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.