John's Journal
Southland’s Riley Schmitz: Heart, Desire Make Up For Limited Vision10/15/2013
ADAMS – The football practice fields at Southland High School in this southern Minnesota town are as picturesque as they come. Two grass fields are framed by a regiment of small trees to the south, and on the north is a freshly harvested cornfield. Beyond that is a farm where silos rise into the sky and cattle graze.

Riley Schmitz can’t see the farm, the silos or the livestock. Even though he has been practicing on these fields since he was a fifth-grade football player, clear vision for the Rebels senior extends no farther than the end of his arms. Those are two remarkable facts: Riley is a football player who is legally blind.

“His heart, his desire is tremendous,” said Southland coach Shawn Kennedy. “He is absolutely so passionate about football.”

Here’s another remarkable fact, one that speaks volumes about Riley’s love of the game and desire to be part of the team: He never plays in the games. He saw action in games as a center and nose guard (positions that allowed him to see the ball snapped) through eighth grade, but the dangers of a blind player in a high school game have kept him on the sidelines. That decision was made by school officials, and his mother Angie agrees.

“Now that they don’t let him play, I feel better,” she said. “I hated it when he played, but I also liked it.”

She liked it because she knew that’s what her son wanted. Riley takes part in some half-speed contact drills during practice, but not when the team scrimmages at full bore. Nonetheless, he is an inspiration to everyone who knows him.

“He definitely makes you think about being grateful for what you have and he’s definitely motivation out here,” said senior wide receiver Alex Ruechel. “You see him come out to practice every day and he knows he’s not going to play. But he comes out here, does everything we do 110 percent and never complains. He’s a role model to everybody. To be doing what he’s doing is amazing.”

Riley was born with a condition called Leber optic atrophy. It’s very rare and most people who have it are totally blind by Riley’s age. His eyesight was impaired from birth and Angie said it was difficult for Riley to realize that his vision was not like everyone else’s.

“It took him a long time. I remember when he accepted it and realized it, that was hard for him. He was in fifth grade.”

As the team huddled at the end of Monday’s practice, Kennedy talked to the players about Riley and the importance of what he demonstrates by joining them on the football team, as well as the school’s wrestling squad.

“That’s a special young man,” the coach said. “He shows us all that it doesn’t matter what cards you are dealt.”

After practice, Riley said the equation works both ways: The team supports him and he’s happy to provide motivation.

“My teammates are very supportive, and I think I motivate them by being out here every day and make them want to be better,” he said. “I really enjoy being part of it.”

During practice, Riley cracked jokes with his teammates. He took part in calisthenics before the workout and wind sprints afterwards … even though his running style is a bit gangly and slow.

Before every season, the Rebels go through a team-building exercise in which each player is asked to talk about something the others don’t know about him. Prior to this season, Riley was the last team member to speak.

“If anybody could pull the old ‘feel bad for me’ card, it would be him,” Kennedy said. “But he said, ‘As you guys know, I’d like to improve my running form, get faster and quicker.’ I had tears in my eyes, as did everybody else who was there.

“Riley is a total class act and the ultimate team player. He plays for the love of the game.”

Riley, who joined the wrestling team a couple of years ago, said he will probably compete at 152 pounds during the upcoming season. Wrestling with impaired vision is a bit easier than playing football, and wrestlers from other schools often don’t even realize that Riley does not have perfect vision.

Over the summer, some of the Southland wrestlers attended a camp at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. “When we’d tell people he was blind they were like, ‘No, he’s not.’ They didn’t believe us,” said senior Luke Stephens.

If he wasn’t out for the football team this fall, Riley said he would probably spend his after-school hours lifting weights and preparing for the wrestling season.

“I like football better as a sport but I like being able to participate in wrestling,” he said.

He plays football, he wrestles, he runs, he rides his bike around town and the surrounding area; there isn’t much he can’t do.

“He has strong determination,” Angie said. “It’s crazy to me. Being part of the team is very important to him.”

Ruechel said, “He’s a great kid and a good friend. It’s a cool experience to have him on the football team.”

Riley is looking at colleges in the hopes of studying kinesiology and finding a career related to sports, possibly as a personal trainer.

Don’t bet against him.

--To see photos from football practice at Southland, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 79
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 4,057
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
Blazin’ Kane And Other Memories From A Football Friday 10/12/2013
KASSON – A few minutes before kickoff between Rochester Lourdes and Kasson-Mantorville on K-M’s spectacular football field Friday night, I was standing between the west end zone and a bank of bleachers, directly in front of the KoMets band. Suddenly, I heard a young voice yelling from the stands, “John! John! I found it!”

This was puzzling at first. Who are you and what have you found? But as I scanned the faces I saw a trumpet player wearing a big grin. Brianna Griffin is also a member of the KoMets girls soccer team. The team had wrapped up practice shortly after I arrived at the field, and I had Tweeted a team photo. Brianna had found the photo on Twitter and wanted to let me know.

That’s just one snapshot from a memorable evening and a memorable autumn of football. With one game remaining in the regular season – most of the Week 8 contests will be played Wednesday night – and the postseason nearly at hand, my trip to Kasson was right in line with my other joyous football journeys in 2012. Oh, the places I’ve been and the teams I’ve seen: Cannon Falls, Blue Earth, Hutchinson, Becker, Jackson County Central, St. Louis Park, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, BOLD, Mankato West, Owatonna, Northfield, Farmington, Two Harbors, Esko.

Friday’s game was a big one in the new Southern Football Alliance Red Division.
Lourdes came in with a record of 5-1 and the No. 2 ranking in Class 3A behind Belle Plaine; Kasson-Mantorville was 6-0 and No. 3 in 4A behind Hutchinson and South St. Paul.

The human stars of Friday’s game – three-year-old KMTelecom Stadium is in its own right a star and a showplace – were a senior and a ninth-grader. Lourdes senior tailback Kane Carstens came into the game with a season total of 372 yards. He put that number to shame in the Eagles’ 36-20 victory over the KoMets: 26 carries, a school-record 312 yards and five touchdowns. His TDs came on runs of 30, 6, 85, 62 and 35 yards, which adds up to 218 yards on those carries alone.

“We knew this was going to be an intense game and we all came out flying,” said Carstens, who did everything short of defeating gravity Friday. His lead blocker was his identical twin brother McKay Carstens, and these boys know how to motor. At the 2012 Class 1A state track meet, the Lourdes foursome of Brian Williamson, Adam Wade, Kane and McKay Carstens sprinted their way to a state championship. The relay team didn’t require any blocking, but on Friday the quick-footed Lourdes offensive line did a bang-up job against a large defensive line from Kasson-Mantorville.

“He’s a great back and he’s got great speed,” Lourdes coach Mike Kesler said of Kane. “He’s been close a lot this year, but he’s kind of been bottled up. His brother’s lead blocking for him, so how neat is that? Those guys get through and they’re not going to catch them.”

The freshman star for the KoMets was quarterback Brady Berge, who also knows how it feels to be a state champion in another sport. As a seventh-grader, Brady won a Class 2A state wrestling title at 106 pounds. Last season he placed third at state at 132.

Berge, who is listed at 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, scored all three touchdowns for the KoMets on Friday with runs of 19, 2 and 3 yards. He finished with 35 carries for 205 yards and completed 10 of 21 passes for 95 yards. Senior Collin Ripley began the season at quarterback for K-M but was injured in the second game. That’s when Berge was promoted; Ripley now plays on defense.

All those rushing attempts and contact by the Eagles’ speedy defense had to take a toll on Berge. Early in the third quarter, Brady rolled left and was tackled on the Lourdes sideline. He stayed on the ground as athletic trainers from both teams tended to him. Shortly after K-M coach Broc Threinen reached the scene, Brady was up and walking … and talking.

“By the time I got over there, he was already saying, ‘I’m good coach, I’m good coach, I’m good coach,’ ” Threinen said. “He’s just an absolute competitor. On our walk off, the first thing he said was, ‘I think if I run it, we’re good to go.’ I was like, ‘I don’t even know if you’re good to play yet’ and he was already talking about the next play. He’s just an unbelievable kid and a competitor, no doubt.”

Lourdes has now defeated the KoMets five years in a row, and they will not meet again in 2013 since they are in different classes. A year ago, Lourdes beat Kasson-Mantorville 36-28 in Week 7 and the Eagles played all the way to the 3A Prep Bowl before losing to Blue Earth Area. Kasson-Mantorville rebounded from that defeat a year ago and reached the 4A state quarterfinals before losing to eventual state champ Hutchinson.

“The same type of thing happened last year, and then we got on a pretty good run and played some good football towards the end of the year,” said Threinen, who was promoted from assistant coach this season after the retirement of 24-year time head coach Ivan Kroulik.

Lourdes will close the regular season against Cannon Falls on Wednesday in Rochester and Kasson-Mantorville will play at Byron.

A few other tidbits from Friday’s game …

--This all-points-bulletin Tweet was issued around mid-day Friday from someone at Kasson-Mantorville: “Want to be one of our smoke guys tonight?” This had nothing to do with tobacco or meat, but with the KoMets’ pregame ceremony. As is often seen at college or NFL games, the KoMets run onto the field before home games accompanied by white smoke. I posed this pregame question to K-M activities director Kyle Huneke: “Where are the smoke machines?” He chuckled a bit and informed me of an ingenous method for creating “smoke” … they use fire extinguishers. Beautiful.

--Kasson-Mantorville might have the most experienced concession-stand crew in the state if not the nation. Some of the folks working the stand have been doing so since 1978.

--I had the pleasure of sitting next to and chatting with the crew from a website (kometsathletics.com) that is the voice of the KoMets. Kent Harffman does a great play-by-play job and Chad Reiss is a wonderful analyst. I was down on the field before kickoff when Kent leaned out of the pressbox window and hollered, “Hey John! We’re ordering pizza, what kind do you like?” Kent interviewed me at halftime and we talked about the great things that occur during high school activities. And great things always happen at Kasson-Mantorville.

--To see a photo gallery from the game between Rochester Lourdes and Kasson-Mantorville, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 78
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 3,837
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
Nominate Your Favorite Athlete For Old Dutch Athlete Of The Week10/12/2013
Nominations are open for this weekly honor, and you can find all the details by clicking here
Congrats To Marshall's Megan Vogl, Old Dutch Athlete Of The Week10/9/2013
Megan Vogl is a senior member of the boys soccer team at Marshall (which does not have a girls soccer team) and she also is a team captain. She is a great contributor for the Tigers and holds her own with any boy on any team.

Megan was instrumental as the Tigers defeated Southwest Minnesota Christian 3-2 in the final regular-season game. Megan scored two goals for her team and finished the season as the Tigers’ second-leading scorer.

She is a role model when it comes to work ethic on and off the field. She is well respected by her teachers, has a GPA of 3.6 and has completed college-level courses. She was selected last year as Marshall’s female representative for the MSHSL ExCEL award, which recognizes juniors who are active in school, show good leadership and are involved within the community. Megan also is a member of the Marshall Tiger Activities Leadership Academy, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, referees youth soccer and is a volunteer assistant hockey coach for young players.

Congratulations to Megan Vogl for being this week's Old Dutch High School Athlete of the week!
Northfield's Lace For The Cure A Huge Success10/7/2013
Sportsmanship and selflessness were in abundance last week when Northfield High School held its annual "Lace For The Cure" soccer games. The Raiders met the girls and boys team from Chaska, and here is a follow-up note from Northfield girls coach Troy Cohrs to Chaska High School...


From: Troy Cohrs
Northfield High School

An open letter to Chaska High School:

Greetings. I am writing this letter to say thank you to all the Chaska High School coaches, administrators and athletes who helped make our fundraiser for breast cancer awareness a success in so many ways.

I am the girl’s varsity soccer coach and a few years ago my team accepted my challenge to make our team about something other than sports. I had an idea to raise money to fight breast cancer and my girls took the suggestion and ran with it. We eventually settled on what would come to be called “LACE FOR THE CURE.”

Each year we invite the school competing against us on the day designated as the “LACE FOR THE CURE” game to join us in our efforts. We try to make it simple for these schools. We extended the invitation to Pat Prindle and Chaska boys and girls soccer teams. The result was unexpected and overwhelming. Not only did Chaska participate in the usual sense and purchase shoe laces, they also got off the bus wearing pink t-shirts that said Chaska supports Lace for the Cure. I have to admit my girls were taken aback by the gesture, as was I. It was yet another reminder that what we are doing matters and to see that type of camaraderie during the evening was moving. The other result, the one I had not looked for, was the positive sense of cooperation that was achieved. I think I can honestly say that in the soccer game that kicked off our event, the atmosphere created by both teams and the fans was such that it would not have mattered who won the game. My girls still talk about the night only in terms of the good that was achieved and the feeling of being united for one cause. To know that the Chaska teams took the extra time to most likely purchase and design t-shirts speaks directly to their character. I was proud to share the field with them. We took an amazing photo of all four teams together in their shirts, and as my AD has said, it was hard to see where one school’s team ended and the others’ began.

Please accept my sincere thank you. Chaska’s cooperation was amazing. I know it took coaches, athletes, parents, secretaries, the AD and administration to make this work and I cannot say thank you often enough. Together you helped make it possible for us to raise $4,000 in just over one week. These proceeds will all go to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Perhaps more important than the money raised was the real learning that took place over the course of the event and inside two school districts. This partnership was powerful for all involved. Thank you again for all you contributed.

Troy Cohrs
Girls soccer coach
Northfield High School