John's Journal
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
Throwing Star: For Maggie Ewen, All That Matters Is Improving4/13/2013
At least one more inch. That’s all Maggie Ewen thinks about when she steps into the discus or shot put circle. The St. Francis High School senior is not focused on state records or national records or her college career or the Olympics. Just one more inch. That’s it.

“For me, throwing is not about winning the meet, it’s about doing better than I’ve ever done,” she said. “I just want to do better than I did before, even if it’s an inch.”

With her senior season delayed by a late-arriving spring, Ewen already is one of the most decorated track and field athletes in Minnesota history. She is a three-time defending Class 2A state champion in the discus (she finished third at state as an eighth-grader) and a two-time defending champ in the shot put (she was third as a ninth-grader and eighth as an eighth-grader). She already holds the state record in the discus and is a safe bet to break the shot put record this spring.

Last season, Maggie was named the Minnesota Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year. This season she is the nation’s top returning high school discus thrower. Her best mark in that event is 172 feet, 7 inches; the national high school record of 191-6 is not out of the question for her this spring.

Ewen is the nation’s second-ranked returning shot putter with a 2012 season best of 48-06. In early March she threw 54-1 at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York City; the Minnesota high school record is 52-4¾, set by Lakeville’s Liz Podominick 10 years ago. Ewen’s toss in New York did not come during the high school season so she still ranks behind Podominick, but there is little doubt that she will beat that mark this spring. The national prep record of 54-10¾ also is within her grasp.

But again, she doesn’t think much about records or rankings or championships. It’s a simple matter of just improving.

“Honestly, right now there’s not really a long-term goal,” she said. “Having state records isn’t really what’s important to me. Just doing better than what I’ve done before is important to me.”

Podominick, who graduated from high school in 2003, finished fifth in the discus last year in the Olympic trials (the top three advanced to the London Games). Asked about possibly competing in the Olympics someday, Ewen smiled and said, “It’s not like it’s something I work for. But if it happens it would be pretty awesome.”

Maggie comes from an athletic family. Her father, Bruce Ewen, was a thrower at Illinois State who participated at the 1988 Olympic trials in the hammer. Her mother, Kristi Ewen, played volleyball at Columbia Heights and Ohio State and is an assistant volleyball coach at St. Francis (another sport in which Maggie is a star). Bruce and Kristi’s other child, Alicia, is a former St. Francis runner and thrower who plays volleyball at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D.

The Ewens have a throwing circle and weight-lifting equipment in a shed on their property, where Bruce and Maggie work on technique and strength. Genes and coaching are important, but few people are aware of how much time and effort Maggie puts in.

“When Maggie was a sixth-grader she watched her sister throw and she was writing down all the distances,” said Mark Hanson, who coaches the throwers on the Saints girls and boys teams. “One of the fondest memories I have is when she was an eighth-grader at state; she was practicing and she went through at least 40 dry runs without a discus in her hand all by herself. To see that drive in her, that young, was amazing.

“She’s the ideal student-athlete. She’s a good student and she takes some of the top classes we offer. She does everything right and she works hard at it.”

Maggie holds North Suburban Conference girls weightlifting records of 245 pounds in the clean and 205 in the bench press … which head track coach Andy Forbort (who also coaches boys basketball) points out would make her the third-strongest member of the boys basketball team.

“People will never know how hard she works and she will never tell them,” Forbort said.

Ewen’s quiet influence is seen in the number of students who have come out for track at St. Francis. The number of throwers went from 15 last year to 34 this spring, and the total number of track athletes jumped from 103 to 160.

“That’s a huge credit to her,” Forbort said. “Young kids aspire to be Maggie Ewen. She’s been instrumental for our program. Those that know track and field know what she’s about, and those that don’t know track and field are in awe of her and rightfully so.”

Maggie has signed a letter of intent with Arizona State University. The Sun Devils’ current freshman class includes Thomas Anderson of Andover, who set the Minnesota boys prep record in the shot put last year.

Arizona State throwing coach David Dumble, whose athletes have won 21 NCAA titles, said, “I’m very excited to coach Maggie. She is a phenomenal athlete. … I think she’s an athlete that can rewrite the record books here.”

Ewen, who has been accepted into Arizona State’s honors college and plans to study biomedical engineering, said, “I really, really like Coach Dumble. Knowing that I would be coached by what I believe is the best coach in the nation and knowing I would be throwing with some of the top throwers in the nation, all of that figured in.”

While all spring athletes in Minnesota wait for the weather to improve, Ewen is trying to remain patient while working out indoors.

“I think it’s more of a mental thing than anything else,” she said. “I’m still able to work on the shot put indoors and throw a discus against a curtain. There’s a mental block of not being able to see the shot put land in the dirt or see the the discus fly through the air. It’s kind of a bummer.”

One of these days, the snow will be gone, the ground will be firm and throwing will commence. And inch by inch, Maggie Ewen will be leading the way.

--See a photo gallery of Maggie Ewen on the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 566
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,084
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Student Media: “One Day That Will Stick With Me Forever!”4/11/2013
Several members of the MSHSL Student Media program attended recent Minnesota Wild and Timberwolves games as credentialed members of the media. They have written about their experiences and we are happy to share their stories with you …

By Colin Nelson
New Ulm Cathedral High School

I would like to tell you about my day with the Timberwolves, one day that will stick with me forever!

I arrived at the Target Center at about 11:15 a.m. I figured I was going to be the only person when I walked in, and I was right on the money! I waited for John Millea for a meet-and- greet before we started our day. He showed up and I introduced myself. I waited for the other two Student Media members, Preston Yaggie from Breckenridge and Zach Burnside from White Bear Lake, to enter the Target Center so we could all get our media credentials and free tickets for our families and get the day rolling. They showed up, and I got to start my adventurous day with the Minnesota Timberwolves!

My day started with meeting some media professionals. They included Chip Scoggins, Dawn Mitchell, Jerry Zgoda and others. I got the chance to listen to the professionals while each told me his/her life story. I was very intrigued by this. Every one of them told me that once you have found a job you really like, don't ever look back because if you do you will never be truly happy with your life. After each was done telling his/her life story, I had an opportunity to ask some questions, but I didn't have any as all my questions had been answered. I enjoyed the opportunity to listen to the group. It sounds like they bring excitement to their work.

Next, we got to eat. Yum! I really enjoyed the food. A Timberwolves representative told me that this was probably the best meal of the year … Brunch! I got to enjoy sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, fruit, etc. The food was very delicious, and the best part was that it was all free. I can honestly say that the meal was pretty good for being at no cost. While we were sitting at the table, John handed me that day’s game notes. The packet was literally like 50 pages long. While I was excited about the game that afternoon, I didn't feel like reading that entire packet!

After we got done eating I went to see Rick Adelman perform his pregame press conference. I couldn’t hear all that well, but I was still fascinated by the interview. What amazed me the most about the interview was the backdrop. The Timberwolves pull down a backdrop for coaching interviews. On TV, all I see is the backdrop, and I thought it was real, not something you pull down. Next, we got to go into the Timberwolves locker room. It was pretty quiet, so I headed out pretty quickly. Then I had a backstage tour of the arena and saw TV trucks from various networks. At last, I headed out to my seat.

Once I got to my seat, I couldn't believe the view I had. I was in the second row of the media box, which was on the floor. I watched the players warm up and then the game started. The Timberwolves started out playing well, and were up to a 16-point lead over Golden State by the end of the first quarter, but only had a little lead heading into the half. In the second half the Warriors outplayed the Wolves, and eventually won 100-99. Even though the Wolves lost, I had an awesome time. The crowd was electric!

After the game, I once again had the opportunity to go into the Timberwolves locker room. It was pretty quiet, but I suspected it was because a tough one got away from them. The reporters interviewed Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams. I thought that was cool, even though they were bummed.

I would like to finish by thanking everyone who was part of my day, especially John. Everyone made this day as enjoyable as they could, and it worked! I really enjoyed this experience, and I hope to be selected again. Thank you again to everyone!