John's Journal
Hats Off To Cromwell For Competing With The Big Schools4/30/2013
The lineup of teams at Monday’s Joe Lane Invitational was pretty typical of track and field meets at giant suburban high schools. You had the host school, Minnetonka, which has an enrollment of 2,750 students. Also at the meet were Burnsville (2,530), Rochester Century (1,275), Minneapolis Patrick Henry (747) and one other school.

That one other school has more of its students on the track teams – per capita – than any of those larger schools. That one other school was Cromwell, enrollment 74. Yes, you read that correctly: The Cromwell Cardinals, with seventy-four students in grades nine through 12, were on the track with the big schools.

How the Cardinals came to be at Minnetonka is a story that involves the weather. With spring schedules blown up by the disastrous spring conditions, administrators and coaches are scrambling to find places to compete. The original field of teams for the Joe Lane Invitational included Burnsville, Chanhassen, Chaska, Maple Grove, Mounds View, Prior Lake and Cooper.

But when most of those teams couldn’t make it to Monday’s meet because of scheduling issues, Minnetonka boys track coach Chris Cohen sent an email to all track coaches in the state, issuing an open invitation.

Dave Foster, who coaches the girls and boys teams at Cromwell and also is the school’s athletic director, saw the email and wondered, “I don’t know if he means us. So I sent him an email saying we were a small school up in northern Minnesota, would you take us? He said absolutely, come on down.”

So the Cardinals coaches and 31 athletes jumped in a bus for the 300-mile round trip. Cromwell is 40 miles west of Duluth, and Monday’s 2-hour, 30-minute drive to Minnetonka wasn’t the track team’s longest of the season. They earlier competed at an indoor meet at Bemidji State, which is a two and a half hour drive from Cromwell. The Joe Lane Invitational was Cromwell’s first outdoor meet of the season after five events were cancelled.

Minnetonka has some of the finest facilities in Minnesota, including artificial turf football, baseball and softball fields. Cromwell has a dirt track around its football field –the Cardinals were nine-man football state champions in 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2010 with four runner-up finishes in that span -- and the track teams have spent most of the spring running on streets and highways when not working out indoors.

“When we first showed up we made a joke: ‘What college is this?,’ ” said Cromwell junior Hunter Rauvola. “This is nice.”

Foster, a Duluth native, had never been to Minnetonka High School until Monday. He took a sneak peak via the internet, or as he phrased it, “I flew in this morning on Google to take a look at it. And the weather’s nice, we were going to be outside. I was just excited about coming.”

Both Cromwell squads finished fourth in Monday’s team scoring. The highest-finishing Cardinals placed third in their events: Andrea Hakamaki in the girls 1,600 and the 4x200, 4x400 and 4x800 girls relay teams, plus Josh Oliver in the shot put and the 4x800 team on the boys side.

“I knew we’d see some good competition,” Foster said.

The conditions were flawless, with a high temperature of 74 degrees under a strong, summer-like sun.

“It’s hot,” said Rauvola. “But you don’t want to complain about it being hot.”

You sure don’t. Especially knowing that Cromwell’s next meet is scheduled for Friday at Crosby-Ironton’s Ranger Invitational.

“It’s supposed to be 39 degrees,” Foster said. “I told the kids, ‘Enjoy this today.’ ”

--See a photo gallery from the Joe Lane Invitational on the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 612
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,472
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Another Milestone For World-Famous MSHSL Facebook Page4/28/2013
Since kicking off our MSHSL Facebook page three years ago, it has become more popular all the time. The page surpassed another milestone in recent days, reaching (and quickly surpassing) 11,000 "Likes" by followers from all areas of Minnesota and well beyond. Here are some details...

--We have Facebook friends in Canada, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Australia, Norway, Spain, Mexico and many other spots around the world.

--When looking at Minnesota cities and towns, the top 10 for number of MSHSL Facebook friends is Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Rochester, Mankato, St. Cloud, Lakeville, Burnsville, Fairmont and Apple Valley.

--Our Facebook page is being read by people who speak 19 languages, including Arabic, Thai, Turkish and English/Pirate.

--There are a few more females than males (50.5% female) among the ranks of our Facebook followers.

--The largest group age-wise is 18 to 24 years old, followed by 35-44 and then 25-34.

Thanks to all our followers, and please invite your own Facebook friends to Like us on Facebook!
Lewiston-Altura: Championship Golf From The Inside Out4/24/2013
LEWISTON – On the upper level of what used to be a barn, in a room that used to be a hayloft, is where the golf teams from Lewiston-Altura High School dream of what might be.

The Cardinals have a big indoor advantage during this spring that never wanted to be sprung. While other golf teams are endlessly hitting balls into nets or padded gymnasium walls, the Lewiston-Altura girls and boys teams are cranking out full-bore tee shots, working on their short game and even sinking actual putts into actual cups.

Since the official start of practice on March 18, the Cardinals have been using their indoor home away from home inside the non-denominational Crossings Center. The facility was built by Joel Hennessy, the brother of Lewiston-Altura girls and boys golf coach Julie Hennessy, and the erstwhile hayloft gives the golfers ample opportunity to prepare before heading outdoors.

“It gives us a head start on the season,” said junior Elizabeth Hennessy, Joel’s daughter and the Cardinals’ top returning player. “It gives us an opportunity to practice when there’s still snow on the ground in Minnesota.”

Senior Sydney Rinn said of the weather, “It’s not really what anyone wants, but it’s really frustrating. Last year we had a lot (of outdoor experience) by this time.”

The Cardinals girls team knows all about preparation and success, having won the last two Class 1A state championships. In 2011 they won with a 46-stroke margin over the field and four individuals among the top nine; their margin last season was 15 shots with three golfers in the top 10. Elizabeth Hennessy tied for seventh place at state as a ninth-grader in 2011 and shared ninth place a year ago.

After school Tuesday, the Cardinals took their clubs out of their cars and carried them up a stairway at the former barn. The upper level is split, with half of the space filled with comfortable couches, tables and chairs, and a stage for musical performances. Behind the stage -- in a heated room with netting on three sides, four turf mats, a lengthy strip of artificial “rough” and a putting green with five cups – is where the golf season begins. As of Tuesday, the Lewiston-Altura teams had been outdoors exactly once this spring, hitting range balls at Lewiston Country Club. So having the Crossings Center available has been very important.

“This spring it means everything,” said Julie Hennessy. “It gave us the opportunity to hit and just get the feel; it’s easier to make swing changes when they’re not outside. It gave them the opportunity to at least do something; you can’t go over rules for three weeks.”

The first available date for golf competitions was March 28, meaning teams across Minnesota have already missed nearly a month of their season. Lewiston-Altura is scheduled to begin subsection play on May 20, so once the season begins it will go by in a flash. (Pictured are returning girls players Elizabeth Hennessy, Brittnie Kieselhorst, Sydney Rinn and Mandy Ranvik.)

“It is going to be fast and furious. I can’t even imagine,” said Julie Hennessy, who also coaches the women’s golf team at Winona State University and is the course pro at Lewiston Country Club. Hennessy, a Lewiston native, was the Class 1A state champ in 1982, captained the golf team at the University of Minnesota and played on the LPGA tour. This is her ninth season as the Lewiston-Altura coach.

“I don’t recall anything like this spring,” she said. “The owner of the course said his latest opening date was April 23, and that was in my senior year in high school here.”

About $5,000 has been spent on equipping the indoor golf facility, which includes 400 golf balls. The Lewiston-Altura girls and boys teams practice there on alternate days, which helps ensure no one gets physically worn out before playing one round of outdoor golf.

“These guys are rapid fire in there,” Julie Hennessy said. “It’s fun to listen to them hit balls, because on that wooden floor (beneath the mats) you can hear the contact they’re making with the ball. You can tell the difference ability-wise.”

The Cardinals regularly hold indoor competitions, trying to chip balls through hula hoops or into small, round nets attached to the nets on the walls. And as the weather improves and spring actually arrives, the players will be well-prepared to play real golf on real golf courses. Which will be, uh, different.

“You forget what the ball looks like when it’s flying,” said Elizabeth Hennessy. “You’re so used to hitting into the net.”

--See a photo gallery from Lewiston-Altura on the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 607
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,410
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Building A Baseball Program: Skills And Fun But No Cookie Cutters4/21/2013
The relationship between youth programs and the high school varsity is critical to sustaining success over the long term. Brian Jerzak visited the defending Class 3A state baseball champion Eastview Lightning to explore this process. Read his story by clicking here.
Speech! Talented, Hard-Working Students Show What They Can Do 4/20/2013
I was sitting in a classroom at Blaine High School on Friday afternoon, marveling at each student who competed in the state speech tournament, and one question kept popping up in my head: How many high-profile athletes could do this?

I am an experienced sports reporter, having watched and written about everything from youth sports to professional sports for decades. However, nothing I have seen in the sports arena can compare to what I see at the state speech tournament. The students who take part in this activity are bright, poised, confident and headed toward outstanding futures.

Friday’s event was the Class 2A state speech tournament; Class 1A competition was held Saturday, also at Blaine. In each class, 24 talented students from around the state compete in each of the 13 speech categories. The state entrants are determined through section events, with the top three advancing from each section. There are four rounds of competition at state; after three rounds the top eight participants advance to the championship round. Judges make the calls.

It can be a formal undertaking, with entrants dressed nicely; males in suits and ties and females in business suits. And oh boy are they sharp … in mind as well as dress.

I couldn’t attend sessions in each category, so I made some random selections and witnessed Serious Interpretation-Drama, Extemporaneous Speaking and Humorous Interpretation. (Other categories include Informative Speaking, Creative Expression, Storytelling, Great Speeches and more.)

Like most sports, speech uses a clock. In the categories I watched, the clock time was seven or eight minutes. Each competition room is overseen by a room manager, who keeps a stopwatch and holds up cards to inform the students of their remaining time. The room manager also informs spectators of the rules: no photos or video, turn off your cell phones, drinks are OK but sip only between speakers, please.

A very common sight at speech events might be reason for alarm elsewhere: students standing all by themselves in the school hallways, staring at the wall and talking to themselves. They are, of course, rehearsing.

In Serious Interpretation-Drama, students performed works with topics that ranged from clergy abuse of children to the heartbreak of a couple breaking up to a young girl dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome amidst family issues. Many hours of repitition and fine-tuning go into their performances, and they indeed are performances.

Extemporaneous Speaking is entirely different, with entrants given topics on the day of the event and then only 30 minutes to prepare their presentations. The topics Friday dealt with U.S. foreign policy, U.S-Israel relations, gun control, the federal budget deficit and immigration policy. The students spoke for seven minutes without notes; it wasn’t as smooth as Serious Interpretation-Drama, in which students rehearse and prepare their presentation during the entire speech season. But it was equally impressive.

Humorous Interpretation is, plain and simple, a riot. It’s stand-up, physical comedy with sound effects, multiple voices (little kids, Freddie Mercury, a drill instructor, teachers, parents, etc.) coming from one mouth, huge laughs and the largest audiences of any speech event. I watched the championship round in this category Friday, held in a small auditorium, and people were sitting in the aisle and on the floor in front of the first row of seats.

The 2A state champion in Humorous Interpretation was Nina Grollman of Moorhead High School, who performed an absolutely hilarious piece titled “Tammy: A Coming of Age Story About a Girl Who is Part T-Rex” by Julia Weiss (Nina is pictured above with Lori Crever of Wells Fargo.) During Nina’s performance (as well as all the other finalists), the crowd laughed and hooted and applauded wildly.

After the Humorous Interpretation championship round, I overhead two teen males discussing their favorite performance. One of the boys said to his buddy, “Dude! She pulled off five different people! With five different voices!”

Oh, and about my question concerning athletes? One of Friday’s state champions is also one of the state’s best track athletes. Eagan junior Emerald Egwim (pictured with Lori Crever) has qualified for state in the 100- and 200-meter events, and on Friday she was awarded her second 2A state speech championship, this one in Serious Interpretation-Prose. Last she won Serious Interpretation-Drama.

Emerald is typical of the students who compete in speech; they are very busy with lots of activities. She also participates in student government, National Honor Society and theater. Oh, she also works as a model.

“In everything that I do, I feel like I try and put in all the effort I can,” she told me. “So I try and allot time for things so that I can get everything done in time. It gets pretty crazy sometimes.”

She said one big reason she enjoys speech is because “it allows me the opportunity to really express myself. Even though I’m telling somebody else’s story, there’s always something in the stories I’m telling that I can find in myself.”

Congratulations to all.

--See a photo gallery from the state speech tournament on the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 605
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,180
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn