John's Journal
Happy Trails To Retiring Minneapolis Administrator John Washington12/1/2012
John Washington is now officially retired. A late-afternoon gathering was held in his honor last week at Minneapolis Public Schools headquarters, where John was the district athletic director for 14 years. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson stood alongside John in front of a large group of co-workers and other friends and said, “He has led this work with pride. He’s had a stellar reputation with our community. I want to thank you for your leadership and for the work that you’ve done.”

Dave Wicker, who worked with Washington at Patrick Henry High School and the district office, said, “John is a wonderful learner, teacher, mentor and leader. John’s strengths include his calm demeanor and his ability to help others grow.”

I knew a lot about John, having known him for years. I knew he was a former teacher and coach at Henry. I knew of his stellar work with the athletic departments in all the Minneapolis high schools.

But I did not know this: John Washington was a driver’s education instructor. That fact alone makes him a hero. John is a lover of Western movies, and his background guiding new drivers puts him on par with John Wayne.

John, a 1963 graduate of Minneapolis North, was first hired by the Minneapolis school district in 1969 as a teacher at Henry. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Mayville State in North Dakota and later picked up a master’s degree from St. Thomas. He coached baseball and basketball at Henry, worked as an assistant principal, served on numerous MSHSL committees and boards and was a member of the Police Athletic League.

During the retirement party, Wicker talked about John’s final job evaluation.

“John was decribed as a champion for athletics who is remarkable at managing a diverse group of people,” Wicker said. “John fulfills his responsibilities with integrity, grace, honesty and with a strong work ethic. And we all know that John stands for everything that’s good in life. That’s what makes us so happy to work with such a fine person.”

John has always wanted to learn how to ride a horse, so folks pitched in to buy him riding lessons. During that presentation, a cowboy hat was placed on his head.

“First of all, thanks to everyone for being here today, this is really overwhelming,” he said. “And thank you to my wife, Anna Mae, who’s been there to let me go to all those games at night all these years.

“I really enjoy what I’ve done. I don’t know how many people can say they did one job for so long and really enjoyed what they did. I really have enjoyed my time here at Minneapolis Public Schools and it’s something that I will always cherish. All the building athletic directors who are here, they work hard and they need all the support we can give them. Any time they come to you, help them out when you can. Just remember one thing: you’re here for the kids. As long as we remember that, your job will be easy.”

Happy trails, John.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 348
*Miles John has driven: 4,877
(*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
NRHEG’s Carlie Wagner: Small-Town Attitude, Big-Time Talent11/30/2012
NEW RICHLAND – Carlie Wagner exploded onto the high school basketball scene last season, leading New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva to a 32-1 record and third-place finish in the Class 2A state tournament. She broke state tourney records for single-game (48) and total tournament points (112), records that had been held by Jordan’s Brittany Chambers (now at Kansas State) and Minneapolis South’s Tayler Hill (Ohio State).

As her junior season begins, Wagner already has scored more points than any male or female basketball player in school history. She is being pursued by big-time college coaches, she attracts crowds wherever the Panthers play and her star continues to rise.

So as the 5-foot-10 guard and I talked before Thursday evening’s game against Belle Plaine, my mission was to find out what it’s like to be Carlie Wagner. I phrased the question like this: Looking back to two years ago, how is your life different?

She pondered the question for a second or two. “What’s different? I have more Facebook friends, that’s about the only thing that’s different.”

It’s an amazing thing. Carlie Wagner is as down to earth as the rich black soil that covers southern Minnesota. Did you know that she is the reigning Class 1A high jump state champion, as well as a stellar volleyball player? She is absolutely untouched by her celebrity status and remains a poster child for small-town America.

“I like it that everybody treats me the same,” she said before scoring 32 points with six assists and six steals in limited playing time as the Panthers defeated Belle Plaine 80-37. “I don’t feel any extra pressure. I guess I’m just here to play ball. I’m not worried about outside influences.”

NRHEG, which is No. 2 behind Providence Academy in Minnesota Basketball News’ Class 2A rankings, will meet Chaska (No. 3 in 3A) at 1:15 p.m. in Saturday’s Breakdown Tip Off Classic at Hopkins. Fifteen games will be played in three gyms Saturday, and NRHEG is a major draw.

Wagner is the star of the team, but the Panthers are solid everywhere. Junior Jade Schultz and senior Raelin Schue combined for 26 points and 17 rebounds Thursday and junior Hannah Lundberg had eight rebounds and blocked two shots. Two younger Wagners, eighth-grade twins Maddie and Marnie, scored nine points off the bench.

Schultz made the hustle play of the game in the second half, diving for a loose ball and tipping it back into play as she slid out of bounds. The ball was quickly in Carlie Wagner’s hands for an off-handed layup and 73-35 lead.

“They are all nice kids, they work hard, and they all play their roles,” said NRHEG coach John Schultz. “Some don’t score that much but they don’t care. They know their role is defense, rebounds and that’s what made us effective last year.”

Last year was NRHEG’s first trip to the girls state basketball tournament, and that experience is paying off this season. “It gives them kind of a swagger, a confidence,” Schultz said. “Nothing’s too big for them right now.”

Carlie Wagner said her memories of last year’s state tourney begin with the fans.

“I just loved it when I looked up at the crowd and saw all the fans going absolutely insane,” she said. “I feel like we didn’t have pressure to (win a state title). It was getting a taste of it, we got a foot in the door. I didn’t expect us to win it last year.”

What about this year? “I hope so. I really hope so.”

But nearly a full season remains to be navigated before the 2013 state tournament. The Panthers know that every opponent wants to knock them off, and they remain focused on one step, one game at a time.

“We don’t talk about (returning to state) as much as our fans do,” Wagner said. “We look forward a little bit but we don’t talk about it that much because we have tough games to get through to get there.”

THE ATMOSPHERE THURSDAY NIGHT in the little NRHEG gym was spectacular. The band, under the direction of Tim Siewert, played great tunes from the stage behind one basket. When one of the cheerleaders said to me, “I follow you on Twitter!,” I snapped a photo of the cheerleaders and posted it on Twitter. Then I walked to the other end of the gym, where that cheerleader’s father was looking at the photo on his phone and hollered, “Nice shot of the cheerleaders, John!” What a country.

There were walking tacos, popcorn, a vibrant crowd, youth basketball at halftime and everything else you want in high school athletics. I hadn’t been in the gym for more than 10 minutes before NRHEG athletic director Dan Stork handed me a Diet Coke. While the junior varsity game was being played, Dan found interview space in an office; Carlie walked in wearing a pretty dress and nice shoes, then took off her shoes, relaxed and chuckled as we chatted.

If the Panthers had their names printed on the backs of their jerseys, it could say “Easygoing” on Carlie’s. Even on the court, she is smooth and under control but always hustling, almost effortlessly. If defenses focus too much on her, she will whip passes to her teammates for easy baskets. Her only fault may be that she is too unselfish.

After the game, Carlie walked to her locker to fetch a notebook from her Algebra II class. Her other classes are Anatomy, College Literature, World History, Youth Leadership Service and Computer Aps. (Does she ever sleep? Smiling answer: “Not very often.”)

“I’m really happy,” she said of the game. “I thought we were aggressive, we hit the boards hard, we were scrappy on defense. I guess it was just a really good game. It was a fun game, it was really fun.”

The spotlight on Wagner began glowing brightly at the first practice of her sophomore season when University of Minnesota coach Pam Borton walked into the gym. Carlie told me that Minnesota and Iowa State are at the top of her college list right now, but she is in no hurry to make a decision. Her love of the small-town lifestyle may bode well for Iowa State.

“I just have that country side of me,” she said. “(Iowa State is) not that huge city feel, it’s more the small-town feel I’m used to. The campus is beautiful, it has all the programs I’m looking for.

“I want to stay close to home. I want to keep my options open. I want to wait. I’m waiting for that moment when I just realize what I want. I’m waiting for that moment when I just know. When I’m certain.”

She’s thinking of a career path that involves some form of medicine mixed with sports.

“I want to stick around sports,” she said, smiling. “Who wants to miss all this fun?”

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

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 348
*Miles John has driven: 4,877
(*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
Boys Hockey: Minnetonka Skates Past The Butterflies, Wins Big11/28/2012
There were no real misconceptions going into Tuesday night’s boys hockey season opener between Minnetonka and Apple Valley. Numbers, facts and clear-eyed logic told the story.

Minnetonka has a veteran team that is No. 4 in Let’s Play Hockey’s Class 2A rankings. Led by seniors Max Coatta, Tommy Vannelli and Jack Ramsey, the Skippers are extremely solid. They were 24-4 last season, losing to eventual state champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the Section 6 championship game.

Apple Valley, which went 11-12-3 a year ago, has a roster that is loaded with youth. The Eagles have only three players with varsity experience: senior captains Mason Preston and Christian Smith and junior Brandon Smith. Of the two other seniors on the roster, Shane Van Dusartz is the top goaltender and Brandon Loge suffered a knee injury in the first period Tuesday.

The game was a 7-1 win for the Skippers, to no one’s surprise.

“Today was a good learning experience for us,” Eagles coach Jerry Hayes said. “We had no illusions that we were going to be a team that was going to come roaring out of the gate.”

Apple Valley did not quite come roaring out, but the Eagles played Minnetonka to a standstill in a scoreless first period. The shots were 12-8 in favor of the Skippers, but at that point the scorecards were not tilted in either direction. When the Eagles got the first goal, by Dylan Reynolds, at 8:04 of the second period, it looked we had a ballgame.

Then, the onslaught. The Skippers scored three goals before the period was out and got four more in the final period.

“I was a little concerned with our guys standing around, not moving their feet,” Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said. “But it got better as the game went on and the guys got the butterflies out of the way.”

Here’s a warning that was issued to every team that will face the Skippers: Their seven goals were scored by seven individuals. Alex Klein, Vannelli, Connor Thie, Charles Huminski, Justin Bader, Coatta and John Schultd all raised their sticks in celebration, pumped a fist while skating on one knee or otherwise marked the accomplishment. James Schultd had four assists, Coatta and John Schultd had three.

“We feel pretty good to come out with a W, we’ll take it for our first game,” Coatta said. “We’ve got some things we need to work on, but we battled hard and took away some positives.”

And get this: Minnetonka was missing three players, including Ramsey (who has made a verbal commitment to play at the University of Minnesota.)

“They’re good,” Hayes said. “I really like their D and they obviously have some top-end forwards. You can tell it was the first game for everybody. The puck was a little bit square-shaped by the end of the first period with both teams kind of tomahawking a little bit. They certainly have speed up front and Brian does such a nice job with them, too. They’ll be ready to go in their conference. They’ll be right up there with the best of them.”

The Skippers aren’t dwelling on their No. 4 ranking, because rankings are worth as much as square pucks. The top three teams in 2A are Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Edina and Eden Prairie. Edina, Eden Prairie and Minnetonka are all in the Lake Conference, and the Skippers, Benilde and Eden Prairie are all in Section 6.

“Hopefully we’ll ramp up as the year goes on and get better with our young guys,” Urick said. “Hopefully we’re peaking at the end of the year. In the playoffs it comes down to one game. We’ve had teams that have been the favorite and it doesn’t always work out. We’re just going to try to prepare for the end of the year.”

The preparations are underway.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 346
*Miles John has driven: 4,727
(*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
Totino-Grace Had The Look Of A Champion11/25/2012
One quick look between best friends was all it took for Totino-Grace to take control of the Class 5A state championship game. Read Brian Jerzak's story by clicking here.
If This Was The End, Eden Prairie’s Grant Went Out In Style11/24/2012
Eden Prairie rolled to the Class 6A football state title with a 28-7 victory over Lakeville North. Speculation centered on whether it was the final game at Eden Prairie for coach Mike Grant. Read Brian Jerzak's story by clicking here