John's Journal
New Award Will Honor Athletes Of The Week 8/29/2012
In partnership with Old Dutch and WCCO-AM 830, the MSHSL is proud to announce the Old Dutch High School Athlete of the Week award. Under this program, Minnesota high school athletes will be honored every week for their contributions as athletes, students and community members.

The athletes will be recognized on WCCO-AM 830 every Tuesday evening during the “Sports To The Max” show with Mike Max and every Wednesday morning during “The WCCO Morning News With Dave Lee.”

Old Dutch is the sponsor of the award. In addition to being honored on WCCO-AM 830, recipients also will receive a plaque to commemorate their achievements and be honored online by the MSHSL and WCCO-AM 830.

The first award winner will be announced on WCCO-AM 830 on Sept. 4-5. Athletes can be nominated by sending an email to MSHSL media specialist John Millea at jmillea@mshsl.org

Nominations should include the following …
--Student’s name, school and grade.
--Athletic accomplishments during the past week. Please offer detailed statistics.
--Information about the student’s academics and/or community involvement.
--If possible, include a phone number where the student can be reached (student’s cell phone is best) and a school photo of the student (the type of photo used in school yearbooks or graduation photos).
Veteran Journalist Brian Jerzak Joins The John’s Journal Team 8/27/2012
With the start of a new year of high school activities, we’re happy to announce the addition of a new member of the John’s Journal staff.

Brian Jerzak is a veteran reporter who will add his high school sports expertise to John’s Journal. Brian has been covering high school athletics in Minnesota for more than 10 years.

He has written about wrestling for The Guillotine publication and website for a decade, including coverage of the state wrestling tournament. For several years Brian worked as the main football writer and also covered basketball for MinnesotaPreps.com, a branch of Rivals.com. He has written about basketball, hockey and wrestling for the Minneapolis Star Tribune Hub websites, has covered the National Football League for GridironExperts.com, contributed college and high school wrestling stories for Intermat.com and college hockey stories for Collegehockeynews.com.

Brian is a native of Milaca, Minn., and a graduate of Saint Cloud State University. He lives in Apple Valley with his wife and two sons.
From Nine-Man to Class 6A, The Football Season Is Underway8/25/2012
I can summarize my Zero Week football experience in several ways…

--The gastronomical tally was one bratwurst, one hot dog, one hamburger and three Diet Cokes.

--Mileage? I drove 396 round-trip miles to Underwood for a Friday night nine-man game between the Wheaton/Herman-Norcross Warriors and Underwood Rockets, followed by a short 54-mile round-tripper to Hopkins on Saturday afternoon to watch the Class 6A Royals host the Episcopal Knights of Houston, Texas.

--Competitively, I saw 68 points scored along with turnovers, penalties, dropped passes and magnificent plays.

--Weather? Friday evening was picture-perfect in Underwood, with a nice breeze blowing across Otter Tail County. The conditions at Hopkins were a little on the damp side, with showers playing stick-and-move during the game.

What I will remember most, however, are a coach’s pregame words on Friday and the postgame statement of another coach on Saturday. They offer auditory bookends to a football weekend and shed a bright light on what our world of high school activities is all about.

Wheaton/Herman-Norcross coach Tony Thiel, whose team played in the Prep Bowl last season, has only two starters back this year. But every season is a new journey.

“They want to get back there (to the Metrodome),” Thiel told me before the Warriors met Underwood. “We’re not living on the laurels of last year’s team, we want to make our own identity.”

Things worked out pretty well for the Warriors, who beat Underwood 26-8.

The other bookend came after Hopkins defeated Episcopal 20-14 in a game that came down to the final play. The Royals led 14-0 at halftime before Episcopal scored twice in the third quarter to force a 14-14 tie. Hopkins quarterback J.T. DenHartog scrambled for a 41-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the game ended with Episcopal completing a long pass to the 3-yard line.

As Hopkins coach (and quarterback’s dad) John DenHartog talked to his euphoric players, he said this: “High school football is about making great memories. And after the season you’ll have a great memory.”

These two games were played in two distinct settings – one in a small town and one in a large suburb – but the essence was the same. After months of lifting weights, training and weeks of workouts, it was time to play for real.

THE FIELD IN UNDERWOOD is a lush carpet of nature’s green grass, with a row of small trees behind each end zone. The school grounds back up the home sideline, with a parking lot and a gravel road behind the visitor’s side. As the Underwood Rockets took the field for warm-ups – and whenever they made a great play – fans sitting in their cars honked the horns. That is a glorious signature sound of American small-town football.

Underwood principal and athletic director John Hamann said a handful of cars were parked in prime spots at 7:30 Friday morning. “People are absolutely crazy,” he said with a smile.

The Zero Week game in Underwood provided a prime scouting opportunity for teams who will face the Rockets and Warriors later this season. Only five other games were played within Minnesota’s borders on Friday, so nine-man coaches were thick in Underwood – carrying clipboards and notebooks, jotting down jersey numbers, diagramming plays and gathering gridiron intel.

Visiting fans are at a distinct disadvantage in Underwood, especially early in the season, because they are forced to squint into the bright sun as they watch the early action. By the time the sun said goodnight, the scene was enough to make a small-town native weep: young boys flipping footballs and chasing each other behind the grownup fans, who were standing along a single wire fenceline on both sidelines … two little girls sitting with their backpacks and candy, one stride behind the goal line … four older girls laying on blankets next to the scoreboard, which carries the logos of the local Lions club, a bank, a gas station and other supporters of the Rockets.

At halftime, with his team holding a 14-8 lead thanks to a short touchdown pass from Jake Rinke to Carter Thiel with one second on the clock, coach Thiel told his players, “What happens if they don’t score in the second half? We win.”

The prediction came true. Wheaton/Herman-Norcross did all the scoring in the last two quarters, leaned on impressive defensive footspeed and got the win.

“For the first time out I am very pleased,” Thiel told me at game’s end. “Underwood’s a quality football team, they’re going to win a lot of games. I’m very happy with the way we played.”

A PARKING LOT AT Hopkins was designated as “Handicapped and VIP Parking.” I snuck into that lot but made the rookie mistake of not bringing along a jacket or umbrella. Whenever rain began to fall, I scurried from the field to the press box. It was dry most of the time, but the 6A crowd at Hopkins was smaller than the nine-man crowd at Underwood the night before.

Episcopal is a private, coed school with about 300 male students. Due to conference changes (much like Hopkins and the other four Lake Conference teams), Episcopal was looking for a game to fill its schedule. Knights coach Steve Leisz is a 1984 Minnetonka graduate, and the parents of six Episcopal football players are Twin Cities natives.

The Knights flew in on Friday and had a walk-through on the artificial turf at Hopkins in the afternoon. Their postgame plans Saturday included a cruise on Lake Minnetonka, although the gloomy weather – and the last-minute loss – could have combined to dampen the mood just a but.

A group of Episcopal cheerleaders also made the trip, bringing along a pair of Texas flags. This was a rare sight: Lone Star flags flying over a Minnesota football field. The Texans also brought some star-studded athletes, including senior quarterback Austin Robinson (who saw several passes flutter off the fingers of receivers) and sophomore running back Tyreik Gray, whose cutting, leaping, 67-yard run to tie the score 14-14 was the play of the day … until young DenHartog’s second touchdown all but clinched the victory for the home team.

“We were just pumped to be able to play a team from Texas,” J.T. DenHartog said. “Everyone talks about how great Texas football is, and we came out with the mindset that we wanted to prove everyone wrong and not play for just Hopkins but play for every team in Minnesota. To prove that Minnesota is just as good, and now even better, than Texas football.”

J.T.'s father talked about the Royals hanging together when they could have folded, and how the experience will pay dividends down the road.

“At times we played really well and at times we showed that we’re pretty young and in the first game of the season we made a lot of errors, too,” the coach said. “But our effort was certainly there and I liked the way our team didn’t point fingers and didn’t get down when things didn’t go well. I liked how they stuck together and supported each other. It’s a fun group to work with and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun this year.

“I think it shows if you do things right and support each other as teammates and work hard and try hard, good things happen. We tell the kids that message and they got to live it out a little today.”

Hard work in the offseason. Lessons learned on the practice field. And gratification now that the games are for real.

It’s going to be a great year.

--To see photos and a video from the weekend's football games, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 17
*Miles John has driven: 718
(*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
Football Season Has Arrived … I’ll See You At Underwood And Hopkins8/23/2012
The football season kicks off with eight Zero Week games on Friday and two on Saturday. I’m starting the season in grand style Friday, driving to Underwood to watch the Rockets play host to Wheaton/Herman-Norcross in a big Nine-Man matchup.

These are two teams with strong traditions. Underwood reached the Metrodome two years ago before losing to Cromwell in the state semifinals and Wheaton/Herman-Norcross played in the Prep Bowl last season, falling to Edgerton-Ellsworth 36-28.

Sixty-miles separate Wheaton and Underwood, and I’ll be making a 334-mile round trip for the game, heading there in the afternoon and returning to the Twin Cities afterwards. I’ll sleep fast and be at Hopkins on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game between the Royals and Houston (Texas) Episcopal.

I’ll combine the two games into a story that should be posted here Saturday evening, and photos from each game will magically appear on the MSHSL Facebook page. I’ll also be offering Twitter updates from both ballgames.

Here's the schedule (with last season’s records) ...

Friday, all games at 7 p.m.
Holy Angels (8-2) at Edina (5-5)
St. Paul Humboldt (0-8) at Columbia Heights (0-9)
Mesabi East (2-6) at Eveleth-Gilbert (0-9)
Minnetonka (8-3) at Arrowhead (Hartland, Wis.) (8-2)
Lewiston-Altura (5-5) at Cochrane-Fountain City, Wis.
Bertha-Hewitt (2-7) at Hancock (1-8)
Minnesota Valley Lutheran (4-6) at United South Central (1-8)
Wheaton/Herman-Norcross (12-2) at Underwood (7-3)

Saturday
Houston (Texas) Episcopal (7-3) at Hopkins (3-6), 1 p.m.
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (3-5) at Pipestone (0-9), 7 p.m.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 13
*Miles John has driven: 268
(*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
Lakeville’s Ringeisen: 100 Seasons And Going Strong 8/22/2012
Rick Ringeisen has not been coaching for a century but he is in his 100th season as a high school coach. Think about that, because it’s a remarkable feat: Ringeisen, 56, has coached three sports for 33 years, and this fall marks the beginning of his 34th year and 100th season, all in his hometown of Lakeville. Remarkable.

Every fall, Ringeisen coaches girls swimming. Every winter it’s boys swimming. And every spring he coaches throwers on the girls and boys track teams. First at Lakeville High and now at Lakeville South, the seasons change but Ringeisen doesn’t. As former Lakeville head track coach and current Lakeville North athletic director Bob Ertl said of Ringeisen, “He’s a guy who comes to work as excited today as he did 25 years ago. You can see that spark in his eye; ‘Let’s get after it, let’s help kids.’

“He goes three seasons every year, back to back to back, and he never loses energy, never loses steam, to help kids. He’s always helping, always giving back to kids, tirelessly.”

Ringeisen was once one of those kids. His father died when Rick was 4 years old, and as he grew, his coaches became his role models. “My coaches took really good care of me,” he said. “They were my inspiration in life.”

At Lakeville High School Ringeisen participated in baseball, track, football and swimming before graduating in 1974. He was a swimmer at Winona State, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1979 and was hired back in Lakeville as a social studies and history teacher as well as a coach. He could have joined the family trucking business but he said teaching and coaching “was my true passion in life. I came from a time and a place where people wanted to make the world a better place. Delivering boxes wasn’t going to do that. I wanted to have an impact on lives, the way my teachers and coaches did for me.”

He has a passion for Lakeville and the kids – like him – who grow up there. “Lakeville is a great place to grow up and it gets better every day,” he said. “We put kids first.”

And a lot of the kids he has coached have finished in first place. In the swimming pool, Ringeisen has coached two boys teams to True Team state championships and two boys teams to MSHSL state titles. He has coached 260 girls and 312 boys who qualified for state meets, and Lakeville athletes have won state titles in every swimming and diving event. During the track season, Ringeisen has coached discus throwers and shot putters to 63 state meet appearances, and five of them have won a total of 11 state championships.

Hailey Campbell, a 2010 Lakeville South graduate who now swims at Brigham Young University and competed in this year’s U.S. Olympic trials, was a state runner-up in the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle and anchored a 200-yard freestyle relay team that set a state record in 2008 (they share the record with Stillwater). Campbell said Ringeisen had a tremendous impact on her.

“When I first came in I sat down and told him my goals, like ‘I want to be a champion’ and ‘I want to be recruited by a lot of colleges.’One thing he did was he worked with me a lot and he made sure my head was in the right spot. He was a really great motivator for me; he always made sure I was motivated and ready to go.”

POOL SPACE AND TIME are limited in Lakeville so the teams from South and North practice together under the direction of Ringeisen and North head coach Dan Schneider. When Lakeville had one high school, Ringeisen was the head girls coach and Schneider was the head boys coach, with each of them working as assistant for the other. When South opened in 2005, Ringeisen became the head coach of both swim teams there and Schneider did the same as Lakeville High became Lakeville North.

“I don’t think there are many places that would have high school swimming workouts at the same time in the same pool,” Schneider said. “It’s tight and there are a lot of bodies in there, but we’re making the best of what we have.”

Ringeisen and his wife Joyce (a nurse) have been married for 34 years. Their son Alex is in medical school and their daughter Rachel is training to become a physical therapist. Family and community are vitally important to Ringeisen, who stresses to his athletes that sports translate to life.

“The sports we play and the things we coach are important,” he said. “But the life lessons are much more important. You compete with people, not against people. You learn to collaborate. You learn to ask for help and help others. We tell our kids they must conduct themselves with class and integrity, that they’re representing their family, their school and their team.”

Every practice includes a quote of the day and discussions that extend beyond sports. During one recent practice, the quote of the day was written on a white board on the pool deck at Kenwood Trail Middle School: “Teammates are forever!”

“We have a teaching session every day. We don’t just practice,” Ringeisen said. “I always tell kids practice is the place we get to go to every day. We check our bags and leave our baggage at the door. Teammates are forever. It’s the camaraderie, it’s what you accomplish together.”

Lakeville South athletic director Neil Strader said Ringeisen always cares about details and the people he works with.

“I’ve never been around a guy who cares more to do all the details the right way,” Strader said. “He’s so diligent in doing things the right way and asking me time and time again, ‘Do we have anything else to cover? Is there anything else we should talk about?’

“As a younger athletic director, those of us in the profession need someone to confide in, someone who’s been there. Ringer’s been a wealth of knowledge for me and a calming presence. He’s the first guy to talk to and he always has great advice. He’s a good friend to go to.”

Ringeisen, who has coached two generations of some Lakeville families, is always gratified when former athletes get in touch with him.

“I love to get an email from an athlete who wants you to know the affect you had on them,” he said. “They want you to meet their kids or introduce you to the person they’re engaged to. Those are the moments that touch your heart.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 13
*Miles John has driven: 268
(*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