John's Journal
Farmington’s Mark Froehling Announces Retirement 11/19/2014
Mark Froehling announced this week that he is retiring as the head football coach at Farmington High School. He told his team first, which is exactly what you would expect from a man who has always cared for his players above all else.

One of the highlights of my many years writing about high school sports came in the fall of 2006. I spent homecoming week with the Farmington Tigers, watching every football practice, sitting in on Froehling’s chemistry classes, enjoying homecoming festivities and writing about what took place.

That was a joyful week because I was able to write about one of the finest coaches I have ever known. As Farmington activities director Bill Tschida told me, “Mark is a treasure.”

Froehling, 52, has been a head football coach for 23 years; eight years at Caledonia and 15 years at Farmington. His career record is 122-101, but wins and losses is about the last thing for which he will be remembered. His players always knew that he cared about them as people and not just as football players.

He is known as a coach who interrupts practice to read to his team. The players rest on the field as their coach stands in their midst and reads aloud from books that are usually inspirational and always motivational.

After reading to the Tigers during a practice in 2006, he said quietly to me, “You’ve got to build a team somehow. If you just play football, then it’s only about football. This is all about team. I choose books about team, with the philosophy of being part of something bigger than yourself.”

He and his wife Lori made the retirement decision after the 2014 season ended. He will continue to teach chemistry.

“We’ve been talking about it the last couple years,” he said. “I wanted to make good decisions about where things stood. We’ve had multiple changes with the team, conference, classes, and I didn’t want to abandon the program during those transitions. They can be challenging and you want some stability.”

Indeed, Farmington has seen changes in recent years. The football team has moved from Class 4A to 5A to 6A, and when the Missota Conference dissolved this year Farmington joined the South Suburban Conference, which was a big step. The Tigers didn’t win a game this fall.

“We anticipated facing very good football teams every week,” Froehling said of the South Suburban. “And they didn’t disappoint. Every team was well-prepared, every team had great athletes and a good number of athletes, they knew how to play the game well.

“It was a little tough for us this particular season; we happened to be in a year where we just brought back about four starters from last year and we ended up doing this transition with a very young team. But to their credit, if you had come to practice you wouldn’t know what our record was. The kids came to play every week and practice was always positive. I told the seniors they were a great group to go out with. It has to be fun and they allowed that to happen.”

Froehling is only the second coach Farmington has had in 35 years. Earl Wetzel had the job for 20 years and Froehling was an assistant under him for two years; when Wetzel retired, Froehling was named head coach.

Trey Davis, a 2007 Farmington graduate who went on to compete in football and track at the University of Minnesota, said, “His impact goes beyond football to the example he sets as a man and just how much he cares about his athletes. It speaks to the way he did his retirement, waiting until after the banquet.”

Davis, now assistant activities director at Shakopee High School, added, “You never questioned that he cared about you. He would give you the shirt off his back if it meant you would be a more successful person.”

Tschida said Froehling set an example for all coaches at all schools.

“Some people are able to set their ego aside and really understand the true purpose of education-based athletics,” he said. “Mark is one of those people who has always looked at the greater good when it came to coaching. It was never about serving his ego and collecting accolades. It was always ‘How can I make a positive impact on the young men I’m coaching.’ That’s why he is so well-respected. He kind of sets the gold standard on how you can coach in this very machoistic sport yet do it in a manner that’s respectful of the individuals.”

Last season I was at Farmington for a game against Northfield. After warm-ups, the Tigers gather in the school weight room for last-minute words from Froehling. Here is what he told his team that day…

“We’ve got to be ready to play. I want to see effort and I want to see execution, right away. Let’s be moving out there, let’s get this thing going at our pace, not at their pace. Let’s dictate the pace, let’s run ‘em out of gas and take care of business, fellas. We’ve got to withstand any initial surge they might have.

“We know how to face adversity. This is football, gentlemen. There is always going to be adversity, nothing’s going to be perfect. There are going to be things we’ll have to overcome. Let’s not pretend that nothing bad’s never going to happen. We’ve just got to be prepared for it; how are we going to react to it? It’s a sign of the character of this team. And we know what kind of character we have, right? We know we can handle anything if we handle it together, can’t we?

“We’ve got to be able to play this one play at a time, right? Whatever happened on the last play, do we really care about that? No. Does it really matter what the next play is, the play after the one that’s being played right now? No. Will you please give me great focus on that play? Work your technique, do your job; you know your buddy’s counting on you to be focused right then, don’t you? He needs you. We all need each other, and let’s be sure we’re all taking care of our friends out there on the football field.

“Let’s show respect for our opponents tonight by the way we play the game. Every time we walk out on that field, we’re going to respect the game and make sure that we’re playing good, tough Tiger football. Gentlemen, let’s bring it in here and take a knee. What a beautiful night for the game of football, right fellas! This has gotta be fun, and let’s be thankful for being able to be here.”

Notice, Froehling didn’t say one word about winning the game. He talked about togetherness and focus and teamwork and being thankful.

After practice one day during that homecoming week in 2006, I talked with then-senior J.J. Akin, who went on to play football and graduate from Gustavus Adolphus College, where he now works as coordinator of marketing and technology and an admissions counselor.

Akin said to me, “Our coaches talk a lot about family, and they back it up. It brings unity. We’re not always going to be football players. We’re going to be husbands and fathers. Those are important things in life.”

And those lessons are taught by important people.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 184
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,556
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Football In The Cold Sure Beats Not Playing At All11/17/2014
When it comes to playing the state football tournament in the great outdoors instead of the cozy confines of an indoor stadium, the words of Edgerton/Ellsworth coach Andy Fleischman ring true for every coach and every player in Minnesota: “I think our boys would be ready to play in a snowstorm at three o’clock in the morning.”

Fleischman made that statement after the Flying Dutchmen defeated Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal 20-13 in Friday’s nine-man semifinals at St. Cloud State. The conditions at Husky Stadium were wintry to say the least, with temperatures in the teens and piles of snow surrounding the field.

For the teams that are headed to the Prep Bowl Friday and Saturday – on the University of Minnesota’s outdoor field – the fact that their championship hopes remain alive makes up for all the layers of cold-weather gear and slippery footing on snowy fields.

The format will remain the same next year, and the state semifinals and Prep Bowl will move to the new Vikings stadium in 2016. With the Metrodome long gone and the new stadium still two years away, the 2014 season has provided new challenges for teams that normally would be playing indoor football for the final two games.

“We practiced outdoors all week and I don’t see why we wouldn’t stay outdoors,” Fleischman said. “In August you’ve got to give them a break for heat; now you tell them to go inside and thaw out.”

One advantage of playing in the Gophers stadium will be the heated turf field. State quarterfinal and semifinal games were all played on turf, but last weekend’s snow was a challenge on non-heated fields.

“The conditions kind of changed our footing, offensively and defensively,” New London-Spicer coach Dan Essler said after the Wildcats beat Glencoe-Silver Lake 13-12 Saturday at Eden Prairie. “Both teams couldn’t run the ball effectively in the first half, especially sideways. Once the kids got used to it they maybe had to take an extra step or two, chop chop chop, and they were able to run.”

Prep Bowl preparations can be vastly different depending on geography. Teams in the Twin Cities can practice indoors in fieldhouses or inflated bubbles, while many outstate teams don’t have such options.

BOLD, for example, has practiced outdoors throughout the season, no matter the weather.

“Out in the country, we don’t have the artificial turf so a guy volunteered his four-wheeler and went out and cleaned off our field,” said BOLD coach Steve Solem, whose team defeated Caledonia 21-0 Saturday in the Class 2A semifinals at Eden Prairie and will meet Holdingford in the Prep Bowl on Friday at 1 p.m. “We warm up inside, go through our game plan, then we suit up and get outside and practice.”

The team from Grand Meadow – which will face Edgerton/Ellsworth in the nine-man title game on Friday at 10 a.m. – took advantage of another sport in preparing for the semifinals (the Superlarks beat Kittson County Central 49-0 Friday in St. Cloud).

The day before that game, Grand Meadow practiced at an indoor facility called Soccer World in Rochester.

“They’ve got a field that’s about 60 yards long and 30 yards wide,” Grand Meadow coach Gary Sloan said.

The Superlarks were hopeful that Rochester Community and Technical College would have their football field covered by an inflatable bubble this week. The day before playing a state quarterfinal at Irondale High School, Grand Meadow practiced on the outdoor turf at Minnetonka High School. That field also is covered by a bubble during the winter, and Sloan was hoping the bubble would be available for a walk-through on Thursday.

The New London-Spicer Wildcats -- who will face Rochester Lourdes in the Class 3A Prep Bowl game Saturday at 1 p.m. – will follow the script from their state championship season in 2009.

“We’ll be in our gym, like when we won it in 2009,” Essler said. “We went out one day for about half an hour. We’re used to practicing in the gym.”

BOLD’s Solem said the only likely place for an indoor workout for the Warriors would be a fieldhouse in Redwood Falls, but he wasn't planning on it.

“We just figured, ‘Let’s stay home. If we’re going to play in it we just as well get used to it.’ ”

Edgerton/Ellsworth’s Fleischman said the nearest indoor facilities for the Flying Dutchmen are in Brookings or Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“We’re kind of isolated a little bit,” he said, adding that playing in cold conditions is certainly worth the trouble.

“Honestly, I just hoped it would be a problem,” Fleischman said. “It suits our style.”

The nine-man Prep Bowl will be a matchup of teams that run the ball. Grand Meadow senior Landon Jacobson ran for 214 yards in the first half Friday and finished with 30 carries for 246 yards and four touchdowns. On the other side, Edgerton/Ellsworth senior Tyler Kurrasch scored all of his team’s points, rushing for three touchdowns and a two-point conversion.

“In Grand Meadow we say, ‘If you’re going to win you’ve got to run and you’ve got to stop the run,’ ” Sloan said.

For all the teams that are still playing, Kurrasch’s words after Saturday’s game stand tall.

“It didn’t even feel like 10 degrees. It was game day. It was perfect.”

Friday, Nov. 21
Nine-man: Grand Meadow vs. Edgerton/Ellsworth, 10 a.m.
Class 2A: BOLD vs. Holdingford, 1 p.m.
Class 4A: Becker vs. DeLaSalle, 4 p.m.
Class 6A: Eden Prairie vs. Totino Grace, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 22
Class 1A: Dawson-Boyd vs. Minneota, 10 a.m.
Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes vs. New London-Spicer, 1 p.m.
Class 5A: Simley vs. Mankato West, 4 p.m.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 183
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,406
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Matchups Are Set For Prep Bowl XXXIII11/15/2014
At the University of Minnesota

Friday, Nov. 21
Nine-man: Grand Meadow vs. Edgerton/Ellsworth, 10 a.m.
Class 2A: BOLD vs. Holdingford, 1 p.m.
Class 4A: Becker vs. DeLaSalle, 4 p.m.
Class 6A: Eden Prairie vs. Totino Grace, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 22
Class 1A: Dawson-Boyd vs. Minneota, 10 a.m.
Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes vs. New London-Spicer, 1 p.m.
Class 5A: Simley vs. Mankato West, 4 p.m.
Football State Semifinals11/13/2014

6A/ Totino-Grace 37, Lakeville North 21


Nine-Man/ Edgerton/Ellsworth 20, Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal 13

Nine-Man/ Grand Meadow 49, Kittson County Central 0

6A/ Eden Prairie 13, Maple Grove, 7


5A/ Simley 21, Spring Lake Park 14

5A/ Mankato West 26, St. Michael-Albertville 21

4A/ DeLaSalle 35, Hutchinson 21

4A/ Becker 39, Stewartville 20

3A/ Rochester Lourdes 25, Pierz 24 (OT)

3A/ New London-Spicer 13, Glencoe-Silver Lake 12

2A/ BOLD 21, Caledonia 0

2A/ Holdingford 35, Pipestone 18

1A/ Dawson-Boyd 28, Minneapolis North 12

1A/ Minneota 52, Braham 14
Multi-Sport Athletes, Top-Notch Competitors, Best Friends 11/11/2014
NORTHFIELD – Sitting in a conference room with a visitor on Tuesday afternoon, Bailey DuPay and Alexis Kiefer pondered this question: Are you good friends or best friends?

It didn’t take very long at all to hear the answer. “We’re pretty much best friends,” Kiefer said as the two Northfield seniors smiled. Friends, classmates, teammates … the two will close one chapter on their multi-faceted athletic careers at this week’s girls swimming and diving state meet at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

Both have qualified in Class 1A one-meter diving. DuPay will be making her fifth trip to state and she already owns three diving state championships. Kiefer will compete at the state meet for the first time, but she – and well as DuPay – have plenty of experience at other state championships. (Pictured are DuPay, left, and Kiefer, right.)

--Kiefer has competed in all-around at the Class 1A state gymnastics meet three times and finished second in the Class 2A pole vault last spring, her first appearance at the state track meet.

--DuPay is a two-time state gymnastics champion in all-around; she has been to state in gymnastics four times.

The preliminary round of diving will be held Wednesday, with the finals Saturday.

DuPay will continue her athletic career in college as a diver; she is close to making a final choice among three schools: Minnesota State Mankato, St. Cloud State and Wisconsin-Green Bay. Kiefer will attend the University of Minnesota and compete on the track team as a pole vaulter.

Kiefer has decided against competing in gymnastics this winter so she can focus on improving in her college sport. “I want to make the Olympic trials in the pole vault,” she said. “I’m going to need more time practicing the pole vault. I’m changing my goals.”

DuPay will say goodbye to gymnastics after the 2014-15 season before focusing on diving in college. For both athletes, the many injuries they suffered in gymnastics are among the reasons they will pursue other sports in college.

“Gymnastics is really hard on your body,” DuPay said. “I don’t know if my body would be able to take another four years of it.”

Kiefer said, “Since I have other goals, I don’t want to risk anything before college. You don’t make it through a gymnastics season without injuries.”

Bailey tried to remember each injury: A fractured right foot, two right knee surgeries, two herniated discs in her back, a stress fracture in her right fibula, a concussion, several sprained ankles and hip flexors.

Kiefer had compiled a list of her injuries, which she had conveniently put on her smart phone. “I made the list when I was deciding whether to stay with gymnastics,” she said as her looked at her phone.

“There have been a lot of minor injuries that you get and you forget about them,” she said as she began going down the list of serious injuries: “Fractured bone in right foot. Broken knuckle. I sprained both ankles many times on vault. Herniated discs in my back, as well; one when I was 12, so it’s highly probably that there’s more. Shin splints, torn labrum in a shoulder, pulled muscles and stuff, hip flexors.”

Despite the injuries, both athletes said they have no regrets about competing in gymnastics since they were little.

“Regrets? No, because there haven’t been any career-ending injuries, really,” Kiefer said. “You do get a lot of injuries. But I don’t think we regret anything because we love gymnastics so much.”

DuPay said, “I love the atmosphere, I love the competition, it definitely makes it worth it.”

If all goes well this week, DuPay will bring home another state diving championship (with the possibility of setting a state record) and Kiefer would be thrilled to finish high in her first time as a diver at state.

DuPay said there will be pressure on her, but most of it will come from within.

“My parents tell me a lot that there’s no pressure from them to win, that they’ll love me no matter what happens,” she said. “I think it’s more pressure from yourself.”

Kiefer said people at school are constantly asking Bailey, “Are you going to win again? Are you going to win again?”

DuPay’s career-best diving score is 511.6, which she set at the Big Nine Conference meet on Oct. 30 in Northfield. The all-time state-meet record is 507 and the Class 1A state-meet record is 500.85.

Come Saturday, the high school swimming and diving season will be over. That will close one chapter for the two friends.

“It’s a long season,” Alexis said. “We started in August.”

Bailey said, “It will be sad that it’ll be over but I’m ready for gymnastics.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 171
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,096
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn