John's Journal
Thinking Back To Fourteen Years Ago This Week9/9/2015
I’ll always remember where I was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I had an appointment to speak to a class at Bloomington Jefferson High School, and I turned on the radio at home as I was getting dressed for the day.

There was talk of something bad happening in New York City. I turned on the TV in the kitchen and saw a big black smoldering hole in the side of one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. A plane had apparently struck the building, but nobody knew anything more than that. Before long another aircraft blasted into the other twin tower.

I drove to Bloomington Jefferson, arriving a few minutes early. I listened to the radio in the car for as long as I could and then walked into the school and was escorted to the room where the Sports Literature class was meeting. There were televisions in the classrooms, but because of construction work in the school none of the TVs were working. I told the class everything I had learned from listening to the radio, and then we were all in blackout mode.

After the class period ended, I drove to the Star Tribune building in downtown Minneapolis. Like everyone else in the newsroom, I watched the scenes on television. The Pentagon was on fire … a plane had apparently gone down in Pennsylvania.

Fast-forward a few years and I was back at Jefferson, writing about a memorial stone that had been installed at the school in honor of former Jaguars quarterback Tom Burnett, who died when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. I also wrote about former Blake linebacker Gordy Aamoth, who died in one of the twin towers on Sept. 11. The stadium at Blake now bears his name and a twisted beam from the World Trade Center is on display at the stadium.

In the Sept. 14, 2001, edition of the Star Tribune, I wrote a column under the headline “High school sports can help the healing.” I had spoken with people at Colorado’s Columbine High School as well as Osceolo High School in Wisconsin, where a traffic accident had claimed twin brothers a few weeks before Sept. 11. That column seemed to resonate with readers at the time, and to this day people occasionally will mention it to me. I have heard from a few people who say they saved that column, and they read it every day as Sept. 11 comes around. That is equally touching and humbling.

Here is that column as it appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sept. 14, 2001…

High School Sports Can Help The Healing

In the horrible wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all after-school activities were canceled Tuesday in the Jefferson County (Colo.) School District. This didn't surprise Ed Woytek, the athletic director at Columbine High School.

The day's events hit Columbine hard, especially the senior class. They were freshmen on April 20, 1999, when two students shot and killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

"Our coaches and all of us are on kind of a fine line, especially with what happened here previously," Woytek said.

Columbine still is recovering from that day. Recovery also is an ongoing process in Osceola, Wis., where twin brothers Eric and Aaron Kipp, 18, died in a car accident on the way to football practice 30 days ago.

With thousands of innocent people presumed to have perished this week, what do you say? How do you heal? Maybe it's best to listen to the kids. That's among the lessons learned at Columbine and Osceola.

"Pretty much all of them are saying to us, 'We need to be a family,'" Woytek said. "Because that's what happened a few years ago; they got with family. And that's where we need to be, that's where our American people need to be, is with family."

After the Kipp brothers died, football practices were stopped for a short period. But soon, everyone wanted to return -- or try to return -- to some sense of normalcy.

"Very soon, the kids were ready to go back," said Osceola coach/principal Mike McMartin. "They said, 'Coach, I need to keep busy.' And they were right. When we jumped back into it, although they weren't the best practices in the world, there was almost a big sigh of relief that they could start moving forward and take with us all the good things that the boys had shared with us for so many years, instead of thinking about the bad."

Activities went on as scheduled Tuesday in Osceola, the day of the attacks.

"We just really felt during that time it was massively important that we show to the kids, 'Hey, we're going on. We're not going to let these people defeat us or take us off our feet here. We're going to move forward and be proud,'" McMartin said.

At Columbine and Osceola, tragedy struck a specific community of people. This week, tragedy struck us all.

The Columbine Rebels take a 1-1 record into tonight's game at Dakota Ridge. Osceola is 3-0 and the homecoming opponent for rival St. Croix Falls. The games go on, as do our lives.

"Everybody keeps saying we'll never get back to normal, just like our nation will never get back to normal," Woytek said. "But hopefully we're going to get as close to normal as we can."

So if sporting events are part of your normal routine, stick with it. If you haven't been to a high school game in years, tonight would be a wonderful time to go. Get away from the television, escape the headlines. Find a seat in the bleachers and take a break, however temporary, from all that's gone so wretchedly wrong in this world.

Watch the team captains shake hands before the coin flip. Hold your hand over your heart during the national anthem as the flag flutters at half-staff. Bow your head during the moment of silence to honor this week's victims. Get on your feet for the opening kickoff. Watch our young people -- players, cheerleaders, fans -- as they smile, holler and laugh together during this evening that is tradition both athletic and social. Buy popcorn, listen to the band, cheer first downs, simply celebrate.

Maybe administrators at every school can find a recording of God Bless America, and across our states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and beyond -- we'll sing together when the game ends. Just like a family.
Friday Was A Night To Celebrate In Jordan 9/6/2015
JORDAN – The biggest play of Friday night’s football game here was a short pass. The ball had some wobble on it but the receiver timed his route and made the grab with ease. The pass landed in the soft hands of Jordan junior quarterback Zach Kes after it was launched by a veteran athlete named Dick Ames.

As the two shook hands, Jordan superintendent Matt Helgerson said – with the assistance of the stadium sound system – “I declare Ames Field officially open.” A big cheer rang out from the fans filling the grandstand and standing along the fence line, because that declaration was huge and long-awaited.

Dick Ames (pictured) founded his own construction company in 1962, and Ames Construction now has offices all over the U.S. and in Canada. That same Dick Ames, a civic-minded resident of Jordan for 48 years and counting, donated the funds to transform a run-of-the-mill grass playing field into one of the showplaces for Minnesota high school sports.

Artificial turf, a new scoreboard, a new building to house ticket windows and concessions, new fences and a freshening up of the grandstand structure; the ballpark figure for the cost of the new ballpark is $1 million. You could tell how much the citizens of Jordan appreciate Dick Ames by the thunderous cheers that went up to the heavens during a pregame ceremony before the Hubmen played Belle Plaine … and you could tell how much Dick Ames appreciates Jordan by what he said during brief remarks.

“Probably the most important thing, if we want to be competitive with other communities, we have to have a good school system or young families are not going to move in and make our community grow,” he said.

“Buildings and fields don’t do too much. It’s people. … We have a nice school and athletic field, but it’s going to be the people around it that make things happen.”

Ames is also an important booster for the University of Minnesota and the Gophers football program. Thus, a man named Jerry Kill attended the event. The coach posed for countless photographs and shook every hand in sight.

During the national anthem, fireworks boomed as the crowd sung about bombs bursting in air. And after the game (a 37-17 victory for the unbeaten Belle Plaine Tigers), more fireworks closed out a remarkable evening.

The idea of revamping the football field (which also is now used for a new sport in Jordan: soccer) came after voters had approved the building of a new middle school. A master plan for facilities was put together, and one of the “wish list” items was artificial turf for a field that had taken regular poundings due to rain and a heavy rotation of use by various teams.

As Jordan activities director Jeff Vizenor said, “The feeling was ‘Why not turf?’ ”

Ames was approached and presented with the idea, and it didn’t take him long to say yes. Ames Construction employees did the excavation in preparing the site for turf.

“He’s been an awesome friend of the program,” Vizenor said. “We’re so lucky to have him. It’s been a really neat experience.”

Jordan first fielded a high school football team in 1907. Ames Field – or its predecessor on the same site, to be exact – was dedicated in September 1984, 31 years ago. Ames told the crowd, “In 1984 I personally did most of the work on this field out here.”

During the dedication, Helgerson said, “Jordan is a fantastic community. Those of us who live here know it’s a great place to raise a family and to allow others to compete. But it’s also a great place to come together. As we all know, strong communities come together to lift one another up during difficult times and they also gather to celebrate successes, triumphs and exciting events. Tonight, we gather to celebrate and show appreciation.”

Jordan school board chair Deb Pauly (also a member of the MSHSL board of directors) summed things up nicely in speaking to the crowd.

“Tonight is not only about celebrating the completion of this great stadium, far from it,” she said. “What we are celebrating is a long history in Jordan of support for our youth through our passion for sports and providing opportunities for our youth.

“Think of the thousands of youth who have set foot on this very field over the years, those who will tonight and the thousands who will in the future. Athletics are an integral part of the total education program here in Jordan. Each of you here tonight, and at every single event, are an important part. Your role as a player, a coach, a manager or a spirited fan makes a difference in fulfilling the mission of the Jordan public schools, which is to inspire a caring community, to ignite learning, innovation and success for all.

“We celebrate not only our youth as athletes, we celebrate the skills, values, teamwork and lessons they will have and have learned on this very field. Lessons that will help shape them into productive, strong, community-minded, caring adults who will keep this spirit going forever.”

Well done, Jordan.

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

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 15
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 1,286
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
A Hot Night, A Slippery Football And A 40-0 Final 9/3/2015
MONTGOMERY – As I chatted on the phone Wednesday with Fairmont football coach Mat Mahoney, our conversation ended with me offering my keys to the next day’s game, which the coach repeated: “Hydrate and hang on to the football.”

The hydration half of the equation worked out for the Cardinals on Thursday night at Tri-City United. The hanging on to the football part? Not so much.

Fairmont lost the ball on turnovers six times and had a punt blocked, which gave the talented TCU Titans all the opportunities they needed in recording a 40-0 victory. Both teams came into this Week 3 matchup unbeaten and ranked in the Class 3A Top 10; the Titans are ranked No. 7 and Fairmont is No. 8. The goal for both teams Thursday was to stretch their record to 3-0. For the Titans -- who have a powerful ground game and showed they could throw the ball, as well -- it was mission accomplished.

“We think we have a special group,” said TCU coach Ken Helland. “We have nine starters back on offense and nine starters back on defense. Tonight we played a lot of kids, even in the first quarter. We think we have a lot of guys who can play.”

This was the first time these two teams had ever met on the football field, even in the days before TCU was created four years ago when the schools at Le Center and Montgomery-Lonsdale merged. The Cardinals and Titans are among 28 teams assigned to the South Central District; both are among 10 teams in the South Central’s Red Division.

Fairmont opened the season with victories over Blue Earth and Jordan. The Cardinals’ other regular-season opponents are Marshall, St. Peter, Worthington, Albert Lea and Waseca. Tri-City United, which had defeated Sibley East and New Ulm to open the season, also will meet Worthington, Albert Lea, Belle Plaine, Marshall and Jordan.

Once the postseason arrives, Fairmont will be in Section 3 and Tri-City United in Section 1.

This year’s move to district football scheduling has been a much-needed change for Fairmont and many other schools all over the state.

“When I first took over nine years ago we played Lennox, South Dakota, West Central (in Hartford), South Dakota, and we made some trips,” said Mahoney. “When we were in the (six-team) South Central Conference we had to find three nonconference games every year.

“I think (district scheduling) is a great thing statewide. The other side of it is nobody has to travel crazy distances. Two hours or less, that’s no big deal.”

Fairmont’s trip to Montgomery was the Cardinals’ longest of the regular season at 87 miles one way (or about 90 minutes).

For Tri-City United, the new format means more travel but also brings better competition.

“We were one of the fortunate teams,” Helland said. “We had an eight-game schedule and we didn’t have any problems. I kind of like playing these different teams, but the only thing I don’t like is our travel probably quadrupled over what it was before. We go to Marshall and we go to Worthington; I don’t have anything against playing those teams.

“One good thing that I do like is we play all teams that are in our class or above. In the Minnesota River Conference, half the teams were in our class and the other four were below us. Hopefully this makes us tougher and prepares us a little better for the playoffs.”

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

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 13
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 1,230
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Old Dutch Awards Return For the Fourth Year9/1/2015
In partnership with Old Dutch and WCCO-AM 830, the MSHSL is proud to sponsor the Old Dutch Quality Athlete of the Week award for the fourth consecutive year. The Old Dutch Quality Athlete of the Week award honors high school athletes for their contributions as athletes, students and community members.

We also honor an Old Dutch Quality Team of the Week. The Team of the Week will be recognized on WCCO AM 830 every Tuesday morning at approximately 8:12 a.m. on "The WCCO Morning News With Dave Lee."

Honored individual athletes are recognized on WCCO-AM 830 every Thursday evening at approximately 7:35 p.m. during the "Sports To The Max" show with Mike Max and every Friday morning at approximately 8:12 a.m. during "The WCCO Morning News With Dave Lee." Winners of the Quality Athlete of the Week award will not only be honored live on-air at WCCO-AM 830 and online by the MSHSL and Old Dutch, they will also receive a commemorative plaque for this achievement.

Old Dutch is the proud to recognize the Quality that lives within each of these honored athletes.

Athletes and teams can be nominated by emailing MSHSL media specialist John Millea at jmillea@mshsl.org

Nominations for athletes should include the following ...

--Student's name, school and grade.
--Athletic accomplishments during the past week. Please offer detailed statistics.
--Information about the student's academics and/or community involvement.
--A photo of the student.

Nominations for teams should include a summary of what the team accomplished during the week and a team photo or school logo.
Fist Bumps And Lightning: The Life Of An Officiating Crew 8/26/2015
Before the team took the field, everyone exchanged fist bumps. It was going to be a long day on this first weekend of the Minnesota high school football season.

This was a five-member team, men between the ages of 34 and 55. They wore striped shirts and black pants, with whistles hanging on lanyards around their necks. These officials, proud residents of the Iron Range, would work a nine-man game at 1 p.m. and an 11-man game at 7 p.m., both in St. Louis County.

By the end of the night, their first two games of the season would be behind them. To be more precise, that was what everyone hoped.

The crew members were referee (also known as “the white hat”) Jim Johnson, umpire Aaron Lamppa, head linesman Dave Troland, line judge Bill Novak and back judge Josh Lamppa. This is a veteran crew, averaging more than 23 years of officiating experience. The Lamppas, who are cousins, are the youngest of the five; Josh is in his 15th year and Aaron in his fifth. The other three have been working games for more than 30 years.

This is also a celebrated crew, with Johnson, Novak, Troland and Josh Lamppa all having worked football state tournament games. Most of the members work other sports, including state tournament games in girls and boys basketball. Josh Lamppa owns another rare achievement: He was the head coach of the Nashwauk-Keewatin boys basketball team that finished second in the 2004 Class 1A state tournament.

Josh Lamppa is a science teacher at Nashwauk-Keewatin. The others’ jobs include shipping, product management and operating heavy equipment in a taconite mine.

Before Saturday’s first game, the crew shared fist bumps and walked onto the field at South Ridge High School, 21 miles north of Cloquet. They shook hands with the head coaches and introduced themselves.

After South Ridge coach Brent Johnson heard “Hi, Dave Troland.” “Hi, I’m Josh Lamppa.” “I’m Aaron Lammpa” and “Bill Novak” he said laughed and to Novak, “I thought you were going to say Lamppa again.”

The crew inspected the field, field markers and first-down chain before bringing the team captains from South Ridge and Kelliher/Northome to midfield for the coin flip. Johnson introduced himself to the captains and said, “Our other officials are Mr. Novak, Mr. Troland, Mr. Lamppa and Mr. Lamppa.” After the national anthem was played, there were more fist bumps before the five scattered to their spots for the kickoff.

South Ridge athletic director Tony DeLeon set the game time for 1 p.m. once he had Johnson’s crew lined up. That’s how respected they are. Coaches and administrators all over the Iron Range feel the same way.

“We’re very familiar with them,” said Virginia football coach Ed Cremers, who would see the crew Saturday evening. “Parts of that crew ref our basketball games, they’re umpires for our baseball games. We know them, plus they’re very personable. They’re good communicators. You can tell they’re here for kids.”

The nine-man game went relatively smoothly for a season opener. Nine penalty flags were thrown and the teams combined for seven turnovers. On the strength of a 27-yard touchdown pass from Giizhik Wagner to Cal Roosdett in the second quarter, Kelliher/Northome won 8-0 in a game that lasted two hours, three minutes while clouds filled the ski and a strong wind blew from the south. The officials spent halftime inside an equipment shed, drinking from water bottles provided by DeLeon.

As with all quality officiating crews, they worked together like a five-piece jazz band. The ball was snapped, a play was run, whistles were blown. Novak and Troland marked the spot and Aaron Lamppa placed the ball. Johnson, positioned behind the offense, blew his whistle to mark the start of the play clock and the five readied for the next play, all in perfect sync.

Distance is often a factor in outstate Minnesota. The Kelliher/Northome Mustangs drove two and a half hours to South Ridge, including a short stint on a gravel road. After the nine-man game, the officials’ second assignment was 45 minutes to the north in Virginia, where the Blue Devils would host Hibbing.

Working two games in one day is a rarity for football officials. Due to the high school season starting earlier than normal this year, Johnson’s group will officiate five games – half of their regular-season schedule -- before Labor Day. But Saturday’s doubleheader was their only one-day double dip.

Leaving South Ridge, all five officials had time to go home, shower and rest briefly. They reassembled shortly after 5 p.m. to attend a benefit spaghetti dinner next door to Virginia’s Ewens Stadium. The dinner was held at the Miners Memorial Building, with proceeds helping Jay Mott, who was struck by lightning in June and severely injured (www.helpthemotts.com).

After dinner they put on the stripes again and hit the field for their second game of the day. As predicted, bad mojo was percolating in the western sky.

On the opening kickoff, Hibbing’s Jon Boggio caught the ball and ran 65 yards for a touchdown. Alec Hendrickson scored on a three-yard run and the score went to 20-0 on a 25-yard run by Trevor Erickson in the second quarter.

And then, zap! A bolt of lightning was seen with 13 seconds left in the half and the officials cleared the field under MSHSL safety guidelines. Every time lightning is seen, no matter how far away from the field, play must be stopped for 30 minutes.

The first bolt came at 8:04 p.m. The officials waited in the press box, where Virginia athletic director Kerry Bidle was looking at weather radar on his computer. There was some optimism that the weather would clear, but every time lightning cracked, the 30-minute clock restarted.

There was food in the press box: crock pots, hot dogs, chips, cookies, water and soft drinks. The officials and members of the chain gang partook, but mostly everyone waited. Rain fell and wind blew, but those were manageable impediments. Lightning was not.

Before a regular-season game starts, the home team is in charge of deciding whether to play or not. Once the action has begun, the officials make those calls. And when lightning keeps crackling and the clock keeps ticking, decisions must be made. Johnson went to the locker room area to meet with Cremers and Hibbing coach Dave Frisell.

The other four officials waited in the press box, talking and joking but mostly waiting. The radar still showed promise, but the actual conditions greatly disputed what the computer screen displayed. Bidle had the officials complete paperwork that would result in each of them receiving payment of $75 for the evening’s work.

Talk turned to the possibility of suspending the game and finishing it on Monday (MSHSL rules prohibit Sunday events). There were some minor issues with a Monday resumption. Two of the officials would not be available, but replacements could be found. Also, starting a game on Saturday and finishing it on Monday was not optimal for the teams, which both would play again four days later.

As the sky continued to explode, the decision was made at 10:12 p.m. after a delay of two hours, six minutes. The teams would come back Monday and re-start the game at 5 p.m.

The officials returned to their locker room, grabbed their bags and headed for the parking lot. All five were still wearing their stripes.

Postscript: The game was indeed finished Monday, with Hibbing winning 34-7.

--To see a photo gallery of the officials, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 11
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 1,150
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn