John's Journal
Thinking Back To Twelve Years Ago This Week9/10/2013
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.
The Tractor Trophy: Northfield, Farmington Go Out In Style9/8/2013
One of the great rivalries in Minnesota high school football came to an end Friday when Northfield and Farmington played for the Tractor Trophy. Read about it by clicking here
On The Iron Range, Where Runners Run And A Volleyball Hero Returns Home9/6/2013
COLERAINE – It’s no secret that I have a lot of fun in my job. I also drive a lot of miles. The fun and the miles I accumulated Thursday was something special.

I was enticed via Twitter to drive to Greenway High School – a 450-mile round trip for me – to attend two events: the second annual Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin Titan Invitational cross-country meet at Eagle Ridge Golf Course, followed by a big rivalry volleyball match between Hibbing and Greenway.

It was an outdoor/indoor bash, featuring lots of outstanding competition, enthusiastic fans and community pride.

Speaking of Twitter, that electronic messaging system has clearly taken over the world. The invitation to come to Coleraine arrived via this Tweet: “@MSHSLjohn Would love to have you visit the Range for big CC meet and great VB rivalry on 9/5 in Coleraine!”

Several Tweets later, my trip was booked. Then came this Tweet from a member of the Greenway volleyball team, senior Kate Kuck: “Excited for @MSHSLjohn to come and watch our game against Hibbing! Everyone else should come too! #volleyballgame #Thursday #bethere!”

Greenway (high school enrollment 239) and Nashwauk-Keewatin (129) have cooperative teams in cross-country, football, golf and boys hockey. The Greenway-only teams are the Raiders; Nash-Kee teams are the Spartans; the coop teams are the Titans. One of the key participants in Thursday’s action, however, was not affiliated with any of the “home” teams … at least not officially.

Hannah Johnson, 23 (pictured), is the first-year volleyball coach at Hibbing, as well as one of the most famous athletes in Greenway history. Hannah was an all-state volleyball player for the Raiders, played collegiately at Minnesota Duluth and began her coaching career last season at Mesabi East. She took over at Hibbing this season when Gail Nucech retired after the most illustrious coaching career in Minnesota high school volleyball history. Nucech – who was in the Greenway gym as a fan Thursday night – began the Bluejackets volleyball program in 1969, led the team for 44 years and finished with a state-record 884 victories.

“Of course I would like to follow in her footsteps, success-wise,” Johnson said. “She’s built a great program. I came into this program and I started from scratch from a lot of aspects, but these girls knew what they were doing and they’re very coachable kids. They make my job easy.”

Johnson had not been in the Raiders gym since graduating from high school. Her return didn’t go exactly as she had hoped; Greenway swept the Bluejackets 25-22, 25-21, 25-23 in front of a large crowd that included a vocal band of Raiders students.

“I haven’t watched a Greenway volleyball game since I played in one,” Hannah said after the match. “And nothing has changed, nothing. The fans are still amazing. The fans are really what keeps the energy going; the atmosphere in here is great. It’s fun to play here.”

The cross-country meet and the volleyball match began in the same way: with the Greenway band playing the national anthem. Kudos to the musicians and their director, Sander Grotjohn, for hauling their instruments to the golf course, where they warmed everyone up with “Born To Be Wild,” “Louie Louie” and other tunes.

Also, I would like to officially extend personal kudos to the officers of the Coleraine Police Department. When I arrived at the golf course, the officers were allowing teams and coaches to park in the crowded clubhouse lot while fans were asked to park along the roadway and walk to the course. One of the officers looked at my, uh, graphically enhanced car and said, “Are you guy who’s on Twitter?” Yup. Busted … and getting a good parking spot. That evening at the volleyball match, I was standing outside the gym in a line of fans waiting to buy tickets when another officer came out and waved me through. “I thought that was you,” he said. Love those guys.

The cross-country meet was everything anybody could have hoped for. Seventy-five degrees, bright sunshine, a beautiful golf course. Esko won the girls team title and Esko and Proctor tied for first on the boys side. The individual winners were Esko’s Kailee Kiminski and Mesabi East’s Samuel Johnson.

Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin cross-country coach Will Floersheim is a young coach who knows how to make a meet special. The first event was a short run for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, followed by junior high and junior varsity races before the varsity competitions. Winning teams received delicious trophies: sheet cakes commemorating their accomplishment. I’m not kidding. Sheet cakes.

I arrived at the volleyball match as the teams were finishing warm-ups. Karen Tomberlin Gym is named after a former Greenway coach; Karen’s daughter, Rhaya Tomberlin-Anderson, is now the Raiders volleyball coach. Lineage is big in this story, and yes, Rhaya was Hannah Johnson’s high school coach.

“When she was a freshman at UMD and we took our varsity team to their team camp, she coached them throughout the team camp,” Tomberlin-Anderson said. “I was there to watch and at the end of that camp I said, ‘Hannah, you’ve got a gift. You’ve got to coach.’ I don’t know if she had thought about it before that, but I knew then that she would be an excellent coach.”

The Greenway players certainly remembered Hannah from her high school days. And Hannah was familiar with them, as well.

“I worked with them almost every single summer at UMD camps,” she said. “I know every single one of these kids.”

And just about everybody in the gym knew Hannah Johnson. It had to be a little strange, however, seeing their hometown hero wearing Hibbing blue instead of Greenway Green.

“It’s cool to see their fan base, and I know a lot of people were out here tonight for Greenway, but I know a lot of people came to support me,” Hannah said. “I come from this community and I’ll be part of this community forever.”

It's a great place to call home.

--To see a photo gallery from Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 45
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,818
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
Richie Olson, Coach Of 1960 Edgerton Basketball Team, Has Died9/6/2013
The architect of Edgerton’s historic 1960 one-class state boys basketball title, coach Richie Olson of Virginia, Minn., died Thursday from injuries he suffered in a fall last week north of Virginia, his brother, Floyd, told the Duluth News Tribune. Olson was placed on a respirator and never recovered. He was 76.

Olson was only 23 years old when he was hired to coach the Flying Dutchmen before the 1959-60 season.

Read more about Olson's death by clicking here.
Hurry Up: Dimke Sets The Pace For Blaine Volleyball Team 9/4/2013
Lydia Dimke is in a hurry. The Blaine High School senior volleyball star is in a hurry to get to the net, where she smacks and blocks the ball with authority. She is in a hurry to get under a pass and set the ball for her teammates to pound. She is in a hurry to get into position to dig the ball, after which she often is at the net for a kill.

The 6-foot-2 Dimke did all that and more Tuesday night at Minnetonka, where the Bengals defeated the Skippers 28-26, 25-22, 25-22 in a non-conference matchup of top 10 teams. Blaine (2-0), which finished third at the state tournament last season, is No. 3 in this week’s Class 3A rankings. The top two are defending state champ Lakeville North and Chaska. Minnetonka is No. 6.

Dimke (pictured) finished Tuesday’s match with 14 kills, 17 assists and eight digs. Her final season of high school volleyball will end shortly before her high school days, because she will graduate early. If all goes well, the Bengals will play their final matches of the season in the Nov. 7-9 state tournament at Xcel Energy Center, and Dimke’s final day of high school will be Nov. 26.

Having committed to play volleyball at Purdue University, she will begin classes there in January. Yes, she’s in a hurry.

“I had to take a few online classes just to make sure I get all the credits done,” she said with a smile. “Other than that, it’s easy. Just don’t fail.”

Tuesday was also Lydia’s final first day of school at Blaine, which she admitted was kind of weird.

“I’ve never really been the oldest and I’ve always looked up to people,” she said. “But it’s kind of rewarding knowing that the younger kids look up to you now. It’s kind of cool.”

Lydia has always looked up to her sister Sydney, who is a 5-11 sophomore volleyball player at the University of South Dakota. Lydia now is one of 10 seniors on the Blaine team, but the roster is a mix of experience and newcomers; eight of the 14 varsity players did not see action in last year’s state tournament.

“Many of our kids in key spots are new and aren’t very experienced, and they’re really showing great poise,” Bengals coach Celeste Gorman said. “Honestly, I’m pleasantly surprised by the level of ball that they’re playing, I really am. The mental toughness is definitely key for this team.”

The Bengals have plenty of size, with 6-1 senior Jessica Jorgensen, 6-foot senior Brooke Christenson and 5-11 junior Taylor Morgan at the net. Jorgensen and Morgan each had six kills against Minnetonka, defensive specialist Ellen Anderson had 15 digs and setter Rebecca Hawkins had nine digs.

For the Skippers (6-2), 6-1 senior Hannah Weidner (13 kills), 5-9 senior Mikaela Purnell (11) and 5-10 junior Caroline Shelquist (10) led the attack. Ninth-grader setter Isabelle Aragon-Menzel had 33 assists and senior Laura Herman finished with 21 digs.

Tuesday’s match could have gone differently if not for the Bengals’ ability to close out a very close first game. Minnetonka held a 24-21 lead after a kill by Purnell and had three game points, but Blaine rallied in a game that had 15 ties and six lead changes.

“Game one could have gone either way and I thought Blaine played great at the end,” said Skippers coach Karl Katzenberger. “Plain and simple, I think both teams are state tournament teams and I think Blaine deserved to win tonight because they played better.”

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


*Schools/teams John has visited: 24
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,368
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn