John's Journal
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
Sneaking A Peek At Zero Week ... And A Little Time Off7/16/2012
Happy summer, everybody! We're in the midst of another Minnesota summer and a new school year will be here before we know it.

Practices for fall sports will begin Aug. 13, with the exception of a few football teams that will start workouts one week earlier and play Zero Week games. The football season will open with 10 Zero Week games Aug. 24-25. Two Minnesota teams will travel to Wisconsin and one will host a team from Texas.

I'm ducking out for some summer vacation escapades. So amid thoughts of quiet shores, big fish and afternoon naps, we present the schedule of Zero Week football games ...

Friday, Aug, 24
(All games at 7 p.m.)
Holy Angels at Edina
St. Paul Humboldt at Columbia Heights
Mesabi East at Eveleth-Gilbert
Minnetonka at Arrowhead (Hartland, Wis.)
Lewiston-Altura at Cochrane-Fountain City, Wis.
Bertha-Hewitt at Hancock
Minnesota Valley Lutheran at United South Central
Wheaton at Underwood

Saturday, Aug. 25
Houston (Texas) Episcopal at Hopkins, 1 p.m.
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton at Pipestone, 7 p.m.
All The Miles, All The Memories … Another Year Is In The Books7/3/2012
The miles? Yes, the miles add up on this job. I have been an MSHSL staffer through two full school years now and have driven more than 20,000 miles around Minnesota in pursuit of great stories, new friendships and the occasional concession-stand meal.

The miles come and go, but the memories are forever. And 2011-12 was a remarkable stretch of events and people. There were stories of coaches inspiring their athletes, celebrating success and weeping when the end – of the season or their career – finally arrived. Memories of remarkable athletes like Carlie Wagner and Grant Besse doing remarkable things. Memories of young people fighting through adversity, whether it be Beth Broschofsky returning to running or Hanna Hughes supporting her teammates from a wheelchair.

Let’s look back at 2011-12 …

Best Individual Effort/Postgame Scene: Grant Besse scored five goals, three of them shorthanded, in Benilde-St. Margaret’s 5-1 victory over Hill-Murray in the Class 2A boys hockey state championship game. As the victorious Red Knights left the ice, the wheelchair-bound Jack Jablonski was waiting in the locker room. Jake Horton, who was carrying the first-place trophy, yelled, “Hey Jabbers, I’ve got somethin' for you!” The last person off the ice was coach Ken Pauly, who yelled, “Jabby! Jabby baby! How ya doin’ 13?!” And then the locker room doors were closed and the Red Knights had some special time to themselves.

Best Halftime Conversation: Teen Girl A: "Is the game over?" Teen Girl B: "No, it's halftime." Teen Girl A: "I don't understand football."

Best American Story: Adalberto Villalobos is a respected soccer official who grew up in Costa Rica but has lived in the St. Cloud area for years. After becoming a U.S. citizen last year, here’s how he described hearing the anthem at his first soccer game last fall: “A young lady sang it beautifully, and I found myself turning so the other officials wouldn’t see me getting teary-eyed. Emotions took over and it hit home; it’s for real, I’m here, I’m part of it.”

Nicest Peace Officer: After watching a volleyball match between Lake Park-Audubon and Climax/Fisher in the Climax gym (where the North Dakota flag hangs alongside the Minnesota flag), I was driving to Thief River Falls. I just may have been exceeding the speed limit by a tiny bit, but the fellow who pulled me over in Red Lake Falls was as friendly as they come. Thanks for the warning, officer!

Best Musical Insight: (Overheard at halftime of a football game while Michael Jackson’s 1972 version of “Rockin’ Robin” was played on the sound system): “This is old music. But I’m only 12 and a half.”

Best Teamwork By Two Teams: In memory of Wabasha-Kellogg’s Cole Younker, who had died in a traffic accident, the football teams from Wabasha-Kellogg and Southland stood together as their captains planted a tree (pictured) in Cole’s memory just prior to kickoff in the season opener.

Eater’s Choice Award (Single Item): The pregame goodies on a football Friday at Minneota included a rare find … the greatest roast beef sandwich I have eaten anywhere.

Best Early Morning Question: It was 6:58 a.m. and I was entering the Metrodome for a day of football playoff games. A security guard, seeing me with two backpacks full of essential journalism gear -- and a big bag of candy for my press box colleagues – asked, “Did you run away from home?”

Best Debut on the Big Stage: In January I watched sophomore Carlie Wagner of New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva score 39 points in a basketball win over Goodhue, after which Goodhue coach Josh Weime said, “She does things that we never see.” When NRHEG got to the state tournament, everybody saw what Wagner can do. She set a state tournament single-game scoring record with 48 points in the third-place game and also set a three-game tournament record with 112 points.

Best Tribute to a Coach/Choir Director: From 1952 until 1992, John Hansen was the head football coach and choir director at Osseo High School. When the Osseo football stadium was renamed in his honor, former players as well as singers gathered in his honor. The national anthem never sounded better.

Best Homecoming Parade: The Red Rock Central parade (left) wound through the village of Lamberton as citizens and pupils watched and cheered. A couple firetrucks, the football team, cheerleaders, faculty and a beautiful fall day in a small town … it didn’t last very long but it was as much fun as I had all year.

My Favorite Runner: Pierz junior Beth Broschofsky was all smiles when we chatted after a cross-country race in Royalton. After surviving cancer and having a metal rod replace the humerus in her right upper arm, Beth was running again. She has a beautiful smile.

Best Rivalry Renewal: When the teams from St. Paul Academy and Blake met on the football field, it was the latest chapter in a series that began 100 years earlier.

Most Inspirational Athlete: When Hannah Hughes of Rochester Lourdes was going through treatment for bone cancer, her friends and soccer teammates remained at her side. And Hannah was at their side when the Eagles played in the state semifinals. It didn’t matter that her right leg and pelvic area had been amputated … she was still part of the team. “I have never seen Hanna with a frown on her face,” said teammate Rachel Saltness. “Every day she has a smile on her face and she makes the best of every situation.”

Eater’s Choice Award (Multiple Items): Fulda boosters served a terrific meal, with your choice of a burger or brat with chips, drink and a homemade cookie or bar for six bucks. Best deal in town.

Most Focused Athlete: Little Falls’ Ben Newman excels in football as well as hockey despite having vision in just one eye. He lost the vision in his right eye as the result of an accident when he was eight months old, but “I don’t notice it at all,” he said. “It’s just like nothing’s wrong.”

Toughest Rivalry: When Lakeville South High School opened in 2005, some of the coaches from Lakeville High (which became Lakeville North) moved to the new school and some stayed put. After North and South met on the football field last fall, North assistant coach Bob Kovich looked toward the coaches from South and said, “Those guys are my best friends. I hate this week.”

Best Tribute to a Friend: At the girls state tennis tournament, the team from Waseca wore matching pink ribbons in their hair and pink T-shirts (pictured) that had “Play Like a Princess” printed on the back. On the left sleeve was printed the word “Ab-dub” and a little crown. It was all in honor of Abigail “Abby” “Ab-dub” Claire Wendland, 16, who had died recently in an automobile accident. Abigail’s favorite color was pink and her nickname was Princess.

Best Coin Toss: Prior to a football game between Edina and Minnetonka, referee Pat Whalen said to the team captains, “Fellas, I’m going to show you all the athletic ability I have left in this body and catch this coin. If I drop it, we’re going to do it again.” He nailed it on the very first try.

Best Final Interview: When Bob Brink retired after 51 years of coaching boys basketball (the last 42 at Rocori), the end came in the state quarterfinals. Tears welled in his eyes as he thought about his players. “They wanted to win it for…” He was unable to say the word “me” because … well, because it was never about him.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 720
*Miles John has driven: 9,235
(*During the 2011-12 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 Father, A Son, A Special Football Relationship7/1/2012
ST. CLOUD -- Bill Ihrke and his son Jack come from a football family. The Ihrkes of Plainview-Elgin-Millville – Bill and Liz and their kids Jack and Dean – are as familiar with football as they are with winning, and Saturday’s 39th annual Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game at St. Cloud State capped a marvelous run for Bill and Jack.

Bill is the coach at Plainview-Elgin-Millville and Jack graduated a few weeks ago. During Saturday’s all-star game, Bill was the head coach of the South team and Jack was a defensive back for the South, which recorded a 33-21 victory over the North. Jack will play football at Winona State beginning in the fall; that’s also where his dad played college football.

During Jack Ihrke’s high school career, Plainview-Elgin-Millville won four Three Rivers Conference North titles, went 30-2 in the regular season and 38-6 overall. Jack (pictured) was an all-conference baseball player, went to the state wrestling tournament twice and was an all-state honorable mention football player. Last fall, the Bulldogs were undefeated in the regular season and won three games to capture the Class 3A Section 1 title before losing to eventual state champion St. Croix Lutheran in the state quarterfinals.

After Saturday’s game at hot and steamy Husky Stadium, Jack was thrilled to end his high school career with a victory … and with his father.

“We ended the season with a loss but now I’ve ended my high school career on a win with my dad,” he said. “It was really fun.”

The all-star players and coaches had spent the previous week at St. John’s University in Collegeville, practicing and bonding with each other. Jack admitted that he didn’t see a lot of his dad during the week.

“We never really got any time to talk because I was always running around with the guys,” he said, smiling. “But before the game we we were talking to each other about how cool this is and how we’ll never forget this.”

Bill Ihrke has been the head football coach at Plainview-Elgin-Millville for 15 years with a record of 125-37, eight conference championships, four trips to state and a state championship in 2002. He had been an assistant coach in the 2003 all-star game, and this year’s experience was a double bonus: being named the head coach of the South and having his oldest son on the team.

“It was kind of surreal,” Bill said. “I just didn’t think it would finish that way. I had coached in it but I never expected to coach in it again. We knew (Jack) would be nominated. It’s almost unreal. We’re very thankful for the opportunity.”

With his prior all-star experience, Bill (pictured) knew what needed to be done during the week before the game: work fast, study hard, come together.

“It’s eat, sleep and do everything football,” he said. “In the beginning it’s trying to get to know each other. And the terminology is different from all the different programs. Probably the first two or three days we were just trying to get the same language down, and then get the reps down. These kids pick up things so quick; we got a lot in, right down to the two-minute drill and all the unique situations.

“Coaching-wise it’s like a football clinic; you’re with some of the best coaches and you’re picking each other’s brains. It’s awesome. We learned a lot from the kids and hopefully they learned a little bit from us. We had a great time doing it.”

For Jack Ihrke – whose brother Dean will be a junior in the fall – the week was “amazing.”

“We met on Sunday night and by Monday night it was like a family. It was like we’d known each other for years and years. I met a lot of cool guys. Kids I played against in high school, rivals, and getting to know them on a personal level has been a really fun experience.”

A great week … new friends … long-lasting memories, what could be better than that? Yes, having your dad there, too.

“It just makes everything closer,” Jack said. “It brings us together more. Him being my coach, we’ve experienced a lot more than the normal father and son have.”


--Each team consisted of 44 players. Of the 88 players involved in the game, 35 were from Class 5A schools, 21 from 4A, 10 from 3A, seven from 2A, 11 from 1A and four from Nine-Man.

--Two assistant coaches in Saturday’s game had also played in the game during their own high school careers. South assistant Ken Helland (the head coach at Le Center) played in the game for Emmons in 1976, and North assistant Jeff Moritko (an assistant coach at Totino-Grace) played in the game for Minneapolis Edison in 1980. Moritko’s son Andy, a linebacker from Totino-Grace, played in Saturday’s game.

--The game format has changed several times from an Outstate vs. Metro format to South vs. North. Saturday’s victory by the South’s evened the North-South series at 9-9-1.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 720
*Miles John has driven: 9,235
(*During the 2011-12 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 Taste Of High School Football In June ... And A Look Back6/27/2012
The 39th annual Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game will be held Saturday at Husky Stadium on the campus of St. Cloud State University. The kick-off will be at 1 p.m., making this the first afternoon All-Star Football Game since 2004.

The game will showcase outstanding senior players from the 2011 football season. Players and coaches representing 78 schools and 31 conferences will participate in this year’s game. They were selected by members of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association. The 88 players and 14 coaches are spending this week at St. John’s University, the site of training camp for the game, which will pit teams from the North and South.

I’ve been spending time this week compiling my annual “Best Of” column, highlighting some of my favorite moments from 2011-12. This popular tradition began years ago when I was working at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and I’m happy to continue it with the MSHSL (that column will be posted next week).

With football in the air this week, I’m providing a preview of the “Best Of” column, with three football-related items from last season. Each item is from the football playoffs and all three vignettes come from the postgame words of coaches, speaking either to their players or to the media.

While all three items are football-related, they also are great examples of the types of people who coach our state’s young people in all sports and activities. You can tell by these coaches’ words that they care deeply about their athletes, now and in the future…

Best Postgame Words (Part I): After Eden Prairie defeated Wayzata in the Class 5A football championship game, Wayzata coach Brad Anderson (pictured) spoke to his players, who were tearfully gathered around him on one knee. His words were simple yet powerful.

“It hurts because it means something to you,” he told the boys. “And I'm proud of every one of you.”

Best Postgame Words (Part II): After Fairmont was defeated in the Prep Bowl, I asked coach Mat Mahoney what he had said to his players.

“I told them that I loved them,” he said. “I told them that this season they became better people, they became better teammates, they became better football players. We grew as a team as the season went on.

“These boys have done everything that we’ve asked them to do, and to be able to make a run like this is very special for our community. Just look at all the fans we had in the stands today; that’s what it’s all about. At the end of the day, football’s only a game. The support we saw out there with our crowd, our community was just phenomenal.”

Best Postgame Words (Part III): Brooks Bollinger, a former University of Wisconsin and NFL quarterback, had just finished his first year as head coach at Hill-Murray with a narrow loss in the state semifinals.

After leaving the locker room with moist eyes, he said, “I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms, and that was just a special one. I’m fortunate to be a part of it. It’s pretty emotional. We have a great group of seniors. It’s one of the reasons I love being a high school coach; what makes it great also hurts you so much when it ends; just being a part of these kids’ lives and getting so attached to them.

“We were so lucky to get the experience we did and have some success. It hurts when you get that close and don’t get it done, but my message to them was we lost today, but we won, I won, to be able to be part of something like this.”

A few months later, Bollinger left Hill-Murray to become an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 690
*Miles John has driven: 9,119
(*During the 2011-12 school year)

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