John's Journal
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.
Preseason Challenges Faced, Football Openers Beckon 8/20/2015
With the first games of the 2015 football season being played Saturday, a strange period of preseason practice is winding down. Preparation has been a challenge on several fronts for every football team in Minnesota, and time has been of the essence.

The normal three weeks of practice before the first game has been trimmed to two weeks this year. That was done because the Prep Bowl will be played two weeks earlier than usual; the University of Minnesota has home football games scheduled Nov. 21 and 28, so the stadium is available for Prep Bowl games only on Nov. 13-14 instead of the normal post-Thanksgiving timetable.

Preseason practice and Prep Bowl schedules will return to normal in 2016 when the Prep Bowl moves to its new home, the Vikings new stadium. But for now, getting ready for the season has been a test for coaches and players.

Adding to the changes are new regulations that limit practice time and contact during practice. Teams cannot hold two-a-day practices on consecutive days, two hours of rest are required between two-a-day workouts, and the amount of time teams can employ full-contact drills are limited. One major result for many teams has been more walk-through drills than in previous years.

One of the big matchups Saturday has Hutchinson playing at Becker; Becker is the defending Class 4A state champion and Hutchinson reached the 4A state semifinals. Becker coach Dwight Lundeen -- who started the Bulldogs football program 46 years ago – said preparations have indeed been rushed this season.

“Everything is getting jammed into a shorter amount of time, even team pictures needed to be taken the first day of practice so they can print the programs by the first game,” he said. “We have less X and O time so we’re going into the first game with less plays and defensive calls. But it’s fair and the same for everyone.”

Bloomington Jefferson coach Tim Carlson, whose team will play at Cooper on Saturday, expressed the sentiments of many coaches regarding the shortened prep time before Week 1.

“Not only do we have just two weeks to prepare, we have less time within those two weeks with the limit on two practices a day,” Carlson said. “There is no way we can be as prepared as we have in the past. We will be limited on offense, and defense and special teams will not be as polished. Schools that have players play both ways are at a greater disadvantage.”

Blaine coach Tom Develice said the Bengals have simplified their preparation for Saturday’s game at Wayzata.

“Instead of teaching our schemes against multiple offenses and multiple defenses, we are really concentrating on the specific schemes that our game one opponent will most likely run,” he said. “The biggest challenge is evaluating our talent without a scrimmage and with very limited contact during the short two weeks.”

Gene Teigland, coach of the New Life Academy/St. Croix Prep/Bethany/Liberty
cooperative team, said seven-on-seven work during the summer helped his players prepare for the season.

“Also the playbook is getting trimmed a little for the first couple of weeks,” he said.

“I am concerned about tackling,” said Tiegland, whose team will play at St. Croix Lutheran on Saturday. “I’ve never been big on doing a lot of hitting and we already use bags, but the shortened weeks concern me more than the daily limit. Younger guys need more reps so when the stress of the game comes they don’t fall back into their bad habits and are using proper technique. We are doing a tackling circuit every practice to help alleviate this potential issue.”

Blaine’s Develice said he thinks the limited two-a-days and less contact in practice will work out well in the future.

“I think in a typical year, where you have three weeks to prepare, the changes in practice format is going to pay dividends with keeping players out for football,” he said. “Parents and players will like the idea that every other day there is only one practice, and more importantly there are limits to the amount of contact you can actually be exposed to each day.

“I think the hardest part is that this year we have that change and then also playing one week sooner. My only concern with playing one week earlier: is there a chance for increased injuries in game one? Players are not in game shape yet, the month of August is usually hot in Minnesota and with one less week players might still be making mental mistakes in games. We are trying to handle this by simplifying our schemes on offense and defense along with increasing conditioning in practice.”

Conversely, Jefferson’s Carlson said he is worried about the limits on contact in preparing for games.

“We will have no contact the Thursday and Friday before our game,” he said. “Games are two and a half hours long and full of contact. In a notice we received from the MSHSL, it told us we can teach tackling, blocking, getting off blocks -- in other words ‘contact’ -- without having them actually do it. That's like sitting a 16-year-old in a car, telling him how it should work, but not letting him practice. Then send the kid on a two-and-a-half-hour drive. Or explain how to play a piano, but you just can't touch the keys before the recital. We are going to use our time the best we can to make sure our players are prepared and safe.”

For some schools, the new limits on practice and contact are not an issue.

“There is not really a huge impact on our program,” said Albany coach Mike Kleinschmidt, whose Huskies will play host to Fergus Falls in Week 1. “Over the last 60-plus years, we've always had only one-a-day practices and never have live contact.”

Lundeen said, “We do very little hitting in practice anyway, so walk-through practices are procedures that we have done for years. We will be physically ready to play our first game.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 7
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 720
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Edina Girls Soccer: Coach Is Hobbled But Determined8/19/2015
Two weeks ago, Edina girls soccer coach Katie Aafedt sent texts to her school’s activities director and her team’s captains. In a matter-of-fact way, she informed them that she had been sidelined with a torn ACL in her right knee … only days before tryouts and practice began for the 2015 season.

One of the captains, Eva Anderson, recounted the text. “She said, ‘This is not a joke. I tore my ACL. This won’t affect anything. I will just be a lot slower for a while.’ ”

Activities director Troy Stein received a similar message. “She said, ‘Sorry I didn’t call you back. I tore my ACL last night.’ It was just a casual text,” he said.

Aafedt has taken her injury in stride, even though she can’t take much of a stride. After surgery on Aug. 12, she was told she would need crutches for seven to 14 days; she stopped using them after four days.

She was playing in an adult soccer league when she planted her leg and heard a snap in her knee. She immediately knew it was the ACL because she had suffered the same injury in her other knee while playing high school soccer at Edina 20 years ago.

“The second it happened, I knew I had done it again,” she said. “It was painful for about the first two minutes, then I was able to walk off the field.”

She went straight to one of her neighbors, who also happens to be an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Christie Heikes had Aafedt lay down on her living room floor, where she confirmed the ACL tear.

“Our kids are friends, we’re neighbors, she’s a former D1 athlete, we’re very like-minded,” Aafedt said.

The coach’s physical therapist is another familiar face. Aafedt is working with former Totino-Grace and University of Minnesota soccer player Julie Eibensteiner. The two have played soccer together on summer teams.

“I’m in great hands,” Aafedt said. “It’s fun, relatively speaking, being back with a former teammate.”

She wears a full-length brace that immobilizes her knee. At practice, Aafedt moves slower than she would like but her assistant coaches step in.

“I’m walking slash waddling slash hobbling, whatever you want to call it,” she said. “Really the only thing it inhibits me from is running around demonstrating stuff. But I’ve surrounded myself with a great coaching staff so they do that. I’m very loud, and the knee doesn’t inhibit my voice.”

The team captains said Aafedt’s injury hasn’t changed anything other than her mobility.

“I’m sure if she was making a big deal out of it, we would be making a big deal out of it,” Molly Hiniker said. “And if she’s not, that’s why we’re not.”

Emily Rethlake said, “She’s really positive about it. She’s handling it in the best way possible.”

Stein said Aafedt’s injury doesn’t detract from her commitment to the game and the team.

“She is extremely passionate about working with our outstanding student-athletes, she has a passion to work with the girls, connect with kids and lead in a positive manner that is infectious and contagious within the program,” he said.

“She uses soccer to build relationships with young women, make connections and grow with them. She’s super organized and detailed and dedicated to the team and the program. We’re lucky to have her.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 7
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 720
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn