John's Journal
The Big Three Pays Off For New Life Academy’s Softball Team5/21/2013
By Brian Jerzak
John’s Journal correspondent

As in most Christian high schools, a credo of faith, school and then athletics is followed by the athletes and coaches in the softball program at New Life Academy of Woodbury. The difference between the Eagles and the much of the rest of the state is the success that formula has brought the program.

Since 2006, head coach Mick Ramey, his staff and athletes have advanced to the Class 1A state tournament every year. They are gearing up for what they hope will be their eighth straight section championship. If they get there, they will tie the Minnesota record for consecutive section championships. During this stretch they won a state-record four straight state titles between 2008 and 2011. One of the keys to maintaining such a long run of excellence goes back to sticking with a system that is based in faith, school and sports.

Ramey started his coaching career in the Cottage Grove Athletic Association, coaching his kids in various sports. He was also a longtime board member for the association. He started coaching his boys and then as his girls got older he moved more toward their sports and eventually the sport his girls gravitated to – softball.

“I have coached 85 teams over the last 20 years,” said the longtime youth coach, “but every time I took away something about encouraging players, maximizing their strengths, minimizing their weaknesses and helping them relax.”

He became the New Life head softball coach in 2006. Although the team was young, the players had previously worked with Ramey so they all knew the system.

“That first year when we went to state, we had no seniors, one junior and the rest were sophomores all the way down to seventh graders. Because the girls were playing summer ball they were ready for the varsity scene. We just started playing good solid fundamental ball.”

With such a young team early on, it laid the foundation for the extended run of championships. The Schmidt sisters, first Danelle and then Rebecca, set the tone and the program has had a number of good pitchers -- especially during the four straight championships. The turning point for the program occurred while defending their first state championship. During a season that would end up with state title number two, the Eagles entered a regular-season tournament that put them up against the best team in the state.

“We played Burnsville and they were ranked number one in AAA that year,” said Ramey. “They were 20-0 and we played them in the opening game of the North St. Paul tournament. We played into the 11th inning and they hit a walk-off home run to beat us 3-2. That was the turning point for our program. That gave us the confidence that we could be a special team.”

In order to maintain that confidence, execution needs to be second nature. In practice the team focuses on what Ramey calls the Big Three.

“We don’t do many drills very long. We do a lot of drills for short periods. We do a lot of situations. Our girls are so aware of the Big Three. Always know your outs, always know where the runners are and always know the score and the situation. We drill that in every practice. We go through situations time and time again. We call out things like one down, girls on first and second, so every girl has been through this every practice.”

The Big Three has paid off. New Life has had a remarkable run of victories in one-run games. Ramey estimates they have had 25 one-run games over the years and have won about 21 of those games.

Another reason the girls have been so successful in the close games is that they are used to tough competition. Ramey schedules a number of bigger schools to go along with his conference schedule. His “iron sharpens iron” philosophy started out of necessity.

“For years St. Bernard’s was in our conference. I think they still lead the state in state tournament appearances so our section has always been strong,” said Ramey. “To be stronger we had to play those games and also schedule those AAA and AA schools.”
Maintaining such a high level for so long is a tribute to the coaching staff the Eagles have in place.

“We have so many good coaches in place that I can actually miss a practice or even a game and the machine still runs,” said the head coach of eight years. “We have had the same routine every year.”

One of the impressive aspects of this run of championships has to do with the small pool of athletes that New Life has to pull from. Sometimes they don’t have any players from a certain class on the team. After winning their first two titles they almost couldn’t field enough players to form the team that would ultimately win the third straight title. The system Ramey has in place has helped maintain enough numbers. Since he does not work in the school system, he has had to rely on the kids.

“I have had great captains over the years and they have been the foot soldiers that go out there and get kids to come out,” he said. “We have always been able to find a spot for everyone. Everyone has a role on the team.”
This year’s team was able to build on an unexpected playoff run last year.

“Last year was a rebuilding year,” Ramey said. “We were hoping to go .500. We were three or four games above .500 and had a tremendous run in section play. We beat a lot of good teams we maybe shouldn’t have. That first game at state we squeaked out a 2-1 win that maybe we shouldn’t have. It gave us a little more confidence going into this year. We didn’t have anyone graduate last year and we set some higher goals – one of them being winning it this year.”

Each year the veteran players do a great job of teaching the younger kids the system, making Ramey’s job easier. As Ramey said, it is the responsibility of the older girls to pay it forward and help the program not just during the current year, but down the road.

This year’s team – like countless others – has been aided by that “pay it forward” system and some of the players have grown into great leaders. Val Hohol and Malorie Gierie are the main pitcher and catcher, Chloe Westlund is the leadoff hitter, Amanda Heidmann has been manning third base for three years and Nicole Johnson is the team’s leading power hitter.

It’s yet to be determined of New Life Academy will win another state championship this year. But if the Eagles stick to both of their Big Threes – in softball and in life – they are sure to be in the mix for years to come.
Houston, We Have A Miracle And Her Name Is Bailey Proudfoot5/14/2013
HOUSTON, Minn. -- Bailey Proudfoot doesn’t remember the February morning when her car careened on an icy road and collided with another vehicle. She doesn’t remember the first week following the accident, which she spent in a LaCrosse, Wis., hospital.

But ask the Houston High School senior about her injuries and the list comes in a hurry. “My elbow, my jaw, my nose, my eye, my foot, my ankle, my femur,” she said Monday. “And my fibula, because the emergency brake went through my shin.”

After eight broken bones (including her throwing arm), multiple surgeries, weeks of therapy and rehabilitation, Monday was a special day for Bailey. Eleven weeks to the day after the accident, she returned to the softball field as the Houston Hurricanes defeated the Mabel-Canton Cougars 10-0 in a Southeast Conference game.

“She is hands down the toughest kid I have ever met,” Houston athletic director Casey Indra said.

Playing with a metal rod in her left femur and determination in her heart, Bailey hit a sharp liner to right field in her first at-bat. She was thrown out at first base but moved runners to second and third. She later walked twice, replaced by pinch runner Becca Lee.

“You ought to be smiling from ear to ear,” a very happy Houston coach Arlin “Pete” Peterson hollered from the third base coaching box as Bailey stepped in to hit for the first time this season. As she returned to the bench after the play, her teammates and hometown fans gave her a big round of applause.

Bailey, who normally plays catcher, put on shin guards and helped pitcher Abbey Loken warm up but played left field Monday. Her sister Becca, a junior, took over behind the plate as Loken struck out 11 and gave up two hits. Just having Bailey back with the team and in the game was reason enough to rejoice.

“It was super-meaningful,” said Peterson. “It was her dream to come back. When she got in that car accident, the ambulance people told me the first thing she said at the accident scene was, ‘I gotta get to school, I gotta catch for Abbey.’ And the first thing she said coming out of surgery the first time was, ‘Can I play softball?’ So this was a thrill for her to be out here.”

For anyone who saw Bailey’s car – or photos of the damage – it’s remarkable that she is alive, much less walking or running or playing softball. The dashboard and steering column were rammed into the driver’s seat and she was pinned there until emergency personnel freed her. The accident occurred four miles from the Proudfoot home.

“That’s the phone call you never, ever want to get in your entire lifetime,” said Bailey’s mom, Kim. “It was scary. Bringing her home in a wheelchair was hard. But I guess for me, I knew she’d play, I really did. She’s a fighter. When you have people telling you, ‘You can’t … you can’t … you can’t;’ she’s always been a fighter.”

Bailey’s main goal was to walk at the prom. That event was held two weeks ago, and walk she did, as well as dance. And now that she’s back on the softball field, life couldn’t get much better.

“This is awesome,” she said. “It feels normal and not like I’m in the hospital being babied and stuff. It feels great to be with everybody.”

Bailey said she is grateful to be alive. She spent 15 days in the hospital and stayed home for another week and a half before returning to school. She didn’t spend a single day on crutches, which is a testament to her determination. And her final season of high school softball was a good pretty strong factor, as well.

“It was good to be out there again,” she said. “I kind of figured that I wouldn’t be able to (play again) but I wanted to, so I worked hard. I went to therapy and they gave me a bunch of exercises, and I did those.”

Her parents, Kim and Bruce, weren’t sure how quickly Bailey would be back to normal.

“Originally, when she was in the hospital we were thinking she might not even walk for graduation,” Kim said. “She might have to wheel down to get her diploma.”

There will be no worries about that when the Houston High class of 2013 graduates on May 31.

In the meantime, the softball season will continue. The Hurricanes, who have a record of 9-2 and are ranked 10th in the state in Class 1A, will begin Section 1 postseason play next week.

“This is what she lives for,” Kim said of her daughter.

She sure does. And she sure did.

--To see a photo gallery (plus video) from Monday’s softball game between Houston and Mabel-Canton, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 636
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 9,156
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Hermantown And Proctor: A Great Display Of Sportsmanship5/13/2013
Here's an email that describes one of the many behind-the-scenes tales that says a lot about the lessons learned through high school activities....

John,

I wanted to pass this along to you. My name is Nathan Johnson and I am a teacher/coach and newspaper adviser at Proctor High School. I get the Bulletin from the league and enjoy reading the letters on displays of sportsmanship.

I wanted to share an example that happened to the team that I help coach. Proctor attended the True Team Section Track meet in Chisago Lakes. The weather was great and the meet was wonderful. On the way down one of our two buses broke down. We only had one bus to try and take everyone home.

We have five coaches and had taken about 70 athletes to the meet. Needless to say we weren't going to fit everyone on one bus for the drive home. I approached the coaches from Hermantown to see if they had any room on their bus.

Hermantown and Proctor High School are close (less than 10 miles apart). We have a BIG rivalry with Hermantown. One of the highlights of our school year is the football game where the winning team takes home the "Hammer." Last year approximately 2,500 to 3,000 fans showed up for the game and it was televised on local TV. This is a wonderful rivalry that also extends to other sports.

When I asked if Hermantown had room, they offered to help out in any way. We ended up sending some of our athletes home with them. Hermantown coaches and bus drivers were awesome. They displayed a great deal of sportsmanship. They also were able to teach BOTH of our teams that rivalries don't have to always be competitive. We can help each other out, as well. I believe that this episode shows why sports and extra curricula are vital to our students.

Hermantown displayed the best of the values we all try to teach our athletes.

Nathan P. Johnson
Social Studies/English Teacher
Mallet Adviser
Assistant Football/Track Coach
Proctor High School
In Their Own Words: Surviving A Rotten Spring5/10/2013
A few days ago I invited people to share their thoughts about the spring that never wanted to be sprung. These recent weeks have certainly been a challenge, with games postponed and cancelled all over the state during bad weather … and a rush to reschedule contests as the weather improved.

Some people don’t realize all that goes into holding high school sporting events and other activities. From buses to ticket takers to concession workers to game officials and beyond, the logistics can be daunting even during the best weather conditions.

Here are some interesting perspectives from the viewpoint of administrators, coaches and officials…

A Balancing Act

The biggest issue, at least for me, is the abundance of doubleheaders that now are being played. We as spring officials understand that the weather will force game changes and such and have become used to this. However, this spring has been extremely difficult. When you work a regular job and then officiate you end up usually taking some time off work in order to get to games on time. With the number of doubleheaders now it makes it difficult as leaving now earlier than planned and more often. We are really trying to balance our careers with our love of umpiring as well.
--Michael Stokes, umpire

Staying Positive

We have had six meets cancelled. Finding a meet or meets is now becoming scarce or difficult. We had to get our track teams in for the Lakeville North meet scheduled for May 20; those schools are probably 10 times bigger than ours but we have to get our girls and boys prepared in time for subsection and section.

This is by far the worst spring I have seen as a former student here at Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf and as AD in my 30 years. I have asked my track coaches to stay positive with our girls and boys. They were very creative in making their practices more enjoyable. If they practice in our gym, they would set up some kind of games that requires a lot of running. Just to get them motivated for the practices.
--Davey Olson, Athletic Director, Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf

Lulled To Sleep

As an AD I found myself getting lulled to sleep because nearly every day for awhile there was not a chance of playing, so I'd contact my fellow ADs and postpone the games without too much thought to other details such as game site workers, field prep, concessions, etc. Then when we had a stretch of good weather I found myself doing double time to make sure all areas were covered so that we could indeed play. I'll be happy to be back in that stressed mode again!

As a coach I've had to concede that we won't be able to get the quality practice time that I like, since we'll be cramming in a lot of games. But the kids signed up to play ball so when we have a good day I think it is important to give them the game experience that they enjoy.
--Scott McCready, Athletic Director/Head Baseball Coach, St. Charles High School

Amazing Resilience

Twenty years ... the worst I've seen. The amazing thing to me is the resilience of our kids and coaches, AND the patience of our support team (administrative assistants, busing personnel, building secretaries, etc.). Years from now we'll look back and say we survived the Spring of 2013! Lucky '13? ... I'd say NO!
--Ray Kirch, Athletic Director, Osseo High School
Wait, Wait, Wait … OK, Stillwater Ponies, It’s Time To Play!5/8/2013
Imagine this scenario: It’s your senior year, your team is the defending state champion and you absolutely cannot wait to get back on the field and start a new season … and then the weather stops you in your tracks. Cold.

For the softball team at Stillwater High School, that is not a scenario. It is reality. The Ponies won the Class 3A state championship a year ago, lost only three senior starters from that team and were all charged up for 2013. And we know what happened. Snow. Ice. Rain. Games cancelled, schedules disrupted, a season put on hold.

“I wish we could have a re-do,” said senior Hannah Heacox, who threw a no-hitter in last year’s state quarterfinals and was the winning pitcher in all three games at state. “We just deal with what we’re given, I guess.”

Before sunshine and warmer temperatures arrived this week, Stillwater had seen 16 softball dates wiped out by the weather. But the Ponies have saddled up and returned to action in a big way, with games scheduled every day this week. On Monday they beat Woodbury 9-4 in the first game of a doubleheader and Woodbury won the second game 2-0. The Ponies defeated Cretin-Derham Hall 3-0 Tuesday (giving them a record of 7-2) and will meet East Ridge on Wednesday, Forest Lake on Thursday and Cretin-Derham Hall again on Friday.

“As long as we keep good weather, we’ll try to get in as many games as we can,” coach Bob Beedle said. (Pictured are Beedle and Heacox.)

There is indeed a mad dash – in all spring sports -- to play a full schedule of games before the postseason begins. Softball teams can play 20 regular-season games, and getting them all in could be an issue. For Stillwater, the Section 4 tournament will begin on May 20.

“I think this week will probably be the hardest week. It’s every day,” said Ponies senior infielder Haley Balzart. “After this week I’m probably going to be a little tired.”

Playing so many games in such a short time frame means playing doubleheaders, which is not usually the case. Beedle said the players need to maintain their focus in those situations.

“There’s a real mental adjustment they have to make,” he said. “Whether you win or lose the first game, it’s uncommen for them to have to play a second game.”

Heacox said, “It can be like, ‘Oh, we’re done … wait, we have another game to play.’ But I feel like it’s better to get more reps, and being outside helps us so much and just keeps us motivated, not being in the gym.”

Ah yes, the gym. That’s where most spring athletes all over Minnesota have spent day after day. Waiting for the weather to improve, coaches and athletes worked on skills while also trying to inject some fun and avoid boredom. The Ponies did a lot of games and team-bonding activities, and also enjoyed days away from the game.

“We did give kids a day off once in a while,” Beedle said. “I think if you’re pushing too hard, there’s a point of no return in terms of what you’re going to get out of them.

“I think the kids have been real resilient. The first time we got outside we saw a lot of anxiousness and maybe trying to do a little bit more than they needed to do.”

If the weather continues to cooperate, spring teams will be grateful. Even if it means playing a large number of games in a short amount of time.

“We’ll have eight softball games this week and six baseball games this week,” said Stillwater activities director Ricky Michel. “And the funny thing is, if we get this whole week in, then it’s not so bad. We’re getting there.”

--To see a photo gallery from Monday’s Woodbury-Stillwater softball doubleheader, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 624
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,662
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn