John's Journal
Hey Coach! Hey Ref! (You’re Talking To The Same Guy) 12/17/2015
We have to excuse basketball fans who may be a bit confused when they see Josh Thurow on the court. Their thinking probably goes along one of two tracks:

--“Hey, that coach looks like the referee we saw the other night.”

--“Hey, that referee looks like the coach we saw the other night.”

Truth be told, Thurow, 40, is both a basketball coach and a basketball referee. He’s also the athletic director at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, so his winter days are pretty well tied up. He oversees the Redhawks athletic program during the day, is a site manager for evening home athletic events when he’s free, conducts practices as head coach of the Minnehaha girls basketball team after school, coaches games two or three days a week, and officiates basketball games.

He has coached the Redhawks since the 2004-05 season and has taken them to eight state tournaments, finishing as the Class 2A state champion in 2010 and the state runner-up in 2011. He also has officiated at girls and boys state basketball tournaments; he is a high-ranking football official, too, working MSHSL games as well as in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He has worked two Prep Bowls and one Division III national championship game.

Thurow isn’t aware of any others in Minnesota who are high school head basketball coaches as well as high school basketball officials. The closest thing might by Paul McDonald, who is head coach of the Ely Community College men’s basketball team and a high school basketball official. McDonald, son of retired Chisholm boys basketball coach Bob McDonald, is a member of the MSHSL board of directors.

Thurow said, “I have an assistant AD (Christian Zimmerman) who covers for me when I’m out officiating. Definitely my game schedule comes first. And our assigners know I’m a Thursday/Saturday referee, typically. Those are the nights I’m not coaching or supervising an event at school.”

Thurow was a three-sport athlete at Sauk Prairie High School in Wisconsin. He played baseball at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, where he graduated in 1998. He began officiating while a college student.

“All of us baseball guys would be the towel boys at basketball games and ball boys at football games,” he said. “One of the guys said to one of the basketball officials, ‘How do you become an official?’ ”

Thurow became a registered MSHSL official and joined the Minneapolis Officials Association. Before he became a head coach he worked 50 to 60 games a season. Now he officiates 12 to 15 (mostly boys) games each year.

“When you do 50-60 games you might start resenting the schedule a little,” he said. “When you do 15 you can’t wait to get to the gym. I really look forward to officiating. It’s a night off from coaching.”

Thurow was hired as a physical education teacher at Minnehaha Academy for the 1999-2000 school year. He was an assistant baseball coach when the girls basketball head coaching job opened. He was hired as coach, and the first year was a memorable one.

“The Minnehaha Academy program was good,” he said. “That first year we had a great group of seniors. I think we won our first 18 games, we didn’t lose until February and we went to state. That was a great year. I learned a lot.”

Like all smart coaches and officials, he’s still learning.

“I continue to try to figure out what works in high school basketball,” he said. “For me, throughout my coaching career, my philosophy did come from officiating a little. Teams that play man-to-man defense do a lot of winning but also get in foul trouble. My teams play zone, we make people try to beat us from 20 feet rather than two feet. We try to play high-scoring games. If you’re comfortable playing at a fast pace you might win some games.”

Thurow and his wife Heather have three children. Megan (who played basketball on her dad’s team) is a freshman at Northwestern in St. Paul, Bennett is in eighth grade and Camryn is in fifth grade. Being away from home so much, especially during the basketball season, takes commitment.

“I look at officiating as being in the service industry,” Josh said. “I try to work as hard as possible to make sure the players and coaches decide the outcome. The golden rule for me is to officiate the way you want it when you’re coaching and playing.

“I think I get a little more credibility as an official because coaches realize I know what it’s like. I think people appreciate my perspective.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 341
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 6,250
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Minnesotans Perry, Sherwood Receive National Honors12/16/2015
Two Minnesotans were honored this week at the 46th annual National Athletic Directors Conference in Orlando, Florida.

MSHSL associate director Craig Perry received the 2015 Frank Kovaleski Professional Development Award. The Kovaleski Award is presented annually to a National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association member who has made significant contributions and demonstrated excellence in professional development at the local, state and national levels. Craig is the ninth recipient of this award.

Wayzata High School activities director Jaime Sherwood received the NIAAA Distiguished Service Award. This is in recognition of Jaime's service, special accomplishments and contributions to interscholastic athletics at the local, state and national levels. The last Minnesotan to receive this award was Dan Johnson of Hopkins High School in 2011.

It is a great accomplishment for Minnesota to have its leaders in student athletics and activities recognized on the national level. Congratulations to Craig Perry and Jaime Sherwood.
Art Downey: Going (And Coaching) Strong For 60 Years 12/13/2015
In the 1940s, a little squirt of a kid growing up in St. Paul developed a reputation as a pretty good swimmer. The boy did most of his swimming in lakes, and he could really move in the water. He wasn’t the most talented kid in St. Paul, but he wasn’t lacking in athletic skills. The kid’s life centered around sports and he played whatever sport was in season.

When he got to high school at St. Paul Central, some of his buddies suggested he go out for the swim team. And so he did.

That’s where the story begins. Where will it end? That’s a question for the ages, because that little kid who could really move in the water in the 1940s is still really moving as 2015 turns the corner into 2016. His name is Art Downey and he is in his 60th season as the only boys head swimming and diving coach Edina High School has ever had.

It’s quite a story.

“Everybody my age has been doing something for 60 years,” Downey said. “I’ve just happened to do it all in one spot.”

That’s true. In that one spot, his teams have won conference and state championships, and he has coached dozens of individual and relay state champions as well as more than 30 All-America swimmers. But 60 years? How is that even possible?

Downey remembers reading, years ago, an article in a coaching magazine about a fellow who was still coaching at 70. “I thought, ‘Good grief, what’s that guy doing?’ Now I know what he was doing and why he was doing it.”

Downey doesn’t talk about his age, but Edina assistant coach Scott Johnson said it’s not much of mathematical challenge to figure it out. The Edina job was Art’s first position after college and two years in the Army, so …

“He’s been here since 1956, he’s been coaching for 60 years, so you can kind of estimate his age,” said Johnson, who is only the third assistant Downey has had in those six decades.

“Art’s a classic,” Johnson said. “Everybody in the swimming world knows Art. He’s in just about every Hall of Fame imaginable, he’s won just about every award imaginable in our state and at the national level.”

Downey was inducted into the Minnesota Swimming Hall of Fame in 1991, the Edina High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999, the MSHSL Hall of Fame in 2000, the University of Minnesota Aquatics Hall of Fame in 2006 and the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011.

For some perspective on his longevity, consider some other coaching giants in Minnesota high school sports: Bob McDonald coached boys basketball in Chisholm for 59 years before retiring in 2014. Ron Stolski continues to coach football in Brainerd; next season will be his 55th. Also in Brainerd, Lowell Scearcy has coached baseball for 46 years.

Downey earned his first varsity letter as a swimmer at the University of Minnesota in 1953. While in college he pondered what to do with his life. His love of sports made the decision to go into teaching and coaching pretty simple.

After graduating from college, Downey spent two years in the military as the Korean War was winding down. He never left U.S. soil and even spent one summer playing baseball in the Army. He was hired at Edina in the 1956-57 school year to teach physical education and start a boys swimming team.

He retired from teaching in 1990 – that was a quarter of a century ago – and never gave a thought to retiring from coaching. He’s not in it for success, unless you count the success of helping young men grow.

“Art is a man of high morals and high character,” Johnson said. “And he tends to put those qualities ahead of the athletes, even ahead of their ability level. To Art, the swimming and diving team is about being a gentleman 24 hours day, seven days week. The actual sport of swimming itself is the second-most important thing.”

Ask Downey about his career highlights, and it’s pretty clear that he simply doesn’t think along those lines.

“That would be tough,” he said. “My favorite team is always the one I’m coaching. That’s always true. The best part of my job is being with those kids every day. It’s the highlight of my day to spend a couple hours with them.

“I like to think accomplishments were never why I was in it. It was an opportunity to be a positive influence. That’s why I do it. People don’t usually think about it, but when two teams have a contest, three things can happen: one of the two teams can win or there’s a tie. I try to contribute to kids’ lives in either case.”

Before the Hornets’ season began with a Lake Conference meet at Edina last week, Downey took the microphone to address the crowd and the swimmers. He paid tribute to Elmer Luke, who began coaching the swim team at Hopkins the same year Downey began his career at Edina. Luke had died a few days earlier; Downey recounted some of Elmer’s accomplishments (“He was a true pioneer and a very good friend to many of us”) and asked the crowd to take part in a moment of silence.

The swim meet then began with the public-address announcer saying: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Art Downey Aquatic Center.”

Yes, the Edina pool is named after the coach. The facility was christened when it opened in 2006.

“That’s a terrific honor, that’s for sure,” Downey said. “I feel humbled by it.”

Edina activities director Troy Stein knows about long-serving coaches. Stein played high school basketball at Rocori under Bob Brink, who was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame this year. Brink coached for 50 years, the last 42 at Rocori before retiring in 2012.

“One thing that’s impressed me is Art is truly a guy who is constantly wanting to learn more about the sport, learn more about coaching, learn more about kids, learn more about what’s the best way to do things,” Stein said. “He is open to new technologies and it’s so impressive to get to know him and his passion to learn and grow.

“When we have our head coaches meetings, it’s fun to tap Art whenever we can to listen to his perspective on things that have happened in the past or things he’s seen. When Art speaks, coaches listen, because he has great, valuable insight to share.”

Downey remains busy with coaching, participating in coaching clinics and conventions, and assisting the swimming world however he can.

His first wife, Joanne, died 11 years ago. He remarried seven years ago, and he and his wife Carol have a flock of grandchildren. “They’re both wonderful ladies,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed in many, many ways.”

Downey’s four children all live in the metro area, and the grandkids enjoy hanging out at “Grandpa’s pool.”

Little has changed for Downey over these 60 years. When he was hired in 1956 he wore black eyeglasses and he still wears them today. He wears a polo shirt, shorts, white socks and white shoes at the pool, carrying a stopwatch and clipboard.

Downey indeed seems timeless. But he can tell that time marches on because his former swimmers and students are aging even if he isn’t. Members of his early teams are in their 70s now, and many of them went on to care for their coach as doctors, eye doctors, pharmacists, etc.

And what do you know? Some of them have retired.

“I’m starting to lose these people because of retirement,” Art said with a chuckle. “Doctors, eye doctors, you name it, they’re all because I either coached them or had them in class. It’s kind of a bummer when they retire. I think, ‘You can’t do this to me. What’s wrong with you?’ ”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 339
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 6,148
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
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