ranked team or the worst team. We’re going to get their best effort.”

Senior Connor King said, “Pressure is obviously there. There’s not much we can do about it other than just play our best and go into every game the same.”

There is a friendly in-house rivalry between graduating classes. Two years ago the senior football players had a career record of 47-6 and last year’s class went 53-3. This year’s seniors have lost only once in 43 games since their freshman season.

“They’re all trying to beat the class in front of them. It’s a friendly competition. These guys are buddies but there’s a lot of bragging rights,” said Sloan, a native of Ellendale who also is a special education teacher, activities director, transportation director and Title IX coordinator for the school district. This is his 24th year as the head football coach.

Grand Meadow’s first trip to the state football playoffs was in 1986, but the Superlarks have a long, rich history. Bill Severin Sr. was the coach in the 1950s and 1960s; in 1965 the team set a then-state record with 47 straight wins. Severin was named Minnesota’s first coach of the year in 1965 and was inducted into the Minnesota High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1989.

The current Superlarks are 5-0 going into Friday’s game at LeRoy-Ostrander (2-3). Grand Meadow fans can be forgiven for looking ahead to the final regular-season game against Spring Grove, which is also unbeaten in 2015 and is routinely the Superlarks’ biggest rival in the Section 1 playoffs.

Grand Meadow’s streak was in serious jeopardy in last year’s regular-season finale, a 21-20 nail-biter at Spring Grove. In six postseason games that followed, the Superlarks won by an average margin of 24 points; the closest game was a 14-point victory over Underwood in the Prep Bowl.

The Superlarks’ average score this fall is 65-17. They are rushing for 391 yards per game, with Bain averaging 131 yards and Myrhe 93 for a team with starters that go to the bench as soon as the second quarter.

All this success hinges on many factors, of course, but none are more important than coaching. Sloan has only four assistant coaches, and all of them – Aaron Myhre, Deke Stejskal, Anthony Stejskal and Josh Bain – played for him.

“Our coaching staff does a really good job and the players buy in and work hard in the offseason,” King said. “It’s like a band of brothers here. We all get along with each other and we work well together.”

Zach Myhre added, “Obviously there are a lot of kids who get in the weight room in the offseason and work their butts off, but I think it comes down to our coaching staff implementing our game plan and then us successfully playing with it.”

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn