John's Journal
Homecoming For A Former Shakopee Softball Star 5/15/2016
Neil Johnson has witnessed a lot of memorable events during his 41 years as the only head softball coach Shakopee High School has ever had. The Sabers have gone to the state tournament in three different decades – the 1970s, 1980s and most recently in 2011 – and Johnson has been in the Minnesota softball coaches association Hall of Fame since 1995.

The 2011 season was special, and members of that team were invited back to be honored during a pregame ceremony prior to Friday night’s non-conference home game against New Prague. Seven 2011 Sabers were on hand. During the introductions, one of them walked out of the New Prague bench.

Ashley Walker was a star on that 2011 Sabers team, and now – after graduating from Winona State in December -- she is in her first year as head coach at New Prague. Johnson, meanwhile, has been in charge of the Sabers since 1975 and Walker is the first former player to become a head softball coach.

“It’s kind of a unique thing,” Johnson (pictured with Walker) said after the Sabers defeated the Trojans 7-6 in eight innings on Strikeout Cancer Night. “I’m just as proud as all get out.”

Johnson isn’t the only connection Ashley has to the current Sabers. The top assistant coach is her father, Rob.

Ashley is a physical education and health teacher who is working as a substitute this spring. She’s living at home, or as she put it, “I live in Shakopee with Coach Dad. This was like half a home game for me.”

Ask Johnson about Ashley the high school player and his eyes light up.

“She was one of the best players I’ve ever had in 41 years,” he said. “I still remember her game-winning home run in the bottom of the sixth inning against Mankato West to help us go to the state tournament. She came out in the seventh inning, when they had the potential tying run on third and winning run on second, and she struck the last batter out. She’s a heck of a competitor and she has been the real epitome of Shakopee softball. She’s quite a young lady.”

Ashley was a star at Winona State. She finished her senior season with a pitching record of 21-5 while striking out 106 and walking 38 in 170 innings. At the plate, she set a school record with 23 doubles while batting .372. In her college career, she ranks fourth at Winona State in doubles (53), seventh in home runs (23), eighth in batting average (.362) and ninth in hits (231). She also has the fourth-most career pitching wins with 62 and is sixth all-time in innings pitched with 515.2. She also was only the third player in Winona State history to be named an academic all-American, graduating with a 3.87 GPA.

She was named the New Prague softball coach last fall, and the announcement coincided with an important event in Shakopee.

“I found out she got the job the day the school board named the complex after me,” Johnson said, referring to the Neil Johnson Softball Complex, a fantastically manicured facility with three varsity-level fields. “It was a big day.”

Johnson, who was inducted into the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame last fall, has had a positive impact on countless softball players as well as students (he retired from teaching in 2014 after 39 years in the classroom). Ashley Walker is among that group. Here’s her answer to this question: Why did you become a coach?

“Honestly, it was probably because of (Johnson), how awesome he was and how he treated us,” she said. “He makes everybody feel special, and I know the impact he makes on the girls’ lives. I wanted to carry that on myself.”

Friday night’s extra-inning loss ended a seven-game winning streak for New Prague (10-4) and gave Shakopee a record of 5-10. Damara Theis had two doubles and four runs-batted-in for the Sabers, Ashley Herold hit a two-run home run, and Cortney Hokanson (who had three hits) drove in the winning run with a single in the eighth inning. Emily Schmitz led New Prague with three hits, including a two-run homer.

After the game ended, both teams put on Strikeout Cancer t-shirts and posed for a photo together. Coaches embraced.

“It was really fun, it was awesome,” Ashley Walker said. “It was fun to coach against Coach Johnson and against my dad. I have lot of respect for them. I couldn’t respect anybody more.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 684
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,784
"Always Remember That Your Daughters' Coaches Are Human Beings"5/11/2016
Abby Schneider, the girls swimming and diving coach at St. Cloud Cathedral, has announced that she is stepping down after four seasons. She informed the athletes at a meeting and followed up with this moving letter…

I have decided to step away from coaching swimming and diving.

Throughout the years, my husband and I have made many choices and sacrifices to try to make the best life possible for our girls. I was recently offered a promotion at work that will take me away from my family slightly more throughout the year. Due to this, I have made the heart-wrenching decision to step away from my dream job, as the swim/dive season would just be too much of a stress on my family, and, in return, on the athletes and other coaches.

The lessons these amazing athletes have taught me over the past four seasons have been lifelong. They are amazing girls who should be VERY proud of themselves. Every single one of them holds a special place in my heart.

Going forward, I ask you as the parents, to always remember that your daughters' coaches are human beings -- both swimming and diving coaches and adults in any other coaching or advising position in your daughters' lives. They need support, communication, honesty, and understanding just like we all do. Long-tenured coaches and officials are going to be harder and harder to come by if there is not a serious shift as a community to support and encourage them as they push your athletes outside of their comfort zone to help them improve, as well as learn to be a committed and dedicated part of something bigger than themselves. I was blessed with an amazing support system from parents in my time here, and I know without a doubt you will carry that on for the future coaching staff, and most likely get even better at it, because you are wonderful.

Lastly -- to the girls, the swimmers and divers. I love you. If you ever ever EVER doubt that you have someone in your corner, please remember I am an e-mail, text or phone call away. Thank you for your love, commitment, willingness to grow and improve, and honesty with me over the years. It is because of you I can walk away with my head held high, knowing I'm leaving an amazing group to move forward.

All my love,
Coach Abby
The Pride Of Edison High School: Jada and Jia Lewis 5/9/2016
FAIRMONT – Minneapolis Edison High School and Fairmont High School are more than 150 miles apart, but that doesn’t stop the Edison Tommies from taking part in the annual Fairmont Sentinel Relays.

In fact, hardly anything outside of bad weather can stop Edison’s Lewis sisters, Minnesota’s most dynamic sprinting duo. Friday’s 61st edition of the Sentinel Relays was cut short by lightning with four races remaining. By that time, Jada and Jia Lewis had already made their presence known in the competition that includes 16 girls and boys team, most of them from southern Minnesota.

Between Jada (a junior) and Jia (a sophomore), they already own four individual state titles and one relays crown. Their performance in Fairmont was typical: Jia won the Class 2A 100 and 200 meters, while Jada won the 400 and finished third in the long jump. They also were members of the winning 4x200 relay team and were likely to be part of the first-place 4x100 relay team, but that was one of the events lost to the weather.

The Sentinel Relays were just another step in a season that leads to the state meet, June 10-11 at Hamline University in St. Paul. That has become the Lewis sisters' playground.

“We’ve been running since we were really young,” Jada said. “We officially started to run in fourth or fifth grade. Every coach we’ve ever had has taught us how to improve and keep going. We can always learn more.”

At last year’s Class 1A state championships, Jia and Jada finished 1-2 in the 100, Jada won the 200, they teamed with Linda Senephanh and Marianna Cress to win the 4x100 relay, and Jada was seventh in the long jump. All those medals pushed Edison to second place in the team race behind Belle Plaine.

At the 2014 state meet, Jia finished first and Jada was third in both the 100 and 200, and those points were enough to give Edison the state team championship.

Their goals this season are simple: improve their times and distances, set school records and win more medals at state. But the sisters also are all about team.

“We want to keep encouraging our 4x1 and 4x2 runners, so we can be better when it comes time for state,” Jia said.

The sisters’ impact on the track team at Edison cannot be underestimated. When Ernest Sutton became head coach of the girls team five years ago, the combined roster for the girls and boys teams consisted of six athletes. This year there are about 80 kids out for track.

“They’re excellent leaders, excellent kids,” Sutton said of Jada And Jia. “They’re like second coaches.”

The Lewis sisters’ influence extends down to the middle-school level, where they encourage participation and improvement to students who look up to them.

“Our middle schoolers get down on themselves sometimes,” Jada said. “They’ll say things like, ‘Oh, we’re not as good as you.’ And we’re like, ‘We were in the same situation you guys were in. You guys have so much potential. If you keep working, you guys will be just as good as us.’ And that’s without a doubt the honest truth. We say that to the freshmen and sophomores, too. We constantly tell that to everybody: ‘You can do it. Just keep working hard.’ ”

The sisters work hard at lots of things. They are members of the National Honor Society at Edison, they are active in the community and in school. Jada is a captain on the basketball team and Jia is a manager on the football team.

Sutton first came to Fairmont for the Sentinel Relays when he was an athlete at Minneapolis North.

“It was a great experience as a city program coming down to Fairmont and this wonderful track meet,” he said. “I wanted these kids to have the same experience.”

He first coached the Lewis sisters when they were involved in youth track and field programs. When he became a coach at Edison, he encouraged them to be part of the track team.

“We didn’t think we would ever make it to state,” Jia said.

But here they are, among the top high school athletes in Minnesota, as well as contributing to their school and their community.

“Those young ladies are great student-athletes,” Sutton said. “They work hard in the classroom and they work hard on the track. They’re not just track athletes. They’re well-rounded students. It’s a joy to have them and coach them. They’ve made an impact on the track but also on the whole community at Edison.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 672
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,611
Chanhassen Sprinter Sets State Record In 200 Meters5/7/2016
A fifteen-year-old girls state track record fell on Friday when Chanhassen senior Jedah Caldwell won the 200 meters at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Her time of 23.59 seconds broke the previous state record of 23.93 set by Bloomington Kennedy's Vanessa Clarida in 2001.

“I was not expecting those times,” Caldwell told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “I was happy to have really good competition. I was nervous, to be honest.”

The Argus Leader's David Nicholson wrote: With thousands watching from the stands – at a perfect time, no less, as the weather cooled and the sunset cast a shadow over the dusk-lit stadium – Caldwell burst out of the starting corner. She could feel the other runners behind her, and caught a glimpse of the competition out of her periphery.

“I saw people next to me on the curve,” Caldwell said, “and that’s when I said, ‘OK, I gotta go.’”

Caldwell nearly broke the Minnesota high school record in the 100 meters, as well. She had a time of 11.71 seconds in the preliminaries (the finals were Saturday but Caldwell went home after Friday's races). The state record in the 100 is 11.69, set by Alexandria's Wensia Johnson in 2013.

Caldwell, who is the defending Class 2A state champion in the 100 and 200, has signed with Kansas.
Baseball: Minnehaha Hopes To Have The Last Laugh5/4/2016
Two dates hold importance for the Minnehaha Academy baseball team. The first is June 15, 2015 and the second is April 30, 2016. In games played on those days, the Redhawks faced St. Cloud Cathedral.

The June contest was the Class 2A state championship game at Target Field. Cathedral rolled to a 10-1 victory over Minnehaha in claiming its second consecutive state title and ninth overall. The Redhawks, however, had an answer during the April game in St. Cloud, scoring six eighth-inning runs and defeating the Crusaders 7-1.

That was big. The Redhawks finished 26-2 last season, with both losses coming to Cathedral.

“It was kind of a monkey off our shoulders,” Minnehaha coach Scott Glenn said after his team defeated Providence Academy 18-2 on Tuesday. “We go up there every year. They do things right and it’s always a good test for us to see where we are.”

Minnehaha was second behind Cathedral in last week’s Class 2A state rankings, and the Redhawks moved into the top spot this week. They took a 12-1 record into a Wednesday game vs. Blake; their loss was to Belle Plaine in their second game of the season.

The Redhawks took advantage of a plethora of walks in beating Providence Academy. Minnehaha had 10 hits, with Alex Evenson hitting a two-run single and a bases-clearing double in addition to getting the victory on the mound. He struck out six and have up one hit in 3 2/3 innings.

Evenson said beating St. Cloud Cathedral was huge.

“We’ve wanted them since the state championship game last year. We definitely came in with a chip on our shoulder and we were ready to go from the start, for sure.”

Outscoring Cathedral was especially sweet for pitcher Jesse Retzlaff, who had a 9-2 record in 2015 with both defeats coming against the Crusaders.

“Jesse probably pitched the best game of his career,” Glenn said. “I think he really wanted that game and he pitched a heck of a game.”

The Redhawks made their first appearance at a state tournament in 2013, losing in the quarterfinals. Their run to the 2015 championship game made the returning players confident in what they could accomplish.

“Knowing how far we got last year shows us how far we can get this year, and continuing throughout the years,” Evenson said. “I think, overall, we come in and we know we can beat any team we play.

“We came in last year and wanted to win it really bad and we got blown out. They outplayed us, and because of that we know we need to keep working hard. We know what’s at stake and we want to go out and get it.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 656
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,339