John's Journal
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.”

ALL-STAR TIDBITS

--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.

BY THE NUMBERS
*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 www.mshsl.org. 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.

BY THE NUMBERS
*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 www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
All Day Fore Africa Continues To Grow And Inspire6/21/2012
Ten days ago, I wrote about Worthington High School golfer Kate Lesnar and the project she started two years to raise money for children and their school at a village in Rwanda. The effort, called All Day Fore Africa, is a simple thought that goes a long ways … 8,000 miles, in fact, from Minnesota to Rwanda.

The third annual All Day Fore Africa golf outing was held Wednesday at Worthington Country Club. I drove to Worthington and spent part of the day with the golfers. The weather was a bit cool and rainy, but the enthusiasm by participants of all ages was unchecked and smiles were abundant.

Sports editor Chris Murphy of the Worthington Daily Globe wrote about Wednesday’s event, and I’m happy to reprint his story here (along with some photos I shot; a full photo gallery from the day is posted on the MSHSL Facebook page). Congrats to everybody associated with All Day Fore Africa!

Going for the green for Africa: WHS’s Lesnar combines her 2 loves to connect with Rwanda

By Chris Murphy, Worthington Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — The eyes of a golfer are always targeted on the green. Worthington’s Kate Lesnar is no different, seeing as she finished 14th in the state in her second career trip to Jordan.

A deeper look into Lesnar’s eyes, however, reveal the undoubtable need to make a difference.

Lesnar was eyeing the green Wednesday at the Worthington Country Club, but it wasn’t for her score. It was for Africa at the third annual “All Day Fore Africa” (ADFA) golf tournament.

The tournament, along with a speech from Immaculee Ilibagiza in Sioux Falls, S.D., Monday, a musical performance from Kate’s sister, Annie, and Kailey Wendland Tuesday in Worthington and a golf tournament in California later this week, have raised more than $25,000. The funds will go toward building housing for teachers and a medical center in the Rwandan town of Kibeho.

“It’s what the community needs,” Kate said. “People would get a simple cut and some would end up dying because the nearest place to go is hours away and they have to get a stretcher or walk.

“It was amazing that they could get a little cut and end up dying from it. It makes me remember that we have a lot in the United States.”

What began as Kate playing 100 holes of golf by herself with the idea of raising $1,000 for a town she was about to visit, but had never seen two years ago, has grown into events across the country raising an amount 25 times that much.

“I never thought it would grow this much,” Kate said. “It’s so cool to think that we can all make a difference together and all work for the same cause.”

Kate raised $10,380 the first year, $21,800 the second year and is still counting this year.

“We are definitely over $25,000, but I’m hoping for $30,000,” said Kathy Lesnar, Kate’s mother, whose pictures from her trips to Kibeho inspired Kate. “When I see all these kids helping, I see the benefit it brings them.

“It makes them realize they can make a difference in the world, rather than focusing on if they have the right shoes or what’s on Facebook. We all want to make a difference. If you know you were created to make a difference and you fulfill that, that’s the benefit.”

The want to make a difference is nothing new to Kate. Counting the $1,500 Kate raised in third grade as part of the band “The Almighty Kids” for Haiti, Kate has raised over $60,000 for people other than herself. And that’s not including the lemonade stand she had when she was little in which the proceeds went to World Vision — an African child sponsorship program.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” Kathy said.

For Kate, even with school out and storm clouds looming over the golf course, there’s no place she’d rather be.

“There’s nothing I’d rather do than help people and play golf,” Kate Lesnar said.

A golf ball Lesnar brought is cemented in a wall in Kibeho and the people there touch and rub it. Golf has never meant more to people who have never picked up a golf club.

“To them, golf means water,” Kathy Lesnar said.

For Kate’s dad, Jim Lesnar, golf means opening up the wallet. For the fundraiser, Kate golfs until the sun sets or until she golfs 100 holes. For dad, it’s $50 per eagle, $10 per birdie, $2 per par, 50 cents per bogey and, of course, $500 per hole-in-one to Africa.

“We thought we’d be forking over $800 the first year when Kate wanted to raise $1,000, so it’s come a long way,” Jim said. “It’s really cool to see her use her passion to help others.

“I think it’s so amazing that a high school kid can think outside the box and our little world here. I’m going to owe a lot, but I’m hoping for the hole-in-one.”

On a day when everyone wins, Kate has a reason to keep score.

“My dad actually said he was going to charge me for bogeys,” Kate said.

It’s all money well spent.

BY THE NUMBERS
*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 www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
St. Agnes Claims Class 1A Baseball Title6/18/2012
The Aggies of St. Agnes in St. Paul finished off an impressive Class 1A state tournament run today at Target Field, defeating Lac qui Parle Valley 6-0 in the title game at Target Field.

The Aggies did not give up a run in the tournament, defeating New York Mills 1-0 and Blackduck 7-0 in the previous two rounds.

St. Agnes finished the season with a record of 23-6 and the Eagles finished at 18-10.

The rest of today's schedule looks like this...

Class 2A at 3 p.m.: Holy Family (24-4) vs. St. Cloud Cathedral (24-5)

Class 3A at 6 p.m.: Bemidji (25-2) vs. Eastview (22-4)
A Championship Day To Remember At Target Field6/18/2012
Bart Hill has been a high school baseball coach for 17 years but he has never witnessed anything like this season, on the field as well as off. His Lac qui Parle Valley Eagles finished 2012 in spectacular fashion with an appearance in the Class 1A state championship game Monday at Target Field.

To begin with, the Eagles lost 12 seniors – and seven starters – to graduation off last year’s 16-7 team, which reached the Section 3 finals. This season began with a young roster, five losses in the first eight games, a whole bunch of lineup changes and an injury to one of the top pitchers.

“No one ever, ever imagined this,” Hill said after the Eagles fell to St. Agnes 6-0 Monday. “Most of these guys had never been in a varsity uniform before. We had a lot of goofy things happen along the way. We believe we had some divine intervention along the way.”

The 2012 season was a testament to sticking together and growing together. And making a long postseason run electrified the communities and school district, which is headquartered in Madison. It’s the biggest thing since the boys basketball team went to state in 1992.

“We’ve never had this opportunity,” Hill (pictured) said. “And the support people had … as a coach, all the alumni that have been calling me. You just can’t believe it. Small towns get excited about these things. All the cars have banners in them, all the stores have signs in them. It’s pretty special.”

The Eagles' iron horse Monday was 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior Brandon Bornhorst, who threw 141 pitches (93 strikes).

“He probably could have thrown 180,” the coach said. “I asked him, ‘Do you want to come out?’ He said, ‘Absolutely not.’ He’s got nine wins, he’s got half of our wins this year. He was good enough to win, we just didn’t have enough defense behind him.”

True, the Eagles (18-10) committed three errors in the first inning, helping St. Agnes (23-6) score two runs. They finished with five errors.

“Up until this game we didn’t even make five errors total in the playoffs,” Hill said. “I think maybe the nerves got to them a little on the big stage, but what a thrill.”

Way back when Lac qui Parle Valley was scuffling along with a record of 6-7, Hill and the team captains were trying to find a formula to turn things around. Motivation was elusive, but the coach remembered something he had done years ago: let the players become his hair stylists. The result was a Mohawk haircut.

“I had done it once a long, long, long time ago and I said, ‘I’m not that stupid to ever make that bet again.’ I said, ‘You get us to the state tournament, then you can.’ When you’re 6 and 7, nobody’s going to a state tournament. It was a very safe bet at the time.”

TOURNEY TIDBITS

--In Holy Family’s 5-0 Class 2A championship victory over St. Cloud Cathedral, Fire pitcher Kasey Ralston (pictured) gave up only two hits, struck out seven and walked none in a dominating performance. Like St. Agnes in Class 1A, Holy Family did not allow a run in the state tournament.

“It’s the biggest thing in my baseball career by far,” said the senior. “At the beginning of the season we knew we were going to be good, but we didn’t expect to be this good. We got hot in the end when we needed to, and it’s pretty awesome.”

Holy Family coach Bryan DeLorenzo was an assistant coach on the school’s first state championship team, the 2007 boys basketball squad that won the Class 2A title.

“I remember thinking it would be nice to get one myself in baseball,” he said.

DeLorenzo is in his ninth year as a head baseball coach, which isn’t much compared to the 42-year career of Cathedral coach Bob Karn. Karn owns seven state titles in coaching more than 900 games.

“It’s an honor to be on the same field as him,” DeLorenzo said, “and a school with that much tradition that’s been around a lot longer than Holy Family.”

Holy Family opened in 2000; St. Cloud Cathedral has been around since 1902.

--When Eastview defeated Bemidji 1-0 in the Class 3A championship game, it completed a historic day. For the first time since 1984 (when baseball was a two-class sport), all the championship games were shutouts. The tournament was expanded to three classes in 2000.

--Lac qui Parle Valley’s Hill was wrapping up pregame drills in a traditional way, using his skills with a fungo to hit a high foul ball for catcher Preston Kraft to catch. The coach misfired just a bit, sending the ball into the stands behind the Eagles dugout. Cries of “Heads up!” had people preparing to be conked on the head, but the ball fell safely into the seats.

“Hey, it’s a major league park,” a smiling Hill hollered to the fans. “You’ve gotta be ready for anything!”

--Twins general manager Terry Ryan is never afraid to help out. After a foul ball landed in the unoccupied Legends Club seats in front of the press box, Ryan helped MSHSL media steward Steve Anderson locate the ball.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAMS

Class 1A: Wes Snyder, Ely; Adam Snelgrove, New York Mills; Trey Volk, Blackduck; Austin Host, Browerville; Brandon Bornhorst, Ben Morken, Colby Siegert, Brandon Hill, Lac qui Parle Valley; Charlie Turch, Jack Fossand, Ryan Hernandez, Evan Morehead, St. Agnes.

Class 2A: Tyler Boyle-Hoban, Cannon Falls; Tyler Wolfe, Delano; Spencer Chirpich, Fairmont; Jake Lewis, Ian Scherber, Proctor; Eric Pelant, Brian Minks, Michael Kerber, St. Cloud Cathedral; Kasey Ralston, Keller Knoll, Joe Salz, Conner Riddle, Holy Family.

Class 3A: Zach Garner, Red Wing; Luc Henke, Hill-Murray; Jake Bischoff, Grand Rapids; Cameron Mingo, Eden Prairie; Evan DeCovich, A.J. Stockwell, Chris Narum, Quinn Trusty, Eastview; Ryan Hirt, Collin Leif, Mason Bellew, Mitch Hendricks, Bemidji.

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

--Diet Coke Count: 6 for the day, 37 for the spring tournaments.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 689
*Miles John has driven: 8,761
(*During the 2011-12 school year)

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