John's Journal
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.

*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

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 (

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.

*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
Coach Mad Dog: A Lifetime Of Football And Survival 8/24/2015
When the Minnetonka football team opened the season Saturday with an 8-6 victory at Champlin Park, no one was happier than Skippers assistant coach John Mattox. And that happiness extended well beyond the excitement of good preparation and well-executed Xs and Os.

Mattox is more than a coach. He’s an 85-year-old football lifer who appreciates every day and loves spending time with young athletes.

“I like the young people, I like to help them, I like to be with them and I would say it probably keeps me young,” said Mattox, who is lovingly known to the Skippers as “Coach Mad Dog.”

Mattox introduced himself to Minnetonka head coach Dave Nelson shortly after Nelson left Blaine to join the Skippers in 2001.

“We met 14 years ago and he’s been here ever since,” said Nelson, who coached Blaine to a state football title in 1988 and did the same with Minnetonka in 2004. “He loves the game, he loves the kids. And the kids love him.”

Mattox is a graduate of Minneapolis West High School who also coached football at St. Louis Park, Blake, Bloomington Kennedy and with the Arena Football League’s Minnesota Fighting Pike. One of his longtime friends is Minnetonka ninth-grade assistant coach Roger French. One year younger than Mattox, French spent 21 years as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator at Brigham Young University, as well as stints with the University of Minnesota, Memphis State, Wisconsin and Northern Iowa.

Mattox is something of an entrepreneur; he collaborated with former Vikings kicker Fred Cox in inventing the Nerf football in the 1970s. Mattox treasures every day, because 35 years ago he was diagnosed with lung cancer and told he probably didn’t have long to live.

“They gave me a bilateral thoracotomy; they slit you all the way down the back and open you up,” he said. “They took out the upper lobe of the right lung, five ribs, the scapula, radiated me, fried the collarbone and sent me home with a handful of pills and said, ‘You’ve got about a five percent chance of living five years.’

“Everybody should be a survivor; that’s what these kids are learning, they’re learning how to survive. How do you face adversity? You don’t know how to deal with adversity unless you’ve faced it.”

Mattox and Nelson work with Minnetonka’s offensive linemen. Coach Mad Dog isn’t afraid to needle a player when the time is right, and the Skippers appreciate his humor as well as his knowledge of football and life.

“He’s always got the quick wit and he’ll lighten the day when it needs to be lightened,” Nelson said. “Deep down, he really cares about this program, he really cares about our players and I think our players know that. He would do anything for any of the kids here.”

*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
14 Football Openers Moved To Monday8/23/2015
Saturday's weather interrupted many Week 1 football games across Minnesota, and some games were either suspended or never started. Here is the list of games that have been moved to Monday...

Henry Sibley at Hastings, 1 p.m.
New Life Academy at St. Croix Lutheran, 4:30 p.m.
Hibbing at Virginia, 5 p.m.
Bagley at Badger/Greenbush-Middle River, 6 p.m.
Brooklyn Center at Fridley, 6 p.m.
West Lutheran at Alden-Conger, 6 p.m.
Ada-Borup at Warren-Alvarado-Oslo, 7 p.m.
Belle Plaine at Norwood-Young America, 7 p.m.
Roseau at Warroad, 7 p.m.
St. Paul Central vs. St. Paul Johnson, 7 p.m. at St. Paul Harding
Hill City at Cromwell, 7 p.m.
Breck at Providence Academy, 7 p.m.
Cherry at Carlton, 7 p.m.
Moose Lake-Willow River at Barnum, 7 p.m.