John's Journal
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.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 30
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 1,418
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
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. Babbitt ice-cold Diet Coke
NFL Quarterbacks To MSHSL Coaches: Bollinger and Bouman 9/4/2016
Brooks Bollinger and Todd Bouman have much in common, even if they have met only briefly. Both are former NFL quarterbacks and both spent time with the Vikings. And both are Minnesota high school football coaches.

Bollinger, 36, is in his first year as the head coach at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul. He was the head coach at Hill-Murray in Maplewood in 2011, leading the Pioneers to the state semifinals before joining the University of Pittsburgh as an assistant coach. He came to Cretin-Derham Hall as the quarterbacks coach last year and was named head coach when Mike Scanlan stepped down this winter.

Bouman, 44, is in his third year as the head coach at Buffalo High School. He was an assistant with the Bison for part of the 2007 season, leaving in October when he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The two coaches made plenty of stops during their NFL careers. Bollinger played with the New York Jets, Vikings, Dallas and Detroit between 2003 and 2009, and Bowman was with the Vikings, New Orleans, Green Bay, Jacksonville, St. Louis and Baltimore between 1997 and 2010.

Bollinger, who told me “I maybe met Todd once,” had a memorable debut with the Raiders on Thursday night at Lakeville South. Cretin-Derham Hall trailed 14-0 in the third quarter before rallying for a 19-14 victory. The final two touchdowns came on desperation passes of 43 and 48 yards, the second in the final minute.

Bouman’s team also won its season opener, beating Willmar 47-20 on Friday night in the first game played at Buffalo’s spectacular new stadium. Among the stars for the Bison was Bouman’s son Aidan, a lefthanded-throwing freshman quarterback who completed 13 of 27 passes for 209 yards and five touchdowns.

Both coaches saw their share of high points as players. Bollinger, a North Dakota prep star at Grand Forks Central, was a four-year college starter at Wisconsin and was part of the Badgers’ 2000 Rose Bowl victory over Stanford. Bouman was an all-state athlete in football and basketball and went to state in track at Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in southwest Minnesota. In three years as the starting quarterback at St. Cloud State he passed for 4,354 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Players sometimes ask the coaches about their time in the NFL, and the two don’t mind telling an occasional story.

“It’s harder to impress kids anymore,” Bollinger said. “They care for about 10 minutes and then they just want to know if you’re a good coach. They’ll get a story here and there: ‘What about this guy? What about that guy?’ But most of the time they’re looking at you like, ‘Oh, stop with these stories.’ ”

Rather than talk about the old days, the coaches love working with their players and teaching lessons about football as well as life off the field.

“I enjoy watching kids, from the time they’re freshmen until they’re seniors and they graduate,” Bouman said. “I always say I was lucky enough to do what I did for many years, but I had absolutely wonderful, great high school coaches and it was just a dream of mine to give back to high school kids what I got.”

Family ties also are important to Bollinger and Bouman. One of Bollinger’s assistant coaches is his father, Rob, a former assistant coach at the University of North Dakota. For Bouman, coaching his son is just the latest chapter in a family tradition.

Prior to becoming head coach of the Bison, he spent four years as an assistant coach to his brother Troy at Pipestone High School. Troy’s son Boyer was the Arrows’ starting quarterback for three of those seasons, “so I got to be around that situation and experience that, which was a lot of fun,” Todd Bouman said.

The 2016 season will continue this week with Buffalo playing at Monticello and Cretin-Derham Hall meeting Woodbury at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. The coaches will continue working with their players, knowing what’s important.

“I’m a high school coach because I was fortunate to have an unbelievable high school coach who made a huge impact on my life,” Bollinger said. “I obviously have a passion for this game, but more importantly a passion for passing that on and trying to use this game to impact kids in a positive way and help them become better men. That’s what we’re focused on.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 26
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 1,253