John's Journal
A Hometown Coach Returns To His Other Hometown 9/16/2016
NEW ULM – To the unaware eye, there was an odd scene after Thursday night’s football game between the Marshall Tigers and New Ulm Eagles. One of the Marshall coaches was smiling and laughing with several players wearing purple … New Ulm purple. It looked like old friends who were catching up.

And that’s exactly what it was.

Tony Ortmann is a Marshall assistant coach. He is the defensive coordinator, and his band of Tigers defenders played a stellar game Thursday, as did the offense. Marshall, the third-ranked team in Class 4A, raised its record to 3-0 with a 58-14 victory over the Eagles. Through three games, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 166-34.

Here’s the deal, though: For the previous five years Ortmann was the head coach in New Ulm. So Thursday’s game was a homecoming of sorts, a reunion with the boys in purple.

The outcome of the game wasn’t in serious doubt after little more than one quarter had been played. Marshall scored on its first two possessions and held a 19-0 lead two and a half minutes into the second quarter. It was 39-0 at halftime. Junior running back Jefferson Lee – who led the state in touchdowns last season -- scored five TDs on Thursday.

After the game was over, the teams shook hands and then kneeled in front of their respective coaches for a few words, as is tradition, in the two end zones. A couple minutes later, New Ulm Eagles began streaming to the other end of the field for handshakes, hands on shoulder pads and smiles with their former coach.

“There are quite a few coaches who are still on the (New Ulm) staff,” Ortmann said. “They’re all great guys. Leaving my friends and those kids, I’ve never had to make a decision so hard in my life.”

Coaching and teaching in Marshall meant Ortmann, his wife Brooke and their two young daughters could return home. He was a three-sport athlete before graduating from Marshall in 2002, and he played football at Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall.

Ortmann was in New Ulm for eight years. He was a volunteer assistant football coach in his first year, became defensive coordinator and then head coach.

Earlier in the week Ortmann told me, “I really look forward to the game, and it’s not a game where you’re looking to beat someone hard. I’m excited to see the kids and the coaches I coached with. I’m excited to see the kids play. After having been part of their lives for the past few years, I want to see how they progress and continue that bond with them.”

The game conditions were not optimal. Rain began falling Thursday afternoon and didn’t stop until the second quarter. The grass at Johnson Field was wet and slick, and the bench areas were nothing but mud. Johnson Field takes a beating every year, because it’s the home field for New Ulm, New Ulm Cathedral and Minnesota Valley Lutheran. The Marshall-New Ulm game was played Thursday because Cathedral and Minnesota Valley Lutheran played there Friday night.

The Eagles are soon to exit Johnson Field, however. New Ulm High School moved into a spacious new building this fall, complete with first-rate athletic facilities. Among those is a football stadium with artificial turf, and it’s hoped the stadium will be ready to host its first game for the Eagles homecoming contest against Belle Plaine on Sept. 30.

Marshall’s team is built largely on speed, along with talented linemen led by 6-foot-6, 305-pound senior Blaise Andries, who has committed to the University of Minnesota. If there was any speculation that a wet track would slow the Tigers on Thursday, it disintegrated quickly. Marshall also got some breaks.

The Tigers drove 80 yards on their first possession. Quarterback Trey Lance fumbled into the end zone and teammate Ryan VanMoer fell on the ball for a touchdown. Lance later hit Reece Winkelman for a 35-yard score, and Lee returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and ran 68 yards for another.

Ortmann played dozens of high school and college games at Southwest State, but Johnson Field remains a home field. His strong connections made leaving New Ulm a little difficult.

“There was one school and one town we would be willing to leave New Ulm for, and that was to get back home near our families,” he said. “We both have siblings around and it’s a great time to be back home and be with family. Our kids were a big part of our decision. They’re not in school yet. They have cousins in Marshall and our daughters absolutely love their cousins.”

Amid the postgame smiles, Ortmann had the best of everything: A nice win by the hometown team that he helps coach, and the chance to reunite with his former colleagues and players in New Ulm.

“It’s been fun seeing the kids,” he said. “It was fun to watch them make some good plays and see our kids execute at the same time.”

That’s a win-win.

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

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 43
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 1,832
Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame To Induct Seven9/14/2016
The Minnesota State High School Coaches Association will hold its annual Hall of Fame and Awards Banquet on Saturday, Oct. 8. The event will be held at the Sheraton Minneapolis West with a social hour at 5:30 p.m. and banquet at 6:30 p.m.

Hall of Fame Inductees
Ron Stolski, Brainerd football
Ruth Hayden, Ada-Borup volleyball
Roy Nystrom, Albert Lea hockey
Mike Mahlen, Verndale football
Lorne Grosso, Rochester Mayo hockey
John "Jack" Peterson, Cambridge-Isanti basketball
George Smith, Mahtomedi football (deceased)

Former players, coaches and friends are invited to attend. Tickets may be purchased from Jim Baker, South St. Paul High School. Email is or by phone (651) 306-0328
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
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:

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 32
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 1,598
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