John's Journal
A Simple Act, A Massive Response5/18/2015
If you have looked at the MSHSL Facebook page in the last couple of days, you have seen a brief story and one photograph that have become huge. Our Facebook page has 18,205 Likes (as I write this), which is a fantastic number. But the story/photograph has been viewed by more than 96,000 Facebook accounts, shared on more than 300 Facebook pages and liked by more than 2,300 Facebook users.

The story is simple. It was submitted by Detroit Lakes girls track coach Mike Labine, who describes how one of her athletes suffered an injury during a race and after finally crossing the finish line was caught by a competitor and helped off the track.

Here is the email Mike sent to me Sunday; I quickly posted it on our Facebook page, along with the photo (seen here) that was taken by talented photographer Galen Bicking.

At the Class AA State True Team track and field meet on Saturday in Stillwater, the Rocori girls and the Detroit Lakes girls, along with Totino-Grace, were involved in a great battle for the true team state championship. As the teams entered the 200 meters, they were separated by only a few points and this race was considered a huge point in the meet for all the contending teams. The young lady that Erin Huls from Rocori is helping off the track is Lindsey Heinecke, a sprinter from Detroit Lakes and Erin's biggest rival in the race. The two girls were expected to battle for first place and the important team points that went along with that. When Lindsey injured her hamstring, you can see that Erin was the first person to help her off the track. After winning the 200 for her team, Erin had the compassion to help an injured opponent off the track and console her during not only great physical pain, but a huge amount of emotional frustration following the injury. Erin Huls is not only a great athlete and runner, but Erin Huls is an amazing person. To me, this is what high school athletics are all about.
Mike Labine
Detroit Lakes Girls Track Coach

Our Facebook page is filled with more than 75 comments about what Mike described, and what Galen’s photo shows so well. Here are a couple typical comments…

“This is what sportsmanship is all about. I am an athlete in basketball, volleyball, etc! Hats off to Erin Huls! You put a big smile on my face!”

“Awesome!! That is what sportsmanship is all about. Proud of this athlete.”

And then there was this comment…

“As Lindsey Heinecke’s mom- I just want to send a heartfelt thank you to Erin for being there to catch Lindsey when she made it across the finish line. Both you girls are incredible athletes and competitors. One of the many things I love about our "track families" we are there for each other no matter what.”

And this response from Erin Huls…

“I am so happy I could be there to catch her, I know she would have done the same for me.”

This offers a simple lesson in being good sports and good people by helping others. And that’s the best lesson of all.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 532
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 10,105
*Follow John on Twitter. He’s @MSHSLjohn
Valedictorians, Multisport Athletes, Teammates And Friends5/15/2015
Whenever two of Eastview High School’s four valedictorians want to discuss their Advanced Placement calculus homework, their part-time jobs, their college plans or anything else, finding each other in a school of nearly 2,000 students is not difficult.

Julia Luciano and Kara Sjostrom can simply turn to each other on the bench during softball games. They also are teammates on the Lightning tennis team in the fall, and they spend time together in the winter lifting weights and doing offseason workouts. And they indeed do pretty well in the classroom.

Neither one has ever had a grade other than an A … and that includes elementary school, middle school and high school. When they graduate on June 6, it will mark the end of two extraordinary careers. (Pictured are Kara, left, and Julia.)

“It’s nice to be recognized for our hard work,” said Kara, who will attend the University of Denver (which does not have a softball team) and major in biology or chemistry in the hopes of becoming a dentist. Julia will play softball at North Dakota State and major in mechanical engineering.

The other Eastview valedictorians are Taylor Leighton and Anoohya Muppirala. Sjostrom and Luciano are not alone as superstar students on a softball squad with a team grade-point average of 3.92.

“They’re leaders on and off the field,” said softball coach Trevor Monroe. “Those two work as hard in the classroom as they do on the field, and vice versa. I’d say this about all of our girls, but especially those two: they’re better kids, they’re better young adults than they are softball players. And they’re pretty good softball players.”

Julia plays third base and Kara alternates between catcher and left field. The Lightning finished the regular season with a 17-3 record, a 13-game winning streak, a share of the South Suburban Conference title and the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A, Section 3 playoffs. They received a first-round section bye and will open the postseason against either Simley or Henry Sibley on Wednesday.

If Eastview qualifies for the state tournament, it will be the second trip in school history; the 2003 team captured the 3A state championship.

“Obviously we want to get to the state championship, that’s the goal of every softball team,” Julia said. “I think we honestly have the ability and the talent to do it, and I think we can win it. We’ve been together for a long time, we have a lot of seniors on the team. We work well together, we have chemistry and we have enough talent to take it all the way.”

Wednesday was a pretty typical day for Kara and Julia. Kara took an AP statistics test (she had previously taken AP calculus and AP psychology tests; Julia had completed tests in AP psychology, AP calculus and AP physics), and after school the softball team hosted Shakopee. Julie hit a double in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie the score 3-3, and the Lightning rallied again from a 4-3 deficit in the eighth to win 5-4.

From the softball field, Julie and Kara hustled into the school for a ceremony honoring Eastview’s academic award winners. Still wearing their softball uniforms (Kara in tennis shoes, Julia in Crocs), they received their awards.

“Right after the last play of the game, we ran over here as fast as we could and kind of snuck onto the stage,” Kara said. “Our principal was speaking at the ceremony and he didn’t know we were behind him. He said, ‘Our softball girls will be joining us’ and we were waving behind him.”

Afterwards, Eastview athletic director Matt Percival jokingly asked the girls what was next on their agenda for the day. Julia asked, “What time is it?” Then she hustled off to a rehearsal for her seventh-hour dance class show.

Time management has been vital for both girls, who somehow juggle school, sports and jobs. Julia works at a Chipotle and Kara at a movie theater.

“It’s been hard,” Julia admitted. “I’ve taken honors classes every year in high school, and so has Kara. This year I decided to take more than double what I’ve usually taken, and I’ve been able to do it but it’s been really hard. Some days I schedule every single minute of the day. I wake up and go to school, then go to softball. In the winter I have lifting, then softball, then homework, and I work on the weekends.

“I used to watch Netflix all the time, but I think I’ve watched one episode in the past two months. I used to watch Grey’s Anatomy and I finished that a long time ago. I watched one episode of Lost last weekend and I thought, ‘I have not had a half hour to myself forever.’ I like all the things I’m involved in and they’re fun. And if you have a whole weekend with nothing to do, you’re really bored.

“We need like 10 more hours in the day.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 532
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 9,991
*Follow John on Twitter. He’s @MSHSLjohn
A Quiet Day At Golf Practice, Then A Fire Breaks Out 5/14/2015
Underwood High School golf coach Chuck Ross was working with a group of team members on the putting green at Balmoral Golf Course on Wednesday afternoon. When they noticed smoke billowing out of a nearby apartment building, golf was the last thing on their minds.

Fire was sweeping through the seven-unit complex on the southeast side of Ottertail Lake in west-central Minnesota. Ross, along with fellow coach Chad Gronner, senior Chad Peterson and freshman Braydon Consley, took action.

According to Ross, “One of the kids said, ‘I think that house is on fire.’ I ran down there and there were two people coming out of one apartment. I yelled at them, asking if anyone else was inside. They said no, but there were some people on the other end.”

They saw an elderly man trying to help his wife, who had undergone foot surgery and was using a knee scooter.

“There was no way he was going to get her out, there were no ramps, just steps,” Ross said. “Chad was there and we helped this lady down the steps. The guy kept going back in to get mementos or something, and we had to go back in and bring him out again.

“From there we just went door to door banging on doors, making sure nobody else was in there.”

There were no serious injuries and no one was hospitalized. Firefighters responded from Ottertail, Battle Lake, Henning and Perham, and the cause of the fire was not immediately determined, according to the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office.

A school assembly was held Thursday to honor the golf coaches and players who ran toward the fire.

“We want to honor them for their service and their bravery, because this kind of defines what a hero is,” said Underwood principal John Hamann. “When I was growing up, heroes were people like Fran Tarkenton and Harmon Killebrew. But a hero is a person who’s willing to sacrifice themselves. We hope this is a good lesson for our students.”

It was a windy day, which helped the fire spread very quickly.

“It was amazing how fast it spread,” Ross said. “It just fanned that thing.”

The experience was a blur, Ross said. Even after everyone was safely out of the building, there was one more scary moment.

“Somebody who lived nearby came running up and said the building was hooked up to natural gas,” Ross said. “We had our golf kids around the bus, about 100 feet from the building. We got the kids away from there in case the thing blew up.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 512
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 9,925
*Follow John on Twitter. He’s @MSHSLjohn
Oh Brother: Sibling Rivalry On The Lacrosse Field 5/8/2015
Isaac Kuehn is a 16-year-old sophomore on the Farmington High School lacrosse team. When the Tigers played host to Rosemount in a South Suburban Conference game Thursday night, Isaac saw a familiar face on the Irish sideline.

Lance Kuehn, 32, is not only Rosemount’s head coach, he is Isaac’s big brother.

“I guess you could say it’s pretty weird,” is what Isaac said after the game, which ended in the second half due to lightning with Rosemount leading 15-3. Both teams had cleared the field was lightning was spotted and were inside the school when the game was called. After the teams exchanged indoor handshakes, the Kuehn brothers had a private chat.

Lance graduated from Farmington High School in 2001; that was before his school started fielding lacrosse teams. He began playing the game at St. Olaf College and was the first head coach of the Rosemount boys lacrosse team when the program began nine years ago. He teaches chemistry and physics at Rosemount.

“Nine years ago we started with 70 boys who didn’t know how to play and we’ve built it into what we have today,” said Lance, whose team has a record of 8-1 and No. 6 ranking.

Isaac’s top sport is soccer, and he began playing lacrosse after watching his brother play. Thursday’s game was the first time the brothers had competed against each other on a lacrosse field.

“We compete in a lot of things as siblings,” Lance said. “We race together, we run together and play games. This is just kind of fun, to take on a passion that we both have and be able to play against each other.”

A few weeks ago Isaac and Lance traveled together to Boston, where Lance ran the Boston Marathon and Isaac cheered him on. “We talked a lot about seeing each other on the field on opposite sides and the orange and black (Farmington colors), which I wore back in the day, and now I get to see him in it,” Lance said.

The brothers had a brief word before Thursday’s game. Lance asked his brother, “Are you ready?” To which Isaac replied, “Yes.”

Isaac teammates were aware that his brother was the Rosemount head coach. During warm-ups some of the Tigers looked toward the Irish coaches and asked Isaac, “Which one is your brother?”

Farmington opened a new high school building in 2009, long after Lance graduated. The high school he attended is now a middle school, and the new school is a modern educational showplace with first-rate athletic facilities.

“It’s fun coming back to Farmington and seeing this beautiful complex,” Lance said. “This is much better than the old complex.

“And it’s fun seeing my brother and his friends.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 510
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 9,915
*Follow John on Twitter. He’s @MSHSLjohn
Spring Grove/Caledonia: Where Everybody Is Part Of The Team5/6/2015
(This is the fourth in a four-part series about the schools that are located in the four corners of Minnesota.)

SPRING GROVE – The school building in this southeast Minnesota town of 1,300 is an architectural showcase that was built in 1922. Ten miles up the road in Caledonia, which has double the population of Spring Grove, is a modern school constructed not in the last century but in this century.

Those two structures form fitting bookends on one of the great stories of Minnesota cooperation. It’s a story of two schools and two communities working together to ensure that all interested students have the opportunity to participate in activities. Caledonia is large enough to field teams in all sports; Spring Grove would struggle to do so.

Spring Grove has its own teams in boys and girls basketball, nine-man football and volleyball. When it comes to baseball, golf, gymnastics, soccer, softball, track and wrestling, the schools have cooperative teams. The majority of the athletes come from Caledonia, which is not surprising based on Caledonia’s high school enrollment of 241 and Spring Grove’s 90.

The coop teams provide a unique perspective for coaches and kids to learn about the “other” school.

“We fit in really well together,” said senior softball player Samantha Bratland from Spring Grove. “All of us kind of hang out outside of softball. Being only 10 miles apart really helps us be a close-knit group.”

An odd thing occurs every spring. After athletes from the two schools compete against each other in volleyball and football in the fall and basketball in the winter, they often find themselves wearing the same uniform in the spring.

“We are from different schools and it’s definitely interesting when we do different things against each other in other sports,” Bratland said. “It’s definitely weird going against them but we always have fun doing it.”

Most of the coop arrangements go back many years, with baseball becoming the newest coop sport six years ago. The baseball team had co-coaches (one from each school) in the first year, and when the coach from Caledonia relocated after that season, Spring Grove’s Dave Konz remained on as the head coach.

“It’s blended well together,” he said. “We’ve got it down pretty good. Bus schedules can change constantly, and games can be rescheduled. We’ve worked together well and it’s been a pretty seamless transition.”

Some of the coop teams are called Spring Grove-Caledonia and others are Caledonia-Spring Grove. Caledonia’s colors are black and gold, Spring Grove’s are black and red.

“We’ve had these conversations,” said Spring Grove athletic director Michelle Anderson, who also coaches volleyball and softball. “Is it C-SG? Is it SG-C? The kids don’t care. Black is our common color, so we do a lot of things in red with black and gold trim and it looks really good.”

La Crosse, Wis., is the nearest city of any size (22 miles from Caledonia) and many residents of these towns commute there for work. The school in Spring Grove, where welcome signs proclaim it the first Norwegian settlement in Minnesota, has a stable enrollment, as does Caledonia.

It’s common for graduates of both schools to return home at some point. Among them is Spring Grove superintendent Rachel Udstuen, a 1991 graduate. While attending Luther College in Iowa she was a student-teacher at St. Paul Central, then worked in Mason City, Iowa, and a Twin Cities charter school before spending four years in Saipan in the western Pacific. She returned to Spring Grove in 2003.

Udstuen’s final year of high school was Anderson’s first year on the Spring Grove faculty.

“That’s one of the things we really love; we do seem to have what I would call ‘our kids’ go away to college, go away to start their professions and their careers, and they find their way back sometimes,” said Anderson, who recorded her 300th career victory as a softball coach this week. “They move back and they become superintendents and integral parts of our community, and it’s pretty cool.”

Udstuen added, “We had wonderful experiences, but when we started to have a family we knew this was where we wanted our kids to grow up. We wanted them to experience a small, close-knit community.”

The close-knit spirit is certainly part of the cooperative sports teams.

“It appears to be going really well,” said Caledonia principal/athletic director Paul DeMorett. “I don’t think there’s ever been a problem with the kids.”

DeMorett, in his sixth year at Caledonia, has a unique perspective on life in a smaller town. He is a Twin Cities native who graduated from Armstrong High School in Robbinsdale in 1984. He previously worked at schools in Pierz and Tower.

“Obviously this is a lot more laid-back (than the Twin Cities),” he said. “It’s a slower pace and it’s easier to make connections with kids because there are less of them. That’s one of the great things about it.”

Caledonia is a sports powerhouse, with football leading the way. The Warriors own six state championships in that sport, including five since 2007 in Class 2A. Caledonia’s boys basketball team was the 2A state champion in 1997 and the runner-up last winter; the girls basketball team was the state runner-up in 1998 and won a state title in 2009. In girls golf, the cooperative team won state championships in 1988, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2003 and 2005.

Success in athletics is no accident. Athletes, coaches and parents are committed to providing quality experiences for all the teams.

“We all put the effort in and it’s always our goal to go far in every sport and do the best we can,” said Devan Heaney, a Caledonia senior and member of the Warriors football team and the coop track squad.

DeMorett said, “The kids work hard, and that’s what’s it all about. We have some great coaches and they’re instilling great values in our kids. One of them is work ethic. My very first day working in Caledonia in July of 2009, I walked in and saw 60 kids in the weight room at 7:30 in the morning on a Tuesday. That right there said, ‘These kids are dedicated and they work very hard.’ ”

That’s a theme in both towns and both schools: people working together and working hard to ensure participation for all students.

“I’m really happy that the kids have an opportunity to do those kinds of things,” Anderson said. “I think they’re happy to share those experiences, as well.”

--To see photos from Caledonia and Spring Grove, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.