John's Journal
District Football Is Set For 2015 Season And Beyond6/2/2014
Football has been a major topic at meetings of the MSHSL board of directors for a long time, specifically a problem that many football teams deal with on a regular basis: finding enough games to fill the eight-game regular-season schedule.

At Monday’s board meeting, a completely new format for regular-season football was approved. The plan, called District Football, will reorganize teams into 18 districts across the state with the goal of eliminating the issue of filling schedules.

To see lists of districts and schools, click on “District Football 2015-16, 2016-17” on the MSHSL home page. Scroll to the bottom of that story and click on the link titled “District Lists and Maps.”

Here are some important points about District Football …

--It will begin in 2015. That means nothing will change this fall (2014).

--District football will have no impact on the postseason. Current section alignments will continue for section playoffs and the state tournament.

--This affects football only and no other sports.

--Districts will have between 12 and 28 teams, many with teams from different classes.

--Districts are labeled by names instead of numbers: West, South, Big Southeast, East Central, Mid State, etc.

--In most cases, districts will have the option of setting up sub-districts within the district. This means there will be plenty of scheduling flexibility.

--Schools in each district will meet to produce schedules for each team in the district. The MSHSL will not be involved in scheduling.

--In most cases, traditional rivalries will continue if the schools choose to do so. Each school with a football team filled out a form prior to the districts being created, and they were encouraged to list the rivalries they would like to continue.

MSHSL associate director Kevin Merkle worked on the plan, along with a 10-member committee that placed schools into districts. It was unanimously approved by the MSHSL activity directors advisory committee before the board of directors gave its unanimous approval Monday.

“Everyone needs to keep in mind that this is just a step in the process of developing actual schedules for our member schools,” Merkle said. “Some districts have a wide range in size and geography, but once the districts determine their sub-district alignments, most of the enrollment and geographical issues will be solved.”

In other news from Monday’s meeting …

--The board approved adding Academic Decathlon to the umbrella of MSHSL activities. The MSHSL will be a presenting partner of Academic Decathlon, as it is with robotics and clay target shooting.

--The board approved a proposal to have home schools pay the same membership/activity fees that all other members schools do.

--In discussing implementing a transgender policy, no decisions were made. Members asked that more information be provided before the next board meeting in August.

--The board did not approve a recommendation from dance team, which wanted to add an additional level of competition in which sections cross over to advance the “best” teams to state, not necessarily by geography. After discussing the request, no board member made a motion for a vote.

--The board approved a request from Nordic skiing to have two teams per section advance to state instead of the current one team.

--The board approved a slight change in Class 1A boys diving, allowing one more diver per section to advance to state.

The board also …

--Approved the hiring of an additional IT staff member at the MSHSL office.

--Honored Elaine Taggatz, who is retiring as state coordinator of gymnastics officials.

--Recognized board members whose terms ended Monday: Laurie Esau, Mike Kolness, Mike Manning and John Hamann.

Sauk Rapids-Rice principal Erich Martens was elected board vice president for 2014-15. He will become president in 2015-16.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 527
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 12,110
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
District Football Plan Tops Agenda For MSHSL Board Of Directors 5/30/2014
Some major decisions could be made Monday when the MSHSL board of directors meets at MSHSL headquarters in Brooklyn Center. The board will take on a busy agenda, with football probably drawing the most interest.

The board is expected to hear a proposal for the structure of district football, which will begin in the 2015 season. A committee from around the state has been holding meetings to put together district lineups, from which members of each district will create their own schedules.

District football, which has been adopted in order to help schools fill their eight-game regular-season schedules, will have no impact on the postseason. Teams will remain in designated sections for playoff games. The board may approve the plan or request that changes be made.

Elsewhere on the agenda, election of board officers for the 2014-15 school year will be held. The vice president/president-elect for 2014-15 is St. Charles activities director Scott McCready. Three board members are candidates to be the next vice president/president-elect: Montevideo activities director Bob Grey, Jackson County Central softball coach Shelly Hotzler, and Sauk Rapids-Rice principal Erich Martens. Public member Steve Eklund of Stanchfield is the current treasurer and will remain in that position in 2014-15, with no other board members running.

The board will also consider adding Academic Decathlon as an MSHSL activity, will consider adopting a transgender policy, consider approving speech material for 2014-15, consider a change in policy for home schools and consider a proposal to add to the MSHSL staff.

The board will hear several advisory recommendations regarding winter activities, which are …

--Dance Team: Coaches are looking to add an additional level of competition where sections cross over to advance the “best” teams to state, not necessarily by geography.

--Nordic Skiing: Asking that two teams per section advance to state instead of the current one team. The plan will reduce the number of competitors who qualify as individuals by two.

--Diving: In boys Class A, they would like to advance one more diver per section to state.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday. To follow the developments in real time, follow @MSHSLjohn on Twitter.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 527
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 12,110
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Another Girls Track Record Falls; Congrats to Minnetonka’s Mia Barron5/28/2014
For the second time this spring, a girls state track record has been set. This one took place Tuesday in the Class 2A Section 6 championships at Wayzata High School.

Minnetonka senior Mia Barron (pictured) set a state record in the long jump with a winning distance of 19 feet, 10 inches. The previous girls state long jump record was 19-5 1/4, set by Alexandria's Wensia Johnson last season.

Barron was the Class 2A state champion in the long jump last season, jumping 18-3 in the state meet at Hamline University. She also finished second in the triple jump at state a year ago.This season, Barron has the state’s top mark in the triple jump, going 39-8 in the Joe Lane Invitational at Minnetonka on April 22. The girls state record in the triple jump is 41-1 ¾ by Wayzata’s Jordan Helgren in 2008.

Earlier this spring, Kasson-Mantorville junior Taylor Wiebke broke the girls state record in the high jump, clearing 5 feet, 11 inches at the Class 2A Section 1 True Team meet in Winona. The previous state record was 5-10 3/4 by Waseca's Tressa Beckel in 2006.
700 Club: Brainerd, St. Cloud Cathedral Coaches Reach Milestone5/21/2014
Lowell Scearcy and Bob Karn joined an elite club this week, becoming the second and third Minnesota high school baseball coaches to record 700 career victories. Brainerd’s Scearcy is in his 45th season and got No. 700 with a 10-3 victory over Rocori on Monday; St. Cloud Cathedral’s Karn is in season 44 and reached the milestone when the Crusaders defeated Mora 15-0 on Tuesday.

The all-time leader is New Ulm coach Jim Senske, who retired in 2005 with 707 victories during a 40-year career.

That’s a pretty exclusive club.

“They are great coaches, tremendous coaches, tremendous guys,” Karn said of Senske and Scearcy (pictured). “It’s a very special kind of thing. As long as we can put in the headline that I was the coach of the team that won; we don’t like headlines that say ‘The coach won 700 games.’ The coach didn’t win 700 games. It’s teams that win and it’s teams representing schools that allow players to have that kind of experience.”

Scearcy, 68, and Karn, 72, have a lot in common, most notably their careers as baseball coaches. Brainerd has gone to state 10 times since Scearcy became coach 42 years ago (after he taught and coached in Pillager and Verndale) and the Warriors won state championships in 1995 and 2000. Karn, who has spent his entire career at Cathedral, has taken 17 teams to state, winning seven titles.

But the two coaches also have differences. Scearcy like to ride his motorcycle; Karn is a daily practicioner of tai chi, a Chinese martial art that focuses on relaxation, emotional control and balance. Scearcy is an old-school coach and retired math teacher who can be equal parts gruff and giggles; Karn still teaches literature classes part-time and is more zen master than drill sergeant.

When asked about reaching 700 wins, the responses of the two shed light on their temperaments and coaching styles.

Scearcy: “Jim Senske told me that if you hang around long enough, pretty soon they start to give you stuff. It turned out to be true. I never thought I’d be around this long. It just kind of happens. We’ve got a good bunch of kids and it’s been fun.”

Karn (pictured): “It’s the families of the kids that have brought them up so that they respect the game, help each other to get better, and in our case, being a Catholic school, the religious part is important; the blessing of the Lord to allow us to be healthy enough to play the game. Those are the things that make it so valuable. Anything in isolation isn’t of any value. It’s only in the context of all those things.”

Neither coach is talking about retiring, saying that as long as they are healthy and feel good they will continue coming to the ballpark. And both of them have teams that could go deep into the postseason. Brainerd took a 15-2 record into a game Wednesday at Alexandria and Cathedral was 16-1 before playing Foley the same day. Cathedral is ranked No. 2 in Class 2A and Brainerd is No. 9 in Class 3A.

Scearcy, who graduated from high school in Pillager in 1963, has also coached football, basketball, track and cross-country, and he worked as a basketball and football official for many years. He was an assistant football coach at Central Lakes College in Brainerd for 35 years and has been the head football coach at Pillager since 2007.

Keith Peterson, who has been Scearcy’s assistant baseball coach for 26 years, said one of Scearcy’s strengths is that he’s very predicable.

“Over the years he’s stressed fundamental baseball and stayed with it. He’s very much a stickler for a high percentage of strikes from the pitchers, good defense, and we spend a lot of time in practice hitting. I think I’ve probably thrown more batting practice than anyone else over the last 25 years.

“There’s a well-organized practice behind every win. That’s the thing that I’ve noticed; you have to prepare to win.”

Karn graduated from Cathedral in 1959 and returned as a teacher and coach in 1969. At a recent reception for faculty and staff, he was honored as the longest-serving employee in Cathedral’s 129-year history.

Karn served two stints as the Crusaders’ head boys basketball coach, and one of his former assistants is current St. John’s University head football coach Gary Fasching. Fasching arrived at Cathedral in 1982 and was Karn’s assistant basketball coach for 10 years. Fasching’s son Jeff is a senior captain on the baseball team and will play collegiately at the University of Minnesota.

“There’s no one like him,” Gary Fasching said. “Our kids are so lucky and fortunate that they get to play for him. Number one, Bob has the right perspective on sports. He teaches more than the game. The advice he gives them, the books he has the kids read. My son has brought home a lot of books that he’s had to read for Bob, and they’re all geared toward making yourself better. It’s not just as a baseball player, but as a person.”

With Scearcy and Karn both in the 700 club, their players are thinking about getting them past Senske’s 707. That would be possible with a successful postseason run.

“It means a lot to us to play for a coach that good and that distinguished,” said Jeff Fasching. “But 700 wasn’t really on our radar; it’s the 707 number that we want.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 507
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 12,038
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
At Cambridge-Isanti, A Thunderous State Tourney Sendoff 5/15/2014
CAMBRIDGE – The crowd roared and the pep band played the school song as the athletes entered the crowded gymnasium at Cambridge-Isanti High School on Thursday morning. Classes had been put on hold so students and staff could honor their Bluejackets the day before they competed at state.

Principal Mitchell Clausen and athletic director Mark Solberg spoke to the crowd. So did the coach, the team managers and the team captains. It was a joy to behold.

Solberg said to the athletes, “You’re representing us with an awful lot of class, an awful lot of dignity. And you’re going to make us proud.”

This has become an annual event at Cambridge-Isanti, where the adapted bowling team receives as much attention and respect as any other squad in the school. The Bluejackets’ annual trip to state – this year’s tournament is being held Friday at Brunswick Zone in Brooklyn Park – has become as big a part of the school calendar as football Friday nights in the fall, basketball games in the winter and track meets in the spring.

Steve Tischer is in his first year coaching the bowling team after previous experiences coaching wrestling, football and softball.

“It’s been awesome,” he said after the festivities had ended. “The competitive spirit is there. The kids are really dedicated, they always try their best. The thing that’s different is they really, really, really have fun and enjoy each other’s company and encourage each other, even other teams. We’ll bowl with another team, side by side, and it’s not competitive like it is in other sports. It’s supporting and encouraging.”

In the 1990s, the MSHSL became the first statewide high school activities body in the country to create and govern adapted sports. Also part of the yearly MSHSL schedule are adapted softball, floor hockey and soccer.

“I think it’s a great way for everyone to get involved,” said Cambridge-Isanti junior Emma Schoenecker, who is active in soccer, track and mock trial. “They’re so excited, and it’s probably the most positive sport that we have in our school. I’m really thankful for them.”

Solberg encouraged the student body to attend the state bowling tournament, saying, “It’s going to flat-out make you feel good, because they’re doing things the right way. They’re doing things to support each other, but most importantly they’re having a good time. So I encourage you to go.”

There was a great deal of applause and cheering for the bowlers, assistant coaches and managers as Tischer introduced them. He also mentioned the number of strikes and spares each bowler had this spring, along with their season scoring average. A couple of the bowlers danced as they were introduced, with others giving the crowd two big thumbs up.

The top statistics belong to senior captain Victoria Koukol, who placed seventh at state last year and this season has 25 strikes, 29 spares and a 145 average. Vicki, who was born with spina bifida, bowls from her wheelchair. Bowling won’t be her only state tournament this spring; she also will compete at the state track meet in the shot put.

“I can say with great confidence that Vicki’s going to be the only Cambridge-Isanti student who’s going to be in a state tournament this spring, twice,” Solberg said to another big round of applause.

The other team members are freshmen Callie Cox, Kaitlyn Pankan and Katelyn Rumpel; sophomores Hailey Booher, Sabrina Burke and captain Megan Servaty; and juniors Brianna Hoover, Abby Keller and captain Cory Hoover. The assistant coaches are Deb Feero, Mary Eklund and April Dahlquist, and the managers are Kalli Shugren and Stephanie West.

“I would like to say that these people are wonderful and amazing people, and being a manager is really fun,” Stephanie told the crowd. “And since I am a senior I will truly, honestly miss these people. Whenever you see these people in the hall, I’m challenging you, don’t walk past them. Give them a high five or a hug and tell them how much you really appreciate them. Because these kids have to work 10 times harder than you guys. What I learned from the team is always show compassion.”

Vicki Koukol said, “I can’t believe this will be my last time to bowl with my teammates before graduation. It just seems like yesterday when I joined the adapted bowling team as a freshman. Now I look back and I remember the good times we had when we bowled together. No matter what happens, it’s always a great day to be a Bluejacket.”

Some of the other bowlers who spoke ended their short speeches with similar words: “Go Big Blue!”

School spirit, the best kind of spirit, was in the air.

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

*Schools/teams John has visited: 457
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 11,498
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn