John's Journal
#BeTheLightMN Brings Schools, Students, Communities Together4/5/2020
On March 24, an administrator at a high school in the Texas panhandle was driving home from a meeting in Amarillo. In the evening darkness, in the midst of fears about Covid-19, he had a thought: Is there a way to shine some light for all to see?

Dumas High School principal Brett Beesley called football coach Aaron Dunnam, Beesley told local media in Texas. "I asked Aaron what he thought if we turned our football stadium lights on every night from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., to show the students in Dumas we're thinking about them. Aaron loved it and ran to the stadium and flipped them on. I then thought, 'Why not challenge other schools to do the same?' It's a way to show our kids we'll be back, and a sign of hope."

From Dumas to all over Texas and beyond – including here in Minnesota -- #BeTheLight has become a big deal. I learned about it by seeing Tweets from Colorado, where Colorado High School Activities Association assistant commissioner Adam Bright had seen Tweets from Texas schools.

My friend Ryan Casey, the director of digital media at the CHSAA, Tweeted this on Tuesday, March 31: "Stadiums across Colorado lit up on Monday night as schools and districts sought to offer a beacon of hope to their students. #copreps #bethelightCO @AdamCHSAA

I retweeted Ryan's message with these words: "This is such a simple and great idea. How many #mshsl schools will flip on their stadium lights every Monday night in support of students?"

And here we are now, with approximately 250 Minnesota high schools turning on stadium lights one or two evenings per week or Monday through Friday. It has been incredible to see so many schools join in this effort to show support for and solidarity with their students, staff and communities. Lights have gone on at football/soccer/lacrosse stadiums, baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, all over the state.

Entire conferences have come on board, including schools in the Gopher Conference: Bethlehem Academy, Blooming Prairie, Hayfield, Maple River, Medford, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, United South Central and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown.

The complete list of participating schools can be found on the MSHSL Facebook page.

Schools have stressed that they don't want people who see the lights to gather. Some have recommended that people are welcome to drive past the stadiums, forming a long line of headlights, and others have asked the public to also turn on their porch lights in a show of unity.

Many schools have posted inspiring messages on Twitter:

Albany: "Lights will be on 8:00p-8:20p this coming Monday at Micheal Field/Herges Stadium. 20 min to recognize Class of 2020. Follow MDH guidelines-no gathering/groups-but let's see a line of headlights to show off our Purple Pride and support for our students!!!"

Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted: "HLWW will turn on the lights at the FB field Monday at 9 pm for 20 minutes as a "Ray of Hope" for the Class of 2020. This also serves as a Community Ray of Hope for our health workers, businesses, firemen, police & everyone in our three towns. Use your porch lights!"

Tartan High School in Oakdale is part of District 622, and the lights at Tartan Stadium will be lit on Monday at 20:20 (8:20 p.m.) for 622 seconds. At Norwood Young America, part of District 108, lights will go on for 108 minutes.

Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City's announcement mentioned "Three towns, united as one, shining bright with hope." St. Croix Prep's Twitter note said, "We miss our students and want you to know we are here! Enjoy the lights but continue to practice social distancing."

In a follow-up Tweet, St. Croix Prep said, "It's a little thing but it's little things like this that help us feel like we are doing something. And that we have a visible way to show we are all still together even when we are apart.”

There have been personal touches, too.

Marie Hansen, a teacher at Burnsville High School, posted this on Twitter: “I'm the least sporty person, but are you even a high school teacher if you're not sobbing over all these Friday Night Lights left on to light the way back home for the kids who will come back to fill these stadiums and schools someday??”

Be The Light Minnesota.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
#BeTheLightMN4/4/2020
Shutdown Diary: Softball Memories, And Hoping For More4/2/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, officials, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at jmillea@mshsl.org

My name is Mya and I am a senior at North Branch High School and play softball for coach Kathy Crudo. I would just like to start out by saying I completely understand the situation and am in no way downplaying the severity of this virus.

My thoughts? I want to play. I have been playing softball for as long as I have been able to walk. Granted, I don’t know how much making dirt angels at "shortstop” in t-ball counts (we have pictures of it somewhere) but it’s the thought that counts, right?

After the inheritance of my dad’s competitive spirit kicked in, my love for the game began. Receiving the message that our season was going to even be postponed made me cry in the middle of U.S. History. The last time I cried in front of anybody was my last game of high school volleyball. Sitting through my friends’ football and basketball senior nights always would led me to thinking about mine for softball. Which underclassmen would write my send-off letter and what crazy memories would they talk about? The thought of not being able to walk across the field on senior night, or parents night, or even getting the chance to play for a trip to state makes me physically sick to my stomach.

Seniors want the chance to represent their school and community one last time. We want the chance to cry on senior night and cry after we’ve won our section and are going to state. We want the pep-fest at school and the police escort out of town on our way to North Mankato. We want to feel our community, which has been nothing but supportive, rally behind us after a big win. We want to cry with our favorite teachers on teacher appreciation night, because they also helped shaped us into the athletes we are today. We want to make our coaches proud after we make an “ESPN play” (as we like to call them). We want all the time and effort our coaches have put into us the past three years to mean something. We want our after-school workouts and captain’s practices to prove hard work pays off. We want to play.

My biggest fear is not getting a season. Not getting a chance to experience everything I have looked forward to for so long. The athletes don’t care if our season begins in May and ends in June. It’s the season that matters. It’s the chance to make the memories. It’s the chance to be able to tell my kids about that one day at practice when our coach spent probably a little too long trying to teach us how to juggle. Little moments count, too. There is absolutely no guarantee that we would make it to state, or even past the first round of sections. There are no guarantees in any sports. That’s why the little moments matter, too. It’s getting to play catch with my best friend who’s doubled as my throwing partner for our senior season. It’s putting eye black on while on the bus and accidentally messing up really bad because we hit a bump. It’s the big moments but it’s also the little ones that I fear having to miss out on.

So for now, our plan is to pray. And make our dads play a lot of catch.

Now that I’ve written you a short book, I just have a few things left to say. I understand that this situation may get to the point where it is completely even out of the MSHSL’s hands. However, if this decision does fall into their hands, I want them to please let us play. Let us have our big moments and our little ones. Let us be able to talk about this season with our kids one day. Please let us play.

Thank you for your time. Stay safe and healthy.

Mya Schmeling
North Branch softball player
Shutdown Diary: Let’s Talk About Track In St. Charles3/31/2020
Eric Klein was busy at school on Monday, helping distribute Chromebooks to students in St. Charles who are beginning distance-learning from home. The English teacher is usually busy, although he would be busier if the spring sports seasons were in full swing.

Klein, 30, the Saints' head boys track and field coach, also is working remotely with the athletes, providing optional workouts because spring teams and athletes across the state are unable to gather while school is not in normal session.

He's also providing an entertaining, informative outlet for athletes and coaches in St. Charles and beyond by hosting and producing a podcast called simply enough, "Let’s Talk About Track."

On each podcast – available at https://www.scsaintstrack.com/lets-talk-about-track or wherever you get podcasts – Klein talks with former St. Charles athletes, coaches from different schools and others. They discuss favorite memories and moments and provide inspiration.

Klein came up with the podcast idea when Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced that all Minnesota schools would be closed because of Covid-19 virus.

“I knew we were going to give recommended workouts to kids, which would provide for the physical aspects of the sport, but we often forget about the team culture aspect of sports,” Klein said. “That’s often the reason the kids come out, anyway, it’s always a family. It’s our way of trying to keep the kids feeling that they’re a member of the team even when they can’t come to practice.”

Track and field has become a big thing in St. Charles. When Klein took over seven years ago, there 54 kids in grades seven through 12 out for track. The number this year is 117, which is 25 percent of the student body. Klein and girls head coach Samantha Storsveen are assisted by four paid assistants and nine volunteer coaches.

“The community around this program has really come out to support us,” said Klein, whose boys team won the Class A True Team state title last year.

So far he has recorded 25 interviews for his podcast. A recent show featured former St. Charles and Hamline University athlete Luke Hulshizer. The discussion ranged from Luke’s favorite memories of bus rides, practices and meets to lessons he learned from being a track and field participant.

They laughed when Luke mentioned a special relay baton that has been passed down from seniors to juniors each year. They also talked about the positive culture of the team.

“I just miss the culture,” said Luke. “There’s so much positivity when you’re out there.”

Klein, a graduate of United South Central High School in Wells and St. Olaf College, said, “It’s been so much fun to have these conversations, especially with our alumni. The feedback from alumni has been great, the discussions have reminded them how much they loved their time here. They’ve enjoyed getting to relive those days.”

Like all teachers and coaches, Klein wants students to have the best possible experience. It doesn’t matter if school is being held normally or not, and it doesn’t matter if athletes are allowed to gather or not.

“We keep talking about our kids and how they’ve got to have a purpose when they wake up in the morning,” Klein said. ‘The same is true for us, we need to remember that these days are weird for us, too. The podcast has been good for me, it’s given me something to work on.

“Our job is to figure out how to give kids a great experience, preserve our culture and continue to develop that culture. All our coaches are on the same page and we try to come up with creative ways to provide for our kids.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Shutdown Diary: Sometimes Students Lead The Way 3/30/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, officials, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at jmillea@mshsl.org

John,

I ran into one of our standout three-sport athletes and he was dejected. "This sucks, Mr. Campbell. It’s not the way I wanted my senior year to end.” A sentiment shared by many. Kids (and coaches/advisors/teachers) are worried about the things that matter most this time of year: state tournaments, concerts, performances, prom, banquets, baccalaureates, graduation, etc., etc.

And so, we struggle to find our voice and our influence when our physical and daily contact has been stripped away. I suppose now, more than ever, our student-athletes need to hear from their coaches and advisors. And, we need to listen to them and empathize with them. And we need to teach through all of this. We need to help our student-athletes lead and commit and act even when circumstances are dire and hope has been diminished.

This group of kids ... I want to hire them when they grow up. They’ll be hungry to make sure students and student-athletes have amazing educational experiences!

Charlie Campbell
Activities director
Brainerd High School


This is my first year in Pine Island as the Activities Director. We moved to be closer to family as our parents are aging. However, my son is a senior so we elected for my husband and my son to live and work in Houston for Mikkel's senior year. Pine Island and Houston are 75 miles apart.

In one week in December, I put on 780 miles with four games in Houston and a concert. Needless to say, our winter was chaos with Mikkel playing basketball for Houston and our daughter playing for Pine Island. It has been hard to have the family split. However, my son will be finishing his senior year (probably) virtually from Pine Island. My husband is a teacher in Houston, so he will also be teaching virtually from Pine Island. It is bittersweet as the reality of my son's senior year is looming, however, we are all together 2 1/2 months earlier than expected.

Some wise words from my senior son as I am moping about the senior-might-not-happen-activities: "Mom, there is nothing we can do about it."

I think he just may be ready for the chaos this world will show him.

Lisa Myran-Schutte
Activities director
Pine Island High School