John's Journal
Dealing With Loss In Lakeville: “Thanks coach. I love you”12/9/2015
Larry Thompson has seemingly seen it all during his lifetime as a resident of Lakeville. He has been coaching high school football in town since 1979, resulting in lots of highs and a few very low lows.

These past few days have been hard for everyone in Lakeville. After school last Friday, two male students at Lakeville South were killed in a single-vehicle accident, a third student was severely injured, and a fourth suffered minor injuries.

The funeral for Johnny Price, 18, was held Tuesday. The funeral for Jake Flynn, 17, will be held Thursday and Thompson will speak during the service. He knows it will be difficult, but these are days filled with difficulties.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Thompson told me. “The toughest thing I have to do is go in the equipment room, get a kid’s game jersey and take it to his mom and dad.”

He did that with Jake’s jersey. All four of the boys played football for Thompson; Price gave up football this year to concentrate on baseball. Alex Hughes remains hospitalized and Mason Kohlbeck has returned to school.

Thompson graduated from Lakeville High School in 1970 and returned to coach and teach after graduating from Augsburg College. In 1979 he was named Lakeville’s head football coach at age 26. He held that job for 26 years; when Lakeville South opened in 2005 (and Lakeville High became Lakeville North), Thompson moved to the new school.

Jake Flynn had recently been named a South football captain for the 2016 season. Thompson last saw him during a 6:15 a.m. weightlifting session Friday.

“I walked in and he came up and gave me a big hug with a big smile on his face,” Thompson recalled. “He said, ‘How are you doing today, coach!’ I’m retired (from teaching) so I usually don’t get up until 8, so I said, ‘Jake, I’m a little sleepy.’ He laughed and said, ‘It’s good for you to get out of bed.’

“I’ll be speaking at his funeral and I might tell this story: He was at wide receiver and he threw one of the lamest blocks I’ve ever seen. I’m ready to chew him out when he got to the sideline. But he said, ‘Coach, I know. That was one of the worst things you’ve ever seen.’ He said, ‘I’ll do better next time.’

“I love those kids. It’s a tough deal.”

Ten years after Lakeville was split into two high schools, the North Panthers and South Cougars are spirited rivals. But when one school is hurting, the other steps up to help. Two years ago, on the same date (December 4) that the South students were killed, a female student at North died in a car accident.

“Lakeville South did an amazing job supporting us two years ago and I felt like we did the same in this last situation,” North boys basketball coach John Oxton said. “In tragedy, great things happen. People pull together. I’m very proud of our community.”

The boys basketball teams from Lakeville South and Lakeville North met Tuesday night in a South Suburban Conference game at North. The color blue had been chosen as a sign of solidarity; the players from both teams wore blue t-shirts over their jerseys, the coaches wore blue t-shirts and most of the people who packed the stands wore blue.

South students displayed a large handmade sign that read, “We Love Our Angels.” The sign carried the initials JP and JF for Price and Flynn. Before tipoff, the teams gathered in a large circle on the court and held hands for a moment of silence.

“We talked before practice yesterday,” South coach Nick Gruhlke said after the game. “We got everybody’s feelings on things and we told them we’re going to coach you up like nothing happened and hopefully we can return to normalcy; which we know isn’t going to happen.”

Oxton said, “It’s so difficult, especially for young people. Life is going to go on and that is really hard. It doesn’t mean we have to forget or anything like that. We’re going to honor these kids and not forget them. But it’s also important, too, that we do move on. We can honor them by competing and doing our best. I felt like both teams did that tonight. It’s a super tough loss for them and an exciting win for us, but I think Lakeville as a community won tonight.”

After learning of the accident on Friday, Thompson went to South to be with his football players, other students, staff and parents. He was told that Mason Kohlbeck, who had been taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown Minneapolis, had asked about seeing his coach. Thompson drove there immediately and saw both Kohlbeck and Hughes.

“Mason wasn’t really hurt but he was distraught,” Thompson said. “I talked to him and sat him down. I said, ‘Mason, you have to listen to me. Mason, you can’t change one thing that happened today. All you can do in life is do the best you can in school, be the best person you can be, be the best husband and father you can be so Jake and Johnny can look down and say nice job, Mason.’

“I went up to the ICU to see Alex. I said, ‘Alex, you’ve got to get better. We need you around school, we miss you. You need to fight and get better. I said, ‘I love you’ and he opened his eyes and said, ‘Thanks coach. I love you.’

“I guess sometimes that puts things in perspective on why I do this. I’m their boss and everything but I’m their friend, too.”

To no one’s surprise, the crowd was somewhat subdued during most of Tuesday’s basketball game. South jumped to an early lead, held it and led by five points with 61 seconds remaining in the second half. The North fans roared when Calven Pesola made a three-point shot to tie it 77-77 with 35 seconds to go, and the winning point in a 78-77 North victory came on a free throw by Ethan Igbanugo with five seconds left.

At the final horn, North students stormed the court. Players, coaches and students from both schools shook hands and embraced as an emotional evening came to a close.

Postscript: The first song performed by the Lakeville North pep band was very fitting on a night when young men, two gone and two healing, were honored. The tune was a well-known song by Guns N’ Roses: “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 334
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 6,087 + 52 + 9 …
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The One Percent Plan Is Key For Hopkins Girls Basketball12/4/2015
In the grand scheme of things, Thursday evening’s basketball results were not the stuff of giant headlines. For the Hopkins Royals girls squad, a 74-36 victory at Champlin Park was only one step on a tall ladder that they hope will take them to another state championship.

The Royals, who are top-ranked in Class 4A, improved to 3-0. Their next challenge is a Saturday matchup with third-ranked Elk River in the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic at Hopkins.

But there is this: The result of a boys game between a small school in southeastern Minnesota and a team from Wisconsin on Thursday resulted in a small-type headline for the Hopkins girls. Rushford-Peterson lost to Gale-Ettrick-Trempeleau, Wis., on Thursday. Rushford-Peterson, the defending 1A boys state champs, had won 30 games in a row before that loss, and that streak was the longest in the state among boys and girls basketball teams.

So guess what? The Hopkins girls now hold the longest streak at 29 victories in a row.

“You just jinxed me,” Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff (pictured) said when I informed him of those facts after Thursday’s game.

The Royals haven’t lost in nearly a year, falling to Eastview in overtime at the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic on Dec. 6, 2014. Hopkins defeated Eastview twice later last season, including in the Class 4A state championship game.

This season, like most in the last decade or more, is one in which Hopkins is the team to beat in Class 4A. The Royals have won four of the last five big-school state championships and have a record of 297-39 since the start of the 2004-05 season.

Despite that pedigree, Cosgriff said his team employs no rear-view mirrors.

“Everything we’ve done to this point is over,” he said. “The only thing we can focus on is about getting better the next day. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s over. The next play, that’s kind of what we preach.

“Our goal is to get one percent better every day. We feel like if we go out and work hard every day in practice, it becomes habit-forming. We try to apply what we learn in practice every day and see what happens in the games.”

The Royals’ on-court leader is senior guard Nia Hollie, who has signed to play collegiately at Michigan State. Two other seniors also will play Division I college basketball; Ashley Bates at Hampton and Evelyn Knox at Wayne State. Hollie led the team with 12 points at Champlin Park, Bates had 11 and high-ceilinged sophomore Angie Hammond had 10.

As strong as the Royals are, they are playing without two talented former members of the team. Elizabeth Bulver, who has signed with North Dakota State, moved to Kansas for her senior year and 6-3 junior Jasmyn Martin stopped playing basketball to focus on volleyball. She plans to play volleyball at the University of Minnesota.

Nevertheless, the Hopkins basketball team is mighty strong. The starters Thursday were seniors Hollie, Bates and K’Aezha Wubben, junior Dee Dee Winston and Hammond. The bench is deep, with a mix of seniors and younger players.

“They’re really a fun group to coach,” Cosgriff said. “We have a nice mix of veterans and youth, I’m having a good time coaching them and they’re great kids.”

The basketball season is lengthy. Practice began on Nov. 16 and the state tournament will start March 15.

“We want to get better for February and March,” Cosgriff said. “We talk about the grey bin. The grey bin is the bin we roll in at the end of the year, where we put everything in there and put it away for the summer. We want to avoid that for as long as we can.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 322
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 6,087
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Tradition Continues As We Turn The Page On A New Toyota Camry 12/2/2015
In early December 2012 an exciting new partnership was formed. If you have seen the vehicle I have driven for the last three years or posed for a photo with that vehicle (as countless athletes, teams, coaches and fans have done), you know what I’m talking about.

I am a very proud driver of a Toyota Camry. On that December day three years ago the MSHSL took possession of a 2012 Camry that was decorated with MSHSL logos, Facebook and Twitter addresses and a couple giant cartoon caricatures of my head. The main color of that Camry was blue; I drove the Blue Beauty for three years and covered more than 70,000 miles traveling all over the state while attending events and telling stories about the great things associated with high school activities.

Toyota is a proud supporter of high school activities, and Maplewood Toyota has taken the lead in providing John’s Journal with a first-rate vehicle. Through a valuable partnership between the MSHSL, Maplewood Toyota and Twin Cities Toyota dealers, I have the great pleasure of traveling all over Minnesota in a very recognizable vehicle.

A new page was turned this week as the 2012 Camry was replaced by a 2016 Camry. This one is a distinctive and attractive red color and bears even larger caricatures of my already big head.

As with the 2012 Camry, Big Red will soon bear stickers representing teams that have won state championships. The 2012 model was covered with such stickers; the 2016 Camry does not yet have any stickers attached, but that will soon change. I already am in possession of a couple of stickers from teams that won state titles this fall, and I know that more will arrive in the mail.

To me, the John’s Journal Camry represents all of us. I am the driver, but I symbolically carry you with me; and “you” means everyone who is involved with high school athletics and activities. Every time I visit a school I try to park the car in front of a sign or main entrance and take a photo that pairs the Camry with the school. I have a collection of hundreds of those photos with the 2012 blue Camry, and I’m starting a new photo collection with the 2016 red Camry.

At regular-season events as well as state tournaments, the Camry is a focal point for photos that are posted by people on Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites. I have taken many photographs of entire teams posing with the car; oftentimes athletes will pose with the Camry while I’m somewhere else, post the picture on Twitter and tag me. I love to see those.

A few people have snapped photos of the Camry while I’m behind the wheel. When such photos are snapped by a passenger, it’s all good. A couple of drivers, however, have pulled up alongside me on the highway to shoot a photo from behind the wheel (not smart).

When I drove the 2016 Camry off the lot at Maplewood Toyota on Tuesday, Big Red’s odometer reading was 81 miles. That number will go up and up as I continue to spend time on the roads of our great state, seeing old friends, making new friends and sharing the good news that comes from what you do.

John’s Journal is driven by Toyota. And it's a great ride.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 320
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 6,011
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Radio Legend Mike Morrissey Leaves Lasting Legacy 11/30/2015
Anyone who has listened to radio play-by-play of high school and small-college sports in southern Minnesota has surely heard the voice of Mike Morrissey. For decades he called the action on KDHL in Faribault.

Mike has died at age 75. I was proud to call Mike a good friend. We sat side-by-side at state basketball tournaments for years and I always enjoyed chatting on the air with Mike at halftime or between games. Mike broadcast state basketball tournaments games for 44 years before retiring in 2013. He also was the voice of St. Olaf College athletics and it's estimated that he did play-by-play for approximately 3,500 high school and college basketball games.

Here's an item I wrote about Mike during the 2013 boys state basketball tourney...

When the 2014 boys state basketball tournament is held, something will be very different along press row. Mike Morrissey of KDHL radio in Faribault has made play-by-play calls of every tournament but one since 1968. That’s 45 years, and that’s how legends are made. The 2013 tournament is his last one before retiring.

Mike is truly a legend. He has been the voice of St. Olaf College, a fixture in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and he is a member of Minnesota Coaches Halls of Fame in three sports (football, basketball and baseball).

Mike missed one tournament long ago when he took a radio job in Nebraska. He returned to Minnesota pretty quickly, however. “I was too far away from civilization,” he said.

Mike, 72, will be spending next winter in Florida. He has promised me that he will send me emails during the 2014 tournament, describing warm breezes and the umbrella in his drink.

Thank you, Mike, for being a gentleman, a true professional and a good friend.
Girls Basketball Rankings From Minnesota Basketball News11/25/2015
1. Hopkins
2. Minnetonka
3. Elk River
4. Eastview
5. Edina
6. Centennial
7. White Bear Lake
8. Shakopee
9. Park Center
10. Rochester Mayo
11. St. Michael-Albertville
12. Rochester John Marshall
13. Lakeville South
14. Anoka
15. Lakeville North
16. Osseo
17. Eden Prairie
18. Andover
19. Rosemount
20. Maple Grove

1. Orono
2. Winona
3. Bloomington Kennedy
4. Hutchinson
5. Thief River Falls
6. Marshall
7. Kasson-Mantorville
8. Alexandria
9. St. Paul Como Park
10. Mahtomedi
11. DeLaSalle
12. Hill-Murray
13. Totino-Grace
14. Holy Angels
15. Willmar
16. Waconia
17. Chisago Lakes Area
18. Simley
19. Grand Rapids
20. Fridley

1. Dover-Eyota
2. Plainview-Elgin-Millville
3. Sauk Centre
4. Annandale
5. Roseau
6. Pequot Lakes
7. New London-Spicer
8. Minnehaha
9. St. Croix Lutheran
10. Esko
11. Watertown-Mayer
12. Glencoe-Silver Lake
13. St. Peter
14. Minnewaska
15. Kenyon-Wanamingo
16. Pipestone
17. Pelican Rapids
18. Barnum
19. Norwood-Young America
20. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton

1. Mountain Iron-Buhl
2. Maranatha Christian Academy
3. Lyle-Austin Pacelli
4. Browerville
5. Ada-Borup
6. Goodhue
7. Win-E-Mac
8. Mankato Loyola
9. Cromwell
10. Lester Prairie-Holy Trinity
11. Sleepy Eye
12. Wheaton-Herman-Norcross
13. Canby
14. Warren-Alvarado-Oslo
15. Fosston
16. Stephen-Argyle
17. Cherry
18. GHEC
19. Red Lake
20. Floodwood