John's Journal
An Unforgettable Week, Filled With Unforgettable Memories5/18/2019
Anyone who is heavily involved in Minnesota high school activities can tell you a solid truth: These things are special; I have occasionally referred to them as sacred, because of the lessons they teach and the countless positives they produce.

On Saturday afternoon, after a busy week attending a wide-ranging variety of events, I saw something that, maybe oddly, tied some sort of psychological ribbon around this entire endeavor. I was attending the MSHSL robotics state championships at Williams Arena. It is an unbelievably good time, with big crowds cheering for their hometown teams, kids dancing, music playing, lights flashing, and students doing amazing things with their robots.

This is also the time of year when school activities sometimes interfere with end-of-the-school-year events. For robotics team members from Math and Science Academy in Woodbury, it's become habit to wear their formal prom attire while tuning up and operating their robots, then racing to the prom afterwards. Saturday, boys wore suits and girls wore gowns. This is nothing really new at robotics, but something jumped out at me Saturday when I saw one of the Math and Science girls on her knees, working on the Fighting Calculators' robot (yes, that's the team name).

I could see the soles of her shoes ... more correctly, her boots, which carried the manufacturer's name. I posted a Tweet with a photo and this message: "If you had 'Girl in prom dress wearing Harley Davidson boots and repairing a robot' on your bingo card, you win."

It so summed up what our kids do, in all sports and activities, and capped a tremendous week. The week began with the MSHSL's 48-member Representative Assembly meeting Monday morning to weigh several bylaw changes (which they approved). Tuesday evening, a first-time event was held at Tartan High School in Oakdale to recruit graduating seniors and current college students as officials.

Thursday in Wheaton, out on the South Dakota border, the track coach at Wheaton/Herman-Norcross, John Tauber, was honored for 50 years of coaching that sport. His son Mike, the boys basketball coach at Rockford High School, had invited me to the Pheasant Conference track meet in Wheaton, where Mike was honored in a surprise ceremony by family, colleagues and current and former athletes. Sadly, I wasn't able to be there but Mike provided photos that were posted on Twitter and the MSHSL Facebook page.

Friday was extra special, beginning with a morning trip to Waseca. I was there to present the Waseca High School theater department with an award from the National Federation of State High School Associations. The Heart of the Arts award was given to Waseca for their 2018 one-act play, titled "Booby Trap." The military-themed play was dedicated to Caleb Erickson, a Waseca grad who joined the Marines and was 20 years old when he was killed in Afghanistan five years ago.

I presented the award to theater director Karen Pfarr Anderson during a Staff and Student Recognition Program in the school gym, with the entire student body attending. After the presentation, Karen gave a touching talk about Caleb, the play and its impact. After thanking many people in the community who were important to the play's success in raising money for veterans, among other things, she talked about Caleb's legacy.

"I encourage you to please continue to lift up the Erickson family by supporting the Caleb Erickson Memorial Fund if you can and/or attending one of the many festivities this year on August 24 for the Caleb Erickson Memorial Day in Waseca," she said. "Finally, I thank Caleb for the immeasurable sacrifice he made for each and every one of us. While many of you in the crowd may have not known Caleb, we all should carry on his memory. Young men and women like Caleb are the reason we have the freedoms to do the many things we do each day. Since going through this process and time thereafter, I often think of the wonderful things Caleb has missed: his sister getting married and the birth of his beautiful niece Autumn are two that instantly come to mind. He would have loved to have been a part of these moments and I can guarantee he would have been the crazy, fun uncle. Therefore, we owe it to Caleb to treat each day as a gift and recognize even the monotonous, daily grind moments are truly treasures. Our community will forever miss this hero. At this time I would like to take a moment of silence to recognize Caleb's sacrifice for us all. Thank you, Caleb, for your service and may you rest in peace. Again, thank you for this tremendous honor. We are very humbled. Thank you."

When Karen finished speaking, everyone in the gym stood and applauded. There were tears in my eyes as I walked to the car for the drive back to the Twin Cities and the MSHSL adapted softball tournament. If you saw the photos and videos I posted from bowling on Twitter, you know about the giant, enthusiastic crowd and the great competition. Here's a moment that stood out to me ...

A young girl in the CI (cognitively impaired division) was among 10 bowlers to receive medals in her category. She was tiny and apparently a little shy, because she was hesitant to stand in front of the crowd with the other top 10 bowlers. Her proud, smiling father was ready to take photos of his child with the other medalists, but she left the line and put an arm around her dad's neck. He spoke to his child in Spanish, encouraging her to return to the line. But she stayed with her father, which was just fine.

Another competitor at bowling is someone I wrote about a few weeks ago when she played with the Austin pep band at the state girls basketball tournament. Tyra Wiles is a senior at Austin who has been with the band throughout her high school career. On Thursday, Austin's senior band members were honored and Tyra was presented with a new award called the Spirit Award. How fitting for such an inspirational person.

And finally, on Saturday, the week was capped off at the robotics tournament. When it was over, members of the winning teams celebrated with whoops and cheers, and kids from other teams offered warm congratulations. Sportsmanship is one of the greatest things about robotics.

The Fighting Calculators took home a state runner-up finish, but the kids dressed for prom weren't able to stay for the awards ceremony. The robotics event ran late and they hustled out to catch a riverboat that was serving as the site of the prom.

I sure hope they made it. If not, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that they pulled out their tool kits on the river bank, constructed a robotic canoe and made it out to the boat after all ... in formal wear and Harley Davidson boots.

POSTSCRIPT: The girl in the prom dress and boots was Addie Abrahamson, a junior at Math and Science Academy who is the Fighting Calculators' electronics lead. The kids made it to the prom. Addie's mom told me in a Twitter message Sunday afternoon: "Boat was to leave at 7. Captain said can wait no longer than 7:15. But then he heard they were in their cars racing from Minneapolis to Stillwater, he took pity on them. Moved it to 7:30. Of course parking was at a premium and they had to run many blocks to the pier. Addie was barefoot no clue why lol. But they made it! Safely too!

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to ?Preps Today with John Millea? wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
A Special Night Under The Lights In Pine Island 5/14/2019
PINE ISLAND – On a lovely spring evening in this southeastern Minnesota village, history was made Friday when a baseball game was played under the lights for the very first time. The Pine Island Panthers played host to the Lake City Tigers and things were pretty spectacular even before the first pitch.

The new? Six skinny metal towers reaching into the sky, topped by futuristic-looking lights, and a scoreboard that included a spot for pitch counts. The old? A couple of former Pine Island baseball coaches who can tell a tale with the best of 'em.

A pregame ceremony featured Clyde Doepner, known in baseball circles as the official curator and historian of the Minnesota Twins. But his first job out of Winona State College was teaching and coaching baseball in Pine Island from 1965 to 1969. Clyde told the story of his first-year salary, which was $325 for coaching three teams (varsity, ninth-10th grade, seventh-eighth-grade) without an assistant.

He negotiated with the administration to hire another coach, who was paid $125 … unbeknownst to Clyde until it was too late, that $125 came out of his pay.

"I went into the room making $325 and I walked out of the room with an assistant coach and making $200," Clyde said, adding that he would have coached for nothing. To back up that point, he held an envelope containing $200. He gave it to former Panthers baseball coach/athletic director Craig Anderson, with directions that the money go toward paying the light bills at the field.

“Now I can say I did coach my first year for nothing and it was the best time of my life,” said Clyde.

Anderson is the name people think of when they hear the words “Pine Island baseball.” He coached the Panthers for 41 years before retiring at the conclusion of the 2016 season, in which the Panthers went to the Class 2A state tournament. In 2014 Anderson was inducted into the National High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He also spent 36 years as a sixth-grade science teacher, another feat worthy of Hall of Fame status.

Anderson's highest honor is an award given annually by the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association. The Craig Anderson Ethics in Coaching Award is given to a coach “who, like Craig, has displayed ethics in coaching and teaching the game of baseball. The coach who is selected will be someone who displays class, integrity, character, and respect for the game, the players, the spectators, and the officials.”

During the pregame ceremony, Anderson thanked everyone in Pine Island for supporting their kids in many ways. This summer, new seating and a press box will be added to the baseball field, and softball upgrades are next in line. The current baseball field was once a football practice field. Anderson arrived in town in 1976 and the new ballfield was first used a year later.

Four local businesses have signage on the new scoreboard, and representative of those four – Bevcomm, Ron’s Auto Repair, Ben Olson Realty and School Management Services – threw out quadruple ceremonial first pitches before the game. The colors were presented by Charles Cowden American Legion Post 184 as both teams stood along the foul lines for the national anthem.

By the time the lights were shut off for the night, the Pine Island Panthers had wrapped up a 4-2 victory. In the afterglow, two comments made by Doepner before the game returned to mind. One was about the conditions for baseball when he was a first-year coach all those years ago: “I would have died and gone to heaven at 21 if we had played on a field like this.”

The other was about the man who coached the Panthers for 41 years and has played such a crucial role in so many good things, both in facilities and in humanity. Clyde wrapped up his pregame remarks by motioning toward Anderson and saying, “This guy’s a legend. I hope the next time I come down here there’s going to be a name on that scoreboard, and it’s going to be this gentleman’s name.”

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

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Special Event For Prospective Officials On May 145/8/2019
A special event will be held on Tuesday, May 14 for people interested in becoming officials for all MSHSL sports. The event is geared toward graduating high school seniors and current college students who would like to earn extra money for college and remain connected to the sport(s) they love. Regardless of age, however, anyone interested in becoming an official is welcome.

The gathering will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Tartan High School, 828 Greenway Ave North, Oakdale, MN 55128-6202.

Representatives from every sport and officials association in the metro area will be in attendance. The evening will begin with a presentation on the benefits and steps to becoming a registered MSHSL official. Once this is completed, the attendees will be able to visit with veteran officials in a job fair-type setting. Those interested in becoming officials will be able to register with the MSHSL at the event.

Men and women of all ages are needed to officiate youth sports at the middle school and high school level. If you love sports, have a "feel" for the game and a basic knowledge of the rules you can be an official.

Food will be provided at no charge by Pizza Barn of Princeton, which is well-known for providing #ThankARef postgame pizzas for officials who work events in Princeton.

To listen to a podcast featuring one of the organizers of the event, search for "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
From 1983 To 2019, Two Ballplayers And A State Record 5/5/2019
Tim Gullickson, who was a record-setting high school baseball player in 1983, has never felt more like a celebrity than he has over the last week. That's because of a young man from Litchfield who topped Gullickson's record streak of 33 consecutive games with a hit.

After Owen Boerema stretched his hitting streak to 34 games a week ago and the news came out, Gullickson started getting calls and texts.

"I’m more famous now that I don’t have the record anymore," said the 53-year-old who lives in Bemidji.

Thirty-six years is a long time for a record to stand. Among the top 10 hitting streaks in Minnesota high school baseball history, all but Gullickson’s 33 were set in the last six years.

Boerema is a senior who throws and hits lefthanded and plays center field when not pitching. In a 4-0 win over Rockford on Thursday, he went hitless to end the streak but pitched a two-hit shutout with eight strikeouts for the Dragons (8-1).

“I’d rather get a win than anything else,” he said. “I wasn’t too frustrated because I was pitching well. And at that point I already had the record. If I had been at 32, then I would have been pretty frustrated.”

Owen had hits in every one of the 26 games he played last season. After the season he learned from coach Jeff Wollin that his 26-game streak put him in the top 10 all-time. His teammates, knowing this fact as the 2019 season began, loudly updated the number each time he extended it.

Wollin said, “Every game when he got a hit, usually in the first inning, you heard somebody in the dugout, ‘That’s 29! 31!’ It doesn’t seem like it weighed on him. I just think he wants to get on base. And if you walk him, he’s probably on second.”

That’s because Boerema, a long and lanky kid with wheels, stole 13 bases in the first eight games this season.

His speed was on display early in Friday’s home game against Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (which was halted by rain in the third inning with Litchfield leading 6-0). On the game’s first pitch, Howard Lake’s Noah Bush hit a looping liner into center field that looked for all the world like a hit until Boerema raced in and made a diving catch. In the bottom of the first inning, Owen hit the first pitch deep and it banged off the left fielder’s glove. Boerema ran to second for what everyone assumed would be a two-base error, but he kept motoring and ended up on third.

“You couldn’t find a finer young man to break this record,” Wollin said. “He’s a great kid, very humble, great student, from a very nice family. He’s got it all in the right perspective. He helps coach summer rec with the little kids, helps with the field in the summertime.”

Owen has been on the Dragons cross-country team in the fall and plays basketball in the winter. He plans to attend the University of Northwestern in St. Paul and play basketball and baseball.

Owen’s batting average this spring is .677. Gullickson, a righthanded pitcher and hitter, still holds the Deer River school record for batting average, hitting .589 in his senior year of 1983. Gullickson said he wasn’t aware of his state record until about 10 years after he graduated.

His coach at Deer River, Jim Erzar, informed him of the news after scouring scorebooks. Erzar was the head coach there for 37 years before retiring after the 2017 season. He was inducted into the Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2013; he’s still involved with the game, now as an umpire.

The person who handled statistics for Erzar in Deer River all those years ago was a young girl named Robin Edgeton … who married Tim Gullickson. “She was a good student,” Erzar said, “someone I could rely on.”

The 1983 season was Erzar’s second as head coach. He recalls a game early that spring when Gullickson was at the plate with the score tied and a runner on second base in the bottom of the seventh inning. He gave Tim the green light to swing away with a 3-0 count, and the senior drove in the winning run.

“That’s how he was,” Erzar said, “kind of clutch.”

Sounds like a young man, 36 years later, from Litchfield.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Remembering Hall of Fame Coach John Gross5/2/2019
John Gross, an educational and athletic fixture in Faribault and Medford for many decades, died this week in Medford. His life and career is a shining example of service to others, as stated in the obituary below: "During his lifetime, John touched countless lives in so many positive ways. His friendly smile and lively personality were always on display."

John F. Gross 1943–2019
John Gross of Medford passed away April 30, 2019 at his home. Mass of Christian Burial is set for Monday, May 6, 2019 at 10:30 a.m. at Christ the King Catholic Church in Medford. Friends may greet the family on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at the Medford Funeral Home (310 – East Central Ave.) form 2-5 p.m. There will be a 5 p.m. Knights of Columbus Rosary on Sunday at the Funeral Home. The Visitation will continue from 9:30 to 10:20 a.m. at the funeral home on Monday followed by a procession to the church.

John Francis Gross was born January 7, 1942 in Carroll, Iowa, to Ed and Rose Margaret (Schmitz) Gross. In 1949 the family moved to Minnesota, where John attended a one-room school between Hayfield and Blooming Prairie. He graduated from Hayfield High School in 1960 and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in history and physical education from St. Thomas in 1964. While in college John participated in football and basketball. He completed his Master of Science Degree in Minnesota History from Mankato State University in 1971.

John started teaching and coaching at Faribault Bethlehem Academy in the fall of 1964 and moved to Medford High School four years later. He spent the next 29 years teaching social studies, driver education, coaching varsity football, and for 18 years he was girls varsity assistant basketball coach. It was during this time that Pat Heger joined the staff at Medford. John and Pat were married June 27, 1981. That fall the Tiger football team finished the season undefeated and won the Minnesota State High School League Class C state championship.

John was the recipient of numerous coaching honors and awards. He was named Minnesota State Class C coach of the Outstate Team in the 1982 High School All-Star football game. Thirty years later he served as an honorary coach for the South team in the high school All-Star Football Game. He was elected to the Executive Board of the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association in 1983 and served as president of that organization in 1995-96. John also led the Tigers to the state quarterfinals against Sherburne in 1986, the state semifinals against Rushford in 1988 and to the state quarterfinals against Waterville a year later.

From 1991-95 he represented boys sports coaches as a voting member of the Region 2 activities committee and coordinated the Region 2 state football playoffs. When John retired as head football coach in 1996, his record was 158 wins and 127 losses. Included were two undefeated teams, four Gopher Conference Championships, three section titles and a Minnesota State Championship. In his honor the Medford boosters established the "John Gross Memorial Scholarship" awarded annually to a graduating senior football player.

Beginning in 1997 John coached at St. Olaf College in Northfield for five seasons as offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator. He then returned to Faribault B. A. from 2012-15. Three of those years the Cardinals participated in the State Football Tournament. John was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2001 as well as Medford's first Hall of Fame class in 2017. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the Minnesota Football Coaches Association in 2016.

John was a founding member of the Medford Historical League and an active member of the Minnesota and Steele County Historical Societies. He has authored five books on local history topics, two on Medford history. His "ANOTHER TIME" historical column was popular in several area newspapers. John served five years on the Medford Board of Education and enjoyed attending Medford school events.

John and Pat were faithful members of Christ the King Catholic Church. They loved to travel, visiting every state in the U.S. including Alaska and Hawaii. During his lifetime, John touched countless lives in so many positive ways. His friendly smile and lively personality were always on display. John will be missed by his wife Pat, his brother Bill (Sheree) Gross, sister-in-law Jeanne Lundak and many nieces and nephews, relatives and friends. John is preceded in death by his parents Edward and Rose, brother Don and sisters Carol (Fran) Langenfeld and Jeanne Gross. To leave a condolence message go to