John's Journal
Shutdown Diary: Softball Memories, And Hoping For More4/2/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, officials, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at jmillea@mshsl.org

My name is Mya and I am a senior at North Branch High School and play softball for coach Kathy Crudo. I would just like to start out by saying I completely understand the situation and am in no way downplaying the severity of this virus.

My thoughts? I want to play. I have been playing softball for as long as I have been able to walk. Granted, I don’t know how much making dirt angels at "shortstop” in t-ball counts (we have pictures of it somewhere) but it’s the thought that counts, right?

After the inheritance of my dad’s competitive spirit kicked in, my love for the game began. Receiving the message that our season was going to even be postponed made me cry in the middle of U.S. History. The last time I cried in front of anybody was my last game of high school volleyball. Sitting through my friends’ football and basketball senior nights always would led me to thinking about mine for softball. Which underclassmen would write my send-off letter and what crazy memories would they talk about? The thought of not being able to walk across the field on senior night, or parents night, or even getting the chance to play for a trip to state makes me physically sick to my stomach.

Seniors want the chance to represent their school and community one last time. We want the chance to cry on senior night and cry after we’ve won our section and are going to state. We want the pep-fest at school and the police escort out of town on our way to North Mankato. We want to feel our community, which has been nothing but supportive, rally behind us after a big win. We want to cry with our favorite teachers on teacher appreciation night, because they also helped shaped us into the athletes we are today. We want to make our coaches proud after we make an “ESPN play” (as we like to call them). We want all the time and effort our coaches have put into us the past three years to mean something. We want our after-school workouts and captain’s practices to prove hard work pays off. We want to play.

My biggest fear is not getting a season. Not getting a chance to experience everything I have looked forward to for so long. The athletes don’t care if our season begins in May and ends in June. It’s the season that matters. It’s the chance to make the memories. It’s the chance to be able to tell my kids about that one day at practice when our coach spent probably a little too long trying to teach us how to juggle. Little moments count, too. There is absolutely no guarantee that we would make it to state, or even past the first round of sections. There are no guarantees in any sports. That’s why the little moments matter, too. It’s getting to play catch with my best friend who’s doubled as my throwing partner for our senior season. It’s putting eye black on while on the bus and accidentally messing up really bad because we hit a bump. It’s the big moments but it’s also the little ones that I fear having to miss out on.

So for now, our plan is to pray. And make our dads play a lot of catch.

Now that I’ve written you a short book, I just have a few things left to say. I understand that this situation may get to the point where it is completely even out of the MSHSL’s hands. However, if this decision does fall into their hands, I want them to please let us play. Let us have our big moments and our little ones. Let us be able to talk about this season with our kids one day. Please let us play.

Thank you for your time. Stay safe and healthy.

Mya Schmeling
North Branch softball player
Shutdown Diary: Let’s Talk About Track In St. Charles3/31/2020
Eric Klein was busy at school on Monday, helping distribute Chromebooks to students in St. Charles who are beginning distance-learning from home. The English teacher is usually busy, although he would be busier if the spring sports seasons were in full swing.

Klein, 30, the Saints' head boys track and field coach, also is working remotely with the athletes, providing optional workouts because spring teams and athletes across the state are unable to gather while school is not in normal session.

He's also providing an entertaining, informative outlet for athletes and coaches in St. Charles and beyond by hosting and producing a podcast called simply enough, "Let’s Talk About Track."

On each podcast – available at https://www.scsaintstrack.com/lets-talk-about-track or wherever you get podcasts – Klein talks with former St. Charles athletes, coaches from different schools and others. They discuss favorite memories and moments and provide inspiration.

Klein came up with the podcast idea when Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced that all Minnesota schools would be closed because of Covid-19 virus.

“I knew we were going to give recommended workouts to kids, which would provide for the physical aspects of the sport, but we often forget about the team culture aspect of sports,” Klein said. “That’s often the reason the kids come out, anyway, it’s always a family. It’s our way of trying to keep the kids feeling that they’re a member of the team even when they can’t come to practice.”

Track and field has become a big thing in St. Charles. When Klein took over seven years ago, there 54 kids in grades seven through 12 out for track. The number this year is 117, which is 25 percent of the student body. Klein and girls head coach Samantha Storsveen are assisted by four paid assistants and nine volunteer coaches.

“The community around this program has really come out to support us,” said Klein, whose boys team won the Class A True Team state title last year.

So far he has recorded 25 interviews for his podcast. A recent show featured former St. Charles and Hamline University athlete Luke Hulshizer. The discussion ranged from Luke’s favorite memories of bus rides, practices and meets to lessons he learned from being a track and field participant.

They laughed when Luke mentioned a special relay baton that has been passed down from seniors to juniors each year. They also talked about the positive culture of the team.

“I just miss the culture,” said Luke. “There’s so much positivity when you’re out there.”

Klein, a graduate of United South Central High School in Wells and St. Olaf College, said, “It’s been so much fun to have these conversations, especially with our alumni. The feedback from alumni has been great, the discussions have reminded them how much they loved their time here. They’ve enjoyed getting to relive those days.”

Like all teachers and coaches, Klein wants students to have the best possible experience. It doesn’t matter if school is being held normally or not, and it doesn’t matter if athletes are allowed to gather or not.

“We keep talking about our kids and how they’ve got to have a purpose when they wake up in the morning,” Klein said. ‘The same is true for us, we need to remember that these days are weird for us, too. The podcast has been good for me, it’s given me something to work on.

“Our job is to figure out how to give kids a great experience, preserve our culture and continue to develop that culture. All our coaches are on the same page and we try to come up with creative ways to provide for our kids.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Shutdown Diary: Sometimes Students Lead The Way 3/30/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, officials, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at jmillea@mshsl.org

John,

I ran into one of our standout three-sport athletes and he was dejected. "This sucks, Mr. Campbell. It’s not the way I wanted my senior year to end.” A sentiment shared by many. Kids (and coaches/advisors/teachers) are worried about the things that matter most this time of year: state tournaments, concerts, performances, prom, banquets, baccalaureates, graduation, etc., etc.

And so, we struggle to find our voice and our influence when our physical and daily contact has been stripped away. I suppose now, more than ever, our student-athletes need to hear from their coaches and advisors. And, we need to listen to them and empathize with them. And we need to teach through all of this. We need to help our student-athletes lead and commit and act even when circumstances are dire and hope has been diminished.

This group of kids ... I want to hire them when they grow up. They’ll be hungry to make sure students and student-athletes have amazing educational experiences!

Charlie Campbell
Activities director
Brainerd High School


This is my first year in Pine Island as the Activities Director. We moved to be closer to family as our parents are aging. However, my son is a senior so we elected for my husband and my son to live and work in Houston for Mikkel's senior year. Pine Island and Houston are 75 miles apart.

In one week in December, I put on 780 miles with four games in Houston and a concert. Needless to say, our winter was chaos with Mikkel playing basketball for Houston and our daughter playing for Pine Island. It has been hard to have the family split. However, my son will be finishing his senior year (probably) virtually from Pine Island. My husband is a teacher in Houston, so he will also be teaching virtually from Pine Island. It is bittersweet as the reality of my son's senior year is looming, however, we are all together 2 1/2 months earlier than expected.

Some wise words from my senior son as I am moping about the senior-might-not-happen-activities: "Mom, there is nothing we can do about it."

I think he just may be ready for the chaos this world will show him.

Lisa Myran-Schutte
Activities director
Pine Island High School
Shutdown Diary: Sports Teaches Us To Prepare For The Road Ahead3/27/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, officials, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at jmillea@mshsl.org

Hey John,

I’ve been reading the stories and processing all of the ideas conveyed by those voicing their opinions and thoughts. I think everyone has valid points and also some great food for thought. These are strange and different times that we live in, so everyone has a thought or opinions about the world we live in today and wants to be heard. That’s what is great about our country, we all have a voice and there is no right or wrong about this subject. So here is mine …

Sports has been in my life ever since I can remember. Either playing, coaching or producing sports for TV. I’ve covered the Super Bowl, the Olympics, Final Fours and World Series. The Stanley Cup, major fights in Las Vegas and All-Star games in 13 different cities. But what I’ve really enjoyed has been producing the Minnesota State High School League Tournaments; through 16 years and 782 state tournament games, meeting all those involved, especially behind the scenes as well as the coaches and players and families and communities that have put their heart and soul into every game. This is the last vestige of pure athletics. There are no big-money contracts, no commercials or endorsements waiting for any student-athlete; just the chance to say "I played in the state tournament” or “We won a state title” and doing so with your friends. But also, along the way, no matter what role you play … you’re learning and preparing yourself for the road ahead, which is what sports teaches us.

I hate that seniors and other team members don’t get to finish out a season or play that final game before moving on. I feel for parents who watched their child’s last high school game, knowing there are no more cheers from the stands or they didn’t get to see them cut down the nets or pour Gatorade all over their coach. So many things that we’ve become accustomed to, they just seem like a rite of passage. But these are not the same days we grew up in. Things are different now. Times always change and we move forward. It’s called a learning experience and we all have to learn from life and move forward.

While it’s just awful that we didn’t get to finish the winter season, it’s time for our children, our friends, neighbors and ourselves to learn the new normal. There are those who are hoping to stay healthy, others who are self-quarantined, and most of us are just trying to stay sane and hoping the economy doesn’t go bust.

I’ve witnessed so many life lessons and I’m only 57 years old. I remember Vietnam, Watergate, gas lines, the Berlin Wall, Rodney King, the O.J. Trial, 9-1-1, the conflict in the Middle East and now COVID-19. We didn’t like any of them, but we need to learn from them and we need to teach our children that life sometimes isn’t fair. So no matter what sport you played, coached, watched or cheered for, now is the time to think about what we can do to move forward and learn the new normal. Because if we don’t learn from history … we’ll repeat history.

Dennis Silva
Executive Sports Producer
KSTC-TV Channel 45

Shutdown Diary: Why We Need Football Now More Than Ever3/26/2020
With Minnesota schools closed and MSHSL spring sports and activities in a holding pattern, I have asked coaches, students, officials, administrators and others to share their thoughts/plans/ideas/fears about our current situation. I am periodically posting the notes I receive. If you'd like to contribute, emails are welcome at jmillea@mshsl.org

The past weeks have produced developments at the speed of light. The threat that we are confronted with is global and largely invisible. The response to this threat has been dramatic, necessary, and not without fear or panic. It is times like this that we need football more than ever.

As we continually see depleted shelves at local stores and people buying multiple years’ worth of toilet paper and hoarding essential goods, one thought continually crept in my mind: how would this look if we all realized that we are on the same team fighting the same enemy? Unfortunately, that enemy is often looking at us in the mirror.

Football has long been valued as a game that teaches life. This is no different. We coach this game and teach young people what it means to be on a team, what tangible sacrifice for others and the greater good looks like. We need more of that right now. We need individuals to understand that this whole event is so much bigger than any one of us.

When an offensive lineman selfishly acts on their own to benefit on any given play, the entire play fails. When defenders abandon their gap, it compromises the integrity of the unit. What we are seeing playing out all over our country now is just that; actions that benefit the individual and abandon the rest of the team. We all must do what needs to be done to protect our families and loved ones. That can still be done in a manner that benefits all. We all win when we all win.

What we need now is more people who understand that we are all in this together; that our actions impact those around us in innumerable ways. We need to demonstrate the values that football teaches now more than ever: sacrifice for the greater good, putting off short-term desires for long-term results. And we need to do this together.

I can’t help but think what our current situation would look like if more had learned these values and demonstrated them on a daily basis. We need football now more than ever and even more when this current situation subsides. We need more individuals who are willing to give of themselves for something bigger; individuals with empathy and compassion who realize that we are all on the same team. We need individuals who, because of love for each other, are willing to do the hard thing instead of the easy thing.

There’s no doubt that this is an incredibly difficult time for our players. Many have lost competition opportunities this past winter and will lose their opportunity to compete this spring. This difficulty is eased by the promise of better days. If we all do what is needed and not what is easy, those better days will come sooner rather than later.

Greg Spahn
Head football coach
Grand Rapids High School