John's Journal
Who’s Ready For Some Outdoor Prep Bowl Action?6/3/2013
Yes, it’s June. But football season and the Prep Bowl were major topics discussed at Monday’s MSHSL board of directors meeting. Here’s a summary of where we’re at …

--There will be no changes for the 2013 season. The season will start as scheduled, the playoff format will not change and the Prep Bowl games will be played on Thanksgiving weekend at the Metrodome. The dome will be demolished after the 2013 Vikings season, which means the Prep Bowl will be played in the elements at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium in 2014 and 2015 while a new stadium is built on the Metrodome site.

--The 2014 football season also will follow the familiar format, with changes coming in the state tournament. State semifinals will be played at multiple sites (not TCF since the Gophers have a home game) and the Prep Bowl will be held the weekend before Thanksgiving at TCF. The season will end prior to Thanksgiving in the hopes of better weather conditions.

--Bigger changes could come in 2015, when the University of Minnesota football team will play home games the Saturday before Thanksgiving as well as the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In 2015 the high school season could start one week earlier than usual and section playoffs could consist of two rounds instead of three (effectively cutting the number of teams involved in section playoffs in half). State semifinals also are likely to be played at multiple sites (not TCF) and the Prep Bowl could be played the weekend before Thanksgiving. Decisions about the 2015 football season will not be finalized for a few months.

On another football matter, scheduling problems continue to be an issue for many schools, especially in light of ongoing conference shakeups. As MSHSL associate director Kevin Merkle told the board, “We need to do something. We need to make some changes.”

Administrators were surveyed at meetings around the state this spring as staff gathered input on the topic. One possibility is to place football teams into groups of eight, 12, 14 or 16 teams and have those teams work out their schedules with each other, with geography an important factor and no team playing an opponent who is one class larger of smaller.

“No matter what we do, there will be winners and losers,” Merkle said. “And if we stay with the status quo, there are winners and losers.”

Board member Tom Conzemius of Sauk Rapids-Rice said, “It’s no different at conference meetings or section meetings. Most of our time is spent on football.”

2013-14 SPEECH TOPICS

The board approved these titles…

--Discussion topic: “Building the Future: U.S. Infrastructure Challenges in the 21st Century.”

--Extemporaneous Reading-Poetry: “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.

--Extemporaneous Reading-Prose: “Read All About It! Great Read-Aloud Stories, Poems, and Newspaper Pieces for Preteens and Teens” edited by Jim Trelease.

--Storytelling: Grimms’ Tales for Young and Old, The Complete Stories” translated by Ralph Manheim.

ADVISORY COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS

--Nordic skiing: Coaches have proposed to change the single-class state meet by having two teams per section advance to state instead of one. Currently, the first-place team in each section and the next eight individuals from each section qualify for state. The proposal is for two teams and the next five individuals to advance from each section. This proposal was not approved.

--Dance team: Currently, dance teams register with the MSHSL in separate categories for High Kick and Jazz, with enrollment numbers used to classify teams into classes in each dance segment, with enrollment cutoffs different for each segment. Coaches proposed to have schools no longer register separately in High Kick and Jazz,using the same enrollment numbers for both. This proposal was approved.

--Music: A proposal was made to allow schools to decide which students will participate in section contests and festivals, including students in seventh grade and above. This proposal was approved.

BOARD CHANGES

--Board officers for 2013-14 were elected. The new board president will be John Hamann, who is the principal at Underwood High School. The vice president (and president-elect for 2014-15) will be Scott McCready, athletic director at St. Charles High School. The treasurer will be Steve Eklund, public representative from Stanchfield.

--Board members whose terms ended with Monday’s meeting are Laurie Esau, public representative from Orono; Mark Frederickson, principal at Waconia, Rick Bleichner, superintendent from Breckenridge; Tom Conzemius, activities director at Sauk Rapids-Rice; Walt Hautala, school board member from Gilbert; and Mike Rusinko, public representative from Eden Prairie.

--New board members who will begin their four-year terms in August are Emmett Keenan, activities director at St. Cloud Cathedral; Tom Graupmann, activities director at Northfield; Mike Olson, assistant principal at Little Falls; and Deborah Pauly, school board member from Jordan.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 669
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 9,503
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Kicking Off A Big Stretch With A Board Of Directors Meeting6/2/2013
This is a busy time, with spring state tournaments in boys tennis, softball, track and field, golf and lacrosse filling up the schedule for the next two weeks. Before all the action, we will begin this stretch with a meeting of the MSHSL board of directors on Monday morning.

The list of action items on the agenda probably won’t grab any headlines. But the table will be set for the 2013-14 year when new board officers are elected. One candidate is running for each of the three positions, so there won’t be any mystery in the balloting.

The new board president will be John Hamann, who is the principal at Underwood High School. The vice president (and president-elect for 2014-15) will be Scott McCready, athletic director at St. Charles High School. The treasurer will be Steve Eklund, public representative from Stanchfield.

On the discussion section of the agenda, football will take center stage. The board will be informed about three topics that were discussed with administrators from all over the state during spring area meetings: statewide scheduling for football, the 2014 Prep Bowl and the 2015 football playoff format. Changes are in the offing due to the impending demolition of the Metrodome, and the Prep Bowl games will be played at TCF Bank Stadium for two years while the new stadium is under construction. No decisions will be made at Monday’s meeting.

State tournaments will begin Tuesday, when boys tennis kicks off its four-day run in team, singles and doubles with Class 1A action at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in south Minneapolis and Class 2A at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center. The three-class state softball tournament will be held Thursday and Friday at Caswell Park in North Mankato and the two-class state track meet will be held Friday and Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul.

The three-class state golf tournaments are scheduled for June 11 and 12, and the single-class boys and girls state lacrosse tournaments will also be held that week. Finally, the three-class state baseball tournament will begin June 13, with championship games scheduled for June 17 at Target Field.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 669
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 9,503
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
“Dan Is Down!” Quick Action Saves The Life Of An Umpire 5/29/2013
As I was talking with softball umpire Daryl Oja on Tuesday morning about the day last week when his officiating partner, Dan Wessel, collapsed on the field, died twice and was brought back to life, Daryl offered this:

“As we speak he’s being prepped for triple bypass today at 11 a.m. Two arteries were 100 percent blocked and one was 90 percent blocked. So he’s very lucky.”

Indeed, Wessel is lucky to be alive. But there was something more than just luck involved here. He also was fortunate that three people familiar with emergency procedures were in attendance at last Wednesday’s Class 2A Section 6 softball tournament game between Long Prairie-Grey Eagle and Minnewaska in Wadena.

It was fortunate that Jay Stewart of Glenwood and Gary Bentz of Browerville were at the game; they both are trained first responders.

“Gary drove the team bus for Long Prairie-Grey Eagle,” Oja said. “Dan knew Gary because Dan also is a wrestling official and Gary has sons who wrestled at Browerville. We had talked to Gary before going on the field.”

It was fortunate that Long Prairie police officer Ryan Hanson was there, too. When Wessel, 51,collapsed on the infield after the fourth inning, Stewart, Bentz and Hanson came running.

“Dan was on the bases,” Oja said. “He had been on the shortstop side of second base and he was working his way back to first base. I was marking my card between innings when the first base coach yelled, ‘Dan is down! Dan is down!’ He was face-first on the ground between first and second base.”

Hanson remembers his daughter Angela, the center fielder for Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, making a catch to end the inning. “They came running in, I was talking to my wife, I turned around and saw one of the umps laying face down in the field. I looked again and thought, ‘This aint right.’ ”

Oja helped turn Wessel over onto his back. “That was my only contribution other than the fact that I kept talking to him,” he said. “Those three guys worked on him.”

They began chest compressions and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Twice, Wessel stopped breathing and began turning blue. But twice, his rescuers brought him back.

“I looked down at him and there was blood coming from his nose,” said Hanson. “I didn’t have a mask like I would if I was on duty, but I knew if I don’t give him air he’s going to definitely die.

“I wiped his face off as much as I could and started giving him breaths. He started breathing and it was like, ‘Sweet. Awesome.’ And then we lost him again. He died at least twice there. At one point, almost immediately his face was purple. I thought, ‘He is not doing so hot.’ ”

Oja said, “I have never seen anyone die before and he died twice, right in front of me. He was not breathing or responding and they were able to bring him back. Those three guys are heroes because they knew what they were doing. They kept him alive until the amubulance got there with the AED and they used it to shock his heart. There was an AED in the school and someone was on the way to get it when the ambulance arrived.”

Dan is in his 29th year as an MSHSL official, having worked wrestling, softball and baseball. He has worked several state wrestling tournaments as an official and an evaluator of officials, and he has served as a charter clinician for the St. Cloud Wrestling Official Association.

Oja and Wessel don’t umpire together very often, but they know each other very well. Oja is a retired teacher and coach in Melrose and Wessel was a student there and played for Oja. “It was kind of surreal from that standpoint, as well,” Oja said.

When Wessel collaposed, Oja had a pretty good inkling of that had happened.

“He had an incident about 10 days earlier when he complained of severe chest pain,” Oja said. “I guess they had kind of ruled out his heart, they thought it was an infection of some kind and they gave him medication. But because of that incident, I knew this probably was heart-related.”

Hanson, who has been a police officer for 15 years and also is an assistant coach on the Wadena-Deer Creek/Long Prairie-Grey Eagle cooperative girls hockey team, guessed that he had performed life-saving procedures five to 10 times previously. That wasn’t the case for everyone on the scene.

“When I was talking to Jay, he goes, ‘I’ve been in the fire department for four years and this is the first time I’ve had to do CPR.’ I thought, ‘Wow, you’re doing good. You’re one for one.’ ”

The next day, Oja was working a game at Minnewaska in Glenwood when he struck up a conversation with a woman who was aware of what had taken place in Wadena.

“She was the wife of Jay Stewart and I got a chance to talk to her a little bit,” Oja said. “She said Jay came home and he was pretty shook. Like I told all three of those guys, they were heroes. Dan knows this, too, and I know he’s planning on meeting with those guys and letting them know that he appreciated what they did.”

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 653
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 9,376
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Pierz Golfer Josh Rocheleau: His Heart’s Always In The Game 5/23/2013
Josh Rocheleau doesn’t want any special treatment and he doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. The sophomore from Pierz just wants to be one of the guys, and that’s exactly what he is. Josh is a member of the Pioneers’ varsity golf team, he’s a manager for the football team, he’s a huge sports fan and he has a great smile.

The fact that he has a heart condition is all but second nature. And when I say “heart condition” I mean something really serious. Josh’s condition is called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. In his words, “the left side of my heart is underdeveloped.”

Here’s what the Mayo Clinic website says about his condition…

“Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is a complex and rare heart defect present at birth (congenital). In hypoplastic left heart syndrome, the left side of the heart is critically underdeveloped. If your baby is born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, the left side of the heart can't effectively pump blood to the body, so the right side of the heart must pump blood both to the lungs and to the rest of the body. Medication to prevent closure of the connection (ductus arteriosus) between the right and left sides, followed by either surgery or a heart transplant, is necessary to treat hypoplastic left heart syndrome. With advances in care, the outlook for babies born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome is better now than in the past.”

Yes, it’s something really serious. Josh, 16, has undergone numerous surgeries. “I don’t know,” he said, “about five or six surgeries.” The most recent surgery took place when he was 10 years old; a pacemaker was placed near his heart in that procedure. He will have more surgeries as he gets older.

Josh and I chatted Thursday in the clubhouse at Shamrock Golf Course in Corcoran. He and his teammates had competed in a Central Minnesota Conference meet. He shot a 47 over nine holes, which he termed “pretty good. I can do better, though. You always can.”

Josh has been the Pioneers’ No. 3 player for the last couple weeks. This is his second season on the varsity. Pierz coach Chris Dobis called Josh “a great kid. He loves sports, he loves everything about it.”

Josh is a big Minnesota Twins fans and is a regular at Pierz sporting events. He described his duties as a football manager thusly: “I get everything ready for the players. I like it.” He uses a golf cart in his football duties, and sometimes will drive a cart during competitive rounds of golf, too.

That’s because of his heart condition. He has received a waiver from the MSHSL to use a golf cart when needed. He’s usually fine when walking nine holes, but playing 18 holes or any number of holes on an especially hot day can lead to using a cart.

“He appreciates it very much, he’s very respectable when he uses a cart,” Dobis said. “But he likes to walk.”

Josh keeps himself hydrated on the course, which is important. And when he drives a cart, other players who don’t know him will usually inquire.

“If they ask, I tell them,” he said, smiling. “They understand.”

And when he’s walking a course, no one knows there’s anything different about him. “They never really ask, because it’s not noticeable,” he said. “I’m just a normal person.”

Dobis said, “I don’t think there really is much discussion about it as far as I know. He carries the waiver in his bag in case anyone would ask. Everybody who plays with him would like to ride with him.”

Josh would like to participate in other sports but he realizes that danger of doing so. “I wish I could play way more,” he said as he smiled again.

Not long ago he began working at Eagles Landing Golf Club in Fort Ripley, where his job entails working with, yes, golf carts.

“I’m a cart boy,” he said. “I put away carts and pick up the range.”

It’s a perfect workplace, because as Josh told me, “When I’m not working, I’m golfing.”

--To see a photo gallery from Thursday’s Central Minnesota Conference boys golf meet at Shamrock Golf Course in Corcoran, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 643
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 9,236
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Big Three Pays Off For New Life Academy’s Softball Team5/21/2013
By Brian Jerzak
John’s Journal correspondent

As in most Christian high schools, a credo of faith, school and then athletics is followed by the athletes and coaches in the softball program at New Life Academy of Woodbury. The difference between the Eagles and the much of the rest of the state is the success that formula has brought the program.

Since 2006, head coach Mick Ramey, his staff and athletes have advanced to the Class 1A state tournament every year. They are gearing up for what they hope will be their eighth straight section championship. If they get there, they will tie the Minnesota record for consecutive section championships. During this stretch they won a state-record four straight state titles between 2008 and 2011. One of the keys to maintaining such a long run of excellence goes back to sticking with a system that is based in faith, school and sports.

Ramey started his coaching career in the Cottage Grove Athletic Association, coaching his kids in various sports. He was also a longtime board member for the association. He started coaching his boys and then as his girls got older he moved more toward their sports and eventually the sport his girls gravitated to – softball.

“I have coached 85 teams over the last 20 years,” said the longtime youth coach, “but every time I took away something about encouraging players, maximizing their strengths, minimizing their weaknesses and helping them relax.”

He became the New Life head softball coach in 2006. Although the team was young, the players had previously worked with Ramey so they all knew the system.

“That first year when we went to state, we had no seniors, one junior and the rest were sophomores all the way down to seventh graders. Because the girls were playing summer ball they were ready for the varsity scene. We just started playing good solid fundamental ball.”

With such a young team early on, it laid the foundation for the extended run of championships. The Schmidt sisters, first Danelle and then Rebecca, set the tone and the program has had a number of good pitchers -- especially during the four straight championships. The turning point for the program occurred while defending their first state championship. During a season that would end up with state title number two, the Eagles entered a regular-season tournament that put them up against the best team in the state.

“We played Burnsville and they were ranked number one in AAA that year,” said Ramey. “They were 20-0 and we played them in the opening game of the North St. Paul tournament. We played into the 11th inning and they hit a walk-off home run to beat us 3-2. That was the turning point for our program. That gave us the confidence that we could be a special team.”

In order to maintain that confidence, execution needs to be second nature. In practice the team focuses on what Ramey calls the Big Three.

“We don’t do many drills very long. We do a lot of drills for short periods. We do a lot of situations. Our girls are so aware of the Big Three. Always know your outs, always know where the runners are and always know the score and the situation. We drill that in every practice. We go through situations time and time again. We call out things like one down, girls on first and second, so every girl has been through this every practice.”

The Big Three has paid off. New Life has had a remarkable run of victories in one-run games. Ramey estimates they have had 25 one-run games over the years and have won about 21 of those games.

Another reason the girls have been so successful in the close games is that they are used to tough competition. Ramey schedules a number of bigger schools to go along with his conference schedule. His “iron sharpens iron” philosophy started out of necessity.

“For years St. Bernard’s was in our conference. I think they still lead the state in state tournament appearances so our section has always been strong,” said Ramey. “To be stronger we had to play those games and also schedule those AAA and AA schools.”
Maintaining such a high level for so long is a tribute to the coaching staff the Eagles have in place.

“We have so many good coaches in place that I can actually miss a practice or even a game and the machine still runs,” said the head coach of eight years. “We have had the same routine every year.”

One of the impressive aspects of this run of championships has to do with the small pool of athletes that New Life has to pull from. Sometimes they don’t have any players from a certain class on the team. After winning their first two titles they almost couldn’t field enough players to form the team that would ultimately win the third straight title. The system Ramey has in place has helped maintain enough numbers. Since he does not work in the school system, he has had to rely on the kids.

“I have had great captains over the years and they have been the foot soldiers that go out there and get kids to come out,” he said. “We have always been able to find a spot for everyone. Everyone has a role on the team.”
This year’s team was able to build on an unexpected playoff run last year.

“Last year was a rebuilding year,” Ramey said. “We were hoping to go .500. We were three or four games above .500 and had a tremendous run in section play. We beat a lot of good teams we maybe shouldn’t have. That first game at state we squeaked out a 2-1 win that maybe we shouldn’t have. It gave us a little more confidence going into this year. We didn’t have anyone graduate last year and we set some higher goals – one of them being winning it this year.”

Each year the veteran players do a great job of teaching the younger kids the system, making Ramey’s job easier. As Ramey said, it is the responsibility of the older girls to pay it forward and help the program not just during the current year, but down the road.

This year’s team – like countless others – has been aided by that “pay it forward” system and some of the players have grown into great leaders. Val Hohol and Malorie Gierie are the main pitcher and catcher, Chloe Westlund is the leadoff hitter, Amanda Heidmann has been manning third base for three years and Nicole Johnson is the team’s leading power hitter.

It’s yet to be determined of New Life Academy will win another state championship this year. But if the Eagles stick to both of their Big Threes – in softball and in life – they are sure to be in the mix for years to come.