John's Journal
Remembering The Legendary Bob Laufenburger8/20/2012
If you didn’t know Bob Laufenburger, it’s a safe bet that Bob officiated during one (or dozens or hundreds) of the athletic contests you have attended over the years. Bob, who passed away last week at 67 after battling cancer, was a legendary figure in Minnesota amateur sports, including MSHSL sports. Bob’s funeral was held Saturday in Redwood Falls.

The Redwood Falls resident was a registered MSHSL official for nearly four decades. He officiated MSHSL football, baseball, softball and volleyball, and served as an assignor and charter clinician for the Redwood Officials Association. Bob served as a rules clinician for softball during the 1990s before being promoted to head rules clinician for baseball and softball in 1998. He officiated in the state football tournament and softball tournament before becoming supervisor of officials at the state baseball and softball tournaments during the 1990s.

“In southwest Minnesota , there are not too many gyms or fields where Bob hasn’t been,” said MSHSL associate director Kevin Merkle, who served as a pallbearer. “And he had such a sense of humor. He was a storyteller.”

Fred Bloedow, a softball, baseball and volleyball official who worked with Bob for 32 years, said, “Bob was always a professional as far as the rules go. There wasn’t anything that he didn’t know. You always felt more comfortable when you were working with Bob. However, he was there to mentor as well. He would tell you not what you did wrong, but what you should do to improve.

“Not only was he a great official and assigner, Bob was a great person. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for you or any young kid. He always tried to recruit young officials, and that’s what he was all about; making sure the teams you worked for, you were able to give them your best. That’s what Bob was all about.”

Bob is survived by his wife Carolyn of Redwood Falls; sons Ryan (Sarah) Laufenburger and Rhett (Kimberly) Laufenburger all of Sun City, Arizona; daughters Tammy (Mark) Almich of Buffalo Lake and Kirsten (Larry) Krier of Inver Grove Heights; grandchildren Alex, Zach, Claire, Casey, Carly, Asher, Kevin, Michael and Parker; sister Lea Ann (Gary) Berau of Waconia; brother Dennis (Ruth) Laufenburger of Chanhassen; brother-in-law Norm (Ginny) Simondet of Mound; and sister-in-law Mary Simondet of Glencoe.

Here is further information about Bob …

Robert “Bob” Laufenburger of Redwood Falls died Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at his home. Funeral services will be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 18, 2012 from Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Redwood Falls with burial to follow in the Redwood Falls Cemetery.

Arrangements are with Nelson-Martin Funeral Service of Redwood Falls. E-mail condolences may be sent via

Robert Dale Laufenburger, the son of Arthur Robert and Marge (Haugen) Laufenburger, was born January 2, 1945 in Minneapolis. Bob was raised in Waconia where he received his elementary and high school education. He attended Hamline University, Bemidji State, and Mankato State College, graduating with Bachelor of Science degrees in Physical Education and “Park & Rec.” He entered the United States Navy in 1969 and was stationed in San Diego, California with Com Nav Air Pac. Bob received a commendation from the Admiral of the Pacific Fleet and was honorably discharged in 1972.

He married Carolyn Simondet on March 24, 1992 in Las Vegas, Nevada and they have resided in Redwood Falls since. He was previously married to Patricia Martino; that marriage ended in divorce.

In 1973 Bob began his administrative career with the Redwood Falls school district and city as the first Community Education/Recreation Director. The “lighted school” concept was in its infancy with the premise that schools need not be locked up at night. Thus began many programs which Bob established and are still in effect today. Along with the usual adult offerings, he instigated and oversaw Early Childhood/Family Education, SAC, (School Age childcare), the GED program, supervised the mural painting in downtown Redwood Falls, and was highly involved in the building of the Community Center and the Intergenerational Center. He was highly respected throughout the state and at National conventions was sought out for advice because of Minnesota’s advanced Community Ed system.

Bob supervised the Redwood Falls school and city programs by himself with a part time assistant secretary; then, after 20 years, the city took over the rec program with a staff of five. Bob continued on with Community Ed with added responsibilities such as school rentals, building supervision and school bus training. He served on the Board of the Minnesota Community Education in l994, l996-98. After retirement he became sexton of the Redwood Falls Cemetery and worked recently for the U. S. Dept. of Commerce as a field representative in the Census Bureau.

Bob was an athlete in high school, playing all sports, but went to college with scholarships in football. He played at Hamline, Rochester Community College, and Bemidji State. He began his officiating career 40 years ago while in college in Mankato. The name Bob Laufenburger was synonymous with softball in Minnesota for more than three decades, leading to Bob’s induction into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame in 2004. He began his umpiring career 40 years ago and officiated at countless district state and regional tournaments, seven national tournaments and several NCAA regional tournaments. Bob was a positive influence on the development of hundreds of umpires throught the state through the positions he held as MSF District Two Umpire-in-Chief, State Men’s Fastpitch Umpire-in-Chief, Head Clinician and Rules Interpreter for the Minnesota State High School League and a member of the National Federation of High Schools baseball rules committee. His teaching, mentoring and evaluation of officials greatly increased participation and helped raise the standards of amateur sports officiating.

He also has officiated football for 39 years, volleyball and basketball; he was honored by the Minnesota State H.S. Baseball Coaches Association, in 2010, with the Angelo Giuliani Award.

Bob has been described by Kevin Merkle of the Minnesota State H. S. League as the face of Minnesota Baseball/Softball. Sadly he was unable to supervise officials this spring for the MSHSL State Softball and Baseball tournaments and Championship games at Target Field as his cancer became very aggressive and health deteriorated, even though he had the scheduling completed and ready to go.

His wife often said, “See the world, marry an umpire,” as most of their travels were to ball fields. For many years she accompanied him and met a diverse group of officials from all over the country who remain friends with great respect for Bob. He was not boastful or took himself too seriously but was dead serious about “the game” and practiced and taught it. One of his strong attributes was his ability to remind players they are playing a game and to keep things in perspective. He usually accomplished this with his disarming sense of humor. Bob was a member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and often accompanied his wife to St. Cornelia’s Episcopal Church where she is the church musician.

Bob was happiest when with his children and grandchildren and proud of their accomplishments big and small, whether it was an Eagle Scout award, football game, dance recital, soccer game, or first trip to the grown up potty. Each accomplishment received equal praise. Bob’s thoughts were never far away from his daughter, Greta, who also had a valiant five-year fight with cancer.

He was preceded in death by his parents; and his daughter, Greta, in 1991.

He will be sadly missed by his family and beloved wife, Carolyn.
Everything Is New And Exciting For The Titans Of Tri-City United8/13/2012
Monday was Day One of fall sports practices in Minnesota, with workouts beginning at schools from border to border. Day One is always a big day, but nowhere was it bigger this year than for the Titans of Tri-City United.

If you have never heard of Tri-City United, that’s understandable. It’s a brand new school, a consolidation of Montgomery-Lonsdale and Le Center. The school district is located between the Twin Cities and Mankato, and Day One was filled with new things: New nickname, new school colors, new logo (a powerful image of a hand gripping a lightning bolt), new teammates and an entirely new identity. There are no more Le Center Wildcats or Montgomery-Lonsdale Redbirds. Everybody is a Titan.

“It’s a brand new school so everything’s different,” said senior football player Ryan Iverson. “It’s exciting, it’s a new atmosphere.”

Classmate and teammate Austin Buss agreed, saying, “ I really feel like what we start this year is going to be the standard for the future. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

The cornerstone of the new district is a spectacular new high school. An elementary school in Montgomery was replaced with a state-of-the-art building for high school students; it’s a beautiful, open, light-filled building that is packed with technology and is being rushed to completion for the first day of classes on Sept. 4.

“I think it’s great,” Iverson said. “The school we were in here in Montgomery was a 1936 building, it was old, it was run-down, no air conditioning. And this is state of the art.”

FALL TEAMS KICKED OFF the season Monday with introductions and instructions. Le Center and Montgomery-Lonsdale had cooperative teams in girls basketball, wrestling and all spring sports during the 2011-12 school year, so many of the athletes were already familiar with their teammates.

“The first day is really about trying to get a routine established, getting to know the kids, getting the kinks out, that kind of stuff,” said cross-country coach Brian Fogal. “Le Center never had cross-country so we haven’t gotten many kids from Le Center. But the new setup, with where everything’s located, the logistics, that’s the hardest thing right now.”

Fall sports at Tri-City United are football, volleyball, girls tennis and girls and boys cross-country. The Titans will compete in the Minnesota River Conference.

The football team held a morning workout Monday at the old high school in Montgomery (which is being converted into an elementary/middle school), with the day’s second practice to be held in Le Center. The cross-country team drilled at the new high school, the tennis players were on courts in Le Center and the volleyball team practiced at the old high school in Montgomery.

The trio of communities – marked by peaceful, tree-lined streets and manicured lawns and surrounded by rolling farmland – form a line that runs southwest from Lonsdale (population 3,692), where it’s less than 12 miles to Montgomery (2,950) and a similar distance from Montgomery to Le Center (2,495). The new high school is expected to have a 2012-13 enrollment of around 550 students.

Titans activities director Greg Feddema said voters in the Montgomery-Lonsdale district had previously approved the construction of the new high school before a vote to consolidate the two districts was held. That took place in June 2011. Voters in all three communities approved the merger, even though it meant Le Center would no longer have a high school.

“It’s a challenge for any small town to lose their high school,” Feddema said. “I really do think our superintendent, Matt Helgerson, and our administrative team has communicated very well and been very honest with everyone about what to expect, what this construction project was going to be all about and what we wanted to do in regards to athletics and things like that.

“I think last Thursday, when we had an open house, opened some eyes for the public. The high school is very nice, the facility is state of the art, and that will help. Our next challenge is to, just like every school district, try and improve test scores and make sure that the academic rigor is there. Those things aren’t quite as tangible as the physical building, but obviously more important.”

MONDAY’S PRACTICES WERE well-planned by veteran coaches. “The first day, we just try to get everybody on the same page, teach the drills and later on we’ll know what we’re doing and they can jump into the drills,” said football coach Ken Helland, who coached in Le Center for 12 years and is a 33-year veteran. “The first day is the first day; we just kind of have to get through it. We get to know the kids a little bit more and teach them what we want done so later in the week we can get into the drills a lot faster.”

Girls tennis coach Phil Murray (the school does not have a boys tennis team) has taught and coached in Le Center for 25 years. Of the merger he said, “The kids are great with it, it’s the adults who struggle. And teachers struggle because for a lot of them there’s a change. The kids have really been good and I don’t expect that they’ll ever be anything but good. They’re a lot more resilient than we think they are.”

Volleyball coach Becky Madison, who has been on the Montgomery-Lonsdale volleyball staff for five years and is beginning her fourth year as head coach, helped mold the future by having players from both schools play Junior Olympic and summer volleyball together. That’s now paying off as the Titans open practice.

“I feel like a lot of them have kind of found their niche and they’ve made new friends,” Madison said. “It’s fun to see them interact with each other and give different girls a hard time. They’re starting to really forge friendships.”

Some athletes admit to being a little nervous about new classmates and new routines, but there is also a strong sense of excitement for what the future holds.

“I think we’re going to have a lot of new traditions,” said senior tennis player Beth Steinborn. “This is our only year going there, and we’re going to start a whole bunch of traditions.”

Junior volleyball player Alyshia Angileno said, “It’s really weird seeing how things are now, from being here last year. It’s so different than everything last year, but it’s a good different.”

It certainly is.

--To see a photo gallery from Tri-City United, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 3
*Miles John has driven: 247
(*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
Getting A Preseason Football Fix At Hopkins And Minnetonka8/9/2012
Seventeen high school football teams in Minnesota have gotten a head start by beginning practice this week in anticipation of playing Zero Week games Aug. 24 or 25. Those teams come in all sizes, from the smallest (Hancock, with a high school enrollment of 56 students) to Minnetonka (2,750).

This is only the first week of practice for those 17 teams, with everyone else beginning workouts next Monday. There are many more questions than answers for every football team at this point, but by the time Minnetonka and Hopkins meet in an Oct. 17 Lake Conference game that will end the regular season, most questions will have been answered.

I visited both of those teams during practice Thursday, which was their first day in full pads after three mandated days of conditioning drills. This is head coach Dave Nelson’s 11th season at Minnetonka (which won the Class 5A state title in 2004), and Nelson (pictured) has molded the Skippers into one of the top programs in the state; they have finished 8-3 in two of the past three seasons. Hopkins was 3-6 last year, after having won eight, seven and seven games in the previous three seasons. Hopkins coach John DenHartog is in his eighth season with the Royals.

As expected, optimism reigns for both teams. Hopkins senior wide receiver/free safety Zac Merie told me, “I think we’re going to have a pretty good season. Last year wasn’t our best season, but our senior class is really strong. We had a lot of junior starters last year and we’re expecting big things.”

The words of Minnetonka senior defensive end Mike Redmond were similar: “I think we’ll be better than last year. The coaches said we have a lot of talent in this group and they’re saying this could be the best team they’ve seen since 2004, even better than 2004.”

Baseball fans know that name … Mike Redmond was a catcher for the Twins from 2004 to 2009. But Minnetonka’s Mike Redmond wasn’t the only familiar name I ran across Thursday. During practice at Hopkins, I interviewed a football player named Jared Allen. But this wasn’t THAT Jared Allen.

The Jared Allen most fans know is the defensive end who plays for the Vikings. This Jared Allen is a senior linebacker for the Hopkins Royals. I said to him, “Hey! You’re supposed to be in Mankato!” He graciously laughed at my joke … which he probably heard for about the 900th time.

Hopkins and Minnetonka are on the Zero Week plan because they have scheduling problems. They are in the Lake Conference along with Wayzata, Eden Prairie and Edina. That’s only five teams, which means those schools need to find four non-conference opponents each year. Minnetonka will open the season at Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wis. (located between Milwaukee and Madison) and Hopkins will play at Milwaukee’s Alexander Hamilton on Sept. 14. Hopkins will open the season with an Aug. 25 home game against Episcopal of Houston, Texas.

A big change this season is the addition of a new division; Class 6A consists of the largest 32 schools in the state. But that does nothing to solve the problems of filling schedules.

“It’s fine, it’s a neat deal,” DenHartog (pictured) said of being in 6A. “One of my biggest concerns is always the schedule part of it. It doesn’t improve our schedule. I’d love for that to come up. This year we go to Milwaukee and that costs some money that we’d rather spend on shoulder pads and helmets. We got lucky with Episcopal from Houston coming up. I’d love to see us come up with something where we could get a full schedule.”

One suggestion for filling schedules – which is a problem around the state for schools of all sizes – is having teams play their section opponents during the regular season. Nelson favors that approach.

“It might ultimately come down to section football, where our section is our conference,” he said. “If this thing doesn’t get fixed, down the road I think that’s what’s going to happen.

“Our league is a really good league, but with only five teams it doesn’t seem like a league. I was always a conference proponent but I would just as soon go to sections. I know a lot of guys like their league and they have history and tradition, but to me it makes sense. I think that’s where we’ll be headed if something doesn’t change.”

Other tidbits from Thursday’s football visits …

--Hopkins’ Merie (left in this photo, with Allen on the right) on the opposition: “The Lake Conference is always good. I’d say our biggest competitor is going to be Minnetonka. Eden Prairie and Wayzata are not as strong, we’re stronger. Minnetonka is definitely going to be the toughest game.”

--DenHartog, assessing his team: “We’re not real big but I think we’ll continue to be very athletic. I think we’ve got a lot of tough-minded kids here. Our leadership group is a bunch of tough kids. I think we’ll come out and be a little more hard-nosed than we’ve been in the past. We’ll spread it around and try to use our speed, get our guys in open spaces. That’s our game. If I had my wish I’d rather be a power football running team, but that’s just not what we’re blessed with. We are blessed with a lot of speed and athletic ability and it’s fun to see them run around.”

--Minnetonka senior safety/receiver Malcolm Moore suffered a broken foot in a passing league six weeks ago. Nelson said he doesn’t expect Moore to be available for the season opener. “We hope to get good news soon. He works in the pool and today he got on a bike for the first time. We just hope it heals right and he doesn’t come back and be limping again a week later.”

--Minnetonka senior guard Jack Bixler on Zero Week practices: “It’s pretty much the same thing. We’re coming, working hard, trying to get ready the best we can. It’s just a week earlier, it’s no different in our minds.”

--Minnetonka’s Redmond on the Skippers’ top rivals: “I think it’s a tie between Eden Prairie and Wayzata. Last year we lost to Eden Prairie in the section championship. That was no fun. So I feel like there’s a bigger target for us to take them out this year. They’re ranked 20th in the nation, which is cool, but they haven’t proved anything yet. Everyone’s even.”

--First freebie of the season: A member of the Minnetonka staff smiled and handed me a nice cold can of Diet Coke. It tasted great.

--See photo galleries from Hopkins and Minnetonka on the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 2
*Miles John has driven: 171
(*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
Help Me Make My Plans For Monday's Big Day8/8/2012
As we get closer to Monday and the start of fall practices around the state, I am working on a coverage plan for the first day of workouts.

This statement has been posted on the MSHSL Facebook page ...

"The MSHSL's John Millea will choose one school to report from on Monday, the first day of practice for fall sports teams. He will spend much of the day at that school, watching workouts, interviewing coaches and athletes, shooting photos/video and producing a full report for John's Journal and this Facebook page. Does anyone have any suggestions on a school for him to visit????"

I am always open to suggestions, so jump on Facebook and, uh, tell me where to go.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 0
*Miles John has driven: 108
(*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
Welcome to 2012-13 … It’s Time To Begin Anew 8/5/2012
In most schools around our state, Aug. 13 is the day when a new year of activities will begin. That’s because Aug. 13 is the day when practices can start for fall sports. But for 17 football teams, the new year begins a week early … on Aug. 6.

Those 17 teams will play Zero Week games on either Aug. 24 or Aug 25. The rest of Minnesota’s football teams will begin their season – practice and games – one week later. Zero Week was instituted last year in order to assist teams that have problems filling an eight-game regular-season schedule.

Next Monday, practice fields, courts and pools all over our state will be buzzing with activity. By then, soccer, cross-country, girls’ tennis, girls’ swimming and diving, girls’ volleyball and football teams will all be in full swing.

I’m starting to map out my plans for preseason stories, and I’m always happy to get feedback and ideas. If you’ve got a great story brewing in your school, your conference or your area, drop me an email.

It’s time for the fun to begin!

*Schools/teams John has visited: 0
*Miles John has driven: 108
(*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