John's Journal
Father, Son And Football: The Rostbergs Of Hutchinson8/22/2013
HUTCHINSON – Old-timers in town can recall when the football coach at Hutchinson High School was not named Rostberg, but they have to go back through their memory banks. All the way back to before 1969, when young Grady Rostberg became coach of the Tigers.

Forty-four years later, Grady and his son Andy – who took over when his dad retired in 1999 – have combined to win exactly 400 games. How’s that for family history and a nice round number? Or this: The Rostbergs are the only father and son coaching combo in Minnesota to win football state championships.

Grady took the Tigers to the state tournament 11 times between 1973 and 1998, winning state championships in 1983, 1984 and 1998. He had coached at nearby Brownton before coming to Hutchinson and his 34-year career record is 277-89-1. He was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1999.

Andy, who played quarterback on the 1983 and 1984 state championship teams, was an assistant coach when the Tigers won the title in 1998. As a head coach he has taken five teams to state and last year’s Tigers won the Class 4A championship. His career record over 14 years is 123-34-0.

“I kept telling him before last year, ‘You haven’t won the big one yet,’ ” Grady said with a smile. “It was really exciting. He’s been kind of knocking at the door with some teams and never been able to quite finish it off. It was really fun.”

Grady grew up in Gilby, N.D., and was a three-sport athlete at Mayville State in North Dakota. After college he taught and coached basketball for one year in Hatton, N.D, then went to graduate school at the University of North Dakota.

He may have never left North Dakota – much less ended up in Hutchinson – without a touch of serendipity. The principal in Hatton had taken a job at Brownton … and in 1963 Grady was also in Brownton. A few years later, it was a short hop of 12 miles when he moved to Hutchinson.

Grady and his wife Sharon raised their son and two daughters in Hutchinson, and last year’s Prep Bowl was a real treat for everybody. With three generations gathered in a hotel near the Metrodome, Sharon took care of Thanksgiving dinner and Andy took care of winning his first state title as a head coach.

“Having it happen, but being able to have your dad with you, it was pretty cool, it really was,” Andy said. "The longer you go, you understand just how hard it is to do it. Even when your team is really, really good you still might not win it; you’ve got to get lucky, a lot of things have to fall into place.

“It’s pretty cool to be able to say my dad won one and so did I and to have been able to go through that with him. Some of the greatest times aren’t at practice or games, it’s on a Saturday morning or when you’re hunting pheasant or fishing or whatever and we visit about the last game or the upcoming game and things like that.”

Grady’s first team in Hutchinson was winless in eight games, and the Tigers had a losing record a year later. But for the next 39 years – spanning two generations of Rostbergs -- every Hutchinson football team had a winning record until the 2010 squad finished 4-5. A year later the Tigers were 9-1 and last year they won it all.

“We learned that you’re only as good as your last season,” Andy said. “I guess another thing we learned is there’s a fine line between 9-1 and 4-5. You just have to work hard and get your kids working hard. I learned that they do not like to lose in Hutchinson. There probably aren’t a whole lot of towns that take football more seriously then people in Hutch do. It’s pretty serious here.”

Grady stays involved as a volunteer assistant coach, or as he puts it, “I get a free ticket in the press box every Friday night.” He wore a 1998 Hutchinson state championship sweatshirt for last year’s Prep Bowl, in which the Tigers defeated Holy Family Catholic 67-7 to complete a 13-0 season.

Asked about what he learned from his father, Andy said, “Probably the biggest thing I learned was to be able to deal with adversity, to not let a negative affect the next play. And try to have a calm demeanor. I am calmer than he was but he had the ability to -- when the situation was really dire or really tense or it was the last play of a game or a thing like that -- he had great focus. He could shut everything else out.”

Grady agrees that Andy is a quieter, calmer coach than his father was.

“I was a little more fiery and he’s pretty laid back. I think it’s inside him, he has passion inside but he doesn’t let it out too much. Things have changed over the years, but kids are still kids.”

Both Rostbergs also coached basketball; Andy’s most famous former player is Hutchinson graduate and Minnesota Lynx star Lindsay Whalen. “It was pretty easy to coach her,” he said.

Grady, who also coached baseball for a few years, remembers the one season in which he coached basketball at Hatton. “We had a good team and we lost in the district finals by one point,” he said. “The other team made something like 25 of 26 free throws and I thought you had to be nuts to coach this sport.”

After playing football and baseball at North Dakota State, Andy Rostberg began his coaching career at Redwood Falls in 1992. A year later he was on his father’s coaching staff in Hutchinson.

Andy served as head coach of the South team for this summer’s high school all-star football game at St. Cloud State. He first participated in the all-star game as a player in 1985, making him the second individual to play and serve as a head coach in the game. The other was Dick Lawrence of Eveleth, who played in 1945 and coached in 1974.The all-star assistant coaches come from all over the state, and this year’s group included Andy’s dad along with Hutchinson assistant coach David Larson.

Expectations for this year’s Hutchinson team are high, with lots of experience returning from the state title team. If the Tigers repeat as Class 4A champions, the back-to-back titles would equal the 1983 and 1984 teams.

“We don’t beat around the bush a whole lot,” Andy said. “I told the kids, ‘Guess what everyone expects this year? They expect you to win it. Everybody’s shooting for you.’

“We told the kids you have to be better than last year, and our kids take it very seriously. They’ve worked extremely hard in the offseason. They’re not resting on 2012.”

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 5
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 572
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
Two Teams Working Together: Competitors But Not Enemies 8/16/2013
FARIBAULT – Ken Hubert, coach of the Faribault High School girls swimming and diving team, made a pretty important statement as we were chatting Thursday: “We’ve got to teach our kids that the other team is our competitor -- we definitely want to beat them -- but they’re not our enemy.”

We were standing poolside, waiting for the swimmers from Winona to arrive. The Winhawks were running a little late, thanks to road construction, but the mood was light and everyone was expecting a fun practice session. And Hubert’s words summed up the experience perfectly.

The two teams were not going to compete against each other; this was not a scrimmage or anything of the sort. It was simply a practice … with two teams and two sets of coaches. After the Winhawks arrived, the fun and the work began.

Everyone swam some warmup laps before Hubert and Winona coach Steve Burt – they compete in triathlons together – talked about what the two-hour session would entail. But first, some introductions were in order. Hubert (who also is Faribault's athletic director) introduced himself and his coaching staff to the group, Burt did the same.

Then the girls -- eight or nine of them standing together in each lane – went through an exercise in making new friends. In each lane, everyone stated their name and their favorite color, and then one member of each team stood on the deck and, speaking to the entire group, introduced the members of the opposite team by name and favorite color. Laughter and applause ensured.

Sixty-eight athletes -- 31 from Winona, 37 from Faribault – were fortunate enough to be there. This was new for the Faribault Falcons (although they do travel to Duluth for a competition each season), but the Winhawks boys and girls swim teams take regular training trips. Following Thursday’s practice, in fact, the Winona team was headed to the Twin Cities for an overnight stay and a workout with the team from Richfield on Friday.

“The objective is to sort of break up the monotony,” Burt said. “We don’t go every year but we’ve been going a lot.”

After the workout ended, the athletes had pizza together and chatted like old friends. With their electronic devices back in their dry hands, they connected with each other on Facebook and Twitter in order to stay in touch. Because that’s what friends do.

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 4
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 422
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
It’s A New Season, A Fresh Start For The Blue Earth Area Buccaneers8/15/2013
BLUE EARTH – Wednesday was the final day of conditioning drills for football teams across Minnesota, with full pads and full contact coming into play Thursday. The Blue Earth Buccaneers, however, are already conditioned to one thing: winning a state championship.

The Bucs captured their school’s first football title last season, capping a 13-0 season with a 30-7 victory over Rochester Lourdes in the Class 3A Prep Bowl game at the Metrodome. They return five starters on each side of the ball this season, meaning expectations are high for 2013.

“I think at the beginning of every year there’s a lot of enthusiasm,” said Randy Kuechenmeister (pictured), who is beginning his 23rd year as head coach. “We always try and preach it’s a different year, we’re trying to focus on what we’re going to try and accomplish this year, not what happened last year. Obviously, like anybody we’re very proud of that accomplishment. Now we try to focus on this year.”

While the Buccaneers focus on the now, however, there are lessons to be learned from the then. Their run to the state title was a mild surprise, even to the coaches and players.

“I don’t think anybody went in thinking we were going to win the state championship,” Kuechenmeister said . “We had a good team the year before and we thought we could be very good. How good, we didn’t know. We were fortunate in that kids bought in, we had great leadership, we had different kids make plays and we kept getting better. That doesn’t always happen.”

Those lessons – work hard, stay together, one day at a time – could help propel Blue Earth to another memorable season.

“Just take one game at a time; that was kind of our strategy last year,” said senior David Franta, who rushed for 144 yards and two touchdown in the Prep Bowl. “Don’t look ahead, don’t be thinking about trying to make it to the state tournament or doing well at the state tournament. Just take the first game, win the week and move on to the next week.”

Two years ago, the focus in Blue Earth was on a pair of talented senior linemen. Jonah Pirsig is now a 6-foot-9, 308-pound redshirt freshman at the University of Minnesota and Sam Lee is a 6-5, 300-pound sophomore at Augustana College in Sioux Falls,S.D. Last season, they had departed for college and the spotlight went elsewhere.

“It might have frustrated some of us, because all they were focusing on was one person,” said senior quarterback Kysten Zierke. “Last year we were able to just be one group and that eventually came into focus once we got into playoffs and state. People noticed that we were better than the team a year prior (which finished 10-2, losing to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown in the state quarterfinals).”

As senior Gus Phillips – the Bucs’ leading tackler in the Prep Bowl -- said of the 2012 season, “It wasn’t just focused on one player, it was focused on the whole team.”

There are 85 Blue Earth football players this season in grades nine through 12. Of the 19 seniors, 16 play multiple sports. There are fewer farm kids than there used to be, but agriculture is never far off on the southern Minnesota prairie. Three practice fields are located behind the high school, and across a road stand tall rows of corn. As the Buccaneers walked to the fields for Wednesday evening’s workout, a pickup pulling a rack of hay bales rolled down the road.

Blue Earth High School became Blue Earth Area High School in 1990, with students coming from Blue Earth, Frost, Winnebago, Delavan and Elmore. Traditions and bloodlines are important; one example is Franta, the last in a line of four brothers to play football.

Another example: Six of the eight Blue Earth assistant football coaches played for Kuechenmeister. “They’ve aged a little bit but I haven’t,” he said with a chuckle.

Kuechenmeister is a native of Luverne who played high school football under Elmer Menage, who is a member of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Menage is also Kuechenmeister’s father-in-law.

A few years ago, people in Blue Earth realized that some talented young athletes were on their way to the varsity football team. These things often happen in cycles.

“In a smaller school it’s kind of the ebb and flow of things,” Kuechenmeister said. “We thought we had some good players coming, no question about it, and kids who love to play the game. One of the best things is in the last couple of years they’ve gotten along and they’ve played very well together. And that makes a huge difference.”

Eight players carried the football in last year’s Prep Bowl, and seven of them are back this season. Facts like that may portend that another special season could be taking shape.

But that doesn’t mean the Buccaneers are looking too far down the road. They will open the season at home against Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial on Aug. 29, but with the pads and real hitting still fresh, they aren’t getting ahead of themselves.

“We’ve got to come out every day and be focused on what we need to do,” said senior Greg Claeys.

Said Phillips, “We need to realize that last year was last year. It’s a new season, a clean slate.”

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 2
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 352
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
Next On The Schedule: A Visit To The Blue Earth Buccaneers8/13/2013
As we move through Week 1 of fall sports practices, I will be heading south on Wednesday for a visit to Blue Earth Area High School.

A quick Google search unearths these facts about Blue Earth:

• A sesquicentennial community founded in 1856.
• The birthplace of the ice cream sandwich.
• The center of America's longest highway, Interstate 90.
• The home of Minnesota's first stained-glass window.
• The seat of Faribault County and home to the historic 19th century County Courthouse.
• Home of the world's largest statue of the Jolly Green Giant, overlooking some of America's richest farmland.

How about that? My main focus, however, will be the Buccaneers football team. They won their school’s first state football championship last season, going undefeated and topping Class 3A. I’ll spend some time with the coaches and players, and also visit any other fall teams that are working out while I’m there.

I will fire off some photos on Twitter from Blue Earth, so be sure to follow me (@MSHSLjohn).

Remember, I’m always looking for great stories to tell. Feel free to fire off an email to jmillea@mshsl.org and tell me what’s happening at your school.
It’s A Brand New Day For Teams -- Old And New -- In Cannon Falls 8/12/2013
CANNON FALLS --- Monday, as we all know, was day one for fall sports in Minnesota, with practices taking place at every school across the state. But at Cannon Falls High School, specifically for the girls and boys soccer teams, day one was Day One! As in the first day in school history that soccer practices were held.

The Bombers’ football, cross-country, girls tennis, volleyball and cheerleading squads were out in force, working through drills that are well-known to most athletes. The story was a little different for the soccer teams, with new players, new coaches and a new place to play.

Kids in first through eighth grade have been playing soccer in Cannon Falls for a long time through a local soccer association. The school board approved the addition of varsity, junior high and middle school soccer in May.

“It’s so exciting,” said girls soccer coach and English teacher Anne Davisson. “It’s been an interesting journey. It’s been years of people saying, ‘You’ll never have soccer’ and me wondering why not.

“I’m an English teacher and I find words pretty easily, but I can’t find words to describe soccer. I’m so pumped for these kids that they get a chance to experience it.”

This is a unique situation. The school district funds only transportation and officials, with the soccer association, families and community organizations pitching in to cover the costs of uniforms and equipment. The coaches are volunteers. With practice space at a premium on the high school grounds, the soccer teams practice and play across town on a field at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

“The community is very excited about it. Out of the feedback I’ve received, 90 percent has been positive,” said athletic director Jake Winchell. “The community really came together. We’ve had donations from groups in town to pay for equipment and uniforms and the church allows us to use their field free of charge.”

Cannon Falls is a member of the Hiawatha Valley League (the Bombers play football in the new three-division Southern Football Alliance) but because the soccer program got off the ground late, the teams will not compete in the HVL this season. The girls and boys teams will play five or six games; the boys will open the season with a home game against Byron on Aug. 22 and the girls’ first game will be at Winona Cotter on Aug. 24.

“Our goal is just to be competitive with the other teams,” said boys coach Adam Rueger, who works in the Goodhue County Public Works department and teaches driver’s education. “We don’t want to get blown away. We’ll start with the kids, wherever they are, and hopefully by the end of the season they’ve moved up a step or two or three so they can feel good.”

Cannon Falls (population 4,083) is located on Highway 52 between the Twin Cities and Rochester. The high school enrollment is 366 students. Athletically speaking, the most well-known of those 366 is probably Emi Trost (pictured), who won the Class 1A 800-meter championship at the state track meet in June. She was the state runner-up at 1,600 meters at that meet, as well as placing second in the 1A state cross-country meet the last two years.

In that 1,600 and the two cross-country championships, Trost was second behind Blake’s Clare Flanagan. Both are now seniors, but Blake has moved up to Class 2A in cross-country and track.

“That doesn’t mean there’s not somebody who’s rising up,” Emi said after Monday morning’s training run. “There are a lot of good runners.”

When I asked Emi about her goals this season, she replied with two. The first involved the team, which is of course what always matters the most.

“One of my goals as a captain is to be a good leader for our team and get more kids involved,” she said. “Another one of my goals is I want to win conference, section and state this year. I kind of want to do the whole shebang.” (Yes, she used the word “shebang.” Outstanding.)

The girls tennis team was practicing on courts at the school and the volleyballers were in the community center gym, where I asked coach Melissa Huseth about the start of a new season.

“Day one for me is just tremendous excitement,” she said. “The girls have been in the weight room and doing a bunch of volleyball stuff all summer. The night before our first day, I can’t sleep because I’m so excited.”

Day one was “intense,” said senior volleyball player Becca Vandenheuvel. “All these girls are determined, we all come in wanting to work hard. It’s great to see everyone again. We have six seniors, we’re ready to work hard.”

Later in the day, the football team practiced behind the school and the cheerleaders began learning their routines in front of the school. The football team will open the season Aug. 30 at home against Kasson-Mantorville, with the victor taking home the century-old Little Brown Jug.

At every stop, with every team, there was a grand mixture of intensity, fun, smiles and laughter.

As the girls soccer players went through the first practice in the history of the first team, Davisson was filled with energy; demonstrating, pushing, explaining, cheering.

“You’re going to just play,” she told the Bombers. “Pass to each other and talk to each other. Just play and have fun.”

Just play and have fun. That’s good advice, whether the team is 100 years old or just getting started.

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 1
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 112
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn