John's Journal
Miles And Memories: The Best Of John’s Journal From 2014-156/24/2015
Eleven and a half thousand miles. When I look back on the past year of John’s Journal stories, all those miles (11,543 to be exact) I drove on Minnesota roads while traveling to and from schools, games and other events are a big blur. The best memories, however, flow from what happened when I wasn’t behind the wheel. I visited small-town gyms and mega-school fields. I spent time in towns where the skyline consists of grain elevators and church steeples; I attended events where the office towers of downtown Minneapolis provided a backdrop. And everywhere I went, there was a new story to tell.

In what has become an annual tradition, I have looked through the past 12 months of John’s Journal stories and settled on my personal 10 favorites. I posted more than a hundred stories during the year, and my initial screening whittled that list to 26 candidates for the top 10. In other words, coming up with 10 was extremely difficult. But here they are…

NUMBER 10/ Jarvis Johnson Died Four Years Ago; You Should See Him Now (Dec. 12)

Jarvis was a member of four Class 3A basketball state championship teams at DeLaSalle. He collapsed at basketball practice as an eighth-grader and was clinically dead for between seven and 12 minutes. The story of how he came back to life is amazing, and the fact that he is one of the top athletes in Minnesota – with a surgically inserted defibrillator keeping watch on his heart -- adds another incredible layer to the story of a young man who is a walking miracle.

NUMBER 9/ Cymbals Of Excellence, Energy And Fun (Feb.19)

This was a story from the girls state hockey tournament, but the subject was someone off the ice: Anna Albitz, who played the cymbals in the Edina band. I wrote: Anna is a senior and one of six cymbals players in the band. She loves the cymbals because clanging those two big discs against each other and twirling them around while boogying is just too much fun.

“Anna is an amazing kid,” said Edina band director Andy Richter. “She is full of energy and life and she just exudes the epitome of a band student.”

NUMBER 8/ Same Nickname, Same Colors And Teacher vs. Student (March 17)

There was an intriguing matchup of coaches in the Class 3A girls state basketball tournament. Third-year Princeton coach Andy Fenske, 27, is a 2006 graduate of Marshall, where girls basketball coach Dan Westby was his physical education and health teacher in seventh and eighth grade. One of the hurdles for Fenske was what to call Westby, 55.

“No way can I ever call him Dan,” Fenske said with a laugh. “Maybe Mr. Westby, out of sheer respect.”

NUMBER 7/ End Of An Era As Fairmont Speech Coaches Bow Out (April 17)

The 2015 state speech tournament was the final one for Fairmont husband-and-wife coaches Cliff and Roxy Janke. Cliff coached speech, taught vocal music and directed school musicals for 31 years before retiring from teaching in 2014, and for 15 years Roxy was a Fairmont English teacher and director of school plays as well as speech coach. She retired when the 2014-15 school year ended.

Roxy said, “Whether they’re at the state tournament or not, they have acquired some skills and they have acquired confidence and they have come into their own. And there’s not a better gift as a teacher than to see them blossom.”

NUMBER 6/ 40 Years Of Optimism And Baseball In Pine Island (April 24)

Pine Island baseball coach Craig Anderson has won more than 500 games during a 40-year coaching career. But wins and losses are secondary to Anderson’s main mission in coaching.

“We want to win but we have a bigger message,” he said. “And that’s, ‘Hey, come play hard, represent your community and your family with dignity.’ And if you do those things, then it’s a win no matter how the result comes out.”

NUMBER 5/ She Dances To The Music (Even Though She Can’t Hear It) (Dec. 18)

Erin Barrett, a junior at Roseville High School, is deaf and a member of the Raiders’ varsity high kick dance team. How does she do it? Through a combination of visual cues, practice, experience and the assistance of a sign-language interpreter. It is not easy, even if Erin makes it look easy.

“Sometimes I feel like she can hear because she always gets it,” said coach Brittany Rehling. “It’s super amazing.”

NUMBER 4/ Nicollet: Football, Food And A Room With A View (Oct. 22)

Schmidts and George’s City Meats & Sausage Shop are two of Nicollet’s best-known businesses, with jerky, beef sticks, sausage, bacon, bratwurst and other delicacies being sold to locals as well as customers far and wide. Some of the Raiders players are employed at the meat shops, which leads us to something else Nicollet is famous for: football.

NUMBER 3/ Seeing Is Believing: The Amazing Courtney Durant (Feb. 21)

Courtney Durant, a senior gymnast and team captain at Cambridge-Isanti, sees about 20 percent of what others see. She has ocular albinism, meaning her retinas are whiter than normal and cause white spots in her vision. She also has astigmatism and nystagmus. Just think about that: run at full speed, leap off a springboard, hit the vault mat with your hands, spin, twist, stick the landing … with 80 percent less vision than other gymnasts.

NUMBER 2/ On “Play For Nat” Night, Communities Come Together In Fun, Support (Sept. 15)

Natalie Hildebrandt, a sophomore volleyball player at Kenyon-Wanamingo, was given a clean bill of health after two years of a knock-down, drag-out fight with cancer. There was a celebration that will be remembered forever by those who packed the gym.

There were smiles. And a tailgate party. And a silent auction. And smiles. C-squad, JV and varsity volleyball between the Kenyon-Wanamingo Knights and the Cannon Falls Bombers. And smiles. Money was raised, including a “Dash for Cash” through the stands by head coaches Jen Nerision of K-W and Melissa Huseth of Cannon Falls, who are sisters. There was a tug-of-war between the football teams from the two schools. Oh, and did I mention the smiles?

“It’s overwhelming,” Natalie said.

NUMBER 1/ Victory Day In Grand Rapids: Football And Big Smiles (Oct. 16)

Eric Soderberg, starting senior quarterback for the Grand Rapids football team, was leading a group of QBs in drills at Noble Hall Field. The athletes each took a snap and navigated several cones while running with the ball. At the end of the drill, Soderberg and the other QBs gathered together in a tight huddle, each put one hand up in the middle of the pack and Soderberg said, “QBs on 3!” They all hollered, “One! Two! Three! QBs!!”

It was absolute magic. These weren’t the other high school quarterbacks; these were cognitively and physically impaired children from Itasca County who had been invited to the Grand Rapids Thunderhawks’ first Victory Day event.

Sixteen kids – some in wheelchairs or walkers -- joined the football team and one young lady spent her morning with the cheerleaders, who performed routines and kept the enthusiasm high. Members of the Thunderhawks marching band provided the school song and other tunes, and longtime Thunderhawks public-address announcer Roy Tovionen provided play-by-play from his perch in the press box.

Coach Greg Spahn said, “It’s just so much fun to have our players see the impact they have and give back to some of these kids who aren’t able to experience football.”

Here’s how senior Levi How described the day: “I love it. If there’s one kid smiling today, it makes the whole day worth it.”
Why We Play? Cathedral’s Bob Karn Knows The Answer 6/15/2015
An initiative called Why We Play has become very popular, spreading from MSHSL headquarters to schools around Minnesota and on to other parts of the country. The premise is straightforward: Sports should be a fun experience that allows students to experience life lessons and growth.

Bob Karn could be a spokesman for Why We Play, and Bob has been around much, much longer. He is 73 years old and has been the baseball coach at St. Cloud Cathedral for 45 years. His Crusaders won their second consecutive Class 2A state championship Saturday at Target Field and extended their winning streak to 50 games.

Everything Karn (pictured) said after his team’s 10-1 victory over Minnehaha Academy could be pulled right out of the Why We Playbook. He talked about having fun, kids being with their friends, sharing positive experiences and making memories that will last a lifetime.

“You need a lot of really good people, great kids who love to play baseball and who really care about each other,” he said. “You’re not going to win unless people want to be together and want to play day after day. And it’s still a game where you play. It’s kids playing.

“I think when ballplayers can maintain a playground mentality, where it’s fun to show up and play ball, where it’s fun to practice, to practice in the gym when there’s snow outside. And we had that kind of personality.”

Karn said his players are such good friends that sometimes he had to remind them to stop chatting with each other and begin practice.

“They would sit and talk and have fun with each other,” he said. “That’s part of the nature of the group and I’m just glad to be a part of that.”

Indeed, Karn said coaching baseball keeps him young. He has more career victories (736) than any high school baseball coach in Minnesota history, but he thinks a lot more about making sure the game remains enjoyable than any numbers in any record books.

“I get to feel like I’m 17 when I’m out here,” he said. “What could be greater than going to the ballpark, practicing baseball, just having fun, sitting in the dugout? Especially with kids who love to play and care about each other. That part never gets old. That always refreshes me as I get older. I feel a lot younger.”

Cathedral had 11 hits in the title game, and the last two batters in the order (Jacob Gross and Bryant Bohlig) combined to go 5-for-7 with two runs scored and six driven in. Brindley Theisen threw a complete-game four-hitter.


New Life Academy also won back-to-back championships, defeating Springfield 6-5 in eight innings. Brad Goulet singled to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the eighth. Sam Horner went 3-for-4 and Thomas Becken drove in two runs for the Eagles.

Springfield’s only previous appearance in a baseball state championship game came in 1948 when the Tigers lost to Chisholm 13-8.

“As it would be for any small town, it was a tremendous experience,” Springfield coach Bob Fink said of the season. “The town gets behind you, and there’s nothing like living in a small town. I think they’re heartbroken right now, but everyone’s proud of these kids because they’re great kids on and off the field.”


Chanhassen won its first baseball state title with a 2-0 victory over Lakeville North. Winning pitcher Jack Schnettler gave up only four hits in a 90-pitch effort.

The Storm scored both runs in the third inning. Jared Davidson and Nick Smith singled and scored on a single by Ty Danzer.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 664
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 11,543
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Hurry Up And Wait, Then Go Out And Win A Ballgame6/13/2015
Rain delays are a part of baseball. But there are rain delays and then there are nutty, crazy oh-can-you-believe-this rain delays. For example, between the time the Lakeville North baseball players got out of bed Saturday and the time the first pitch was thrown against Northfield, a flight from Minneapolis could have been on final approach in Amsterdam.

That flight time is more than eight hours and the Panthers waited nearly that long for their Class 3A state semifinal game to start at CHS Field in St. Paul. Originally the game was scheduled for noon, but on Friday the start time was moved to 10 a.m. because forecasts called for rain arriving in the afternoon.

The rain just laughed at that idea and arrived early; CHS Field was soaked Saturday morning. The North-Northfield game finally began at 1:21 p.m. … three hours, 21 minutes late. It ended with the Panthers defeating Northfield 5-3. They will meet Chanhassen in the state championship game Monday at Target Field.

The North players had all arrived at school by 6:45 a.m. to get in some early batting practice. They were at CHS Field by 8:30 and then the serious waiting began.

“We went to the batting cage a couple times,” said junior center fielder Drew Stewart, who had two hits and drove in one run. “Me and a couple other buddies on the team walked around the whole stadium, took pictures and everything, cracked jokes.

“We were all kind of a little tired. We were like, ‘Should we take a nap?’ But where were we going to take a nap at? It was actually pretty laid-back.”

Northfield scored the game’s first run when Caleb Malek tripled into the right field corner in the bottom of the first inning. Lakeville North scored three in the third; Nick Juaire drove in the first run with a double and Angelo Altaville hit a sacrifice fly and another run scored on a wild pitch.

The Panthers went ahead 4-1 in the fourth when Stewart doubled. Northfield scored two in the bottom of the fourth on a double by Adam Rodgers to make it 4-3. North took the 5-3 lead in the seventh when Mitch Frederick singled in a run.

For a bunch of sleepy teenagers, North pounded 10 hits and did not commit an error. Northfield had five hits and no errors.

“I don’t know that it does anything except makes me a little nervous,” Lakeville North coach Tony Market said of the long delay. “When you’ve got young guys and they start to run out of things to do. You can only call each other so many times from the bullpen. And then you prank call the other team. and eventually it can lead to things that are less than favorable. I thought they did a pretty good job. I thought they battled through that.”

Yes, there were prank phone calls from the bullpen.

North senior right fielder Kyle Rhodus admitted that there was “a little goofing around. There were definitely a lot of phone calls from the bullpen, taking some swings, jokes being passed around, keeping everybody loose and focused.

“With the weather it’s always difficult to keep people focused. We kind of have that mentality, where we’re going to go out and get it. That’s what kept us focused the whole time, no matter how long we were going to wait.”

--In the other Class 3A semifinal, Chanhassen defeated Armstrong 7-2 behind a four-RBI performance by designated hitter Jack Mattson. He hit a two-out, two-run double in the first inning, an RBI double in the third and a sacrifice fly in the sixth.



--Class 1A, Noon/ New Life Academy vs. Springfield

--Class 2A, 3 p.m./ St. Cloud Cathedral vs. Minnehaha Academy

--Class 3A, 6 p.m./ Lakeville North vs. Chanhassen


Girls: Eden Prairie 14, Lakeville South 13 (two overtimes)

The Eden Prairie Eagles, who earned runner-up honors in 2014, claimed their third title by defeating Lakeville South. Kelly Wolfe scored the game-winner for the Eagles; it was her second goal of the game. Sammie Morton and Jessica Lagerquist each scored three goals for Eden Prairie, and Angie Heppelmann and Sara Woodring added two apiece.

Boys: White Bear Lake 12, Bloomington Jefferson 8

The Bears led 6-2 after the opening quarter and remained in control in handing the Jaguars their first loss of the season. It is the first state boys lacrosse championship for the Bears.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 664
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 11,495
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
He’s A Coach, He’s An Official, He Knows What It’s Like6/12/2015
JORDAN -- New Life Academy baseball coach Dave Darr isn’t known as someone who berates umpires or second-guesses their calls. That’s because during the fall and winter seasons, Darr is an MSHSL official for football and basketball games.

“I know what it’s like,” he said Friday after his top-seeded Eagles defeated Red Lake County 4-3 in the quarterfinals of the Class 1A state baseball tournament. “They’re trying to get all the calls right, they’re working their butt off and the guys who are here deserve to be here.”

Darr, 37, is an outstanding example of the people who work as officials in all sports and activities. He was an athlete at Redwood Valley High School in Redwood Falls and played baseball at Southwest Minnesota State University. He officiated intramural sports in college and now is involved in high school sports three seasons every year. He has worked football games for eight years and basketball for 15.

“It’s fun. I wanted to stay in it,” he said. “I never played football. I like basketball, played it in high school on some good teams and wanted to stay in it. I had some mentors who were teachers and coaches of mine who talked me into doing some football. I really liked it, and basketball was the same thing, It’s how I made money in college; I did intramurals and summer stuff and really enjoyed it.

“We started to get more games, better games and went deeper into the playoffs. I do it with really good guys who have the same interests and it’s fun.”

Darr, who has officiated state tournament games in football and basketball, works as an elementary special education teacher in Woodbury. He and his wife Shelly have two young children.

“She’s a saint,” he said. “I’m not going to lie, she does a lot of single parenting during the spring; actually pretty much all year round with my officiating.

“There’s not a lot of down time for me. It’s go, go, go. Football is a little easier because I’m only gone once a week. Once basketball gets going I’m gone three, four nights a week and I probably should cut back. And the spring is pretty busy. So we enjoy the summers off. We take full advantage of that.”

Summer won’t begin for the Darrs until after the state baseball tournament. New Life will meet Brandon-Evansville in Saturday’s semifinals, and the winner will play in the state championship game Monday at Target Field. New Life is the defending Class 1A champion, winning the tournament last year in the school’s first trip to state.

In Friday’s victory over Red Lake Falls, Simon Killeen drove in three runs for New Life and Thomas Gunderson hit an RBI double in the fifth to drive home the winning run. Red Lake County's Tristan Knott hit a two-run homer in the first inning, with the ball bouncing off a moving car beyond the left field wall.

Before and after the game, Darr congratulated umpires Mark Buerke, Tim Litfin and Marshall Behrens.

“The more I’ve worked both football and basketball, I know most all of these umpires,” he said. “I knew two of the three today from working with them. I tell them they’re doing a good job and congratulate them on being here. I like it when guys do that to me. No one’s trying to get any calls wrong. Let them do their job.”


New Life Academy 4, Red Lake County 3
Brandon-Evansville 5, Lewiston-Altura 0
Springfield 7, Kimball 6 (12)
New Ulm Cathedral 6, Deer River 1

St. Cloud Cathedral 5, Marshall 2
Minnehaha Academy 6, Rochester Lourdes 2

Northfield 3, Mounds View 2
Lakeville North 3, Anoka 0
Chanhassen 1, St. Michael-Albertville 0 (9)
Armstrong 2, Mahtomedi 1

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 660
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 11,450
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Youth Will Be Served At Class 1A Boys State Golf 6/10/2015
BECKER – Brock Bliese of Mounds Park Academy and Ryan Pederson of United South Central both wore blue ribbons and gold medals after the Class 1A boys state golf tournament ended Wednesday. And if all goes well, they will be similarly adorned in the future.

Bliese is a ninth-grader who owns back-to-back state titles. Pederson is a junior who finished seventh at state last year and fifth two years ago. If experience in the big show means anything, we might hear their names again 365 days from now. (Pictured are Bliese, left, and Pederson.)

“I felt pretty good this morning,” said Bliese, who shot a two-under-par 70 in Tuesday’s first round and closed with a 76 Wednesday for a 146 total. “I thought last year I did a pretty good job handling my emotions and I thought if I could stay focused and stay calm I could do it again, maybe.”

Bliese had some doubt about his finish after his only three-putt of the tournament on the final green Wednesday. He would have been the sole medalist without that double-bogey, but he was glad to be a co-champion.

“First place is first place and it’s a great feeling,” he said.

Pederson went 74-72-146 after surviving some jitters on the first tee. He said that was “always really nerve-wracking” in previous tournaments.

“That’s what got me started off really bad the first couple years. This year I still had the juices flowing on the first hole but it was good.”

Senior Luke Berger of New Life Academy was third at 148, followed by senior Jordan Henry of Madelia (149). Seniors Adam Christensen of Murray Central and Brady Madson of MACCRAY were next at 151.


--Class 1A/ Legacy Christian Academy captured a 22-stroke victory with a team total of 679. Fillmore Central was second at 701 and Minneota third at 706. Heritage Christian sophomore Kiera Smith was the individual champion with a two-day score of 76-77-153. Second was Legacy’s Kayla Ruf at 79-79-158.

--Class 2A/ Red Wing edged Detroit Lakes by three strokes to win the team title at Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan. The Wingers had a 634 total and the Lakers finished at 637, followed by Pequot Lakes at 645. Detroit Lakes junior Kate Smith won her fourth state title and remains on track to become the state’s first five-time golf champion. Smith shot 68-69-137, followed by Minnewaska’s Jenna Jenu (68-71-139) and St. Croix Lutheran’s Emma Groom (73-71-144).

--Class 3A/ Edina won the team title with a total of 630, followed by Buffalo (657), Wayzata (665) and Winona (675). New Prague’s Taylor Ledwein was the individual gold medalist with a 73-76-149. Tied for second were Winona’s Abbe Partington (76-77-153) and Edina’s Hannah Hankinson (72-81-153)


--Class 1A/ Bliese helped Mounds Park Academy win the team title with a total score of 622. Mahnomen/Waubon was second at 634 and Murray County Central third at 642.

--Class 2A/ Mankato East and Blake tied for the team championship with scores of 602, followed by Holy Family (617) and St. Cloud Cathedral (627). The individual champion was Blake sophomore Reece Sanders, who shot 67-71-138, followed by Providence Academy sophomore Paul Stankey (74-68-142).

--Class 3A/ Wayzata was the team champion with a score of 607, followed by Edina (610) and Lakeville South (612). Moorhead senior Dane Sethre-Hofstad was the individual champ with a 74-69-143, followed by Owatonna senior Peter Jones (71-73-144).

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 652
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 11,400
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn