John's Journal
Big School, Small Town: Osseo And Nevis Share The Fun 9/12/2012
Before last weekend, it was a pretty safe bet that most of the volleyball players from Osseo High School could not find the town of Nevis on a Minnesota map. But after spending some time in Nevis, the Orioles know all about the community of less than 500 people. Most of all, they know all about “Nevis Nice.”

Osseo High School’s enrollment is close to 2,000 students and Nevis has fewer than 150, so being in Nevis – for much more than a volleyball match – was special for the Orioles. As Osseo coach Bill Quan explained, “Nevis opened its arms and put us first.”

The weekend included both teams coming together for pizza, a hayride, a football game, a bonfire, breakfast and finally a volleyball match.

The Orioles arrived in Nevis – which is east of Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids – Friday afternoon. They held a brief practice before going to their accommodations at the In-We-Go Resort. The teams had pizza together and then everybody climbed aboard a hayride into town. (Nice touch: the tractor pulling the flatbed trailer covered with hay bales was orange; Osseo’s colors are orange and black.)

“All the girls rode on the hayride a few miles into town, through our huge downtown, which only took a few seconds,” said Nevis volleyball coach Stephanie Hanson. The haywagon then circled the football field.

The volleyball teams sat together and watched the football game. They even formed a tunnel for the Nevis Tigers football team to run through before the game and at the start of the second half. They cheered, they laughed, they talked.

“Our girls were missing our school’s biggest football game of the year vs. Maple Grove,” Quan said. “But they talked about how much fun they were having in Nevis and they were getting text updates from our game. They were sure happy they were up in Nevis.”

The trip began taking shape a few years ago when Quan chatted with a man from Nevis at a tournament in Moorhead. That man was Karl Carlson, Hanson’s father. The teams played in Osseo last year, though the Tigers were not able to arrive in time for a lot of pre-match festivities.

Nevis (currently ranked fourth in Class 1A) is a burgeoning volleyball power, placing fifth at the Class 1A state tournament in 2009 and finishing second at state last season. Osseo has been to the 3A state tourney seven times, most recently in 2008.

On Saturday afternoon Nevis defeated the Orioles 3-1, with game scores of 25-23, 24-26, 26-24, 25-16. The junior varsity and ninth-grade teams from both schools also competed against each other.

“I think this year’s Nevis team is better than last year’s,” Quan said. “They’ve got four or five girls who can put the ball down, their defense is much improved and their role players have really stepped it up. They’ve got a lot of tools.”

Quan said the weekend highlight for his players might have been the hayride to and from the football game.

“The girls were singing and talking. As soon as I told the girls there was going to be a hayride to the football game, they were really excited. A lot of them hadn’t done that before. It was a great experience for our girls.”

After the Nevis football team defeated Floodwood 28-6, the volleyball players from both teams got back on the haywagon and returned to the resort. They sat around a bonfire roasting marshmallows and s’mores and sharing stories. On Saturday morning they gathered again for breakfast at the North Wind Café in downtown Nevis. Then came volleyball in the afternoon, followed by goodbye hugs and waves.

Everybody involved went home with wonderful memories, and the Nevis volleyball players went home with something fashionable. Quan gave all of them Osseo volleyball T-shirts … which the Tigers proudly wore to school on Monday.

“It was fun, a great experience,” Hanson said.

Quan said, “Nevis was more than welcoming. It was amazing what they did for us. I think I shook hands with people from the community for about half an hour after the match.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 58
*Miles John has driven: 1,609
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

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Thinking Back To Eleven Years Ago This Week9/11/2012
I’ll always remember where I was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I had an appointment to speak to a class at Bloomington Jefferson High School, and I turned on the radio at home as I was getting dressed for the day.

There was talk of something bad happening in New York City. I turned on the TV in the kitchen and saw a big black smoldering hole in the side of one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. A plane had apparently struck the building, but nobody knew anything more than that. Before long another aircraft blasted into the other twin tower.

I drove to Bloomington Jefferson, arriving a few minutes early. I listened to the radio in the car for as long as I could and then walked into the school and was escorted to the room where the Sports Literature class was meeting. There were televisions in the classrooms, but because of construction work in the school none of the TVs were working. I told the class everything I had learned from listening to the radio, and then we were all in blackout mode.

After the class period ended, I drove to the Star Tribune building in downtown Minneapolis. Like everyone else in the newsroom, I watched the scenes on television. The Pentagon was on fire … a plane had apparently gone down in Pennsylvania.

Fast-forward a few years and I was back at Jefferson, writing about a memorial stone that had been installed at the school in honor of former Jaguars quarterback Tom Burnett, who died when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. I also wrote about former Blake linebacker Gordy Aamoth, who died in one of the twin towers on Sept. 11. The stadium at Blake now bears his name and a twisted beam from the World Trade Center is on display at the stadium.

In the Sept. 14, 2001, edition of the Star Tribune, I wrote a column under the headline “High school sports can help the healing.” I had spoken with people at Colorado’s Columbine High School as well as Osceolo High School in Wisconsin, where a traffic accident had claimed twin brothers a few weeks before Sept. 11. That column seemed to resonate with readers at the time, and to this day people occasionally will mention it to me. I have heard from a few people who say they saved that column, and they read it every day as Sept. 11 comes around. That is equally touching and humbling.

Here is that column as it appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sept. 14, 2001…

High School Sports Can Help The Healing

In the horrible wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all after-school activities were canceled Tuesday in the Jefferson County (Colo.) School District. This didn't surprise Ed Woytek, the athletic director at Columbine High School.

The day's events hit Columbine hard, especially the senior class. They were freshmen on April 20, 1999, when two students shot and killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

"Our coaches and all of us are on kind of a fine line, especially with what happened here previously," Woytek said.

Columbine still is recovering from that day. Recovery also is an ongoing process in Osceola, Wis., where twin brothers Eric and Aaron Kipp, 18, died in a car accident on the way to football practice 30 days ago.

With thousands of innocent people presumed to have perished this week, what do you say? How do you heal? Maybe it's best to listen to the kids. That's among the lessons learned at Columbine and Osceola.

"Pretty much all of them are saying to us, 'We need to be a family,'" Woytek said. "Because that's what happened a few years ago; they got with family. And that's where we need to be, that's where our American people need to be, is with family."

After the Kipp brothers died, football practices were stopped for a short period. But soon, everyone wanted to return -- or try to return -- to some sense of normalcy.

"Very soon, the kids were ready to go back," said Osceola coach/principal Mike McMartin. "They said, 'Coach, I need to keep busy.' And they were right. When we jumped back into it, although they weren't the best practices in the world, there was almost a big sigh of relief that they could start moving forward and take with us all the good things that the boys had shared with us for so many years, instead of thinking about the bad."

Activities went on as scheduled Tuesday in Osceola, the day of the attacks.

"We just really felt during that time it was massively important that we show to the kids, 'Hey, we're going on. We're not going to let these people defeat us or take us off our feet here. We're going to move forward and be proud,'" McMartin said.

At Columbine and Osceola, tragedy struck a specific community of people. This week, tragedy struck us all.

The Columbine Rebels take a 1-1 record into tonight's game at Dakota Ridge. Osceola is 3-0 and the homecoming opponent for rival St. Croix Falls. The games go on, as do our lives.

"Everybody keeps saying we'll never get back to normal, just like our nation will never get back to normal," Woytek said. "But hopefully we're going to get as close to normal as we can."

So if sporting events are part of your normal routine, stick with it. If you haven't been to a high school game in years, tonight would be a wonderful time to go. Get away from the television, escape the headlines. Find a seat in the bleachers and take a break, however temporary, from all that's gone so wretchedly wrong in this world.

Watch the team captains shake hands before the coin flip. Hold your hand over your heart during the national anthem as the flag flutters at half-staff. Bow your head during the moment of silence to honor this week's victims. Get on your feet for the opening kickoff. Watch our young people -- players, cheerleaders, fans -- as they smile, holler and laugh together during this evening that is tradition both athletic and social. Buy popcorn, listen to the band, cheer first downs, simply celebrate.

Maybe administrators at every school can find a recording of God Bless America, and across our states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and beyond -- we'll sing together when the game ends. Just like a family.
Four Named To Basketball Coaches Hall Of Fame9/10/2012
The Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association has named four men who will be inducted into the MBCA Hall of Fame this October. The purpose of the MBCA Hall of Fame is to give special recognition to the people of Minnesota who have made significant contributions to promote high school basketball in the state via their achievements and service.

The 2012 inductees are:
· Franz Boelter – Bethlehem Academy
· Ron Causton – St. Paul Highland Park
· Don Roberts – Simley
· Bruce Young – Long Prairie-Grey Eagle

The induction ceremonies will be held at the MBCA Hall of Fame Luncheon on Sunday, October 28th, 12:00 p.m., at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Minneapolis.

Franz Boelter became the head boys basketball coach at Bethlehem Academy in 1984 and will begin his 29th season this November at the helm of the Cardinals program. Franz's high school coaching career began as a head basketball coach and assistant volleyball coach at Medford High School in 1978. During his 28-year tenure at Bethlehem Academy, his teams have won 14 Gopher Conference titles and Section Championships in 1993, 1994, 2002, and 2009. His 1993 Cardinals finished as Class A State Runner-Up, and a return trip to the State Tournament the following year netted them a third place finish. Franz is a member of the 500 wins club with an overall record of 580-265. Coach Boelter has multiple Section Coach of the Year awards and was honored as State Class A Coach of the Year in 1993. He also served on the MBCA Executive Board as a Section Representative for over 20 years and is a past MBCA President. In addition to his success on the basketball court, Coach Boelter has also experienced great success on the volleyball court, establishing Bethlehem Academy as one of Minnesota's elite volleyball programs. He has led the Cardinals to five State Championships and four State Runner-Up finishes in the past ten years, as well as being named to the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2008.

Ron Causton spent the first ten years of his coaching career, 1962-72, at Murray H.S. in St. Paul. In an unusual transition in 1966, Causton gave up his head wrestling coach duties and became the head basketball coach at Murray. He led his Murray teams to three conference titles and a 1972 Region Championship and State Tournament appearance. At the conclusion of the 1971-72 school year, he moved to St. Paul Highland Park and promptly guided the Scots to the 1973 St. Paul City title. During his 16 seasons at Highland Park, his squads won four conference titles and earned Region championships resulting in State Tournament appearances in 1975 and 1977. Ron was an active member in the early years of the MBCA and aided in creating the “Hoop Scoop” communication for member coaches. He also served as a member of the Region 4 committee and is a member of the Highland Park and Mancinis’ Halls of Fame. In addition to coaching boys basketball he also coached wrestling, baseball, football, and girls basketball (2 years at Johnson H.S.). Coach Causton retired from coaching with an overall record of 311-172 as a varsity boys basketball coach.

Don Roberts’ coaching career began in 1954 in Lake Crystal, MN. He spent five years coaching in Lake Crystal before he moved to Inver Grove Heights as a math teacher, assistant basketball coach, and defensive coordinator for the football team (a position he held until his retirement). He became the head hoops coach in 1964 and led the Simley program until his retirement in 1987. His 1974 Spartans team won the Region 1 Tournament and finished as consolation champions in that year’s State Tournament. His 1985 squad finished as Section 1 runners-up. Don was also one of the early leaders of the MBCA and like fellow inductee, Coach Causton, was a driving force in the creation and distribution of the Hoop Scoop communication for member coaches. He was also actively involved at the regional and state levels with initiatives promoting and improving basketball. After retirement from Simley, he continued his involvement in sports by serving as an assistant basketball coach and assistant football coach at Bethel College from 1987-1999. Coach Roberts is a member of the Simley High School Athletic Hall of Fame and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Hall of Fame.

Bruce Young has coached boys basketball at Long Prairie/Long Prairie-Grey Eagle H.S. for 20 years and just completed the 33rd season of a coaching career that began at Bellingham H.S. in 1972. He guided teams to seven conference titles and led Long Prairie/LP-GE teams to Section titles and State Tournament appearances in 1991, 1998, 1999, 2001, and 2002. The 1991 Long Prairie State entrants won the consolation championship and the 1998 LP-GE squad battled their way to a State Tournament second place finish. Bruce’s coaching achievements earned him recognition from his peers as the recipient of three Section Coach of the Year awards and honors as the State Class AA Coach of the Year. During his career he has also served as a coach at Round Lake, Baldwin, WI, New Richland, and Braham. After a seven year hiatus from boys basketball, including one year as girls coach, he returned to lead the Thunder program in 2009 and continues in that position today. In addition to coaching basketball, Bruce has coached football and served in the role of Athletic Director. Coach Young is a member of the 500 win club and has compiled an overall record of 506-282.
Big Plays, Big Turnovers And A Great Night For Football9/8/2012
While the football teams from Edina and Totino-Grace were warming up Friday night at Totino-Grace in Fridley, T-G coach Jeff Ferguson walked up to me on the sideline, nodded toward the Edina Hornets and said, “Do you notice any tendencies, John?”

This was clearly my chance. After decades of writing about high school football, here was a coach – one who has won multiple state championships and produces top-notch teams year after year – asking me … no, begging me … for advice.

“Oh yes, I definitely see a tendency,” I replied with confidence. “Look at their socks. They don’t match.” The Hornets wore white socks and black socks, high socks and low socks. I discovered this fact by using my highly trained football eye. Glad to help, coach.

Enough joking around. This was an intriguing matchup and the first time Edina and Totino-Grace had met on the football field. The Eagles, ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, defeated 6A Edina 15-12 in a game that started out in a slow burn and finished on a high wire. “It was kind of two immovable objects there for a while,” Ferguson said afterwards.

Turnovers made the difference, as is often the case. Midway through the first quarter Edina lost a fumble, and on the next play Totino-Grace quarterback A.J. LaPanta threw 38 yards to Charlie Miller for a touchdown. As the immovable objects went back and forth, Edina’s Patrick Le Corre kicked two 30-yard field goals, making it T-G 7, Edina 6 in the third quarter.

Edina missed another scoring chance late in the third when a long pass on fourth-and-short flicked off the fingers of a receiver. Hornets coach Reed Boltmann rightfully pointed something out to his receiver: “God gave you two hands! Use ‘em!” To which the young man who had not caught the football yelled back as he stretched one hand outward, “It was way the (expletive) out here!”

Edina kept pounding the rock and finally took the lead with 7:29 left in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Mark Handberg, who was chased by the Totino-Grace defense all evening, broke free from a tackle and threw 19 yards to the end zone, where Marly Allison made a nice catch and got his feet in before falling out. It was Edina 12, Totino-Grace 7.

After Totino-Grace lost a fumble, Edina returned the turnover favor when the Eagles’ Michael Waters intercepted a Handberg pass at the Edina 33. A few plays later, Kai Barber rushed up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown, LaPanta threw to Mason Kaliszewski for the two-point conversion and Totino-Grace was back on top, 15-12, with 3:44 to go.

The sealant was applied was with 67 seconds remaining when Eagles sophomore Ben Mezzenga picked off a Handberg pass. Game, set, match.

Boltmann told his players that they had let the Eagles off the hook.

“I thought we did,” he said. “I thought we had the second half in hand there after we pick up the fumble. But we don’t get a play in in time and then we fumbled the ball, an interception and it kind of took the wind out of our sails.

“I thought we did enough to give ourselves a chance. There were some woulda, coulda, shouldas in that game. But they made the plays when they needed to and we didn’t. We’ve got to find a way to finish and that’s why we practice every day.”

The interceptions by Waters and Mezzenga seemed a little unlikely before the game began. Waters is a backup who was filling in for a missing teammate and Mezzenga had been sick all week with a virus and muscle aches.

“I’m really proud of our kids,” Ferguson said. “We had some guys that were out and not playing and some guys that stepped up big. Michael Waters made a big interception and Ben Mezzenga didn’t practice this week. He comes back today and got a big interception. It was a total team effort.”

Totino-Grace improved to 2-0 after beating Coon Rapids 48-6 last week. The Eagles are a new team in the Northwest Suburban Conference this season, moving from the North Suburban.

Edina, which is in the new Class 6A, is 2-1. The Hornets opened with a Zero Week contest, defeating Holy Angels 28-14 and a week ago the Hornets beat Andover 24-23 after trailing 14-0 in the first quarter. Edina was on the cusp of the 6A top 10 this week, falling a few votes short of the No. 10 spot.

No matter the rankings or the outcome, Totino-Grace is a wonderful place to watch a football game. The facilities are great, the Eagles students are loud and proud, the home stands were filled to overflowing and hundreds of folks stood around the fence that circles the field. The weather was perfect, too.

Both teams face tough tests next week, with Totino-Grace going to Anoka (2-0) and Edina hosting Lakeville South (1-1).

If the coaches need any advice about the opponents’ socks, I’m here to help.

--Photos from the game can be seen on the MSHSL Faceboo page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 58
*Miles John has driven: 1,307
(*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