John's Journal
The Emotional Return Of Emily Covert 5/28/2019
Emily Covert has accomplished just about everything a high school distance runner can accomplish. The senior from Minneapolis Washburn has won the last two Class 2A cross-country state championships and won the 2A 3,200-meter state title last spring. She has qualified for state in cross-country and track every year since she was in seventh grade and owns top 10 finishes in 13 races. Nationally, she placed second in the two-mile race at the New Balance National Championships and in December she was fifth in the Foot Locker Nationals cross-country race.

She set a state record of 10:06.19 in winning the 3,200 meters at state last year. She won the same event in Tuesday's Section 6AA meet at Orono with a time of 10:59.72, which is no match for her state record. But she was thrilled nonetheless.

"Getting to the (starting) line was an accomplishment in itself," she said later.

That's because Tuesday's event was Emily's first race of the spring track season, which she sat out because of injuries. She was the only runner among 31 competitors who didn't come to the meet with a seed time, so she was placed in the first of two heats, traditionally known as the "slow heat." Seventeen of the top 18 finishers ran in the second heat ... all but Covert.

Her return to the state meet on June 7 at Hamline University in St. Paul, however, was in doubt after the first heat was done. She could have qualified automatically with a time of 10:48.92 or better, but she didn't finish that fast. The top two runners in the 3,200 (plus anyone else who reached the standard) qualified for state. As the second heat finished, Covert's time bested them all, securing the state appearance.

Wayzata sophomore Emilia Arnone placed second in 11:06.69 and Washburn senior Grace Dickel was third in 11:08.38. As happy as Covert was to get to state, she was crushed that her teammate won't be running there with her.

"It's kind of bittersweet," Emily said. "I'm able to go but my teammate isn't. It's nice to be able to go to state but it would have been better if I was going with Gracie."

The first sign that something wasn't right health-wise came in December when Covert ran in the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego. She finished fifth despite a sacral stress fracture, which was discovered through an MRI after she returned home. When she tried to come back a little too quickly, that led to a tibial stress fracture, diagnosed in April. That blew the regular season in track out of the water.

"I came back very slow (this spring) because that's what got me into my first mess," she said. "I literally started doing workouts just last week. Everything is slowly coming together. I'm trying to trust the process right now."

As the gun went off Tuesday, Covert ran to the lead on the first curve. That's where she stayed, building a large margin on the field. As she completed the second lap to cheers from the crowd, she turned her head toward the fans and smiled.

"A lot of my friends and family came out," she said. "They really wanted to see me run."

At the halfway point of the eight-lap race, she led the field by 35 seconds. Her time at 1,600 meters was 5:22, meaning she would beat the state qualifying standard if her second 1,600 was equally fast. With one lap remaining, Washburn coach Curtis Johnson yelled from the fence, "75 and you got it! 75!" That meant a final lap of 75 seconds would beat the standard. That didn't happen, but the largest step had been taken; she started and finished a race for the first time this spring.

"I've never had an injury before," she said. "I feel like I'm stronger now because I'm focused more on strength and physical therapy. I'm a stronger runner than I was last year.

"Getting to the line was an accomplishment in itself. I took a lot of time off. I thought I won because I got to the finish line. That's all I was hoping for, kind of wiping the slate clean. Going to the line was emotional, and finishing was emotional. Everything about today was emotional, both happy and sad.

"I honestly was more nervous for this race than I was for my national races. I felt so prepared for national races and came to this race with like a week's worth of workouts. I feel like I'm ready to run again. I want to be in a position where I want to win state."

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea" wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
80 Umpires, 900 Games, 40 Schools5/25/2019
How important are officials to high school activities? How about this fact: By the time section playoffs have ended, the St. Cloud Officials' Association will have supplied umpires for more than 900 softball and baseball games among 40 schools. The story is the same all over the state: dedicated officials, assignors and administrators working hard to get games in regardless of weather challenges.

Here's an important email that was sent Friday...


To: ADs, Admin. Assistants, and SCOA Umpires

Good afternoon,

Now that we have reached the end of the regular seasons, I thought it was an appropriate time to say thank you - two words that will never really express my gratitude.

It was an interesting spring. In the past, we have known we were going to lose an early portion of the season and had time to react, prepare and reschedule. This year we got started in early April, but it seemed like we would get a least one weather day or two each week - not to mention a few snowstorms. It was very challenging and frustrating for all, I know.

So - I thought I would share my gratitude - both as a fellow school administrator and as an assignor.

Here is what I witnessed this year -- umpires willing to make switches, sometimes with less than two hours notices, ADs willing to look for creative solutions and find times to play games when umpires were available that fit into the schools' schedules, and schools working together for the benefit of student-athletes in all schools. And, both groups understanding the challenges that the other faced through a tough spring, appreciating and supporting each other - and doing it cheerfully and professionally the entire journey.

The end result - we got most of the games in, we had very few miscommunications, and we covered 99+% of the games.

I want to share some numbers:

By the time the section playoffs have concluded, the St. Cloud Officials' Association will have supplied umpires for over 900 softball and baseball games among 40 schools - 600+ varsity games and 300+ sub-varsity games. To do that, 80 umpires filled over 1,600 "slots" in less than eight weeks time - all of these numbers are record highs since I have been assigning for the SCOA.

I know that these same efforts to get the games in and get the games covered went on in many other areas of the state with many other schools and officials' associations. This story needs to be told as much as the stories about the shortage of officials. The officials and administrators we have are dedicated to kids.

It is my extreme pleasure to work with each and everyone of you. I am proud of my colleagues - both in school administration and in officiating. And, I look forward to doing it again next spring.

Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend - you all have earned it ten-fold.

See you at the ballpark!

Emmett Keenan
Athletic and Activities Director, St. Cloud Cathedral
Baseball and Softball Umpires' Assignor for St. Cloud Officials' Association
An Unforgettable Week, Filled With Unforgettable Memories5/18/2019
Anyone who is heavily involved in Minnesota high school activities can tell you a solid truth: These things are special; I have occasionally referred to them as sacred, because of the lessons they teach and the countless positives they produce.

On Saturday afternoon, after a busy week attending a wide-ranging variety of events, I saw something that, maybe oddly, tied some sort of psychological ribbon around this entire endeavor. I was attending the MSHSL robotics state championships at Williams Arena. It is an unbelievably good time, with big crowds cheering for their hometown teams, kids dancing, music playing, lights flashing, and students doing amazing things with their robots.

This is also the time of year when school activities sometimes interfere with end-of-the-school-year events. For robotics team members from Math and Science Academy in Woodbury, it's become habit to wear their formal prom attire while tuning up and operating their robots, then racing to the prom afterwards. Saturday, boys wore suits and girls wore gowns. This is nothing really new at robotics, but something jumped out at me Saturday when I saw one of the Math and Science girls on her knees, working on the Fighting Calculators' robot (yes, that's the team name).

I could see the soles of her shoes ... more correctly, her boots, which carried the manufacturer's name. I posted a Tweet with a photo and this message: "If you had 'Girl in prom dress wearing Harley Davidson boots and repairing a robot' on your bingo card, you win."

It so summed up what our kids do, in all sports and activities, and capped a tremendous week. The week began with the MSHSL's 48-member Representative Assembly meeting Monday morning to weigh several bylaw changes (which they approved). Tuesday evening, a first-time event was held at Tartan High School in Oakdale to recruit graduating seniors and current college students as officials.

Thursday in Wheaton, out on the South Dakota border, the track coach at Wheaton/Herman-Norcross, John Tauber, was honored for 50 years of coaching that sport. His son Mike, the boys basketball coach at Rockford High School, had invited me to the Pheasant Conference track meet in Wheaton, where Mike was honored in a surprise ceremony by family, colleagues and current and former athletes. Sadly, I wasn't able to be there but Mike provided photos that were posted on Twitter and the MSHSL Facebook page.

Friday was extra special, beginning with a morning trip to Waseca. I was there to present the Waseca High School theater department with an award from the National Federation of State High School Associations. The Heart of the Arts award was given to Waseca for their 2018 one-act play, titled "Booby Trap." The military-themed play was dedicated to Caleb Erickson, a Waseca grad who joined the Marines and was 20 years old when he was killed in Afghanistan five years ago.

I presented the award to theater director Karen Pfarr Anderson during a Staff and Student Recognition Program in the school gym, with the entire student body attending. After the presentation, Karen gave a touching talk about Caleb, the play and its impact. After thanking many people in the community who were important to the play's success in raising money for veterans, among other things, she talked about Caleb's legacy.

"I encourage you to please continue to lift up the Erickson family by supporting the Caleb Erickson Memorial Fund if you can and/or attending one of the many festivities this year on August 24 for the Caleb Erickson Memorial Day in Waseca," she said. "Finally, I thank Caleb for the immeasurable sacrifice he made for each and every one of us. While many of you in the crowd may have not known Caleb, we all should carry on his memory. Young men and women like Caleb are the reason we have the freedoms to do the many things we do each day. Since going through this process and time thereafter, I often think of the wonderful things Caleb has missed: his sister getting married and the birth of his beautiful niece Autumn are two that instantly come to mind. He would have loved to have been a part of these moments and I can guarantee he would have been the crazy, fun uncle. Therefore, we owe it to Caleb to treat each day as a gift and recognize even the monotonous, daily grind moments are truly treasures. Our community will forever miss this hero. At this time I would like to take a moment of silence to recognize Caleb's sacrifice for us all. Thank you, Caleb, for your service and may you rest in peace. Again, thank you for this tremendous honor. We are very humbled. Thank you."

When Karen finished speaking, everyone in the gym stood and applauded. There were tears in my eyes as I walked to the car for the drive back to the Twin Cities and the MSHSL adapted softball tournament. If you saw the photos and videos I posted from bowling on Twitter, you know about the giant, enthusiastic crowd and the great competition. Here's a moment that stood out to me ...

A young girl in the CI (cognitively impaired division) was among 10 bowlers to receive medals in her category. She was tiny and apparently a little shy, because she was hesitant to stand in front of the crowd with the other top 10 bowlers. Her proud, smiling father was ready to take photos of his child with the other medalists, but she left the line and put an arm around her dad's neck. He spoke to his child in Spanish, encouraging her to return to the line. But she stayed with her father, which was just fine.

Another competitor at bowling is someone I wrote about a few weeks ago when she played with the Austin pep band at the state girls basketball tournament. Tyra Wiles is a senior at Austin who has been with the band throughout her high school career. On Thursday, Austin's senior band members were honored and Tyra was presented with a new award called the Spirit Award. How fitting for such an inspirational person.

And finally, on Saturday, the week was capped off at the robotics tournament. When it was over, members of the winning teams celebrated with whoops and cheers, and kids from other teams offered warm congratulations. Sportsmanship is one of the greatest things about robotics.

The Fighting Calculators took home a state runner-up finish, but the kids dressed for prom weren't able to stay for the awards ceremony. The robotics event ran late and they hustled out to catch a riverboat that was serving as the site of the prom.

I sure hope they made it. If not, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that they pulled out their tool kits on the river bank, constructed a robotic canoe and made it out to the boat after all ... in formal wear and Harley Davidson boots.

POSTSCRIPT: The girl in the prom dress and boots was Addie Abrahamson, a junior at Math and Science Academy who is the Fighting Calculators' electronics lead. The kids made it to the prom. Addie's mom told me in a Twitter message Sunday afternoon: "Boat was to leave at 7. Captain said can wait no longer than 7:15. But then he heard they were in their cars racing from Minneapolis to Stillwater, he took pity on them. Moved it to 7:30. Of course parking was at a premium and they had to run many blocks to the pier. Addie was barefoot no clue why lol. But they made it! Safely too!

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to ?Preps Today with John Millea? wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
A Special Night Under The Lights In Pine Island 5/14/2019
PINE ISLAND – On a lovely spring evening in this southeastern Minnesota village, history was made Friday when a baseball game was played under the lights for the very first time. The Pine Island Panthers played host to the Lake City Tigers and things were pretty spectacular even before the first pitch.

The new? Six skinny metal towers reaching into the sky, topped by futuristic-looking lights, and a scoreboard that included a spot for pitch counts. The old? A couple of former Pine Island baseball coaches who can tell a tale with the best of 'em.

A pregame ceremony featured Clyde Doepner, known in baseball circles as the official curator and historian of the Minnesota Twins. But his first job out of Winona State College was teaching and coaching baseball in Pine Island from 1965 to 1969. Clyde told the story of his first-year salary, which was $325 for coaching three teams (varsity, ninth-10th grade, seventh-eighth-grade) without an assistant.

He negotiated with the administration to hire another coach, who was paid $125 … unbeknownst to Clyde until it was too late, that $125 came out of his pay.

"I went into the room making $325 and I walked out of the room with an assistant coach and making $200," Clyde said, adding that he would have coached for nothing. To back up that point, he held an envelope containing $200. He gave it to former Panthers baseball coach/athletic director Craig Anderson, with directions that the money go toward paying the light bills at the field.

“Now I can say I did coach my first year for nothing and it was the best time of my life,” said Clyde.

Anderson is the name people think of when they hear the words “Pine Island baseball.” He coached the Panthers for 41 years before retiring at the conclusion of the 2016 season, in which the Panthers went to the Class 2A state tournament. In 2014 Anderson was inducted into the National High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He also spent 36 years as a sixth-grade science teacher, another feat worthy of Hall of Fame status.

Anderson's highest honor is an award given annually by the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association. The Craig Anderson Ethics in Coaching Award is given to a coach “who, like Craig, has displayed ethics in coaching and teaching the game of baseball. The coach who is selected will be someone who displays class, integrity, character, and respect for the game, the players, the spectators, and the officials.”

During the pregame ceremony, Anderson thanked everyone in Pine Island for supporting their kids in many ways. This summer, new seating and a press box will be added to the baseball field, and softball upgrades are next in line. The current baseball field was once a football practice field. Anderson arrived in town in 1976 and the new ballfield was first used a year later.

Four local businesses have signage on the new scoreboard, and representative of those four – Bevcomm, Ron’s Auto Repair, Ben Olson Realty and School Management Services – threw out quadruple ceremonial first pitches before the game. The colors were presented by Charles Cowden American Legion Post 184 as both teams stood along the foul lines for the national anthem.

By the time the lights were shut off for the night, the Pine Island Panthers had wrapped up a 4-2 victory. In the afterglow, two comments made by Doepner before the game returned to mind. One was about the conditions for baseball when he was a first-year coach all those years ago: “I would have died and gone to heaven at 21 if we had played on a field like this.”

The other was about the man who coached the Panthers for 41 years and has played such a crucial role in so many good things, both in facilities and in humanity. Clyde wrapped up his pregame remarks by motioning toward Anderson and saying, “This guy’s a legend. I hope the next time I come down here there’s going to be a name on that scoreboard, and it’s going to be this gentleman’s name.”

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

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Special Event For Prospective Officials On May 145/8/2019
A special event will be held on Tuesday, May 14 for people interested in becoming officials for all MSHSL sports. The event is geared toward graduating high school seniors and current college students who would like to earn extra money for college and remain connected to the sport(s) they love. Regardless of age, however, anyone interested in becoming an official is welcome.

The gathering will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Tartan High School, 828 Greenway Ave North, Oakdale, MN 55128-6202.

Representatives from every sport and officials association in the metro area will be in attendance. The evening will begin with a presentation on the benefits and steps to becoming a registered MSHSL official. Once this is completed, the attendees will be able to visit with veteran officials in a job fair-type setting. Those interested in becoming officials will be able to register with the MSHSL at the event.

Men and women of all ages are needed to officiate youth sports at the middle school and high school level. If you love sports, have a "feel" for the game and a basic knowledge of the rules you can be an official.

Food will be provided at no charge by Pizza Barn of Princeton, which is well-known for providing #ThankARef postgame pizzas for officials who work events in Princeton.

To listen to a podcast featuring one of the organizers of the event, search for "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.