John's Journal
One Weekend, One Game, One Scrimmage, One Great Time8/24/2014
Use your imagination and think about the sounds of football. Cleats on concrete as a team walks to the field. Players cheering for each other, their exhortations muddied a bit by their mouthguards. Coaches relaying instructions from the sidelines. Cheers from the stands. The whistles of officials.

I heard those sounds and saw some equally great sights during a 360-mile weekend road trip for a Zero Week game and a six-team scrimmage. The game on Friday night between visiting Brooklyn Center and St. James lasted nearly three hours – which is not atypical for a season-opener filled with fumbles, penalties and extra water breaks on a hot, humid night – and the scrimmage Saturday morning in Tracy was two and a half hours of practice for teams that will play their first game in a few days.

The fall sports season is in full swing all across Minnesota, with cross-country, volleyball, girls tennis, soccer, and girls swimming and diving under way and adapted soccer beginning this week. My first big journey of the fall was a grand one, on highways accompanied by lush green fields, some of the prettiest little towns in the world and roadside sales lots filled with behemothian tractors and other farm gear.

A few things I learned between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening…

--A starter’s pistol is one way to signal the end of each quarter in a football game. In St. James, the pistol is fired out of the front window of the press box, causing spectators who aren’t paying attention to jump.

--The best use of a cell phone might be as a flashlight inside a pitch-black porta-potty. This observation is based on very personal experience.

--A very lengthy football game can mess with radio talk-show plans. I was booked to utter a few syllable on WCCO AM’s “Radio Rally” scoreboard show at 9:35 p.m. Friday for what we assumed would be some postgame comments. As it turned out, the game was still in the third quarter when the radio guys called.

--Those poor, poor souls who have never lived away from a city don’t know what they’re missing. Along with the scenery on my weekend tour, the season’s crop conditions and bin-busting capabilities are always a topic this time of year. At halftime in St. James, I enjoyed chatting about how the corn and soybeans are looking in different parts of Minnesota, as well as a recent downpour that soaked the St. James area and greened things up very nicely.

--Dining on the road is sometimes an adventure. I left St. James at about 10:30 Friday night, headed for a motel in Marshall 90 minutes away. I saw one or two convenience stores that were open over those 85 miles, but opted to gamble that an actual fast-food emporium could feed me in Marshall. I hit a McDonald’s drive-through at midnight, then was back for breakfast at 8 a.m. Doesn’t make me a bad person, right? Right?

--Dining at athletic events is always easy and fun. The St. James Lions Club provided a fantastic pregame meal of burgers and all the fixings as a fundraiser for new restrooms built by club members. And after the scrimmage in Tracy, pork sandwiches and yes, all the fixings, were provided for all players, coaches, officials and fans for a small donation.

In the Zero Week game, Brooklyn Center was successful in its trip from the Twin Cities to southern Minnesota, defeating the St. James Saints 50-25. Both teams finished 2-7 last season, and the first few minutes of Friday’s game made onlookers believe this would be an even matchup.

Each team scored its first touchdown after recovering a fumble by the opponent, and Brooklyn Centaur’s Jason Barto returned an interception 60 yards for what became the go-ahead score late in the first quarter. The momentum stayed with the visitors after that, with Centaurs quarterback Chester Whalley throwing for two scores and running for two, and Tyrell Beasley scoring two TDs on the ground. For St. James, Chris Johnson ran for two touchdowns.

“We got after it and some of our athletes made plays,” Brooklyn Center coach Willie Finley said. “Our O line blocked well, our quarterback checked down, the kids played and they stayed with the game plan. They stayed faithful, they kept their heads up the whole game, even when we were down in the beginning.

“There’s nothing better for a family than a road trip, right? It brings all the true colors. So we came together as a family and it was great.”

Saturday’s scrimmage was well-planned as a way for teams as well as officials to get their games in line for the upcoming start of the season. The six teams were from Wabasso, Springfield, Minneota, Dawson-Boyd, Red Rock Central and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. The field was split down the middle, with two teams using 50 yards and switching between offense and defense while two teams sat out during each 30-minute session. On the adjoining practice fields in Tracy, B squads did the same.

This is the ninth consecutive year that Tracy-Milroy-Balaton has hosted this scrimmage. The teams haven’t changed much; Windom chose not to come this year so Red Rock Central took that spot. And the teams bring some heavy football tradition: Minneota was the Class 2A state runner-up last season and Dawson-Boyd was the 1A runner-up, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton was a 1A state playoff team, Wabasso went 9-2 and lost to Dawson-Boyd in the Section 5 title game, and Springfield is a traditionally powerful program. Three of the teams come from the Little Sioux Conference and three from the Southern Minnesota Conference.

“There’s some pretty good football down here,” Tracy-Milroy-Balaton co-coach Derek Flann – owner of a world-class Fu Manchu moustache -- said in an understatement.

As the scrimmage schedule wound down, everyone headed to the school parking lot for lunch. The hungry horde sat on wooden benches at wooden tables; sweaty, tired players demolished their paper plates filled with food.

“The parents have really taken care of all the work away from the football field for us,” Flann said. “We’ve got a group of parents who go out and get a bunch of sponsorships, they set everything up, they get the food ready. All we’ve got to do is coordinate the teams that are coming.”

Indeed, kudos to the parents from Tracy-Milroy-Balaton for a solid lunch that sent visitors home with full tummies. And thanks to all the friendly officials, coaches, players, parents and fans who said hi.

I can’t wait for my next trip.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 15
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 915
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Fairmont Police Officer Takes Good Care Of Visiting Team8/21/2014
The following is a letter to the editor that was published this week in the Fairmont Sentinel. It details the lengths that a Fairmont police officer went to for players from a team that was playing in Fairmont …


To The Editor:

My name is Brian Michelson. I am the (boys) soccer coach at Tracy Area High School. On Saturday we competed in the (Fairmont) Cardinal Soccer Scrimmage. During the last scrimmage we had a young man suffer heat stroke; 911 was called and both the police department and ambulance responded.

Both departments were professional and did a great job. But one officer went above and beyond the call of duty. As my player was being well taken care of by the ambulance staff, I informed my team that we would not be able to stop and eat as we had originally planned because we would need to get the young man home who had the heat stroke.

The police officer overheard this and asked the rest of my team, “Do you guys like McDonalds?” Of course they all said yes.

The officer then said, “If I do not have an emergency to respond to in the next 30 minutes, I will go to McDonalds and get you something to eat.” Well, my young man quickly recovered and was released from the ambulance after about 20 minutes. We then thought we should wait for the officer so we found a shady spot and parked the bus and waited 20 more minutes. I then told my players that it was time to go as the officer may have had an emergency he had to respond to.

We then loaded the bus and headed toward the interstate. As we approached the interstate, some of the players noticed a police car was following us. We found the nearest spot to pull over and it was the officer who said he would get the kids something to eat! He had bought them 20 double cheeseburgers and 10 large fries! When I tried to give him some money, he said no and wouldn't take it.

I wanted you to know what a great police department and ambulance crew you have.

Brian Michelson
H/PE Teacher
Tracy Area High School
Starting The Year Right At St. Charles High School8/20/2014
ST. CHARLES – Playing time. Conflict resolution. Expectations. Academics. In an auditorium filled with high school athletes and their parents, these themes and more were discussed Tuesday evening. It was an annual event at St. Charles High School; a meeting to kick off the new school year with the right kind of mindset for athletes, parents, coaches and administrators.

Athletic director Scott McCready has held this meeting for the past seven years. Athletes and at least one of their parents are required to attend. I was honored to be a guest speaker on Tuesday, talking about some of the special stories I have written over the years, how much high school activities mean to me, and why winning and losing is only one part of the experience.

Each person was given a six-page packet as they entered the auditorium at St. Charles Elementary School. The athletes and parents signed one page and returned it as proof of their attendance. At the top of the first page were listed “Some things to think about:”

--As parents you have had your opportunity as athletes, now it is your turn to be a supportive parent.
--Let the kids own their athletic experiences.
--Teach them how to self-advocate with coaches and teachers.
--Enable them to be successful on their own with your background support.
--The best way to get college tuition assistance is through academic scholarships – NOT athletic.

McCready told the crowd that only three percent of all high school athletes will play at any level in college and only one out of 12,000 will ever become a professional athlete. The information packet also included these facts: For every professional athlete there are 325 job openings for teachers, 60 for physicians, 80 for computer programmers, 40 for social workers, etc.

In St. Charles there are specific policies for playing time in seventh- and eighth-grade sports, ninth-grade sports, B squad sports and varsity sports. The chain of command to resolve a conflict goes from athlete to coach(es) to athletic director to principal to superintendent to school board. The info packet spelled out these things, along with specific points about the role of coaches and parents.

The packet also included information about school attendance and its impact on athletic participation; how academics can impact participation; and how the school dress code also applies to athletic events.

McCready talked about social media, as well. Students and parents were informed that if anything was posted that appeared troubling, the administration would have to investigate. He told the students that the best way to avoid this was to stay away from events and gatherings that could lead to issues.

The information packet ended with this strong, positive message: “We want to provide a positive and enjoyable experience for your student through educational activities. We don’t claim to be perfect in all that we do, but we do want what is best for your children. Please work with us to enhance the experience through communication and cooperation.”

Let’s all have a great year.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 7
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 555
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Krissy Wendell, Tori Holt To Co-Host New Prep Sports TV Show8/18/2014
Here is a press release announcing an exciting new weekly prep sports TV show that will air Saturday nights at 11 on KSTC Channel 45, the television partner of the MSHSL...

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA – School Space Media announces today that they have agreed to partner with Hubbard Broadcasting to air MN Prep Spotlight on 45TV (KSTC). MN Prep Spotlight will be co-hosted by two-time Olympic hockey player Krissy Wendell, and returning for his second year will be host Tori Holt. Prep Spotlight is a half-hour show containing human-interest features and highlights/scores on all parts of Minnesota high school athletics.

“I am really excited to join the show,” said Wendell, a pioneer in girls sports in Minnesota. “I have always talked about how passionate I am regarding high school athletics and I am very eager to get started this coming fall.”

The coverage will begin with the first show airing on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 at 11 p.m. on 45TV. Prep Spotlight will continue to air in that time slot throughout the fall, winter and springs sports season, covering all MSHSL athletics. The program also will be available on the internet at www.schoolspacemedia.tv.

“Adding Krissy to our team demonstrates our commitment to providing knowledgeable and insightful analysis into prep sports in Minnesota,” said School Space Media president Brian Nicohlson. “Her experience as a prep athlete, a two-time Olympian and lifelong athlete helps Prep Spotlight share stories of interesting and exceptional young athletes and those who help shape them.” (Pictured are Tori Holt and Krissy Wendell.)

“MN Prep Spotlight is a wonderful way to showcase the outstanding athletes and teams in Minnesota,” said Dave Stead, executive director of the Minnesota State High School League. “And as a co-host Krissy Wendell is a recognizable, knowledgeable, and well-respected athlete whose successful career has continued to stay connected to our Minnesota schools and communities.”

Last season School Space Media produced the Conference Spotlight that streamed on Schoolspacemedia.tv. Besides Conference Spotlight, which has been re-branded as MN Prep Spotlight, Schoolspacemedia.tv also will produce up to 18 live game streams of football, soccer and basketball games each week. School Space Media will produce 40 MN Prep Spotlight shows for the 2014-15 high school sports season.

Wendell is a Park Center High School graduate where she was an all-state athlete in hockey and softball. She continued her career in hockey at the University of Minnesota, where she was an All-American, co-captain, and Patty Kazmier Award winner (given to the top collegiate women's player in the nation). In addition to being part of two NCAA championship hockey teams, she also competed in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Wendell recently joined the 45TV broadcast team as a studio analyst during the MSHSL girls state hockey tournament. She is an assistant coach of the girls hockey team at Cretin Derham-Hall High School in St. Paul; the head coach is her husband Johnny Pohl, a former Red Wing, University of Minnesota and NHL player.

In 1994 Wendell became the fifth girl to play in the Little League Baseball World Series and the first to be in the starting lineup.

Host Tori Holt is a 1993 Apple Valley High School graduate who has been a play-by-play broadcaster and sideline reporter for the past four years on the MSHSL tournaments on 45TV. Holt has twice been part of a team that has won a Regional Emmy for “Best Live Program Event/Special.” He currently is on staff at School Space Media, attended St. Cloud State University and coaches varsity high school baseball at Apple Valley.

In addition to hosts Tori and Krissy, Eric Nelson of WCCO Radio will file weekly reports, as will newcomer Charlie Beattie.

More on School Space Media:

School Space Media, LLC is a St Paul-based company that provides media platforms focused on the audiences that attend prep sports. SSM connects fans to information about prep sports, advertisers to the audiences that attend varsity level events and shares revenue with partner locations.

For more information contact Andy Price at aprice@schoolspacemedia.com (612) 366-0421 or Tori Holt at Tholt@schoolspacemedia.com or (970)567-7723. Follow MN Prep Spotlight @mnprepspotlight and “Like” our School Space Media Facebook page.
Coming Off Dream Year, Chatfield Football Ready For More 8/14/2014
CHATFIELD – Jeff Johnson, the head football coach at Chatfield High School, was chatting in a quiet classroom Wednesday a few moments after the football players had wrapped up a whiteboard cranial session and returned to the practice field.

I mentioned the 2013-14 school year, which is one that will live forever in the memories of residents in this town of 2,700 south of Rochester. The Gophers won the Class 2A football state championship, the 1A wrestling state title, and the baseball team finished third at the 1A state tournament.

“Dream year,” Johnson said. “Dream year. Truthfully, if that ever happens again, it might not be for a long time. It was unbelievable.”

The Gophers girls teams didn’t have a bad year, either. The volleyball team came within one victory of the state tournament, the basketball team reached the subsection final and the softball team (also coached by Johnson) came within a whisker of winning the section title and going to state.

“It was an unreal year, for the boys and the girls,” Johnson said.

Ten minutes later, Johnson was on the football practice field along with three assistant coaches and a band of Gophers that is hoping to experience another unreal season. Chatfield lost 10 seniors to graduation, and that group set a high bar. Chatfield’s state championship in 2013 was the school’s first since a three-year run of titles in 1994, 1995 and 1996.

“It started with a group of kids who really loved the game of football,” said Johnson, a Pine Island native who played football at Winona State and is in his ninth year as the Gophers head coach after two years as an assistant. “And they realized year in and year out, every year as they got closer to their senior year, the more work they had to put in during the offseason if they wanted to beat some of our biggest rivals.

“Caledonia was a powerhouse down here for many, many years and they were tired of getting outmatched by them. We had a little bit of disappointment the year before, we only lost 6-0 when we really thought we could beat them. But those kids said, ‘Hey, we didn’t and we’ve got to put in that much more time.’ And they really worked their tails off and started really working hard in the offseason. That’s where it starts. It starts with the kids and wanting to win.”

Wednesday’s two-hour practice (the second of the day) was an exercise in precision, detail and hard work. The players were split into four groups, each working with one of the coaches. There were passing/defending drills, work on the blocking sled, a station for offensive reps, defensive line drills and more. Since the Gophers will play a Zero Week game (vs. Fillmore Central on Aug. 22), they had been in full pads for nearly a week, but there was a much stronger focus on technique than contact.

Neighborhood dogs occasionally barked at the commotion of whistles and voices.
When water breaks were called, the players sat in the shade under a storybook stand of large pines that ring two sides of the practice field. The practice began at 11 a.m.; when the end came two hours later, the sun was high and hot. But the Gophers know what it takes to become a champion.

“I think that we’re going to have a really, really great year,” said spectacularly named senior Julius General. “Everybody’s very connected and everybody will get time to play and just have fun together.”

Chatfield’s only loss last year came against Caledonia 19-18 in the season opener. The tide turned in the Section 1 championship game, when the Gophers defeated the Warriors 13-10 in overtime (ending Caledonia’s six-year run of state playoff appearances, which included five titles). The Gophers followed with state tourney victories over Jackson County Central, Hawley and finally Minneota in the Prep Bowl.

Playing six postseason games (after eight in the regular season) is a big bonus for young players looking for future playing time.

“All those sophomore who dressed with us last year, they got to practice in the R.C.T.C. (Rochester Community and Technical College) bubble, on the turf at Kasson-Mantorville, they played in the Metrodome,” Johnson said. “So that’s a huge advantage going into this year. If you do that for two or three consecutive years, like Caledonia did before that, those kids are almost getting a full extra football season in once they become seniors.

“We lost 10 seniors, which isn’t a lot. But all 10 of those seniors were very good athletes and they all contributed big time. So we’ve got some holes to fill. But we return a lot of kids who got either a lot of playing time or a little bit of playing time.”

The players know what needs to be done as a new season approaches.

“Last year’s success really helped us see that we can be on top again,” said senior Hank Friederichs. “It’s not going to be given to us, but if we work hard and get the job done it will be us again.”

Senior Tommy Jech said, “Everybody’s kind of bought into the program over the last two years because we’ve had such good success. Even though we did lose a lot of people, we’re getting new people in because everybody’s buying in. We have a bunch of people that can step up.”

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

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 6
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 369
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn