John's Journal
A Big Start To The Wrestling Season 12/2/2016
The Apple Valley High School wrestling team is so dominant that its conference winning streak outlived two conferences. Between the 1991 season and Thursday night, the Eagles won every conference dual meet; that streak began when they were in the Lake Red Conference, lasted through the Lake Conference and finally ended in a 29-28 home loss to Shakopee in South Suburban Conference action.

The Eagles are ranked No. 1 in Class 3A by The Guillotine and Shakopee is No. 2, spots that are sure to flip when the next rankings come out.

Thursday’s match provided an interesting coaching twist: Shakopee coach Jim Jackson is a former Apple Valley head coach. The Eagles have won 23 big-school state titles since 1983. They have every 3A title since 2006; their last loss to a Minnesota team came against Wayzata on Dec. 22, 2006.

Jackson coached the Eagles for 32 years (the first 15 as an assistant) and had a head-coaching record of 618-27-3, winning 14 team state championships.

Thursday was the first day of competition for the 2016-17 wrestling season, but eyes are already turning to the Class 3A Section 2 team tournament in February. That’s when Apple Valley and Shakopee will presumably decide which team goes to state.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 288
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 5,086
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Jablonski Name Is Back On The Ice 11/30/2016
The name “Jablonski” is a permanent fixture for Benilde-St. Margaret’s boys hockey games at The Rec Center in St. Louis Park. Jack Jablonski’s name and jersey number 13 hang from the ceiling along with other retired numbers.

Jack, as Minnesota hockey fans know, was a sophomore at Benilde-St. Margaret’s when he was severely injured during a junior varsity hockey game in late December 2011. Now a student at the University of Southern California, Jack is keeping an eye on the Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights this season for family reasons.

His only sibling, Max, is a senior captain who has brought the family name back to the ice. Seeing “Jablonski” on a jersey was a special moment for Red Knights fans Tuesday night as the team opened the season against St. Michael-Albertville.

“I texted him this morning and he texted back,” Max said after the game. “He wished me good luck. He’s excited for me and he’s proud of where I’ve gotten, and I’m proud of what he’s done.”

Max, who was a seventh-grader when Jack’s injury occurred, has worked hard on the ice. This is his first season on the varsity, where he centered the third line during the Red Knights’ 4-1 loss to St. Michael-Albertville. The score was 2-1 with one minute to play in the third period before St. Michael-Albertville scored two empty-net goals. Max took one shot and won five of 13 faceoffs.

“I’ve been working for this for many years,” he said. “It’s obviously nerve-wracking but coming in as a senior and a captain, I felt like I wasn’t out of place. I felt like I did well and I was excited.”

For people who have seen how hard Jack, who uses a wheelchair, has worked in therapy and rehab in regaining some of his physical abilities, it is no surprise to hear Red Knights coach Ken Pauly use words like “grit” and “heart” to describe Max.

“He’s a heady player,” Pauly said. “Guys like to play with him because he’ll give them the puck. He’s not a quitter. He wants to be out there. That’s something that’s going to be very important for us this year. We know that we’re going to have some struggles and having someone like him leading us should help us with that.”

Benilde-St. Margaret’s was one of the top teams in Class 2A last season, finishing with a record of 25-1-1. Seventeen of last year’s 21 varsity players are now gone, however. That kind of challenge is just fine with the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Max Jablonski (pictured).

“Tonight was tough,” he said. “You never want to fall in the season opener. But we knew there was going to be a lot of growing this season. Although tonight we lost, there were some good things; we played pretty even, we just couldn’t score. So we have a lot of growing to do and I think we’ll be able to use this to take a step in the right direction.

“There’s a team goal of moving on and getting farther than we did last year and hopefully going to state. Which right now is a little tough to say. It’s definitely early and it doesn’t matter what we’re doing now, it matters what we’re doing in February and March.”

Max said his big brother’s injury never caused him to consider walking away from hockey.

“Definitely it was hard to watch when that happened,” Max said. “It made you question, ‘That could be me.’ But I love the game and he loves the game, and it wasn’t like I was going to step away from it. I just try playing for him.”

Pauly said the Jablonskis have never wavered on their love of hockey.

“Through all this they’ve continued to embrace the game, where I think some people might be bitter and blame the game. They’ve continued to embrace the game.”

Until Jack left for college in California, Max was at his side. Whether Jack was working with therapists or making public appearances on behalf of the Jack Jablobski BEL13VE in Miracles Foundation (a charitable organization created to support spinal cord injury recovery: http://www.bel13vefoundation.org), Max was almost always there.

“It’s very motivational,” Max said. “How difficult his injury was to handle and his hockey career being ended so early and him losing his ability to walk, it was just absolutely devastating. And to see the way he was able to not only come back from that, but come back with a smile on his face. Right when he got out of the hospital he wanted to go to rehab right away and start working. I’m very proud of where’s gone and what he’s been able to do since his injury.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 288
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 5,086
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Lakeville South's Thompson Retires After 38 Years11/29/2016
One of Minnesota's most well-known football coaches has announced his retirement. Larry Thompson coached at Lakeville High School and Lakeville South for 38 years. His teams won three state titles, were state runner-up four times and he was named a state coach of the year five times.

His career coaching record was 259-143, putting him among the top 20 in victories in Minnesota history.

His letter of resignation ended with this zinger: "I was going to coach at South until we got turf, but I can't wait until I'm 100."
Record Attendance At Prep Bowl XXXV11/28/2016
Combine seven state-championship football games, a glittering new stadium, and Thanksgiving weekend, and the result is record-setting attendance.

Last weekend’s Prep Bowl games not only set a record, they crushed the previous record. A total of 47,309 tickets were scanned at the entrance to U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday and Saturday. Friday’s attendance was 28,399 and the number on Saturday was 18,910.

The previous Prep Bowl attendance record was 38,089 in 1986, meaning the 2016 Prep Bowl broke that mark by nearly 10,000 fans.

Thanks to all who attended the games and took part in the inaugural Prep Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium, Congratulations to all the teams that participated in the state semifinals as well as the championship games at the stadium.

Prep Bowl
At U.S. Bank Stadium
Friday

Nine-Man/ Grand Meadow 41, Cleveland 21
Class 2A/ Caledonia 61, Eden Valley-Watkins 12
Class 4A/ Benilde-St. Margaret’s 31, Winona 28
Class 6A/ Totino-Grace 28, Eden Prairie 20

Saturday
Class 1A/ Minneapolis North 30, Rushford-Peterson 14
Class 3A/ Rochester Lourdes 42, St. Croix Lutheran 35
Class 5A/ Elk River 42, Spring Lake Park 14

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 286
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 5,038
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Remembering Rachel: A Special Relationship At Totino-Grace11/28/2016
Rachel Woell has been gone for more than two years, but the teenager’s impact on the football team at Totino-Grace High School has never wavered. Eagles coach Jeff Ferguson wore green sleeves during his team’s Class 6A Prep Bowl victory over Eden Prairie on Friday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. Green was Rachel’s favorite color.

Rachel (pictured) died in September 2014 after a second bout with brain cancer. She was a student manager for the Totino-Grace football team and was beloved at school, being named Homecoming queen. Even after her medical condition put her in a wheelchair, she was part of the football team until the day she died. She called the football players “my boys.”

After the Eagles’ victory in Friday’s state championship game, Rachel was there in the form of her mother, Yvette, as everyone celebrated. Players embraced Yvette, she hugged them tightly and used both hands to form a heart symbol as she looked up into the stands.

Yvette became part of the team as Rachel’s health declined.

“When Rachel was a junior and diagnosed with her second bout of brain cancer, she ended up in a wheelchair and the way for her to get to football practice and games was for me to bring her,” Yvette said Monday. “I started meeting some of the boys that way. After she passed away it was in my heart that I wanted to hang out with these guys and take them to the end of the season.”

That relationship has continued, and will go on “if they’ll have me,” Yvette said with a smile.

There’s no doubting that. Yvette is listed among the assistant coaches on the team roster. Ferguson said, “She’s a coach for us. There are six volunteer coaches and she’s one of them. She’s our director of football operations, which means she’s a mom to the football players.”

Yvette said she handles “some of the small stuff, to let the coaches coach. I make sure the players get what they need to perform and play with heart.”

Among the players she embraced after Friday’s game was senior running back Ivan Burlak (pictured, number 5). He is an immigrant from Russia whose mother and stepfather don’t speak English and didn’t attend football games,

“Yvette and (her husband) Jamie are such role models for our kids,” Ferguson said. “On senior night, she stood with Ivan. She takes care of the strays.”

Yvette will be back on the sidelines at U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday for the 44th annual All-Star Football Game. Ferguson will be the head coach for the North team, with Yvette at his side.

“It’s just been great to be part of the team,” Yvette said. “It’s amazing how many players remember Rachel and how she has inspired them to be more than just football players, to be amazing people.

“Rachel would sometimes get in the car and she would be shaking her head. I’d say, ‘What’s up?’ And she would just say ‘boys.’ Now that I’m part of it I totally get it. They just make you laugh.

“And they want to keep wearing green. It just warms my heart.”

Rachel is being remembered in another way, with a special award at the end of each season. The Rachel Woell Award is given to a player who displays commitment, loyalty and love.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 286
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 5,038
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn