I was walking from the football locker room to the gymnasium at Park High School. The closer I got to the gym, the louder the music became until I recognized the tune: the Ozzy Osbourne classic “Crazy Train.” I walked into the gym to see the cheerleaders doing their stuff while the pep band played before a large contingent of students and other fans.
This was at 11:40 p.m. Sunday. Monday was the first day practices could be held for fall sports in Minnesota, and the Park football team was getting a jump. The Wolfpack team entered the gym shortly after I did, which had the fans on their feet as the band played the school song. Coach Darin Glazier took the microphone and thanked the band, cheerleaders and fans for being there, introduced the team captains and talked about the season ahead.
Shortly before midnight, Glazier said “Let’s go” and everybody went out to the stadium. The lights were turned on at the stroke of midnight as the football players whooped and hollered and began drilling.
For the 2014-15 school year, Monday was day one. Or Day One if you prefer. After my “Park After Dark” visit, I returned home and slept for a bit before visiting four other teams on Day One. Here’s what happened …
11:35 p.m. Sunday/ 12-year-old Jake Kuemmel, son of Park activities director Phil Kuemmel, handed me my first Diet Coke of the new year. It was a 12-ounce shortie, since we all know late-night caffeine can be a sleep-stopper. Jake and his dad stood at the panel of switches that operate the lights at the stadium, with Phil waiting until Monday’s official arrival to flip them on. By this time the team was waiting in one darkened end zone and the fans were in the darkened stands. And then: Let there be light … and a new season.
1:06 a.m./ Arrive home and hit the hay (miles traveled: 51.6).
6:30 a.m./ Alarm clock blows the whistle and off we go.
6:58 a.m./ Turn the key in the John’s Journal Toyota Camry and hit the road.
7:52 a.m./ Arrive at Wayzata High School in Plymouth (miles traveled: 87.6).
The Trojans won Class 2A state championships in girls and boys cross-country last year, after which girls coach Dave Emmans was named girls cross-country coach of the year by the National High School Coaches Association.
Boys coach Bill Miles, who began his cross-country coaching career 45 years ago at Cretin High School and has been at Wayzata for 39 years, welcomed 140 boys and five assistant coaches to the first day of workouts. With those large numbers, it was no surpise that Day One logistics included eight color-coded clipboards that carried various informational categories.
“It’s a new start, obviously,” Miles said. “It’s exciting to see all the kids and sort of thrilling to see the new kids, the kids who haven’t been here before. You hope that they end up having a four- or six-year high school experience for a lifetime of running and being part of that running community. It’s very fun that way.
“It’s like the first day of school. It’s a new start and everybody can relate to that.”
9:02 a.m./ Arrive at Minnetonka (miles traveled: 101.8).
The girls soccer team is practicing on one of the schools’s four artificial-turf fields. Coach Jeff Hopkins -- whose team won the 2A state championship last season – and his assistants are watching juniors and seniors in the tryout phase of the preseason. Twenty-nine players are wearing numbered jerseys, playing seven-on-seven on two shortened fields as the coaches make marks on clipboards.
The Skippers’ practice began at 8 a.m. and ends at 9:30. They will return later in the day for another workout. Before they depart, Hopkins leaves them with a few brief messages: “Have a passion and be able to compete.” And “We want you to have an impact on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”
“We’re really excited,” Hopkins told me as we chatted about Day One. “It’s an opportunity for the kids to come in, and we look for kids who are passionate to be here. I always tell the girls on the first day, ‘The best job you can ever have is to play soccer and be with your friends.’
“I think the expectations are high. But I always say that we have a whole different team each year. The expectations are that we continue to try to be competitive and try to develop players and also try to win.”
Rebekah Thoresen, one of the seniors on the team, said, “The total goal would be to win state again. That’s like a total dream of everyone. Even though we won last year, winning it two times would be the best gift ever in our senior year.”
10:16 a.m./ Arrive at Southwest Christian High School in Chaska (miles traveled: 119.8).
The Stars won the Class 1A state volleyball championship last year with a team dominated by a superb senior class. On Day One, 29 girls (ninth-graders through seniors) are on the court with coach Greg Sayuk. The first day of practice means working on more than volleyball skills, however.
“On Day One every year we spend a lot of time talking about expectations; what the coaches expect of the players and more importantly what the players expect of each other,” Sayuk said. “We kind of have three things that we’re looking for. One is represent the program; two is love everybody else first, making sure you put your teammates before yourself; and the third thing is personal responsibility.”
Sayuk and his wife Kari were expecting the volleyball season to be interrupted by an important event: the birth of their first child. The due date was Sept. 1, but Dominik Sayuk chose his own birthday, arriving five days before practice began.
11:47 a.m./ Arrive home, grab some lunch and get some other work done (miles traveled: 152.3).
3:45 p.m./ Arrive at South St. Paul (miles traveled: 171.7).
Everything was different on this practice field. This wasn’t Day One for the Packers but Day Six; they will play a Zero Week game against Chanhassen and began practice a week early in order to do so. They were wearing full pads and playing full-contact football. This was spirited, this was up-tempo.
One of the quarterbacks lined up behind center and shouted “Ninety-Eight! Ninety-Eight! Milwaukee!” The ball was snapped and the pads popped. Head coach Chad Sexauer exhorted the defense, “Eleven helmets to the football!”
“For us it’s been five kind of fun days, enjoying and talking about kids and the great things they’re doing,” Sexauer said. “And then Day Six becomes kind of that contact thing, and four or five kids who were off your radar, all of a sudden they put pads on and they pop onto your radar.”
South St. Paul has one very un-secret weapon in assistant coach Paul Miller, a 1968 Packers grad who coached Apple Valley to three big-school state titles in 16 years, is a former Packers head coach as well as a head coach on the collegiate level at St. Olaf, Hamline and Minnesota-Crookston.
“He’s that Russell Crowe, Beautiful Mind,” Sexauer said. “He just has that ability; he thinks football and lives it and is always doing what’s best for kids. What a mentor for me. I’ve learned so much from him.”
That’s what Day One and Day Six and every day to come is all about for every team. Learning, having fun, doing what’s best for kids.
5:01 p.m./ Home sweet home (miles traveled 191.9).
--To see a photo gallery from John's Day One visits, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 5
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 191
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn