The miles? Yes, the miles add up on this job. I have been an MSHSL staffer through two full school years now and have driven more than 20,000 miles around Minnesota in pursuit of great stories, new friendships and the occasional concession-stand meal.
The miles come and go, but the memories are forever. And 2011-12 was a remarkable stretch of events and people. There were stories of coaches inspiring their athletes, celebrating success and weeping when the end – of the season or their career – finally arrived. Memories of remarkable athletes like Carlie Wagner and Grant Besse doing remarkable things. Memories of young people fighting through adversity, whether it be Beth Broschofsky returning to running or Hanna Hughes supporting her teammates from a wheelchair.
Let’s look back at 2011-12 …
Best Individual Effort/Postgame Scene: Grant Besse scored five goals, three of them shorthanded, in Benilde-St. Margaret’s 5-1 victory over Hill-Murray in the Class 2A boys hockey state championship game. As the victorious Red Knights left the ice, the wheelchair-bound Jack Jablonski was waiting in the locker room. Jake Horton, who was carrying the first-place trophy, yelled, “Hey Jabbers, I’ve got somethin' for you!” The last person off the ice was coach Ken Pauly, who yelled, “Jabby! Jabby baby! How ya doin’ 13?!” And then the locker room doors were closed and the Red Knights had some special time to themselves.
Best Halftime Conversation: Teen Girl A: "Is the game over?" Teen Girl B: "No, it's halftime." Teen Girl A: "I don't understand football."
Best American Story: Adalberto Villalobos is a respected soccer official who grew up in Costa Rica but has lived in the St. Cloud area for years. After becoming a U.S. citizen last year, here’s how he described hearing the anthem at his first soccer game last fall: “A young lady sang it beautifully, and I found myself turning so the other officials wouldn’t see me getting teary-eyed. Emotions took over and it hit home; it’s for real, I’m here, I’m part of it.”
Nicest Peace Officer: After watching a volleyball match between Lake Park-Audubon and Climax/Fisher in the Climax gym (where the North Dakota flag hangs alongside the Minnesota flag), I was driving to Thief River Falls. I just may have been exceeding the speed limit by a tiny bit, but the fellow who pulled me over in Red Lake Falls was as friendly as they come. Thanks for the warning, officer!
Best Musical Insight: (Overheard at halftime of a football game while Michael Jackson’s 1972 version of “Rockin’ Robin” was played on the sound system): “This is old music. But I’m only 12 and a half.”
Best Teamwork By Two Teams: In memory of Wabasha-Kellogg’s Cole Younker, who had died in a traffic accident, the football teams from Wabasha-Kellogg and Southland stood together as their captains planted a tree (pictured) in Cole’s memory just prior to kickoff in the season opener.
Eater’s Choice Award (Single Item): The pregame goodies on a football Friday at Minneota included a rare find … the greatest roast beef sandwich I have eaten anywhere.
Best Early Morning Question: It was 6:58 a.m. and I was entering the Metrodome for a day of football playoff games. A security guard, seeing me with two backpacks full of essential journalism gear -- and a big bag of candy for my press box colleagues – asked, “Did you run away from home?”
Best Debut on the Big Stage: In January I watched sophomore Carlie Wagner of New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva score 39 points in a basketball win over Goodhue, after which Goodhue coach Josh Weime said, “She does things that we never see.” When NRHEG got to the state tournament, everybody saw what Wagner can do. She set a state tournament single-game scoring record with 48 points in the third-place game and also set a three-game tournament record with 112 points.
Best Tribute to a Coach/Choir Director: From 1952 until 1992, John Hansen was the head football coach and choir director at Osseo High School. When the Osseo football stadium was renamed in his honor, former players as well as singers gathered in his honor. The national anthem never sounded better.
Best Homecoming Parade: The Red Rock Central parade (left) wound through the village of Lamberton as citizens and pupils watched and cheered. A couple firetrucks, the football team, cheerleaders, faculty and a beautiful fall day in a small town … it didn’t last very long but it was as much fun as I had all year.
My Favorite Runner: Pierz junior Beth Broschofsky was all smiles when we chatted after a cross-country race in Royalton. After surviving cancer and having a metal rod replace the humerus in her right upper arm, Beth was running again. She has a beautiful smile.
Best Rivalry Renewal: When the teams from St. Paul Academy and Blake met on the football field, it was the latest chapter in a series that began 100 years earlier.
Most Inspirational Athlete: When Hannah Hughes of Rochester Lourdes was going through treatment for bone cancer, her friends and soccer teammates remained at her side. And Hannah was at their side when the Eagles played in the state semifinals. It didn’t matter that her right leg and pelvic area had been amputated … she was still part of the team. “I have never seen Hanna with a frown on her face,” said teammate Rachel Saltness. “Every day she has a smile on her face and she makes the best of every situation.”
Eater’s Choice Award (Multiple Items): Fulda boosters served a terrific meal, with your choice of a burger or brat with chips, drink and a homemade cookie or bar for six bucks. Best deal in town.
Most Focused Athlete: Little Falls’ Ben Newman excels in football as well as hockey despite having vision in just one eye. He lost the vision in his right eye as the result of an accident when he was eight months old, but “I don’t notice it at all,” he said. “It’s just like nothing’s wrong.”
Toughest Rivalry: When Lakeville South High School opened in 2005, some of the coaches from Lakeville High (which became Lakeville North) moved to the new school and some stayed put. After North and South met on the football field last fall, North assistant coach Bob Kovich looked toward the coaches from South and said, “Those guys are my best friends. I hate this week.”
Best Tribute to a Friend: At the girls state tennis tournament, the team from Waseca wore matching pink ribbons in their hair and pink T-shirts (pictured) that had “Play Like a Princess” printed on the back. On the left sleeve was printed the word “Ab-dub” and a little crown. It was all in honor of Abigail “Abby” “Ab-dub” Claire Wendland, 16, who had died recently in an automobile accident. Abigail’s favorite color was pink and her nickname was Princess.
Best Coin Toss: Prior to a football game between Edina and Minnetonka, referee Pat Whalen said to the team captains, “Fellas, I’m going to show you all the athletic ability I have left in this body and catch this coin. If I drop it, we’re going to do it again.” He nailed it on the very first try.
Best Final Interview: When Bob Brink retired after 51 years of coaching boys basketball (the last 42 at Rocori), the end came in the state quarterfinals. Tears welled in his eyes as he thought about his players. “They wanted to win it for…” He was unable to say the word “me” because … well, because it was never about him.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 720
*Miles John has driven: 9,235
(*During the 2011-12 school year)
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