John's Journal
Sportsmanship Is Important Focus In Suburban East Conference9/20/2012
The students walked into Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul on a sunny morning. They came from the 10 schools in the Suburban East Conference – 10 or 12 students from each school -- and their morning consisted of getting to know each other, to understand each other and have fun with each other.

If their morning pays off, attendees at Suburban East athletic events will go home with this thought: Wow, those students in the stands were great!

The SEC Sportsmanship Summit, which has been held for several years, brings together the so-called Super Fans along with team captains and cheerleaders from each school in the Suburban East: Cretin-Derham Hall, East Ridge, Forest Lake, Hastings, Mounds View, Park, Roseville, Stillwater, White Bear Lake and Woodbury. These are the students who lead their fellow students in chanting and cheering during games of all kinds; indoors, outdoors, on the field, on the ice, on the court.

The summit is a model for other conferences around the state and a discussion topic when Minnesota athletic directors gather. It’s a very good thing and more conferences should do this.

“I’m going to boast a little bit and say that I think we have the absolute best conference, not only in the metro but in the entire state,” Park athletic director Phil Kuemmel told the group. “And what we’re doing today is one of the reasons why I think we have the best conference in the entire state. It’s not just because we have good teams, but again I’m going to boast and say we have great ADs and administrators in this conference who want to do things like this to continually make things better.”

As the groups from each school arrived, each student was given a colored wrist band, corresponding to specific tables as a way to bring students from different schools together.

“You get to meet people who are just like you,” Forest Lake activities director Joel Olson said.

There was plenty of fun. The students played a game called “Giant, Wizard, Elf” which is much like “Rock, Paper, Scissors” but much more fun. There was a demonstration of a fan chant/dance called “Go Bananas!”

The meeting was led by MSHSL associate director Jody Redman and Cretin-Derham Hall faculty member Tom Cody, who also works with an organization called Top 20 Training. Redman and Cody guided wide-ranging discussions, all focused on helping the students understand how important their role is and how they can make a positive difference.

They talked about sportsmanship and treating people with respect …

--Just because a fan pays to attend a sporting event, they don’t have the right to act badly.

--Fans should focus on what they can control, including their behavior. They cannot control things like officials’ calls and players’ abilities.

Cody laughed about the common practice of students holding up newspapers as a way to ignore the introduction of the opposing team’s starting lineup.

“That’s so 1940s. Your grandma did that,” he told the students. “Let’s get clever if we’re going to be funny.”

The students learned about “mob think,” which is when people feel empowered when they are part of a large group. He used the example of a snowman on someone’s lawn; if one student walks past nothing will happen, but if a group of students walks past, that snowman is likely to be destroyed.

The students discussed behavior that goes over the line … and where that line is. Any kind of harassment clearly is over the line, but what about specific chants? This type of discussion gave the students things to think about when they are leading their fellow students in the stands.

“This is about being dignified and competitive,” Cody said.

As the meeting was winding down, the students realized that they are all alike even though they live in different areas, attend different schools and have different friends.

The meeting ended with students standing up and talking about what they had learned. Their comments included …

--“I met so many great people today.”

--“Everybody is really nice; we are opposing teams but we really welcome each other.”

--“This is our conference and we can do this together.”

At that point, pizza was delivered and a whole bunch of friends – old and new – sat together, talked and laughed.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 90
*Miles John has driven: 1,922
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
There’s No Stopping Sauk Rapids-Rice Runner Matt Kruger9/18/2012
Matt Kruger is a high school athlete. That’s the most important thing. It doesn’t really matter that the senior from Sauk Rapids-Rice runs on the junior varsity cross-country team. Or that he usually doesn’t finish among the leaders. Or that he is blind.

Matt Kruger is a high school athlete. A condition called retinitis pigmentosa may have gradually taken away his sight since he was young, but it’ll never get his determination or his desire to be part of the team.

“It’s important to him to be a part of something and a part of the school,” said Matt’s mother, Ann Kruger. “It’s been a very important part of his life.”

Matt also wrestles for the Storm, which seems a bit more understandable. But a blind runner, competing on cross-country courses that vary widely … that seems like a dangerous proposition. This is where Wade Cruser comes in.

Cruser, a former wrestling coach at Sauk Rapids-Rice, runs with Matt at most races (photo). They both hang onto a lanyard, which keeps them connected yet allows each to run freely. As they run, Wade guides Matt and tells him what to expect.

“I guess the way to put it is that I describe the course as best I can,” Cruser said at last week’s Lucky Lindy meet in Little Falls. “Today I was pretty much constantly trying to remind him, ‘OK, hills, hills, up and down, trust your footing,’ that type of thing.”

Other runners help Matt maintain his conditioning and fill in when Cruser can’t be at a competition. During practice, teammates grab the lanyard and take off alongside Matt. He views cross-country as a great way to stay in shape for wrestling, and he is indeed in great shape: lean, strong, muscular. He’s been running cross-country since seventh grade.

Yes, he occasionally falls while running. That’s something he takes in stride.

“This year it hasn’t happened but last year it was just about every meet,” Matt said. The result is “just like skinned knees and stuff.”

Sauk Rapids-Rice coach Marie Zeilenga said, “His mom, bless her heart, is totally accepting when he falls. That worries me, and he does fall. But he’s very confident in his running. It doesn’t even faze him.”

When Zeilenga (pictured helping Matt with his race number) became the Storm cross-country coach last season, she wasn’t worried about Matt’s ability to run, but keeping him safe was a concern.

“I’d say one of our biggest challenges as coaches right now is to fit him with the right person. Because there are limitations to what he’s doing but yet he’s totally capable. So it’s finding the right runner for him to make sure he’s safe out on the roads and out on the trails.

“It is a challenge and a blessing.”

Matt is a popular guy. His teammates greet him when they approach; “Hi Matt” is a common refrain around the Storm. And when he runs in a competition, it seems like nearly everyone watching calls him by name and shouts encouragement.

“Everybody knows who he is,” Cruser said. “There usually isn’t a section on the course where somebody isn’t yelling his name. He’s kind of a star.”

When the Luck Lindy race ended, other runners approached Matt and reached out to grab his right hand and shake it, telling him “Nice run” or “Good job.”

As Matt and Wade cooled down from their run, Ann approached with a bottle of Gatorade for each of them. The three chatted and laughed.

“He’s pretty quiet,” Ann said of her son. “At home he’s not so quiet. He will verbalize. He has expressed how it makes him feel good to be part of the team and do things like this.

“We are lucky. We really have an awesome school. They have really embraced him and we couldn’t ask for anything more. They are awesome at every level.”

Those good feelings go both ways. Matt’s coaches and teammates are there to support him and cheer for him, and Cruser is there when the starter’s pistol goes off.

“I enjoy coaching so I enjoy helping kids,” he said. “Matt wants to run, so let him run. He’s such a great kid, it’s hard to say no, it’s hard to not do anything you can for him.”

Matt Kruger is a high school athlete.

--To see a photo gallery of Matt in action, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 90
*Miles John has driven: 1,601
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
MSHSL Student Media Day With The Minnesota Twins9/17/2012
If you’ve seen the photo gallery on the MSHSL Facebook page, you already know what took place Saturday at Target Field. The Twins played the Chicago White Sox, with four members of the MSHSL Student Media program watching from the press box.

Actually, three students were in the press box and one was shooting photographs from field level, next to the Twins dugout. Yes indeed, it was an outstanding day.

The students attending the game were (from left to right in this photo) JoNathan Chartrand of Chisago Lakes, Nick Wagner of Ada-Borup, Zach Burnside of White Bear Lake and Jared Rubado of Brainerd. The Twins also provided their parents with tickets to the game at no charge.

Our group gathered at the Target Field media entrance at 10 a.m. – more than two hours before game time – and we were greeted by Chris Iles from the Twins corporate communications department (and a graduate of Eagan High School). After a quick elevator ride down a couple of floors, we were escorted into the Twins clubhouse, where Kent Hrbek was chatting with some of the current Twins.

Next was a private visit with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire in his office. He shook hands with the students and they asked questions; as the discussion went on, the topics ranged from baseball to college football to the military.

After that the students were served a fine pregame meal in the Twins dining room, where they all shook hands with Hall of Fame pitcher and Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven. Then came a trip to the field, where the grounds crew was preparing for the game.

From there the group was escorted to the press box. Like the rest ofTarget Field, the press box is among the finest in all of sports, and we had a great spot from which to watch the game. Although we didn’t stay in the press box the whole time …

That’s because we had other people to meet. The students were taken to the Twins Radio Network booth, where play-by-play announcer Cory Provus read their names and schools on the air. Analyst Dan Gladden handed his headset to JoNathan Chartrand, who sat in Dan’s chair for an inning.

The booth next door is where Twins general manager Terry Ryan watches the games, and that was the next stop. Ryan shook hands with the students, talked about what he looks for when watching baseball and answered questions from them.

After watching the remainder of the game from the press box, the students returned to Gardenhire’s office for his postgame session with the media. As the media members left, the students remained for another private chat with the manager. He asked them, “Did everybody have a good time today?”

The answer was easy. Thanks to the Minnesota Twins for an unforgettable experience.

--The students are writing about their experience, and their stories will be posted here on John's Journal.

--See more photos on the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 80
*Miles John has driven: 1,667
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
A Lesson In DeLaSalle Victory: Always Be Ready9/14/2012
Reid Travis, the starting quarterback at DeLaSalle, is a physical specimen who stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 240 pounds. The multi-talented junior is being recruited by Division I colleges in both football and basketball.

Billy Hart is a 5-foot-11, 165-pound sophomore backup quarterback for the Islanders. And in DeLaSalle’s wacky and wild 35-28 victory at St. Croix Lutheran on Friday night, guess which quarterback was the hero?

Yes, this was one for the little guy. Hart threw touchdown passes of 70 yards to Aaron Warren and 53 yards to Jareid Combs in the fourth quarter, with the second score clinching the decision between teams ranked No. 1 in Class 4A (DeLaSalle) and No. 1 in 3A (defending state champ St. Croix Lutheran).

The Tri-Metro Conference game in West St. Paul had a little of everything: turnovers, penalties, big plays and key moments. Travis was ejected in the third quarter for throwing a punch after being tackled along the sideline. In stepped Hart, with St. Croix Lutheran leading 20-13.

“We came through with a gutty performance,” Islanders coach Sean McMenomy said. ”Reid getting thrown out kind of fired up the guys, and they said, ‘Hey, we can do it on our own and show what DeLaSalle football is all about. We’ll buckle down and do whatever it takes to win.’ ”

On Hart’s first snap he handed off to Chris Williams, who raced 63 yards for a touchdown. The kick by Andrew Ajaluwa made it 20-20 heading into the fourth quarter. DeLaSalle (3-0) went ahead 27-20 on Hart’s 70-yard hookup with Warren, but the Crusaders (2-1) responded when Lincoln Hochmuth threw to Cody Sticha on a 9-yard fade route; St. Croix went ahead 28-27 when Jackson Goplen ran in the two-point conversion.

The Crusaders stopped DeLaSalle on fourth-and-four and St. Croix had the ball on the Islanders’ 24 with 3:40 left. But then – turnover/big play – the Crusaders fumbled and DeLaSalle recovered. Shortly thereafter, Hart found Combs for the final touchdown of the night, then the same pair connected for the two-point conversion.

Everything was sealed when GeVelve Gandy, who had scored the first touchdown of the game on a 30-yard run, intercepted a Hochmuth pass with 61 ticks remaining.

So Billy Hart, where you nervous?

“Just a little bit,” he said. “But all summer I was in a passing league with these guys.”

Aha, there’s a big piece of the winning formula. While Travis was busy with summer basketball, Hart was the guy running the offense during summer passing league action.

“He’s the one who throws all summer long, so he’s had plenty of reps throwing it and it obviously showed tonight,” McMenomy said. “He’s fearless. He’s our workhorse in JV, he came in and he was fearless tonight.”

Hart said he didn’t see the play that took Travis out of the game.

“No, not really. They said, ‘Just be ready.’ I got the call because they said Reid was out. I just had to step up and be a player.”

And in the the young quarterback’s view, what was the biggest play of the game? Surely he would choose either of his two long scoring passes, right? Wrong.

“It was my first handoff, to Chris, when he scored the touchdown,” Hart said. “That really turned the momentum around.”

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

*Schools/teams John has visited: 80
*Miles John has driven: 1,529
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn