John's Journal
The Surroundings Can Differ, But Football Is Football10/18/2012
During the football regular season that has now come to an end, I had the great pleasure of seeing games in a wide variety of settings. I watched 11 games during the eight-week regular season, from Underwood to Rochester to Stillwater to Buffalo and elsewhere.

My Week 8 game plan was watching two games in two settings that could not have been more different. On Tuesday I went to a game that began at 4 p.m. on a youth football field in the Elk River countryside. A day later I was at Eden Prairie High School, where the games are the closest thing to college football that the Minnesota high school version can produce.

The only common denominator was what happened between the white lines: Eleven players on each side of the ball, five officials, one football. The differences, on the other hand, were most striking when the teams stood for the national anthem. In Elk River, one team had 17 players in uniform and the other had 19. In Eden Prairie, one had 91 and the other had 117.


At the Elk River Youth Athletic Complex, the team from Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf (MSAD) in Faribault played Spectrum, a small school in Elk River. MSAD, which was founded in 1863, has only 46 students in grades 9-12. Spectrum, founded in 2006, has 222 students and is fielding a football team for the first time this season.

The grass field and small gravel parking lot was surrounded by cornfields, marshes and forests, with a Cargill facility next door. There were no bleachers for spectators and no benches on the sidelines for either team.

People brought lawn chairs and blankets and some brought their dogs. Small children giggled as they rolled down a small embankment from where the fans watched the action. A couple of trains rumbled by in the distance.

On the Spectrum sideline came the usual sounds of football: “Stay low!” “Hit ‘em!” “Big play! Big play!” Across the field, the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf coaches and players were silent other than an occasional high-pitched celebratory yelp. Sign language is the language of football for the Trojans, with coaches frantically signing to each other and to the players; timeouts seem absolutely peaceful and non-frantic compared to most teams.

This was an 11-man football game, although MSAD plays mostly nine-man games as well as eight-man when traveling to meet opponents in other states that have eight-man football. That’s three different playbooks to memorize. This game was MSAD’s only 11-man contest of the season, and they had one day of practice using 11 players.

Following the score and game time may have required some squinting for the older eyes sitting on the hill. The scoreboard was a small portable model, plugged into an electrical outlet and positioned off one corner of the field. The scoreboard operator sat next to the board in a lawn chair. The public-address announcer sat at a folding table behind the visitor’s sideline, with his voice being carried across the facility via two portable speakers on either side of him.

A person with a video camera was easy to spot because he filmed from the top of a large stepladder on the hill.

Spectrum came away with a 22-20 victory, giving them a 3-5 record going into the Class 2A Section 4 playoffs. The loss was the first of the season for MSAD, which had defeated schools for the deaf in Kansas, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri as well as Minnesota schools West Lutheran and E.C.H.O. Charter.


Eden Prairie’s enrollment is 3,007. Wayzata has 3,060 students. Those numbers start the conversation about the differences between miniscule schools and those of the mammoth variety.

This game between Wayzata and Eden Prairie was a rarity: the winner would claim second place in the Lake Conference. It’s not rare for the Trojans and Eagles to decide the league championship … if not the state championship. But the surprising Edina Hornets had defeated both in the previous two weeks and the Hornets captured the conference title as well as the top seed in the Class 6A Section 6 playoffs.

Wayzata earned the No. 2 seed with a 16-0 victory over the Eagles in a setting that provided all the sights and sounds that large-school football is famous for. The pregame pageantry included the Eden Prairie marching band circling the field on the running track, and a performance by a combined group of 60-some cheerleaders, pom squad and dance team members.

One of the most stark differences from the MSAD-Spectrum game came when the players from Wayzata and Eden Prairie lined up for the anthem. Each team had enough players to stretch nearly from end zone to end zone: 208 boys in all. The total from the game in Elk River? Thirty-six.

Eden Prairie plays on artificial turf, which has become common at big schools. There are enough bleacher seats for thousands of people, and most of them were filled for Wednesday’s game. The Wayzata students came wearing bright orange, while the Eden Prairie students wore all shades of pink.

The field was bathed in brightness thanks to six banks of lights towering above. There were no video cameras being held on top of stepladders; Wayzata used a telescoping pole to raise its camera above the south goal posts, and the Eden Prairie video crew stood atop high scaffolding.

Each school has its own athletic trainer. Eden Prairie’s trainer is Gary Smith, who as a younger man was the trainer for the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team. Wayzata trainer Chris Thein is another veteran.

At the MSAD-Spectrum game, there was no pressbox, few assistant coaches and no headsets for coaches to communicate with each other. Eden Prairie has a large press box for the announcer, timer and scoreboard operator, along with spots for television cameras, radio crews and reporters. In addition, each team has its own smaller box from where assistants with headsets talk to the coaches on the sideline.

The concessions at Elk River were spartan: a folding table held a selection of candy, water and soft drinks, with smiling Spectrum students waiting on the customers. Eden Prairie has several concession choices, including a building that houses the main menu items as well as a Culver’s tent where fresh burgers are available.

At both sites, there were stars on the field. An Italian exchange student named Filippo Caminati made the play of the day for Spectrum, taking the ball away from an MSAD runner and dashing 20 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown that sealed the victory for the Sting. Jordy Ildvad scored two rushing touchdowns for Spectrum. MSAD’s Brennan McDonough had two touchdowns, and teammate Shaun Novella caused a fumble that Tommy Ellenbecker returned for a Trojans touchdown.

On Wednesday, Wayzata’s Chris Pierson had two interceptions and blocked a punt that Drew Greely returned for a touchdown. The Trojans also scored on a short run by Jeff Borchardt and recorded a safety when a pass from the end zone by Eden Prairie quarterback Ryan Connelly was ruled intentional grounding.

The numbers – of students, players and fans – were very different from Tuesday to Wednesday. The settings could not have been further apart, and I’m not talking about geographical distance. But the action on the two football fields was exactly the same: Hard-working, well-trained athletes working together and doing their best in an effort to come out with a victory.

I can’t imagine two better places to be.

--To see photo galleries from each game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 205
*Miles John has driven: 3,546
(*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
Hangin’ Out In The Pit At South St. Paul10/18/2012
South St. Paul's Ettinger Field is one of the historic treasures of Minnesota high school football. The Packers hosted St. Thomas Academy on Wednesday at the famous field that's known as The Pit. Click here to read Brian Jerzak's story about the site and the game.

Lourdes, Kasson-Mantorville Agree: Time Is Short As Playoffs Loom10/14/2012
It’s mid-October. And every football player, coach and fan in Minnesota knows what that means: Time is short. One game remains in the regular season, with Week 8 coming up this week, followed by the quick-hitting early playoff rounds and settling in for the parade to the Prep Bowl.

Time is short, and the Week 7 games whittled the number of unbeaten teams in our state. Seven teams suffered their first loss, leaving 31 undefeated teams remaining with one game remaining. The big Week 7 shocker came when second-ranked Edina won at No. 1 Eden Prairie 17-6 in a Class 6A game between Lake Conference neighbors.

For dramatics, big plays, a big crowd and absolute fun, no game was better Friday than the Hiawatha Valley League matchup of Kasson-Mantorville and Rochester Lourdes. Both teams walked onto the artificial turf at University Center in Rochester with 7-0 records and bragging rights on the line. The Lourdes Eagles are top-ranked in Class 3A and the Kasson-Mantorville Komets are No. 7 in Class 4A.

Both teams brought astounding point differentials: Lourdes’ six victories had come by an average score of 41-11, and Kasson-Mantorville’s count was 46-17. The total points scored Friday came close to each team’s average, but Lourdes scored first, scored again quickly and used an early 15-0 cushion to hold off the Komets 36-28.

The opening seven minutes went like this: Kasson loses 15 yards on fourth and nine … Lourdes needs only five plays before quarterback Mark Pagel runs 43 yards for a touchdown … Kasson loses a fumble on its next snap … eight plays later Griff Slightham scores on a four-yard run and the Eagles are in front 15-0.

Erase those touchdown and the Komets win 28-21. Unfortunately for Kasson-Mantorville, scoreboards don’t come with erasers.

“These are two good defensive teams,” Komets coach Ivan Kroulik said. “They were just better than us. You just admit that and you take your lumps.”

It was 15-8 at halftime, and Lourdes made another big statement to open the second half. The Eagles moved 74 yards in six plays, with Pagel covering the final 50 on one big run. It was 22-8, the rest of the game was even points-wise and the Eagles walked off the field carrying an 8-0 record and 500-watt smiles.

“We had a nice drive to go down and score,” Lourdes coach Mike Kesler said. “That was a great start, and we had talked about that. And the opening drive of the second half was almost 80 yards to get another score and set the tone for the second half. That was huge.”

Both teams play rugged defense but they are dissimilar on offense. Kasson-Mantorville is a no-huddle team that throws the ball a bit -- quarterback Riley Donovan completed 13 of 20 for 158 yards and two scores – while Lourdes is as run-oriented as they come. Six Eagles combined for 55 rushes, 340 yards and six touchdowns against the Komets, while Pagel completed the only pass he threw for 11 yards.

Pagel led his team with 18 carries for 118 yards and two scores, and Kasson’s Broc Berge ran 23 times for 128 yards and a touchdown.

The biggest defensive play of the night came with Kasson on offense … so you know how this ends. The Komets were stopped on fourth and one at the Lourdes 19 with 1:34 left in the third quarter, and the Eagles followed with a 30-yard touchdown run by Kane Carsten for a 29-15 lead. Boom. Another statement.

“They ran the bal,” Kroulik said. “We thought we were going to be able to stop them and they ran the ball well. We had a couple of turnovers that really hurt us. We came out in the second half strong, had the fourth and one and we didn’t get it; I thought that was one of the turning points of the game.”

Kesler said, “Our defense has been playing very well and we knew we were going to have our hands full. That’s a great Kasson program, which we have a lot of respect for. It’s a great rivalry. We made a big play.”

The final analysis included this common thread: That early 15-0 lead – even though a lot of football remained to be played -- was crucial for Lourdes.

“That was huge,” Pagel said. “To go into half with any kind of lead against a really good team, you’ve got to be able to do that. It’s really huge. You’ve got to have a lead against teams, you’ve got to hold them off. They came back later on, and we needed that cushion.”

And now we move on to Week 8. It’s a shortie, with a few games on Tuesday, the bulk of the contests on Wednesday and a handful on Thursday. After this week’s games, the section playoff pairings will be set and the second season will get underway.

Kasson-Mantorville’s hard-working boys were back at practice at 8 o’clock Saturday morning to begin preparing for a Wednesday home game against Stewartville. Lourdes will play at La Crescent the same night.

“With one game left we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Pagel said. “We’ve got to keep coming together, keep working hard. We’ve got a long ways to go.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 201
*Miles John has driven: 3,350
(*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
Visiting Schools And Students, Talking About Journalism10/11/2012
I often tell people how much I enjoy my job. I’m a sports fan and a storyteller, so traveling around Minnesota and sharing positive stories of high school activities is a wonderful way to go.

Another part of my job is meeting high school students who are interested in journalism. Most of them have heard me tell the story of how I got started: my own high school English teacher, the beloved Mrs. White, gave me the opportunity to write about the teams in my school for our local weekly newspaper. That spark was lit when I was a sophomore in high school and it continues to burn brightly. It has taken me through college, through five newspaper jobs in three states and coverage of youth, amateur, college and professional sports.

One of my missions when I was hired by the MSHSL in March 2010 was creating a program to give young journalists opportunities similar to what I had when I was their age. Thus we have the MSHSL Student Media program, which is very similar to what I did as a teenager. I wrote stories for my local weekly paper; students who are part of this program write stories for their school’s page here on (You can read about the program by scrolling to the bottom of and clicking on the "Student Media" link.)

This has been a great week for me, because I have spent a lot of time with aspiring journalists. On Monday I drove west on Interstate 94 to Monticello High School, where I met with a Mass Communications class taught by Robby McGuire. A few students walked into the classroom, saw me and asked, “Are you a sub?” No, I’m your guest speaker. I had a great time talking about journalism with the students and answering their questions.

I then met with three Monticello ninth-graders who are interested in the Student Media program. I talked with Tim Witzmann, Nathan Mayer and Parker Gorecki in the office of athletic/activities director Gary Revenig. The boys were enthusiastic as I explained how the program works, and I know we’ll see great things from them.

On Tuesday I attended the Minnesota High School Press Association state convention at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union. I was a workshop presenter, talking to a large number of students on “Sports Reporting From Preps to Pros.” We talked about the great and not-so-great things about the life of a sports reporter, whether the beat is high school or professional sports. The kids asked great questions and I encouraged them to keep in touch with me.

Another school visit was on my agenda Thursday. This time I went south on Interstate 35 to Medford. Most people who regularly travel on that stretch of I-35 probably know Medford as the home of a McDonald’s and an outlet mall. I had never driven into the town of Medford until Thursday. My route meandered through the small town to the school, located on the eastern edge of Medford.

It’s a great place, with K-12 students all attending school in the same modern complex built in 2003. Principal Jeff Sampson welcomed me before taking me to the classroom of English teacher Kelley Ungerecht. She teaches a specialized class called Media Writing, and the students are sophomore Tylor Holmquist, sophomore Benito Mora-Flores and junior Dakota Jones.

Since it was a small group, the students received some goodies (MSHSL pens and notebooks, etc.). I gave them Student Media credentials, which allow them free access to high school events when they are working as reporters. I showed them photos of students who have attended Timberwolves and Twins games with me as credentialed members of the media, and I explained how the Student Media program works. We also looked at John’s Journal, the MSHSL Facebook page and Twitter. The hour went very quickly.

Mr. Sampson then gave me a tour of the school. Medford is the home of the Tigers, and there are Tiger logos all over the place. One sign that doesn’t include a Tiger does carry these words: Respectful, Proud, Responsible. That pretty much says it all about Medford and the rest of the schools in our great state.

--To see photo galleries from Monticello and Medford, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 199
*Miles John has driven: 3,208
(*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