John's Journal
700 And Counting For Wabasso/Red Rock Central’s Hindt 2/1/2013
WABASSO – Except for one big banner, the walls inside the wrestling room at Wabasso High School are pretty bare. But that banner speaks volumes about a program and the only coach the team has ever had.

The banner commemorates the 2003-04 Wabasso team, which was the state runner-up in Class 1A. In advancing to that state championship match, the Rabbits recorded the 500th victory in school history. It also was the 500th career victory for coach Gary Hindt, but his name is nowhere to be seen on the banner. And that’s exactly how he wants it.

“I just guide them,” Hindt said. “I didn’t do that. I helped, I had a hand in it.”

Since that 2004 state tournament, he’s had a hand in a couple hundred more victories. The 67-year-old Hindt, who was hired in Wabasso right out of college in 1968 and started the wrestling program, now has 702 career wins, which ranks third all-time in Minnesota and No. 1 among active coaches.

In 45 years of coaching he has had only two losing seasons. Victory No. 700 came Jan. 19 when the Wabasso/Red Rock Central Bobcats (the schools have had a cooperative wrestling team for four years) defeated Luverne. The only Minnesota wrestling coaches with more victories than Hindt are former Owatonna coach Scot Davis with 984 and former Goodhue coach Bill Sutter with 760.

No. 702 for Hindt and Wabasso came Thursday night when the Bobcats defeated visiting Minneota 40-21. Wabasso/Red Rock Central is ranked No. 4 in Class 1A by The Guillotine and Minneota is No. 8.

Before the varsity match began, Hindt was honored with a plaque commemorating his 700th victory and a framed team photo that was autographed by this year’s wrestlers. He made no speech, and school officials knew better than to ask him to make a speech. That’s because it’s never been about him.

He said to me, “You want to know the truth? The last wrestling match that I won by myself was in 1963.”

That was when Hindt was a high school senior in Fulda, another southwest Minnesota town. He played basketball through his sophomore year, but joined Fulda’s new wrestling team as a junior.

“I thought it sure beats getting slivers on my butt, being about the 10th guy on the basketball team,” he said. “I knew nothing about wrestling. I wasn’t sold on it because I didn’t know anything except grab on and hang on.”

He wasn’t sure he would wrestle as a senior, but then he was voted a team captain. “I thought I better stay with it,” he said. “I’m not a quitter.”

It’s safe to say, however, that he didn’t plan to be the Wabasso wrestling coach for nearly half a century. When he was hired to teach, he agreed to take over the school’s new wrestling program with the expectation that he would hand the reins to someone else after a few years. All these years later, he has no plans to retire.

He underwent a knee replacement after the 2005-06 season, but the spark is still there when he enters the wrestling room.

“I can get down, but it’s hard to get back up,” he said. “That’s why we’ve got younger assistant coaches. I still enjoy it. I don’t want to see the program go to pot. I have seen some programs that were very successful get into wrong situations and have no consistency.”

Hindt also coached football at Wabasso for many years but gave that up when his daughter Heather was playing college volleyball at Southwest State in Marshall and his daughter Erika was in high school. (“I got to watch my girls grow up,” he said.) Hindt and his wife Jenni have been married for 43 years.

His co-head coach is Brett Bartholomaus, who teaches at Red Rock Central. The wrestling team splits its practices and meets between Wabasso and Red Rock Central, which is 12 miles away in Lamberton.

“He’s the papa bear,” said Bartholomaus. “If they need a wake-up call he’ll give it to them, and then he’ll explain why.”

Hindt is a coach who will bark at a wrestler, then smile and put his arm around the kid’s shoulder.

“If he gets mad, he’ll say what he has to say and then he’ll sit back down in his chair and he’ll pop a smile right back on,” said senior captain Tanner Rohlik. “He’s an all-around great guy.”

Another senior captain, Blake Altermatt, said, “If you do something wrong, he’ll make you do it again to make sure you do it right and don’t get into any bad habits.”

Before the Bobcats took the mat against Minneota, Hindt talked to the team about always being on the attack. He offered these words of wisdom: “Your feet are made to move forward. If God wanted you to move backwards he would have put toes where your heels are.”

Hindt, who was inducted into the Minnesota Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1994 and is retired from teaching physical education, health and social studies, has coached three teams to state tournaments (the most recent in 2011). Five Wabasso individuals have won state titles: Dan Zimmer in 1976, Johnny Frank in 2004, Cory Schunk in 2004 and A.J. Jenniges and Brandan Schunk in 2005.

“I’ve been pretty blessed to have some kids who have bought in,” Hindt said.

Before and after Thursday’s match, Hindt was approached by many former wrestlers and other friends who offered congratulations on his milestone. After the night’s wrestling had been completed, he joined 42 alumni wrestlers who were on hand and posed for a photo. Some of them are now old-timers and some of them are still fresh-faced. Some of them are fathers and sons who both wrestled for Hindt.

The coach, the link between them all, sat in their midst and wore a big smile.

--To see a photo gallery from Wabasso, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 423
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,118
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
Building A Basketball Dynasty At Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 1/27/2013
BROOTEN -- Sporting statistics can be impressive, and that is surely the case with the boys basketball team from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa. The Jaguars are the biggest little team in Minnesota, capturing the Class 1A state title last season, carrying the No. 1 ranking this season and creeping up on one of the most revered records in state history.

But as is always the case, there are real people and interesting stories behind the numbers.

First, a numerical summary …

--The Jaguars were unbeaten in 33 games last season and will take a 16-0 record into Tuesday night’s game at Eden Valley-Watkins. That’s 49 in a row; if they should finish this season with another perfect record, their streak would be 66. The longest winning streak in boys state basketball history is 69 by Edina between 1965 and 1968. If not for a loss to Springfield in the 2011 state championship game, their winning streak right now would be 82 in a row.

--Since the start of the 2008-09 season the Jaguars have an overall record of 130-10 and a regular-season record of 113-7. Their regular-season winning streak is 78 games in a row.

This run of success began when former 15-year head coach Dave Montbriand -- who had moved to the girls team as an assistant in order to coach his oldest daughter -- returned as boys head coach for the 2008-09 season. That Montbriand ever came to the school in the first place is a story along the lines of “you never know what might happen…”

The 1979 graduate of Bloomington Jefferson thought he would stay in the Twin Cities after college and work as a teacher and coach. He attended the University of St. Thomas before transferring to Hamline, which offered a major in elementary education. He worked as a substitute teacher in the metro for a couple years. Not knowing a thing about small towns, he began applying at places he had never heard of. Brooten was among them (Brooten and Belgrade-Elrosa were separate districts back then).

“I didn’t know where Brooten was,” Montbriand told me before Friday night’s home game against Holdingford. “I figured I’d be here for two or three years and try to get back to the cities. I’ve been here 28 years.”

He’s had opportunities to leave. One came about five years into his career in Brooten when he was offered a teaching job (but no coaching) in Apple Valley.

“My wife was staying at home, which you could afford to do with a couple kids in a small town,” Dave said. “And I started thinking, ‘Is (the job in Apple Valley) a move up?’ I was happy here and I was just the assistant coach at that time. I pretty much decided at that point that I was going to stay here. And now we have four kids and we live right across the street from the school. It takes me 30 seconds to walk to work.”

The Brooten Buccaneers and Belgrade-Elrosa Redmen came together when the schools merged in 1989. When decisions were being made about a nickname and school colors, it’s safe to say that Montbriand had a hand in the final choices being Jaguars and blue and silver … just like at Bloomington Jefferson, where Dave played for Hall of Fame basketball coach Jack Evens.

As for the Jaguars’ current success, Montbriand said, “We had some real good years but nothing like this. Sometimes I can’t believe it’s happening. Obviously we’ve had a run of really good players.

“It’s every coach’s dream to win the state tournament. I coached for 15 years and we didn’t make the state tournament and then I got out of it (to coach the girls). When we just made it to state one year, it was like, ‘Yes! We made it.’ And to get to the finals, then to win it … sometimes I wonder if it happened. I get that feeling all the time; ‘Is this happening?’ ”

As in most small towns, the surnames in the lineup are a constant over the years; Koehler, Kuefler, Goodwin, Borgerding, Imdieke, etc. The starting five in the 2011 state title game consisted of two Koehlers, two Goodwins and a Kuefler.

Three of the current starters -- Brian Goodwin, James Kuefler and Billy Borgerding -- are juniors who have experience in two state title games, including the first championship in any sport since the school districts merged. The 6-foot-4 Goodwin is the top scorer with a 21-point average, the 6-7 Borgerding averages 15 points and the 6-4 Kuefler averages 11 points and 10 rebounds. The other starters are 6-1 junior Trey Heinsus and 5-10 senior Alex Wosmek.

The Jaguars’ biggest game of the season so far will take place Thursday when they go to Melrose. The Dutchmen are ranked No. 2 in Class 2A and should be No. 1 by than, since top-ranked St. Peter lost to Fairmont on Thursday. There will be pressure, but Montbriand stresses to his team that pressure is a good thing.

“There’s always some pressure, but we’ve learned to welcome it and deal with it,” Kuefler said. “We like the pressure.”

Goodwin said, “Before some games he’ll say, ‘Welcome the pressure. Don’t shy away from it. Because it means you’re doing something right.’ And we know teams are going to come out and give us their best.”

Montbriand said he learned that philosophy from Jack Evens, whose teams won four state championships between 1976 and 1987.

"The more people that came to the games, the more attention we got, it was like, ‘Yeah. These games are more important now. This is what we love. This is more of a challenge. This is what makes it fun.' " Montbriand said.

The Jaguars boys play their games in the gym at Brooten Elementary school (where Montbriand teaches fourth grade) while the girls play at the high school in Belgrade. The fans at the boys games all sit on one side of the gym, with the teams on chairs in front of the stage and the scorer’s table on the stage. Two banners on the walls say a lot about the Jaguars: “We Enjoy Defense” and “Stay Hungry. Stay Humble.”

Thursday’s routine before, during and after a 65-32 win over Holdingford was business as usual. Before the game Montbriand stood at a white board in a classroom and the players sat in chairs. He quietly went through some reminders: Don’t wimp out on taking a charge. No matter what happens, defensive effort is crucial.

With a halftime lead of 38-11, the tone was the same. Montbriand talked calmly about a few mental errors and the players listened without making a peep. “This is what I love about you guys,” he said. “What’s the score, 38-13 or something like that? And I come in here and nitpick. But if we make those mistakes against other teams, that could cost us.”

Before the Jaguars went out for the second half, assistant coach (and former head coach) Brad Goodwin offered a reminder, “Smile and have fun, guys.”

The postgame gathering was in the locker room, with the team sitting silently on one long bench and Montbriand standing in front of them. He told them they had done a great job and played hard the whole game, including the reserves who played much of the second half.

“Another weekend is upon us. You’ve done a wonderful job of staying out of trouble. Keep it up; we have a great thing going. Don’t let the team down. This is something special. You won’t realize how special this is until you reflect back in a couple years.”

He told them to stay healthy, with a reminder to wash their hands often.

There are more games to play.

--To see a photo gallery from Friday's game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 421
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 5,982
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
Things Are Always Looking Up At Burnsville Ice Center1/25/2013
The Burnsville Ice Center is one of the iconic hockey arenas in Minnesota, with two Olympic-sized rinks covered by a beautiful wooden domed ceiling. Read Brian Jerzak’s story about the home of the Burnsville Blaze by clicking here.
Basketball Is A Family Game At Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted1/23/2013
Howard Lake is a basketball town, and the Gagnons are a basketball family. Three generations inhabit the current Lakers of Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School. Hubert Humphrey and a nun also are part of our story … and we’ll get to that in a bit.

Steve Gagnon, 64, coaches the boys ninth-grade basketball team. His son Chad, 40, is the boys varsity coach and grandson/son Cole is a ninth-grader on the junior varsity and varsity squads. The family routine was as usual Tuesday evening when the Lakers played host to the Maple Lake Irish in a Central Minnesota Conference game(s).

Steve coached the ninth-graders in a 6 o’clock game at the middle school in Howard Lake. At the same time, a mile out in the country to the south, Cole played in the JV game at the gleaming, four-year-old high school. All three Gagnons (it’s pronounced “gon-you”) were together when the varsity game tipped off; Chad coaching, Cole on the bench and grandpa sitting in the bleachers behind the team.

Before game time, Steve unwrapped a fresh sleeve of paper cups for the Gatorade jug. He wheeled a giant baskeball storage bin on and off the court for pregame and second-half warm-ups. He also drives the team bus for road games; he has been doing that – and driving a regular school bus route – for 35 years. Oh, he has keys to the gym, too. And that’s of vital importance.

“We’re kind of a basketball family. I was kind of a basketball rat,” said Steve, who some around town still call “Gunner,” a nickname coined during his sharpshooting days at St. Mary’s Catholic school in Waverly. “It’s very rewarding. We spend a lot of time in the gym. And that’s all we do.”

Chad said his father’s influence is one of the main reasons he became a coach.

“It is, it really is,” he said. “He’s been coaching for I don’t know how many years. I’ve grown up around basketball my whole life, and our whole family has.”

The previous boys head basketball coach, Merrill Skinner, is a Hall of Famer who coached the Lakers for more than 30 years and piled up more than 500 victories. Steve was on Skinner’s coaching staff; Chad played for Merrill and was an assistant for a few years before taking over as head coach five years ago. Chad previously was the head coach of the girls team.

“We had a great head coach around here for a long time,” Chad said. “My dad worked under Merrill and I was fortunate enough to play under him, so I was in the gym with my dad all the time. It’s great growing up in this community. Howard Lake is a basketball community. People show up and people care about our high school teams.”

After Tuesday’s game, a 67-60 Lakers victory, the last people in the gym were all Gagnons, including Cole and his three younger siblings. Their proud grandpa helped rebound missed shots.

Gunner nearly never became the Gunner who would score more than 1,400 points in his high school career at St. Mary’s. He was a self-admitted “hothead kid” who quit playing basketball in sixth grade. But then came an intervention by a higher power.

“One of the nuns said to me, ‘You know, you’ve got some ability and you should stick with it.’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t like it anymore.’ She told me to give it another week and I did. It turned out OK. It was real good advice.”

The late Hubert Humphrey -- mayor of Minneapolis, U.S. senator and vice president -- had a home in Waverly. While Humphrey was vice president under Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s, Gunner and his buddies liked to sneak onto the Humphrey lawn and take a dip in the swimming pool.

As an adult, Steve operated the municipal liquor store in Waverly for 35 years and played a lot of hoops, often five or six nights a week. His competitive basketball career came to an end just two years ago, after he filled a spot with some younger buddies. The guys said they needed Gunner as their seventh or eighth player, but when he arrived at the gym he was the fifth player.

“I played the whole game and I played pretty well, but I couldn’t tie my shoes for two days. And my wife said, ‘That’s it. I’m not tying your shoes anymore. Give it up.’ ”

Chad -- who finished his high school career in 1990 with more than 1,000 points -- is grateful that his father is there for the Lakers ninth-grade players, but Steve does a lot more than just coach.

“It’s a key grade where you want the fundamentals taught and he does a great job with those kids,” said Chad, who played basketball and baseball at Hamline University and now teaches sixth-grade math. “The other thing is he does a lot behind the scenes; opening the gym, he’s driving the bus, at our summer tournaments he fills in if I can’t be there, he does a lot of little things that people don’t see.”

Steve has thought about spending the winters in a warmer climate, but the lure of grandkids and basketball is keeping him in his favorite place: the gym.

“I just love being in the gym, watching kids grow up,” he said. “I should have been retired many years ago, but they keep you young. You can get old pretty fast if you don’t do anything.”

--See a photo gallery from Tuesday's night game on the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 419
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 5,821
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
Marcus LeVesseur Takes Over Hopkins Wrestling Program1/19/2013
When the wrestlers at Hopkins High School ask their first-year head coach about his athletic accomplishments, they usually are curious about mixed martial arts. And yes, Marcus LeVesseur has a solid history in that sport, compiling a record of 22-7 since going pro in 2003.

If they want to see some eye-popping numbers, however, the Hopkins wrestlers need to do a little research on their coach’s mat career. The Royals might be too young to remember what LeVesseur did in high school and college, so here’s a short summary…

--LeVesseur was a four-time state champion in high school, winning titles at Minneapolis Roosevelt in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and Bloomington Kennedy in 2001. Four wrestlers have won five state titles and LeVesseur is one of only 12 with four championships. With an overall high school record of 218 wins and 12 losses, he ranks 21st on the state’s all-time victories list.

--He compiled a record of 155-0 at Augsburg College and won four NCAA Division III titles, becoming only the second wrestler in NCAA history to complete a four-year undefeated career. LeVesseur also was a first-team all-MIAC quarterback at Augsburg.

Any further questions?

“Every day, every hour,” LeVesseur said, “one of them is asking me, ‘When’s the next fight?’ The kids ask me about finding a video online and I say, ‘No, I’m not worried about fighting right now. My only focus is coaching wrestling now.’ ”

With his mixed martial arts career on hold during the wrestling season, LeVesseur is in the very early stages of building what he hopes will become one of Minnesota’s premier programs. He had been an assistant coach at Hopkins for five years before former coach Pat Marcy resigned after last season, so he is well aware of the task at hand.

“I knew the team, I knew the structure and really kind of knew what to expect,” he said. “First and foremost, I think the team I have is the perfect challenge for me to build this program. In five or 10 years I would like to see this program represent Hopkins at the state tournament, year after year after year.”

The challenge is getting from here to there. LeVesseur, 30, is working on building feeder programs in the community, but with a twist. In many locales, wrestling starts with preschool and young elementary-age kids. LeVesseur is doing the opposite, starting with high school kids, then going into junior high and older elementary kids.

“It’s a hard challenge,” he said. “We try to see, first and foremost, which kids have relatives who are young and we try to get them in and bring their friends in. Typically, you go from elementary up. We’ve been working in reverse. We’ve been getting into the junior high level; we have a pretty decent junior high program. Now we’ve got to get into that fourth, fifth and sixth grade, then second, third and fourth. Once we get down to those grades, we’ll be rocking and rolling.”

Hopkins has qualified for the state team tournament only twice, in 1989 and 2011. This year’s team is extremely young, but that’s where building a program always starts.

“Our team is very green,” LeVesseur said. “We graduated 14 seniors last year, and they averaged nine or 10 years of experience. What I have this year in average years of wrestling experience is probably about three. We have a lot of first-year, a lot of second-year, a few third-years.”

The task at hand was evidenced in Thursday’s Senior Night home dual against Eden Prairie. The Eagles defeated Hopkins 51-18. Neither team is ranked among the top 10 in Class 3A by The Guillotine and Hopkins has no individuals ranked in the top 10 at any weight class (Eden Prairie has two).

The Royals’ focus, however, is not on things like rankings. It’s on building, working, learning and competing.

“(LeVesseur) keeps us battling, and that’s important, “said Matt Parker, a junior who wrestles at 285 pounds. “Right now wins and losses don’t really matter to us, it matters how hard we fight.”

Hopkins activities director Dan Johnson has been impressed with what he’s seen from the new head coach.

“Every year as an assistant he kept getting a little stronger and a little more invested and he was doing a nice job with the kids. I was pleased that he was interested in becoming a head coach,” Johnson said. “He’s really worked at it, he’s done all the coaching preparation, asked a lot of questions and is trying to figure out what his coaching style is. The kids say they’re in good competitive shape and they’re working hard at becoming better wrestlers. Hopefully all those things will come together.”

LeVesseur, who works as a para-professional at Hopkins High School, has a few credits left to complete his degree in health and physical education. When the wrestling season ends he will resume training for his mixed martial arts career. His most recent competition was in early December.

“Right now there’s not a whole lot of training,” he said. “I’m working full-time and coaching, which is like a second full-time job. There is honestly no time for me to give my all to the sport so MMA is on the back burner right now. When the season’s over I’ll still be working full-time but I’ll have more time to get in competition shape.”

His wrestlers ask him about mixed martial arts, and once in a while one of them will ask about his high school and college wrestling career.

“Some know about it, some don’t,” he said. “It’s hard to really know if they thoroughly understand what it means. If you didn’t know about it prior and no one told you, you’re not going to hear it from me.”

Johnson called LeVesseur “a very sincere young man. I think the kids understand that he’s genuine with them, honest with them, will tell them straight. Obviously he knows wrestling and he wants what’s best for the program and the kids. That makes all the difference in the world.”

--To see a photo gallery from the Eden Prairie-Hopkins match, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 417
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 5,656
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn