John's Journal
In Barnum, Where The Bombers Are King2/7/2015
BARNUM – The high school was alive with activity here Friday night, including a silent auction for cancer awareness, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts presenting the colors before the national anthem, and a dance for students. Heck, on Saturday night down the road in Moose Lake, there was going to be a donkey basketball game between the Barnum and Moose Lake fire departments.

But the main attraction, the big show here in this town 35 miles south of Duluth, comes when the Barnum boys basketball team hits the court. The Bombers are undefeated, winning by an average score of 72-39, and continuing a theme of basketball excellence.

Barnum won the Class 1A boys state championship in 1983 and placed fourth at state in 1A in 2007, the team’s most recent appearance. Since then, the Bombers have had records of 25-5, 17-11, 24-5, 22-7, 24-6, 26-4 and 26-3. But all of those seasons ended before the state tourney, including losses the last three years in section title games.

So it’s safe to say that this year’s players are determined to break that streak and reach the Class 2A state tourney.

“I’ve been in all those losses. It’s always in the back of my mind to get back there,” said senior Brandon Newman, son of coach Rich Newman, the leading scorer with a 27-point average and a four-year starter.

“It always hurts. I know the first one we lost by one point or something like that. It’s always a goal to get back to the section championship. We’ll play our hardest and see if we can win it. That’s our goal this year and hopefully we can keep going.”

Newman scored 29 points in Friday’s 64-37 Polar League victory over Moose Lake-Willow River, with Hunter Fetters scoring 11 and Andrew Naslund 10. The game was a pure basketball exhibition, with the Bombers playing dominant defense and scoring most of their points from under the basket or on passes from underneath to the perimeter.

“It went better than I had hoped it would,” Rich Newman said. “Our kids came out and played some pretty good defense. They’ve got three guys who can shoot it and their big guy (6-foot-3 Rex Janke) is a matchup problem; our big guy (6-5 Fetters) had to go out and guard him and he did a good job. I was pretty happy with our defense tonight.”

Here’s one example of that defense: Barnum held the Rebels scoreless for a stretch of four minutes early in the second half, giving up only three shot attempts. The rest of Moose Lake-Willow River’s possessions ended in turnovers created by the quick hands and feet of the Bombers. Most of those turnovers led to layups or free throws. (Pictured are, left to right, team captains Nathan Jelinek, Naslund and Newman.)

“We take pride in our defense and we did a really good job tonight,” Brandon Newman said. “We try to keep our opponents under 40 points a game. On offense we work to try to get it inside, get those layups, and also those kick-outs for threes. We try to work the ball and get the best shot. We also try to get fast breaks and get as many layups as we can.”

Getting to state isn’t a frequent topic of conversation; the Bombers are taking a one-day-at-a-time approach.

“Right now we’re just trying to get better every night,” Naslund said. “We can’t be focused too far into the future. We’re just trying to play hard and get better.”

Nathan Jelinek said, “We try to take it game by game most of the time. I don’t know about these guys but I don’t even think about what our record is. We just move on to the next game.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 300
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,013

Changes Approved For Tennis, Football, Cross-Country, Lacrosse2/5/2015
The MSHSL board of directors made changes in several sports at its meeting Thursday. None of the changes are earth-shattering; they are more in the line of tweaks in how the sports operate.

Here’s a quick recap…

--Cross-country/ The board approved a change in distance for girls races from 4,000 meters to 5,000 meters (same as boys). In all but six states, girls run 5,000 meters.

-- Lacrosse/ The game-ending procedure for state quarterfinal, semifinal and championship games was adjusted. If those games are interrupted by weather, they can be finished at a later date rather than be declared completed games.

--Tennis/ Each coach will submit three lineups to use throughout the postseason, with coaches ranking their players 1 through 10 based on singles skills. Also, postseason rosters were expanded from 13 to 15 players.

--Football/ This is a change for Class 6A playoffs only. At the end of the regular season, each of the four eight-team sections will seed their teams 1 through 8. One of six random, rotating brackets will be used, with seedings from the four sections used to place teams in the 32-team bracket. The eight teams remaining after two rounds will be re-seeded for the state tournament by the coaches of those teams.

In another football change, summer practice regulations were amended to include a maximum of 11 summer practice dates with mandated recovery periods and limits on contact, daily practice time, team camps and seven-on-seven competitions. In addition, the rules for preseason heat acclimatization and practice for all sports was adjusted.

The board also approved the hiring of a director of officials.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 298
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 6,745
Minnesota Girls and Women in Sports Day 2015 2/4/2015
Myron Glass was telling a story from the old days Wednesday afternoon in St. Paul, and the tale provided a perfect summary of why celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day is important.

Glass (pictured), who retired last year as girls basketball coach at Rochester Lourdes, is well-known in Minnesota high school sports circles. His basketball teams won eight state titles, and his track and cross-country teams also were highly successful.

Right out of college, Glass was hired as a teacher at Lourdes. This was in 1968, when there were no sports for girls. One day, a group of female students came to him with a question: “Why do we only have intramurals? Why don’t we have sports? Why can’t we have a team?”

Glass’ answer was simple: “Why not?”

He formed a girls track team and 70 girls showed up for the first practice. Glass had them run around the track one time, and only one person made it without stopping.

“She became our 400 runner,” he said, laughing.

He began contacting other private schools, and his efforts led to Minnesota’s first track meet for girls. There were six teams and the longest race was 800 meters. In 1971 he started basketball and tennis teams, all the while writing to other schools to urge them to start teams for girls.

“It was a great time period,” Glass said. “I’m so proud to have been that little pebble in the sand, to help with the growth of women’s sports.”

Glass was one of 19 honorees during Minnesota Girls and Women in Sports Day event at the Minnesota History Center. They ranged from pioneers like Glass to current coaches and athletes. The Milestone Award was given to the Edina High School girls tennis program, which has won 18 consecutive state titles.

Minnesota Girls and Women in Sports Day also onors a member of the media each year, and from this day forward that award will be known as the Kwame McDonald Media Award.

Kwame, who died in 2011, was a fixture in Minneapolis and St. Paul sports coverage. He loved to highlight inner-city athletes and female athletes and teams.

Accepting the award was Kwame’s son, Mitch. He said, “I’m amazed at the impact my dad had on everyone else’s life, because he had a major impact on mine. I don’t know how many people he helped. They come up to me every day, saying thanks to my dad.”

I am one of those people. Kwame always had a smile and a friendly word for everyone he met. I’ll always remember something he said as we sat side by side at a state basketball tournament.

Kwame looked at me, smiled and said, “These kids, they keep you young.”

They sure do.

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

*Schools/teams John has visited: 298
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 6,745
MSHSL Board of Directors Meeting2/4/2015
Tennis, lacrosse and athletic safety are among the topics that members of the MSHSL board of directors will discuss Thursday morning when they meet at MSHSL headquarters in Brooklyn Center. The 20-person board meets six times each year.

A change to postseason certified tennis lineups will be considered. The proposal would simplify the lineup rule, making the process easier for coaches. In lacrosse, game-ending procedures for state quarterfinals, semifinals and finals may be amended to allow for games suspended due to weather to be completed. The board also will hear a proposal to adjust safety guidelines for some sports and will hear about a proposal to increase girls cross-country races from 4,000 to 5,000 meters.

The board meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. I will provide instant updates on Twitter. You can stay in the loop by following @MSHSLjohn
The Girls Basketball Hotbed Of Southeast Minnesota 2/2/2015
ST. CHARLES – As the girls basketball team from Dover-Eyota made the 10-mile journey east on Highway 14 to meet the St. Charles Saints on Friday night, it was an occasion to think about all the good girls hoops teams in southeastern Minnesota.

--The Eagles of Dover-Eyota are No. 1 in the Class 2A rankings; they will play No. 2 Chatfield on Friday in the biggest game of the season in the Three Rivers Conference and beyond. Plainview-Elgin-Millville, another Three Rivers team, is ranked eighth in 2A.

--The Class 1A rankings include No. 5 Goodhue from the Hiawatha Valley League, No. 6 Blooming Prairie from the Gopher Conference and No. 10 Lyle/Austin Pacelli from the Southeast Conference.

Let’s zero in on Class 2A Section 1. This much we know: A very solid team will emerge from this section and play at the state tournament. After Dover-Eyota defeated St. Charles 66-44, I asked Eagles coach Brian Harris about surviving that section tournament.

“We have some of the top teams in the state,” he said, quickly mentioning the upcoming game at Chatfield. “Plainview’s tough, Kenyon-Wanamingo finished second in the state last year and they’re still tough, Hayfield, Lourdes, Caledonia. Very tough. We’re hoping to get out of the section, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Nothing worthwhile is easy, of course. Dover-Eyota is talented and tall, with a front line of 5-foot-11 Brandi Blattner, 6-1 Madison Nelson and 6-1 Megan Hintz. Nelson and Hintz each scored 17 points against St. Charles, Blattner had 11 and 5-9 Danielle Higgins scored 10. The other starter was 5-7 Emily Roseboom. All are seniors or juniors

The Eagles like to run up and down the court, and they scored lots of points via layups and rebounds against the smaller Saints. St. Charles coach Dan Sternberg put together a smart strategy of slowing the game and grinding down the clock, hoping to keep Dover-Eyota from running, gunning and scoring at will. (Pictured is Harris during a timeout.)

Several of the Saints’ possessions lasted a minute or longer and the tactic worked very well for most of the first half. The Eagles led 30-21 at halftime before locking up the win in the second half.

“They have incredible athletes,” Sternberg said. “To our mind, really the only way we could stay in the game was to shorten the game, to have long possessions and make them work defensively. They like to get up and go, so part of our plan was to make them play defense, maybe we get some shots knocked down early and stick in the game, and see where it goes from there. I thought our kids did exactly what I asked them to do.”

Those St. Charles kids are actually kids, too. There are no seniors on the roster, and the young Saints had put together an eight-game winning streak before Friday. Carolyn Shanahan matched her team-leading season average with 18 points Friday; the other starters were Ty Thoreson, Anna Hershey, Haley Ludens and Katelyn Ihrke.

“We have a nice group of kids,” Sternberg said. “Our future is bright and we look forward to the rest of the season and what happens next year.”

In other words, southeastern Minnesota will continue to produce great basketball.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 296
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 6,693