John's Journal
On “Play For Nat” Night, Communities Come Together In Fun, Support9/15/2014
KENYON – The message was simple: “Play For Nat.”

Nat is Natalie Hildebrandt, a sophomore volleyball player at Kenyon-Wanamingo High School. She was recently given a clean bill of health after two years of a knock-down, drag-out fight with cancer. Natalie’s hair is growing back, she has returned to playing volleyball and Thursday night was a celebration that will be remembered forever by those who packed the gym.

There were smiles. And a tailgate party. And a silent auction. And smiles. C-squad, JV and varsity volleyball between the Kenyon-Wanamingo Knights and the Cannon Falls Bombers. And smiles. Money was raised, including a “Dash for Cash” through the stands by head volleyball coaches Jen Nerision of K-W and Melissa Huseth of Cannon Falls – who are sisters – between the first and second sets of the varsity match. Ribbons were sold as another way to raise funds. There was a tug-of-war between the football teams from the two schools. Oh, and did I mention the smiles?

“It’s overwhelming,” Natalie told me. “It’s nice to see everybody come out and put this together.”

This was a team effort by lots of people; the Twitter hashtag was #TEAMNAT and that’s how I found out about the evening. Folks from Kenyon-Wanamingo began sending me Tweets about #TEAMNAT night, and making the decision to be there was mighty easy for me. All the money raised went to help Natalie’s family with medical expenses.

Natalie has been through more than anyone should have to face. She was diagnosed in March 2012 and went through chemotherapy and radiation. The cancer returned earlier this year, and she spent about a month and a half of the summer hospitalized in Rochester, where she underwent more rounds of intense chemo and a stem-cell transplant.

All the way through, she has been supported not only by her parents, Kevin and Renee, and her big sister Sarah, but by classmates, teammates and many others. After Natalie learned last March that the disease had returned, more than a dozen boys in town shaved their heads in support and several girls donated hair to Locks of Love.

“It’s very overwhelming,” said Renee, a second-grade teacher at Kenyon-Wanamingo. “To see the support and the love that all the people and all the kids have showed Natalie, we appreciate that so much. It’s just been unbelievable.”

“Play For Nat” was a culmination, a celebration, a turn for everyone to share in the Hildebrandt’s happiness.

Some of the biggest cheers of the night came when Natalie entered the JV volleyball game and served three consecutive points before returning to the bench. Players from both schools wore green socks and green Team Nat t-shirts as warmup tops; many of the fans also wore the same green shirts.

This clearly was not a typical high school athletic event. The purpose of supporting Natalie and her family was the focus, not the final score. Sportsmanship was strong but the effort of the athletes never wavered; whether on the volleyball court or when the Kenyon-Wanamingo and Cannon Falls football teams grabbed opposite ends of a thick rope and tugged on that sucker.

The most frenetic activity of the evening was the Dash for Cash. Nerision and Huseth (who has coached Natalie in offseason volleyball), carried plastic pails, ran up bleacher steps, leaped over seats and people as the fans cheered, all in an attempt to gather as much cash as possible before a timer expired. Wads of bills were squashed together and jammed into the pails.

When the volleyball match resumed, Nerision was not only the Knights’ head coach but head cheerleader, as well. When her sister called a timeout, Jen leapt to her feet and screamed, high-fiving each player as they came to the bench.

This went way beyond winning and losing. This went to the heart of everything that matters most in high school sports: working hard, supporting each other, learning, growing.

“I think it has definitely raised the school spirit around here,” Nerision said of all the support for Natalie. “It brings everybody together, it brings communities together, and that is pretty darn special.”

--To see a photo gallery from “Play For Nat,” go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 28
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 2,066
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Thinking Back To Thirteen Years Ago This Week9/11/2014
I’ll always remember where I was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I had an appointment to speak to a class at Bloomington Jefferson High School, and I turned on the radio at home as I was getting dressed for the day.

There was talk of something bad happening in New York City. I turned on the TV in the kitchen and saw a big black smoldering hole in the side of one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. A plane had apparently struck the building, but nobody knew anything more than that. Before long another aircraft blasted into the other twin tower.

I drove to Bloomington Jefferson, arriving a few minutes early. I listened to the radio in the car for as long as I could and then walked into the school and was escorted to the room where the Sports Literature class was meeting. There were televisions in the classrooms, but because of construction work in the school none of the TVs were working. I told the class everything I had learned from listening to the radio, and then we were all in blackout mode.

After the class period ended, I drove to the Star Tribune building in downtown Minneapolis. Like everyone else in the newsroom, I watched the scenes on television. The Pentagon was on fire … a plane had apparently gone down in Pennsylvania.

Fast-forward a few years and I was back at Jefferson, writing about a memorial stone that had been installed at the school in honor of former Jaguars quarterback Tom Burnett, who died when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. I also wrote about former Blake linebacker Gordy Aamoth, who died in one of the twin towers on Sept. 11. The stadium at Blake now bears his name and a twisted beam from the World Trade Center is on display at the stadium.

In the Sept. 14, 2001, edition of the Star Tribune, I wrote a column under the headline “High school sports can help the healing.” I had spoken with people at Colorado’s Columbine High School as well as Osceolo High School in Wisconsin, where a traffic accident had claimed twin brothers a few weeks before Sept. 11. That column seemed to resonate with readers at the time, and to this day people occasionally will mention it to me. I have heard from a few people who say they saved that column, and they read it every day as Sept. 11 comes around. That is equally touching and humbling.

Here is that column as it appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sept. 14, 2001…

High School Sports Can Help The Healing

In the horrible wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all after-school activities were canceled Tuesday in the Jefferson County (Colo.) School District. This didn't surprise Ed Woytek, the athletic director at Columbine High School.

The day's events hit Columbine hard, especially the senior class. They were freshmen on April 20, 1999, when two students shot and killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

"Our coaches and all of us are on kind of a fine line, especially with what happened here previously," Woytek said.

Columbine still is recovering from that day. Recovery also is an ongoing process in Osceola, Wis., where twin brothers Eric and Aaron Kipp, 18, died in a car accident on the way to football practice 30 days ago.

With thousands of innocent people presumed to have perished this week, what do you say? How do you heal? Maybe it's best to listen to the kids. That's among the lessons learned at Columbine and Osceola.

"Pretty much all of them are saying to us, 'We need to be a family,'" Woytek said. "Because that's what happened a few years ago; they got with family. And that's where we need to be, that's where our American people need to be, is with family."

After the Kipp brothers died, football practices were stopped for a short period. But soon, everyone wanted to return -- or try to return -- to some sense of normalcy.

"Very soon, the kids were ready to go back," said Osceola coach/principal Mike McMartin. "They said, 'Coach, I need to keep busy.' And they were right. When we jumped back into it, although they weren't the best practices in the world, there was almost a big sigh of relief that they could start moving forward and take with us all the good things that the boys had shared with us for so many years, instead of thinking about the bad."

Activities went on as scheduled Tuesday in Osceola, the day of the attacks.

"We just really felt during that time it was massively important that we show to the kids, 'Hey, we're going on. We're not going to let these people defeat us or take us off our feet here. We're going to move forward and be proud,'" McMartin said.

At Columbine and Osceola, tragedy struck a specific community of people. This week, tragedy struck us all.

The Columbine Rebels take a 1-1 record into tonight's game at Dakota Ridge. Osceola is 3-0 and the homecoming opponent for rival St. Croix Falls. The games go on, as do our lives.

"Everybody keeps saying we'll never get back to normal, just like our nation will never get back to normal," Woytek said. "But hopefully we're going to get as close to normal as we can."

So if sporting events are part of your normal routine, stick with it. If you haven't been to a high school game in years, tonight would be a wonderful time to go. Get away from the television, escape the headlines. Find a seat in the bleachers and take a break, however temporary, from all that's gone so wretchedly wrong in this world.

Watch the team captains shake hands before the coin flip. Hold your hand over your heart during the national anthem as the flag flutters at half-staff. Bow your head during the moment of silence to honor this week's victims. Get on your feet for the opening kickoff. Watch our young people -- players, cheerleaders, fans -- as they smile, holler and laugh together during this evening that is tradition both athletic and social. Buy popcorn, listen to the band, cheer first downs, simply celebrate.

Maybe administrators at every school can find a recording of God Bless America, and across our states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and beyond -- we'll sing together when the game ends. Just like a family.
Seeing Triple On The Kasson-Mantorville Boys Soccer Team9/10/2014
KASSON -- When the Kasson-Mantorville boys soccer team takes the field, the opposition is sometimes confused. The KoMets, it seems, have one player who is everywhere. He wears a blue headband over his dark hair, and somehow, someway, he is all over the field.

When the game ends and the teams are shaking hands, a sudden realization strikes the opponents. KoMets senior Chris Pathoulas explains: “When you’re walking through the line at the end of the game, they’re like, ‘Wow! There’s three of them!”

Yes, there are three Pathoulas brothers. And they are triplets. Nick, Joe and Chris are seniors who have helped the KoMets open the season with an 8-0 record, the best start in school history. The brothers have combined to score 10 of the team’s 34 goals and they have 17 of the KoMets’ 28 assists. Nick is the leading setup man with 11 assists, more than twice as many as anyone else on the team. (Pictured left to right are Joe, Chris and Nick.)

Now, if everybody could just tell them apart. Fifth-year coach Dave Bahr jokes that he looks at their feet, because Nick wears black shoes, Chris blue shoes and Joe green shoes.

“Chris is pretty easy to tell apart from the other two,” Bahr said. “With Nick and Joe, I’ve learned over the years to look closer.”

Joe Pathoulas is the KoMets’ third-leading scorer with five goals. Cooper Rose leads with seven goals – including one in Tuesday night’s 2-0 victory over Stewartville -- and Andy Plein has six goals. Nick Pathoulas has three goals and Chris scored his second goal of the year Tuesday.

“They’re outstanding individuals,” Bahr said of the triplets. “They’re very quiet, they’re very driven. They have the complete respect of the rest of the team and they are natural leaders. They work as hard as they possibly can in practice and in games.”

The triplets have one older brother, James, who is a student at St. John’s University in Collegeville. The three want to go to college together, and they mentioned St. John’s as a possibility.

“If you find out, call us,” their mother, Karen, said with a laugh. “We’ve been pressing them and we haven’t gotten an answer.”

All three of the boys are top students who plan to study biology and go into careers in the medical field. They have the same classes and the same teachers and they share the same bedroom. “We took out a wall, so it’s a big bedroom,” said Nick.

Expectations for the KoMets this season were high, based on plenty of returning experience after an 11-6-1 record in 2013.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Bahr said. “I thought we’d be pretty good this year. We only had three seniors last year and two of them didn’t play much. … I’m just really pleasantly surprised that we’re not only scoring a lot of goals, which has always been a struggle for us, but we’re also allowing very few goals. It’s just a good mix of ages, with kids who are seniors and playing really, really well and some good team chemistry.”

Goalkeepers Jack Peterson and Alex Peters have been brick walls, giving up a total of only four goals. Peterson’s goals-against average is 0.24 and Peters’ is 0.75; they each have three shutouts.

“Most of (the success) has to do with our coach,” said Chris Pathoulas. “He’s been a really great coach. Throughout the years he’s been here, he really connects with the kids and he really knows the game very well and he teaches it very well.”

And, thanks to the shoes, he can tell the Pathoulas brothers apart.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 24
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,952
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame Selections9/9/2014
The Minnesota State High School Coaches Association is honored to announce its Hall of Fame Selections for 2014. The coaches will be inducted at the annual Hall of Fame and awards banquet on Oct., 11 at the Minneapolis Marriott West Hotel in St. Louis Park. The social hour will start at 5:30 p.m. with the banquet to follow. Family, friends and former players are invited to attend. Tickets may be purchased for $30 by contacting the MSHSCA offices at (218) 8947-6796 or Jim Baker (651) 357-2937.

The four Hall of Fame inductees have accumulated impressive success in the sports they have coached. They have reached a pinnacle of coaching success that ranks them in a very special status and exemplify the greatness of Minnesota High School Coaches.

--Geri Dirth has served as the head girls track and field coach since 1980 at Apple Valley high school The Apple Valley girls track and field teams collected 15 state championships under Geri’s guidance.

--William Frantti is often called the Central Minnesota Hockey Godfather. Bill started coaching hockey in 1955 at St. Cloud Tech and continued in that capacity for 30 years. Bill continued serving in several leadership areas in promoting the growth of hockey in the state of Minnesota

--John Eberhart served as the girls tennis coach in Pine City from 1976-2000, winning many conference championships and six section championships on his way to compiling a record of 280-92. John has received numerous coaching awards, including induction into the Pine City Hall of Fame, the Minnesota Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame and the George Haun award from the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association.

--Zigurds “Ziggy” Kauls served as the head boys basketball coach at Mounds View from 1968 -2012. During that time Ziggy’s teams won 11 conference championships and made 12 state tournament appearances. Mounds View compiled a record of 739-357 during Ziggy’s 45 years. Coach Kauls is currently enshrined in five Halls of Fame: the Hamline University Hall of Fame, the Mounds View High School Hall of Fame, The Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, The Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame and the Forest Lake High School Hall of Fame.

Please join us in celebrating a great honor for these most deserving coaches who exemplified what it means to be called "Coach"

Family, friends, and former players are invited to attend. For ticket information contact Jim Baker, Hall of Fame Banquet coordinator (phone 651-357-2937 or email

The MSHSCA will also recognize all 2012-13 championship coaches as well as all Coach of the year and Assistant Coach of the year winners.
District Football Plan A Hit In Southwest Minnesota 9/8/2014
When district football comes to Minnesota next year, it will mean big changes in regular-season scheduling. Each team has been placed into one of 18 districts, with districts able to break down their teams into sub-districts in order to make scheduling easier.

(Key point to remember: Nothing will change in regards to the postseason. Teams will remain in sections, as has been the case for years, and the section system will continue for postseason play.)

In many areas of the state, the switch from conferences to districts won’t be a big change, and the Southwest district is in that category. The Southwest will consist of 18 teams, with most of them coming from two current conference. Southwest district schools have made the decision to split into two divisions, largely along conference lines.

There were skeptics about district football among those schools, but the plan has proved to be a sensible move.

“I was an opponent of it because we had a good strong conference and lots of rivalries,” said Springfield coach Paul Dunn. “It appears that’s going to remain, so I’m very happy with that.”

The Southwest district will consist mainly of teams that currently are members of the Little Sioux and Southern Minnesota conferences. The current Little Sioux teams are Adrian, Canby, Dawson-Boyd, Lac qui Parle Valley, Lakeview, MACCRAY, Minneota, Murray County Central, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. The Southern Minnesota Conference teams this fall are Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart, Cedar Mountain/Comfrey, Martin County West, Minnesota Valley Lutheran, New Ulm Cathedral, Sleepy Eye, Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s, Springfield, Red Rock Central and Wabasso.

The Southwest district will include those teams, with these exceptions: MACCRAY and Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart will play nine-man football in the 9 West district and Martin County West will play in the South Central district. One additional team in next year’s Southwest district is Ortonville (currently in the Pheasant Conference).

“Our district is unique because for the most part they took two conferences and combined them, and that’s how we split our district up,” said Minneota coach Chad Johnston. “From that standpoint there’s not a lot of change. The big difference is the terminology; instead of saying we’re part of the Little Sioux Conference, now we’re part of a sub-district. Our conference schedule really won’t change.”

Not surprisingly, there was plenty of trepidation about district football before the plan for 2015 was announced in early June. But once coaches and others saw the plan and their individual district lineups, that fear of the unknown dissipated.

“For the most part we’re a 1A district,” Johnston said. “From that standpoint, there were not a lot of big changes. That’s always the magical question, the uncertainty.”

Dunn said, “For us, it turned out as good as it could have.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 22
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,826
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn