John's Journal
A Standing Ovation For All The Super Kids In New Prague1/29/2015
I received an email from New Prague superintendent Tim Dittberner earlier this week, alerting me to a very special event. The email included this statement: “The kids at New Prague are very inclusive to all kids within the student body -- no matter what their differences or abilities are.”

I’m certain that statement holds true every day in the halls and classrooms at school, at sporting events and everywhere students gather. It’s clear that they care about each other, based on what I witnessed Wednesday evening in the school auditorium.

This is Snoball Week at New Prague, which includes dress-up days (Safari Day, Camouflage/Flannel Day, etc.), a pepfest and a dance. Wednesday’s big event was the coronation of Snoball royalty, and it was something special.

Five senior boys, five senior girls and an equal number of juniors had been chosen as candidates. Two seniors would be named king and queen, with two juniors being named prince and princess.

The ceremony began with a slideshow featuring baby/toddler photos of each candidate and their answer to a question. This was great fun. Some examples…

--Q: What’s your favorite pickup line? A: “You must be Google because you have everything I’m looking for.”

--Q: Who is your favorite teacher? A: “Our school is filled with too many good ones.”

The candidates were introduced, talented juniors Alexis Solheid and Jacob Hurt did a wonderful job of singing “I'll Be (The Greatest Fan Of Your Life)” and the coronation followed.

The queen was Kristy Bendzick and the king was Kevin Bastyr (pictured here). The princess was Sarah Oxborough and the prince was Goy Kang. Kevin has cerebral palsy and Sarah is cognitively impaired; there was thunderous cheers and a standing ovation as they were crowned.

The other candidates were seniors Owen Guthridge, Lauren Bixby, Aric Becker, Sarah Goblirsch, Drew Schoenbauer, Hanna Maddaus, Ryan O'Rourke and Madison Frerk, and juniors Ebenezer Chinedu-Enh, Leah Bissell, Michael Knoer, Julia Bartusek, Matt Ademmer, Madison Schmitz, Frank Bartyzal and Brianna Ellanson,

Kevin Bastyr is well-known as the No. 1 fan of New Prague sports. When the Trojans boys hockey team went to state last year, they gave Kevin a jersey with his name on the back. When the hockey team holds Senior Night at its home game against Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato on Friday, Kevin will be recognized.

“He never misses a football or hockey game, no matter the weather -- home or away,” Dittberner said.

Tony Buthe, a former New Prague football coach and the district’s director of educational services, said “Kevin’s relationship with all the student-athletes is great. They just love him. And he loves to talk sports with any peer, but also any coach or teacher. He is the epitome of what New Prague schools is about. He’s just a super, super kid.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 293
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 6,503
The Magic Of Monticello And All High School Activities1/26/2015
Twenty years ago, nobody associated with the Monticello boys basketball team could have envisioned what took place Friday night. The 1994-95 Magic was a special group that went to the state tournament for the first time in school history and began a five-year run of consecutive trips to state.

Most of the players and coaches from that team were reunited Friday at Monticello High School. The teenagers from the mid-1990s are now thirty-somethings who were honored before the current Magic boys basketball team met Buffalo in a Mississippi 8 Conference game in the splendid Monticello gym.

The star of the evening was Nate Holmstadt. His number 54 jersey was retired, with a framed jersey being presented to Nate and a twin tribute to his career unveiled on the gym wall.

At 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, Holmstadt averaged 25 points, 15 rebounds and 7.5 blocked shots per game as a senior in 1994-95. He was named the player of the year by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and shared Associated Press player of the year honors with Robert Mestas of Minneapolis Roosevelt.

Nate went on to play basketball at Montana State and now works for the California Highway Patrol.

“It’s really surreal,” Nate said after the pregame ceremony. “I haven’t seen a lot of these guys in a long time. I haven’t been back in a while, and a lot of the people in the stands, I haven’t seen them for a long time, either. It’s an unbelievable moment for me.”

The ceremony and that evening’s game was a celebration of everything that’s good about high school sports. We cheer for today’s teams and athletes, we remember those who came before and we revel in the atmosphere and the togetherness.

The entire 1994-95 team was honored, with all but four of the 15 players present. Each was introduced to the crowd by athletic director Gary Revenig, who talked about what each of them are doing now. One of the absent players was Brad Ibs, who is doing missionary work in Kenya. Another was Joel Przybilla, who was a freshman in 1994-95 and recently retired from basketball after 13 seasons in the NBA.

The other players are involved in careers ranging from sales to insurance to construction to architecture to health care to coaching. The coaching connection is Jason Schmidt, a senior in 1994-95 who now is the Magic head coach. Jason kicked off the plans to honor his old teammates, including their coach, Max LaVelle.

Retired and still living in Monticello, LaVelle talked about the team and thanked all involved in making high school activities happen.

“I’d like to thank, on behalf of these guys, their families,” the coach said. “They sacrificed a lot, with the time put in, transportation, money, meals, everything. I’d like to thank the managers, the cheerleaders, the coaches, the Monticello Times for the great coverage in the past and the present. And our fans. This is unbelievable, to have the support tonight. We really appreciate that.

“The pep band, the administration, the community, the staff, the youth coaches who worked with these guys as they were beginning to become basketball players.”

That’s a heck of a summary of what goes into these endeavors. In a lot of sports, athletes can play on offseason teams, travel the nation to tournaments and hope to catch the eye of college coaches. But how often do those teams gather again 20 years later to celebrate with their community?

The teams, the families, the cheerleaders, the band. The Magic and the magic.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 292
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 6,447
Eastview Basketball: The Pride of South Dakota 1/23/2015
The first family of Eastview basketball has a decidedly South Dakota feel. No wonder, when you learn that the Lightning girls coach is one of the legendary players in South Dakota high school and college history, and her twin children will continue their basketball careers at South Dakota colleges.

Here’s the rundown...

--Coach Melissa Guebert was South Dakota’s Miss Basketball in 1982, her senior season at Sioux Falls Lincoln High School, and she remains the all-time scoring leader at Augustana College, also in Sioux Falls.

--Madison Guebert, a 5-foot-8 Eastview senior on her mom’s team, is one of the top players in Minnesota and will continue her career at South Dakota State.

--Drew, a senior on the Eastview boys team and Madison’s twin brother, is a 6-foot-7 forward who will play college basketball at the University of Sioux Falls.

The family’s South Dakota roots run deep. Dan Guebbert (husband of Melissa and father of Madison, Drew and eighth-grade daughter Maci) also attended Augustana, as did Melissa’s parents and three brothers.

So when Madison and Drew embark for college, they will have grandparents and other relatives close by … even if they won’t be attending the “family” college.

“I think we would have been happy if one of them had picked Augustana,” Melissa said with a smile. “And we love Sioux Falls. So the fact that Drew is going to be at the University of Sioux Falls and Madison will be in Brookings; having family right there, it’s going to be great for us.”

The twins had plenty of other schools to choose from. Madison also took close looks at Creighton, Drake and Illinois, and Drew considered several schools in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, three in South Dakota and American University in Washington, D.C.

Family roots wasn’t the sole reason for their college decisions, but it came into play.

“I didn’t want to base my decision on it, but it was definitely a factor,” Madison said. “It was hard just because there wasn’t anything I didn’t like at any of the schools. It’s hard to explain, it’s kind of like a feeling you get. And every time I went there (South Dakota State), even the first time I went there I was like, ‘Oh, I can see myself here.’ I said that about the other places, too, but there was just something else (about SDSU).”

Drew said, “For me it wasn’t a huge deal to stay around here but it kind of felt right and it’s nice for our family.”

One of the hurdles Madison had to deal with was her grandfather’s not-so-favorable feelings about South Dakota State, stemming from the rivalry between Augustana and South Dakota State.

Madison explained it like this: “Our grandpa has a hard time with South Dakota State.”

Melissa said, “My dad played basketball at Augustana. And even at the time when I played, South Dakota State was in our conference and there was a huge rivalry between Augustana and South Dakota State. It was a really tough place to go play at South Dakota State. My dad just had this almost bad feeling because the rivalry was so intense. So when Madison was first looking at the school, we said, ‘Hey, do you want to meet us at a game there?’ We had to really work to get him to come to a game.

“When Madison decided, I called him before Madison did. I just said to him, ‘She’s super excited and I hope when she calls you are excited for her.’ And he started to realize that he was going to get a chance to see her play. I think it became more about that than the school itself. It all boils down to an old rivalry for him and what that used to be like.”

Both Eastview teams are having good seasons. The girls (the defending Class 4A state champions) are 14-1 and ranked second in 4A; the boys have a record of 12-5.

Melissa said she is not certain that she will return as coach next season, because of the tug of wanting to watch her twins play in college. Juggling basketball lives and time commitments is nothing new for the Gueberts, however.

Eastview is playing several girl-boy varsity doubleheaders this season, which makes watching both children play an easy task. But on many game nights the girls and boys teams are in different places, with Dan watching Drew’s team play while Melissa and Madison are at their game.

“The only hard thing to me is not having my mom at some of my games,” said Drew.

Melissa said, “It’s hard for both of us. My decision to coach this year, I had to really think about it because it was Drew’s senior year, too. At the same time, if I wasn’t coaching it would still be a split, with my husband at his games, me at her games and we would have been switching.

“That sacrifice has been the hardest part about coaching. And our younger daughter, she sacrifices because of that, too. I know it hasn’t been easy but Drew’s been great about it.”

Melissa is an elementary teacher and Madison is considering a career in education (Drew is undecided). Their family life centers on basketball, but they find time for fishing trips and other family getaways.

“They eat, sleep and breathe basketball,” said Eastview activities director Matt Percival. “They can’t get enough of it, but in a really good, positive family way. Their family has been a very unifying thing for the basketball programs. Not only are they well-known but they are certainly very well-respected by everyone in our building and our community.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 290
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 6,322
29th Annual Minnesota Girls and Women in Sports Day1/19/2015
Some of Minnesota’s most inspiring and influential student-athletes, coaches and athletic leaders will be recognized at an award ceremony at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. The award ceremony will be conducted in conjunction with the 29th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day – a nationwide celebration recognizing the accomplishments of individuals in the promotion and advancement of girls’ and women’s sports. The 2015 ceremony will honor 18 individuals and one program receiving awards in seven separate categories. Award recipients are nominated by schools, community organizations, recreation centers, and amateur and professional sports organizations. All are invited to attend this special event. Award winners are below.

The Marie Berg Award for Excellence in Education – Carol Enke, Augsburg College

The Girls’ and Women’s Sports in the Media Award – Kwame McDonald (the Media Award will henceforth be named in honor of McDonald with a formal announcement to take place at the ceremony)

The Wilma Rudolph Award for Courage and Inspiration – Ronda Jo Donatucci,
Co-Director Metro Deaf School, former professional basketball player

Special Merit Award – Myron Glass, Rochester Lourdes High School

Special Merit Award – Jean Havlish, Former professional baseball player and bowler

Special Merit Award – Nicole M. LaVoi, University of Minnesota, Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sports

Minnesota Legacy Award – Joan Parent, Former MSHSL President

Minnesota Milestone Award – Edina High School Girls Tennis Program

2015 Breaking Barriers Awards
Pat Arens, Princeton community
Connie Boyum-Erzar, Deer River High School
Raquel DeBeltz-Bushman, Hutchinson Parks & Recreation
Ron Gunderson, New Prague High School
Bill Halbrehder, Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association
Betty Haukebo, Park Rapids Area High Schools
Deb Johansen, A Recreational Inclusion Sport Endeavor (ARISE)
Jessica Just, Lakeville South High School
Mary Lager, St. Peter High School,
Mike Silk, Randolph High School
Erica Upton-Wurst, Houston High School

Minnesota Girls and Women in Sports Day is organized by the Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership.
From Far And Wide, Skating For Dodge County1/14/2015
KASSON – The Dodge County girls hockey team is a southern Minnesota independent squad that isn’t afraid to travel, with regular trips to games in the Twin Cities and forays this season to New Ulm and Warroad.

Spending time on the highway is not an issue for the Wildcats, many of whom are accustomed to lengthy commutes just to get to practice and home games. That’s because Dodge County is a cooperative team with eight different schools involved.

Those schools stretch from Zumbrota-Mazeppa to the north, Dover-Eyota to the east, Dodge Center in Triton to the west and Blooming Prairie to the south. Other members of the coop are Byron, Pine Island, Hayfield and Kasson-Mantorville, which is the host school for the coop.

How far-flung are the Wildcats? Well, consider that Dover-Eyota, Zumbrota-Mazeppa, Pine Island and Byron aren’t even in Dodge County.

Members of the girls hockey team come from seven of those eight schools, and the Wildcats are one of the top teams in the state, holding a 15-3 record and No. 8 ranking in Class 2A by Let’s Play Hockey. They were ranked as high as third earlier in the season.

Eleventh-grader defender Hollywood Hermanson (yes, that’s her real name) is a student at Dover-Eyota who spends 40 to 45 minutes on the road getting to and from Four Seasons Arena in Kasson.

“When you come here, everybody’s always happy,” she said. “And it’s different from school because we’re all from different communities. It’s really cool.” (Pictured are, left to right, Hermanson, Dana Rasmussen, Elly Strunk, Katie Robinson and Maggie Wick.)

Seventeen of the 28 players on the roster attend Kasson-Mantorville, with four from Byron, two each from Dover-Eyota and Hayfield, and one each from Pine Island, Zumbrota-Mazeppa and Blooming Prairie. The players are responsible for their own transportation to the rink.

“We have a really good following,” said coach Jeremy Gunderson, who lives in Mantorville. “Our communities do a good job. Girls basketball here is big, and Kasson-Mantorville athletics is good all around. We’ve got kids who are pretty good athletes. But hockey here is definitely not like at Edina or Warroad. We have a bunch of good athletes playing hockey, but it’s not a hockey hotbed by any means.”

Despite the lack of hotbed status, the Wildcats sport a talented roster. Senior forward Dana Rasmussen, who will play at Ohio State, leads the state with 41 goals. Junior defender Katie Robinson has committed to play at the University of Minnesota, three seniors will play Division III hockey and juniors Bella Wagner and Molly Shelton will decide among several Division I schools. Gunderson’s daughter Emily Gunderson is a freshman playing at Division I Lindenwood University.

The Wildcats have never qualified for the state tournament, but that is one of their goals this season and one of the reasons why the schedule includes opponents like Edina, Hill-Murray, Breck, Warroad and Lakeville North.

Dodge County lost to Lakeville North in the Section 1 title game the last two years, and fell to the Panthers in the section semifinals three years ago.

“It’s mentioned a lot,” Gunderson said of the goal of getting to state. “No more losing section final games. First it was, ‘Hey, let’s make the section final.’ Last year it was, ‘Let’s win this thing.’ They’re actually setting a higher goal this year, they want to win the state championship.”

The Wildcats lost to Lakeville North 1-0 in the Warroad holiday tournament (where Dodge Center beat Warroad and Eastview), but Gunderson said he saw a change in his team after that game.

“We hit five pipes, we outshot them, we outplayed them,” he said. “I got to see their eyes in the locker room afterwards, and it was a different group of kids. That game really got them past that hurdle. Now they’re no longer nervous or afraid, they’re more like hungry or wanting.”

Dodge County’s other losses this season were against Hill-Murray and Edina, both by 4-2 scores. Their final seven games of the regular season include contests with ranked teams Eden Prairie, Centennial, Breck, St. Paul United and Rochester John Marshall.

“We try to play a full metro schedule as much as possible,” Gunderson said. “Play the best to be the best, that’s our philosophy.”

The Wildcats players may be spread far and wide geographically, but they are a very close-knit group. They communicate during non-hockey time via group text messages, with as many as 80 texts flying through the air daily.

“I think it’s just a great team atmosphere,” Robinson said. “And since we’re from different towns we don’t see each other often, so it’s always fun to see each other. We have a fun group of girls.”

Rasmussen said, “It’s different, because we don’t see each other in school every day. I think it’s a great kind of different.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 288
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 6,198