John's Journal
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.

BY THE NUMBERS

*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.

BY THE NUMBERS

*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
Signs Of Spring: Track And Field And Snow And Slush 4/17/2013
In between getting runners aligned, yelling “Set!” and firing his pistol, starter Mark Gagstetter trudged through a snowy, slushy, sloppy infield to his various positions for each event during a track meet Tuesday at Rosemount High School.

He learned something new during this endeavor: his boots, advertised as waterproof, were not.

Almost everyone had a similar problem, with athletes and coaches high-stepping and quick-stepping through snow, ice and slush. But the good news was the all-weather track was clear and dry. And if ever a running surface needed to be all-weather, this was the day. And this is the spring.

The temperature zoomed all the way to nearly the mid 40s Tuesday, with a bright orb in the sky adding what some onlookers referred to as “sunshine” to the festivities. Athletes were bundled up except when it was their turn to compete.

And, oh, the mud. There were a few select low spots where moisture had settled and been trod upon until it made a suitable home for a family of swine. The worst such location was between the bleachers/concession area and the long jump/triple jump area. Someone at Rosemount, however, had devised a high and dry solution by placing three long, unused metal bleacher rows over the mud hole. So everyone walked a bit of a wide tightrope to get back and forth.

The long and triple jump competitions were a little less formal than at most meets. In both events Tuesday, girls and boys did their jumping together and in no particular order. On both runways, the jumpers stood in a line; when their turn came and the pit had been raked smooth, they took off running and did their thing. Each jump was measured and the distance was announced by the head official at each sand pit, who then asked the athlete, “What’s your name?”

The infield was nearly covered with snow, so using that as an area to warm up and lounge around was not going to work. There were no dry spots anywhere for teams to pitch their tents and similar shelters, so a few athletes simply sat in circles on patches of asphalt inside the entry gate … until the foot traffic became so heavy that they were in danger of being trampled.

The shot put and discus locations were really interesting. The concrete throwing circles were clean, dry and A-OK. But when the implements went sailing out from the rings, they returned to earth with a thud in the mud. I wish I had come to the meet with a truckload of clean towels because there was a lot of cleaning to do done.

Mounds View boys coach Ross Fleming, whose teams won Class 2A state championships in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2006 and 2007, has seen a lot on 29 years as a coach. But this spring is something new.

Tuesday’s meet was only Mounds View’s second outdoor competition of the spring. On the first Saturday in May the Mustangs hosted a boys quadrangular; this came during what Fleming called “that window” of decent weather.

“We went from noon until about 3:30 or 4,” he said. “Full squads, unlimited entries and we got everything in. We had a little rain at the end; the two-mile and the 4x4 got some rain. Other than that we had a wonderful day. It was a lot like this.”

Tuesday’s weather conditions were pretty superb, considering how this spring has clunked along. But Fleming made a good point, saying that in some years – when spring comes early and just keeps getting nicer – Tuesday’s event might have been called off because of the temperature.

“It’s beautiful, relatively speaking,” he said. “Last year we probably would have cancelled this; when you have 70-degree days and then you get 45.”

Another screwy aspect of the spring of 2013 is that teams not only haven’t been able to compete with any consistency, they haven’t even able to work out with any consistency.

“You lose meets sometimes,” Fleming said. “In the past we would lose some but you could train. It was always bad luck when meet day was a bad day for some reason. But you didn’t lose the training.”

As Tuesday’s meet went along from event to event and the starting line moved from place to place, Gagstetter kept sloshing his way through the slop on the infield. And despite his leaky boots and wet feet, he maintained a positive attitude.

“All my pay is going to sock money,” he said with a chuckle.

--See a photo gallery from the track meet on the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 572
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,098
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn