John's Journal
An Official Is Gone, The Crew’s Work Continues 9/13/2016
ST. CLOUD -- High school officials, referees, umpires and judges are a close-knit lot. A key word in many sports is “crew” … as in a group of people who work together week after week, game after game, year after year. Oftentimes they become as close as family members.

The crew that officiated a football game Friday night at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium is working with heavy hearts this fall. High school football officials are five-person crews, and when one of those five is gone it’s tough on everybody.

Travis Kiel was 35 years old when he was killed in a traffic accident on July 31. He graduated from Milaca High School and lived in Foley. A football and basketball official, Travis was well-liked by his fellow officials.

“He was very studious of the game,” said Tom Bolduc, the referee (white cap) on the football crew that Travis was part of. “Nobody ever said a bad thing about him.”

When Bolduc’s crew worked a Week 1 game at Zimmerman, a moment of silence was observed before kickoff in honor of Travis.

“They were very good about that,” Bolduc said. “They didn’t have to do that. We told them how much we appreciated it.”

Travis’ death was doubly tough on Bolduc’s crew because back judge Paul Seaton’s daughter Erin was married to Travis for 10 years before he died. They have two children, seven-year-old Whitney and four-year-old Wyatt.

“He loved the Friday nights,” Seaton said. “He played at Milaca High School, and when the opportunity came to be an official he had that gleam in his eye. Friday nights were special for him. Right from the get-go he was a quality official.”

The other members of the crew are umpire Jason Kelly (who took over for Travis this season), head linesman Brad Wright and line judge John Gloege.

The crew received MSHSL approval to wear patches with Travis’ initials on their hats; they also wear silicon wristbands that say “Timeout For Travis.” They miss their friend.

“He was our young guy,” Seaton said. “A lot of us are long in the tooth but he enjoyed being part of the group, he enjoyed the social part, too. He liked to listen to our stories.

“He was a great dad and a great husband to our daughter. He really enjoyed life.”

Travis’ obituary included this passage: “Everyone who met Travis left with a smile on their face. Travis also officiated varsity football and basketball for the Saint Cloud Officials Association since 2011. Travis' hobbies included golfing, hunting, and fishing. He enjoyed making memories with his wife and children including trips to Duluth to ride the trains with Wyatt and trips to Disney World with Whitney to see all of the princesses. These are memories that will last a lifetime.”

Travis first joined Bolduc’s crew as a fill-in official for a game in 2010. He became a regular member in 2011.

“The first time I met him, somebody was sick or injured,” Bolduc said. “All I knew was that he was Paul’s son-in-law. I kind of thought maybe he was riding Paul’s coattails, I was kind of skeptical. But from day one he stepped in and never missed a beat.

“He never missed a game. The best thing was his great attitude. He was very polite with coaches. Coaches never questioned his calls. He did his job and he had fun doing it.”

The football season is now in week three and will go on through an eight-game regular season, the postseason and Prep Bowl championship games on Thanksgiving weekend.

“On Friday nights you’re with the same five guys every week,” Bolduc said. “That first night, I really can’t describe it. I felt for Paul, who was so close to Travis, and I thought about his wife and kids.

“Once the first game started we did our jobs. We talked about it afterwards. Paul put it best when he said ‘We played this one for Travis.’ He was a great kid.”

--A GoFundMe page has been set up for the Kiel family: www.gofundme.com/traviskiel

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 32
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 1,598
9/12/2016
John’s Top Five Concession Items
1. Buffalo bison burgers
2. Stillwater hot dogs
3. Lakeville South hot dogs
4. Bethlehem Academy hot dogs
5. Anoka hot dogs
Thinking Back To Fifteen Years Ago This Week9/10/2016
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.
Anoka Tornadoes, Blaine Bengals: The Rivalry Continues 9/8/2016
Anoka High School and Blaine High School have a lot in common. They are among five high schools in the sprawling Anoka-Hennepin school district and they are only seven and half miles apart in the north metro. Anoka has an enrollment of 2,043 and Blaine has 2,555 students.

Historically the Anoka Tornadoes are truly old school, with a tradition that dates to 1880. The Blaine Bengals’ history goes back to 1972 … which to current students probably seems like the dark ages.

Needless to say, teams from these two institutions are great rivals and athletes from one school know athletes from the other. Often they were teammates in youth sports.

That was the set-up Thursday evening for a Northwest Suburban Conference boys soccer game at Anoka’s Goodrich Field. The stadium, built in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration project, oozes history from its lush natural grass playing surface to stone walls on the perimeter and off into the old neighborhood outside the fences.

In 2014, Anoka graduate Garrison Keillor wrote a letter to the editor of the Anoka County Union, describing a football game at Goodrich. He wrote: “Last Friday, I drove up to Anoka for the Anoka-Coon Rapids football game and sat in the bleachers about 10 feet below the pressbox where, as a 14-year-old kid, I sat and wrote up the games for the Anoka Herald.

“Goodrich Field looks so much the same as it did back then and off to my right was a student cheering section, about 300 strong, distinguished by wearing odds and ends of white, white shirts, headbands, caps, one boy in a white off-the-shoulder toga, tossing white streamers, setting off white smoke bombs – a solid block of high spirited goofiness and tumult and swaying and dancing in the stands – in their whiteness, the opposite of goth, more like moths fluttering at a porch light, and so utterly different from the self-conscious solemnity of the Fifties teenager.”

There was no large student section on hand for Thursday’s 5 p.m. boys soccer game. The spirit displayed on the field, however, was clear. These teams gave each other everything they had. Which was no surprise; Anoka is the two-time state champion of Class 2A boys soccer, and Blaine has been one of the teams standing in the Tornadoes’ way en route to the state tournament. A year ago, Anoka edged the Bengals 3-2 in section play.

“It’s always a personal game, playing Anoka,” said Blaine junior goalkeeper Jonathan Coello. “Our team’s always fired up playing these guys.”

The score Thursday matched the 2015 section game, but with the roles reversed. A goal by Giovanni Podesta with a little more than six minutes to play was the decider as the Bengals won 3-2. Anoka’s goals were scored by Blake Perry and Thomas Ryan; Brett Huver and Brandon Olson got the first two for Blaine.

Ryan gave the Tornadoes a 2-1 lead early in the second half. A penalty-kick goal by Olson made it 2-2 with 16:05 to play, followed by Podesta’s heroics. The Bengals celebrated at the final horn, and rightfully so.

“These are the games you get against them,” said Anoka coach Pete Hayes. “Two rivals that are very physical. They came out on the winning end today.”

Anoka’s record is 3-2; the Tornadoes lost to Minneapolis Washburn 4-0 in their season opener. That game was a rematch of last year’s state semifinals, which Anoka won 2-1. Blaine is 5-1, losing to Andover 3-1.

“These are two evenly matched teams but I’ll tell you, they have some weapons,” Blaine coach Berry Arrowsmith said. “They’re a good team.”

After Podesta’s go-ahead goal, the weight of the world fell on Coello to keep Anoka out of the net.

“Honestly, I’ve just got to trust my defense,” he said after making 10 saves. “They did great tonight. They cleared the ball well. I trust them. And everything that comes near me, I try to own the six-yard box and keep it out of there.

“It’s always personal (playing Anoka), especially when they kicked us out last year,” he said. “We know guys on this team; it’s always fun to play them but it’s always physical, too.”

If there is a rematch in 2016, it will come in the Section 7 playoffs. And this much we know: Both teams will be ready.

“It’s early,” Hayes said. “Like I told Berry, ‘You can have this one. We want the next one.’ That’s the one that counts.”

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

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 30
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 1,418
9/8/2016
John’s Top Five Concession Items
1. Buffalo bison burgers
2. Stillwater hot dogs
3. Lakeville South hot dogs
4. Bethlehem Academy hot dogs
5. Anoka hot dogs