John's Journal
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.”

*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.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 656
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,339
You Go Girls: This Is A Golden Era In Track And Field5/2/2016
Is 2016 the best season in the history of Minnesota high school girls track and field? There is evidence to support that statement, and much of it was on display Friday evening at the Hamline Elite Meet.

The 11th annual Elite Meet – held in St. Paul at Hamline University’s Klas Field, the site of the MSHSL state championships June 10-11 – brought together a field of dominant female athletes. It included state champions in every individual footrace and most of the other events.

That’s right, at every distance from 100 meters to 3,200 meters, including hurdles races of 100 and 300 meters, at least one defending state champion was in the girls field for every race. The same held true for two of the four girls relay races and four of the six field events.

“Each year with the Elite Meet you can kind of pick out a particular event,” said Scott Stallman, who coached track and cross-country at Chaska High School for 36 years before retiring in 2011 and now works as a meet official as well as the stadium announcer at the Elite Meet and the MSHSL championships. “A year or so ago it was the boys 1,600 and it was going to be a premier event, it was a who’s who. But this year every event was like that. You just could go down the list.”

And here’s even more proof of the quality of female track and field athletes we’re seeing right now: The Elite Meet field included three girls who already own all-time state records. Those record holders are …

--Wayzata senior Ruby Stauber, whose time of 2:06.50 from last season is the state record in the 800 meters. She has signed with Louisiana State.

--Thief River Falls senior Meleah Biermaier, who set a state record of 42.13 seconds in the 300-meter hurdles at the 2015 state meet. She has signed with Minnesota.

--Rochester Century senior Andrianna Jacobs is a three-time state champ in the pole vault who set the state record of 13 feet, 7 ¼ inches last season and came into 2016 as the best female high school pole vaulter in the nation. She has signed with Nebraska.

Those three athletes won those events Friday at Hamline, and they have a lot of company among some of the most dominant female track and field athletes Minnesota has seen in a long time. Let’s run down the list …

--Chanhassen senior Jedah Caldwell, the defending state champion in the 100 and 200, won both events at the Elite Meet.

--Bloomington Kennedy junior Honour Finley won the 400 at state last year and did the same at the Elite Meet.

--Alexandria senior Bethany Hasz won the Elite Meet 1,600, adding to a resume that includes state titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 and two cross-country state championships. (Her twin sister Megan, who holds one cross-country state crown and state-meet medals in the 1,600 and 3,200, did not run Friday because of an injury.)

--Forest Lake senior Emma Benner (pictured above) won the Elite Meet title in the 3,200, outlasting two extremely young state champs. Finishing second was Winona Cotter seventh-grader Grace Ping (last fall’s Class 1A cross-country state champion); third was Breck eighth-grader Morgan Richter, the 2015 1A state champ in the 3,200.

--The girls 100-meter hurdles field Friday included two state champs and a state runner-up. The winner was East Ridge senior and defending 2A champ Karina Joiner. Staples-Motley junior Millie Klefsass (the 2015 1A state runner-up) was fifth and Biermaier was sixth.

--In the relays, defending state championship teams from St. Michael-Albertville (4x100) and Waconia (4x200) won Elite Meet titles. Pequot Lakes, the defending state champ in Class 1A, placed sixth in the 4x400.

--Along with Jacobs in the pole vault, other defending state champs in field events Friday were Eden Prairie senior Ashley Ramacher (high jump), Jordan junior Jenna Kess (1A champ in the triple jump) and Eastview senior Natalie Manders in the discus.

There are 18 events in Minnesota high school track and field, and 10 of the state records on the girls side were set from 2013 to 2015. (On the boys side, four state records were set during that time.) Two of the oldest girls records were broken last year: Stauber broke the 1984 record in the 800 set by Blooming Prairie’s Jeanne Kruckeberg and Biermaier broke the 1987 mark in the 300 hurdles set by Roseau’s Liesa Brateng in 1987.

“There’s no question” that this is the best era in Minnesota girls track and field history, said Stallman, who began his high school coaching career in 1975, three years after girls track became an MSHSL sport.

“I go back to the very beginning of girls track and this is by far the best era that I can remember,” he said. “There was a time, maybe in the mid ‘80s, where they looked pretty strong. But there’s been nothing like this, top to bottom.”

Kennedy’s Finley is following in the fast footsteps of one of the state’s top all-time sprinters, who also went to Kennedy. Vanessa Clarida, a 2004 graduate, was a ninth-grader in 2001 when she set state records in the 200 (23.93) and 400 (54.36). Those are currently the oldest girls state records on the books.

Pete Svien, who has been the girls track coach at Kennedy since 1998, coached Clarida back then and coaches Finley now. He wouldn’t be surprised if Finley breaks Clarida’s state record in the 400.

“I think the 400 is Honour’s sweet spot,” he said. “She’s got something special, that’s for sure. If I had to predict, I would say if we have a good day Vanessa’s record in the 400 will be gone by the end of the season.”

Weather can be a huge factor in record-setting track and field performances, and Friday’s conditions at Hamline were nearly perfect. Eleven meet records were established on an evening with temperatures in the upper 50s, clear skies and little wind.

Clarida set her state records on a hot day at the 2001 MSHSL track and field meet. If similar conditions are present at the 2016 meet on June 10-11, expect big things.

“If we get some heat,” Svien said, “that state meet is going to be a barn burner, that’s for sure.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 654
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,255
Robotics: From Greenbush-Middle River To The World 4/28/2016
St. Louis, Missouri, is the center of the robotics universe this weekend, with 29,000 students and 800 robots competing in the FIRST Robotics World Championships. The teams come from all over the world, including 24 from Minnesota -- one of the few states where high school robotics is a varsity, letter-awarding activity.

Teams are competing in three days of robotics matches, grouped into divisions. One of the teams carrying a strong tradition and high hopes hails from the tiny town of Greenbush, Minnesota. The Gators of Greenbush-Middle River High School are competing with teams from all over the United States as well as Canada, Australia, Israel, China and elsewhere.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics became an official MSHSL activity in 2012 and has grown like gangbusters. Greenbush-Middle River is in year three of robotics, and its 44 involved students is more than one-third of the entire student body.

The Gators were champions of a recent FIRST regional at the University of Northern Iowa, winning all 16 matches in which they competed. They also competed at a regional in Duluth, where they were knocked out in a late round. Now they’re competing with the best in the world, which is quite a feat for kids from extreme northern Minnesota.

“We’re a rural community, tucked away in northwest Minnesota, and our FIRST Robotics team has really become a leader in the state,” said Greenbush-Middle River superintendent Tom Jerome.

Each year, a different game is used by all FIRST Robotics teams. The 2016 game is called Stronghold. FIRST describes it as “two Alliances of three robots each are on a Quest to breach their opponents’ fortifications, weaken their tower with boulders, and capture the opposing tower. Robots score points by breaching opponents’ defenses and scoring boulders through goals in the opposing tower. During the final 20 seconds of the Quest, robots may surround and scale the opposing tower to capture it.”

Mary Anderson, who teaches science and math, is the Gators robotics “coach.” The students, however, take the lead in all sorts of tasks, from designing the robot to driving the robot to finding sponsors and raising money to publicizing the team’s accomplishments. Robotics is unlike traditional sports in that team members are always willing to assist other teams, whether it be with engineering, repairs, tools or anything else that comes up.

“My favorite part of the competitions is meeting all the different people,” said Greenbush-Middle River student Joe Hlucny. “There are so many people, and getting to communicate and work with them to accomplish a goal is a lot of fun and it’s a great experience. It gets you ready for other times in life when you’ll have to do that, for sure.”

Robotics is not an inexpensive activity. The Gators have dozens of sponsors, including the University of Minnesota, Polaris and Central Boiler, a Greenbush-based company that is one of the largest manufacturers in northwestern Minnesota.

“Central Boiler is a key player for us; they open up their facilities for our kids,” Jerome said. “Farmers and machinists in the area open their shops as work areas. When we qualified to go to the world championships on a Saturday, by Monday night Polaris had committed more than $10,000.”

A key aspect of the program is student development. Instead of staying home and playing video games by themselves, team members work long hours together.

“We require 30 hours from every student in order to go to a competition,” Gators team member Hannah Anderson said. “We had 29 eligible to go to our first competition in Duluth, and if they got their hours, they were able to go to Iowa. It was like 2,500 student hours. The mentors weren’t counted in that, but they put a lot of time in, too. The grand total was probably 5,000 hours-plus. You have people thinking about it in their sleep, and not sleeping because they’re thinking about it.”

Jon Langaas said, “During build season, when we go out to the shop or do anything here we document our hours. At the shop I usually got out there at about 3 and I left most nights around 11; Saturdays and Sundays were like 8 to 11. I spend probably way too much time on the robot, but that’s everything that I do in the winter now.”

It’s not a stretch to say that robotics changes lives in many ways, whether it be making new friends or choosing career paths.

“It’s just made me a better person, overall,” said the Gators’ Brady Kilen. “The teamwork that I’ve put in with everyone; I’ve gotten to know everyone better in working with each other. I’ve become more confident as a person, too.”

Teammate Blake Dallager said, “Over the winter months I’m not in any sports so I would just go to school and then go home after that. Without robotics I never would be speaking in front of you right now. For sponsorships, we go out and talk in front of 10, 20 people. I never would have had the opportunity to do that, or to go to Iowa or St. Louis or anything like that, and meet people from China and Brazil and Australia. It’s basically awesome to get out of the house, meet new people and go new place and try new things.”

Jerome, a former high school hockey coach and longtime hockey official, said he was mesmerized the first time he saw a FIRST Robotics competition, at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.

“This might sound corny, but I walked down, I went on the floor and I kind of teared up,” he said. “I thought, ‘We have to replicate what’s going on in FIRST Robotics in every classroom we have.’ I saw kids brainstorming with other kids, kids from Greenbush-Middle River to Edina and Warroad and Roseau. They work together on problem-solving: ‘You and I are on different teams, but hey how can I help you?’

“When kids come together in this program, they’re handed a problem to solve with not enough money, not enough facilities and not enough time. And that’s kind of real life. They’re asked to solve it, and the only way they can do that is by communicating, brainstorming, sharing ideas and growing. It’s pure, it’s simple, it’s demanding, it’s tough, it’s planning, it’s brainstorming.

“When you see kids scratching their heads, and they’re huddled up together, kids from different communities, and they’re trying to fix that person’s problem, you just go, ‘Wow.’ It really is amazing.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 644
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,214