John's Journal
She Dances To The Music (Even Though She Can’t Hear It)2/11/2015
(NOTE: With the state dance tournament being held this week at Target Center, it's a good time to reprint one of my favorits stories from the winter. This story originally appeared on Dec. 18.)

Imagine this: You are a member of a high school dance team, and nothing is more important to your performance than hearing the music and the cues it provides.

Imagine this: You are deaf.

Erin Barrett doesn’t imagine this scenario. The junior at Roseville High School is indeed deaf and she is indeed 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 Roseville coach Brittany Rehling. “It’s super amazing.”

With the assistance of interpreter Alene Ray (pictured with Erin), Erin told me, “I’m not really hearing the music so I have to follow what everybody else is doing. I have to think about it, like ‘What are we going to do?’ and I’m counting as well, plus I’m looking at the coaches and the interpreter. I’m picking up all this visually and the team is sort of communicating with me and it sort of flows that way. If I’m stuck I just sort of follow what they’re doing and keep in the flow. It’s not easy.”

Erin was born in China, lived in an orphanage and came to the United States when she was 13, adopted by Sue and David Barnett of Roseville. She doesn’t remember ever being able to hear; she thinks she may have lost her hearing when she was ill as a very young child.

She splits her school days between Metro Deaf School in St. Paul and Roseville High School. She joined the Raiders dance program last year, which was an adjustment for her new teammates.

“I think they were at first kind of like, ‘Oh, OK.’ I instill a lot of trust in the girls,” Rehling said. “I noticed on the first day it was kind of an adjustment, everyone tried to not watch her interpreter. This year it’s really come together and everyone just talks to Erin like she can hear us.

“We don’t really acknowledge it, but at the end of the day you look back and realize she doesn’t hold back and isn’t treated any differently at all. That’s the most beautiful thing of all. She’s just like any other member of the team.”

Prior to Monday’s Suburban East Conference dance championships at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, the Raiders high kick dance team was going through its final practice. Rehling sat high in the gymnasium bleachers, directing traffic.

The coach asked, “Erin, are you behind Fortune?” Ray relayed the question and Erin nodded. Rehling then counted off “1! 2! 3! 4! …” as the team resumed its routine. As the coach counted, Ray held up fingers to match the count so Erin knew the cue. And once the routine began, she was perfectly in step with everyone else.

“She somehow finds that beat and stays on the beat,” Rehling said. “Sometimes girls who can hear have trouble keeping up.”

According to Sue Barnett, “When competition started and people started to find out that there was a deaf dancer on the team and they couldn't pick out who the deaf dancer was, it made Erin feel good. During last year’s dance season, we started to see a girl become more confident within herself, seeing that she can do something that is very challenging and being successful at it. …

“She learned about being challenged with something and keeping at it, and it gave a good feeling when she accomplished it, that she was just part of a team and that her deafness wasn't stopping her from doing things that hearing people do.”

Rehling, a 2007 Roseville graduate, said one of her high school dance teammates was partially deaf.

“Erin kind of resonated with me,” she said. “Everyone thinks, ‘Oh, someone hard of hearing is on the dance team?’ I was really excited to hear about Erin. She’s great.”

Erin said, “When I came in the first year they were all talking and I was like, ‘Sorry, I can’t hear you’ and they were looking at me like, ‘What? How are you going to do this?’ I knew I would be fine. They started to understand, we went along and everything was good. I’m not afraid of anything.”
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