John's Journal
Early-Season Baseball, Softball Stars Stand Out4/29/2019
A baseball hitter from Litchfield, a pitcher from Wadena-Deer Creek and a softball pitcher from Browerville/Eagle Valley are making headlines as the MSHSL spring seasons begin to heat up with April turning to May.

Litchfield senior Owen Boerema (pictured) had two hits in a recent 10-2 victory over Kimball, which gave him a state-record streak with hits in 34 consecutive games. The previous record had stood for 36 years; 33 games by Deer River's Tim Gullickson.

On the mound, Wadena-Deer Creek senior Justin Dykhoff opened the season by throwing three no-hitters in his first four starts. Through those four games Justin allowed only one hit and zero runs in 24 1/3 innings, while also picking up one save as the Wolverines got off to a 7-0 start.

And in softball, Browerville/Eagle Valley sophomore pitcher Marissa Callahan had a no-hitter, a one-hitter and a two-hitter with 29 total strikeouts in three wins last week. She hasn't given up a run in 24 innings.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea" wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Addendum To Previous Story: A New State Record4/27/2019
Hopkins senior track star Joe Fahnbulleh experienced a low point followed by a very high point at Friday's Hamline Elite Meet. His day began with a first-place finish in one of two preliminary races in the 100 meters, but disaster struck in the finals of the 100 about an hour later.

Fahnbulleh, who, as noted in the previous John's Journal story, holds the state record in the 200 meters and anchored the Royals’ 4x200 relay team to a state title and state record last spring, was disqualified in the 100 finals after two false starts. It was only the second time, and first time in two years, that he has been DQ’d from a starting line.

Later Friday evening, Fahnbulleh used the 100 for motivation in the 4x100 relay. He anchored teammates Ty Bennett, Jaylen Champion and George Jackson (pictured) not only to an Elite Meet championship, but to a state-record time of 41.35 seconds. The previous mark was 41.52, set by the Eagan quartet of Josh Brown, Dallas Krech, Troy Brown and Sam Zenner at the 2015 state championships on the same Hamline University track.

"That fired us up. That fired me up because it was on me," Fahnbulleh said of the DQ. “I had to get redemption, I had to make up for that race. I got it back, obviously.”

Seeing a 4x100 team run that fast this early in the season, on a chilly night, was astounding. And it would not be surprising to see the Royals set an even faster state record as the season continues and the weather improves. The season will culminate with the state championships at Hamline June 7-8; prelims in the 4x100 will be held on June 7 and the final on June 8.

"We've worked too hard to not run what we ran today,” Fahnbulleh said. “Nobody knows what we could run at state. At state, June 8, it will be something special.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Minnesota Track's Record-Setting Florida-Georgia Line 4/24/2019
Julia Fixsen and Joe Fahnbulleh had not met before I introduced them to each other at Tuesday's Hopkins True Team Invitational track and field meet. But everyone who follows high school track in Minnesota knows who they are.

Fixsen, a senior at Mounds View, has held the state record in the girls pole vault since her first meet as a junior. Fahnbulleh, a senior at Hopkins, owns the state record in the boys 200 meters and was a member of the Royals' 4x200 relay team that set a state record last spring.

Their paths will cross during their college careers. Fixsen has signed with Georgia and Fahnbulleh with Florida, two powerhouse track and field programs in the Southeastern Conference. Georgia was the NCAA women's outdoor runner-up in 2017 and 2018, while the Florida men's team has finished first or second in the NCAA outdoor championships nine times in the last 10 years.

Fahnbulleh and Fixsen will headline Friday's 14th annual Hamline Elite Meet, a gathering of the top performers in each event this spring. The meet will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Klas Field, the same facility that has hosted the MSHSL state championships since 2006 (this year's state meet will be held June 7-8). Tickets for the Hamline Elite Meet are $10 for adults and $5 for students.

Fixsen and Fahnbulleh are team captains, a role they relish.

"I'm a leader and I love bringing the team together," Fixsen said. "I love being that enabler; I have more influence with the girls, I'm able to connect with the girls."

Fixsen's current state record in the pole vault is 13 feet, 11 1/4 inches, which she cleared at the 2018 USA Track & Field Junior Nationals in Bloomington, Indiana. She placed second in that event as the only high school athlete among collegians in the top five. That finish secured a spot for her at the IAAF World Under-20 championships in Finland last summer, where she finished seventh behind vaulters from Czechoslovakia, Sweden, France, New Zealand and China.

Fahnbulleh's state record in the 200 also came in a summer meet, the USA Track & Field Hershey National Junior Olympics in Greensboro, N.C. He ran 20.69 seconds in winning the national title, eclipsing the state record of 20.92 set in 2004 by Jon Boyd of Mankato East (the national record is 20.13). In the 4x200, he anchored Hopkins to a state-record time of 1:26.37 in winning the Class 2A state title last year. The other members of the team were Jaylen Champion, King Allah and Sam Leervig; Allah has graduated but Champion and Leervig are seniors this spring.

Fahnbulleh's 20.69 in the 200 was a cannon blast. His previous best was 20.84 in the prelims at the national meet, after winning at state with a time of 21.35.

"I did not expect to run that time. No one did," Joe admitted this week. His world quickly changed, with a deluge of contacts from big-time colleges. One of those coaches was nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, who coaches sprinters at the University of Houston.

"I was like, whoa," said Fahnbulleh. "Off of one time, one race, so many doors opened. It was like, this is crazy."

Fixsen's rise has been more gradual, beginning with a ninth-place finish at the state meet in 2015, clearing 10 feet, 6 inches. In 2016 she placed second at 13-0, she won her first state championship in 2017 at 11-6 and repeated last spring at 13-9 1/4.

Her first goal this spring is to clear 14 feet, and she would like to hit 14-6 by the time her high school career ends. The national high school record is 14-4 and only five female pole vaulters have ever cleared 14 feet.

"There are no limits to pole vault," she said. "I can always go higher."

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to ?Preps Today with John Millea? wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Sam and Butch: A Selfie Tradition4/22/2019
State tournaments are full of traditions, and one student-athlete has created a special, personal tradition. When Sam Rengo, currently a senior at Esko High School, qualified for the state track meet in his eighth-grade year (2015), he took a "selfie" with who he called “program guy.” That guy is Butch Tysk, who sells programs and souvenirs at state tourneys, and is well-known to attendees.

When Sam took that first selfie with Butch, a tradition was born. Sam and Butch posed for another photo at state track when Sam was a ninth-grader, at the state basketball tournament in 2017, the state cross-country meet, and on and on. In all, Sam has nine photos with Butch.

Sam's mother, Sandy, wrote to the MSHSL: “All together he has nine Program Guy selfies, the most recent from this year's state basketball tournament where Sam was on the Esko team in addition to attending for the Triple A award. With senior track season remaining, hopefully he can add to his collection with one last state track meet and finish his career with 10 state tournaments and 10 Program Guy selfies.

“I don't know what made Sam take that first selfie, but it's been fun to follow the progress. At each state tournament we wait for the family text with the latest picture. I've never met the Program Guy, and I'm pretty sure Sam hasn't officially introduced himself. He's a good sport, though, for taking all these pictures with Sam.”

--See all nine photos of Sam and Butch on the MSHSL Facebook page.
Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton: Small School, Big Facilities 4/18/2019
JANESVILLE -- In late August of 2017, a back-to-school open house was held at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton. A focal point at the southern Minnesota school was a new stadium and softball field, all cloaked in artificial turf.

During the open house, superintendent Bill Adams asked a member of the Bulldogs football team what he thought of the new facilities. The young man replied, "It's way awesome and we don't deserve it. We’re in Janesville, Minnesota, and we don’t deserve this."

Adams told him, “Don’t ever think that way. Your zip code doesn’t determine what you deserve.”

The population of Janesville is 2,259. Waldorf has 227 souls and Pemberton comes in with 240. The current high school enrollment at J-W-P is 191 students. And the zip codes mean zip.

One day earlier this week, as outdoor spring sports schedules all over the state were being postponed and cancelled after recent snow, the softball field in Janesville was a busy place. And the J-W-P team was nowhere to be seen; teams from New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Medford were playing.

The contest had been scheduled as a home game for NRHEG but the Panthers’ field was unplayable. Same thing in Medford. NRHEG activities director Dan Stork called his counterpart at J-W-P, Ryan Luedtke, and asked if the field was available. A few hours later the game was underway, with NRHEG paying a rental fee of 125 dollars.

“We try to have as many people use it as possible,” Luedtke said. “Right now it’s being used every day.”

NRHEG softball coach Wendy Schultz said, “First we thought we were playing at our place, then maybe we were going to Medford, then this transpired. We love it.”

During the softball game, J-W-P track and field athletes were working out on the all-weather track in the stadium, where everything is first-rate; lights, bleachers, press box, scoreboard, concession/restroom building. The previous cinder track had become an eyesore, and the Bulldogs are now happily hosting track meets again after years of road-only competition.

The previous facilities, which dated from the early 1970s, were built in what was described as a somewhat swampy area. Drainage issues sometimes meant standing water.

“It served it’s time, but it was time” for an upgrade, Adams said. “It turned out really nice.”

That is an understatement. Three years ago no one was using the term “Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton University,” but that’s what some hometown students like to say. Last spring, when the Bulldogs hosted a track meet for the first time in years, visiting students from neighboring small schools were overheard expressing jealousy. And new jaws drop every time new visitors arrive.

The cost of the facilities was estimated at $4.2 million and the final price tag was $3.9 million, financed by a combination of general-fund dollars, state bonds and funding from a 2011 tax levy.

“Our school board was very intentional in building a fund balance to start a savings account for an athletic complex,” said Adams, a Janesville native who has been superintendent there since 2012 and will assume the same duties at New London-Spicer this summer.

That fund held around $1.5 million when planning for the project began, Adams said. In the end, “There was actually a decrease to taxpayers.”

J-W-P isn’t the smallest school district in Minnesota with turf. Mountain Iron-Buhl (enrollment 126) put in a turf field last fall when a new school opened. Others include Triton (290) and Esko (346).

There were naysayers as J-W-P’s new facilities were discussed, planned and completed.

“That part’s been really interesting,” Adams said. “We had people up front really excited about it and people not excited at all. Some of those people have seen how much the complex is being used and they understand now why it was a good decision. There still are a few people who are not very excited.”

The softball field is being used by high school and college teams, and coaches from nearby Minnesota State Mankato have inquired about holding football and soccer practices in the stadium. The Waseca High School marching band has made the stadium a regular summer rehearsal spot.

“It’s just so nice to be able to come out and play,” said NRHEG’s Schultz.

Lights may be the next addition to the softball field, which would further add to the amount of time that physical education classes, home teams, visiting teams, youth groups and others could use and rent the facilities.

Adams has been contacted by administrators in other school districts who are considering similar projects. He’s glad to offer advice and answer questions.

Nobody asks about the zip code.

--See a photo gallery on the MSHSL Facebook Page.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.