John's Journal
Veteran Journalist Brian Jerzak Joins The John’s Journal Team 8/27/2012
With the start of a new year of high school activities, we’re happy to announce the addition of a new member of the John’s Journal staff.

Brian Jerzak is a veteran reporter who will add his high school sports expertise to John’s Journal. Brian has been covering high school athletics in Minnesota for more than 10 years.

He has written about wrestling for The Guillotine publication and website for a decade, including coverage of the state wrestling tournament. For several years Brian worked as the main football writer and also covered basketball for, a branch of He has written about basketball, hockey and wrestling for the Minneapolis Star Tribune Hub websites, has covered the National Football League for, contributed college and high school wrestling stories for and college hockey stories for

Brian is a native of Milaca, Minn., and a graduate of Saint Cloud State University. He lives in Apple Valley with his wife and two sons.
From Nine-Man to Class 6A, The Football Season Is Underway8/25/2012
I can summarize my Zero Week football experience in several ways…

--The gastronomical tally was one bratwurst, one hot dog, one hamburger and three Diet Cokes.

--Mileage? I drove 396 round-trip miles to Underwood for a Friday night nine-man game between the Wheaton/Herman-Norcross Warriors and Underwood Rockets, followed by a short 54-mile round-tripper to Hopkins on Saturday afternoon to watch the Class 6A Royals host the Episcopal Knights of Houston, Texas.

--Competitively, I saw 68 points scored along with turnovers, penalties, dropped passes and magnificent plays.

--Weather? Friday evening was picture-perfect in Underwood, with a nice breeze blowing across Otter Tail County. The conditions at Hopkins were a little on the damp side, with showers playing stick-and-move during the game.

What I will remember most, however, are a coach’s pregame words on Friday and the postgame statement of another coach on Saturday. They offer auditory bookends to a football weekend and shed a bright light on what our world of high school activities is all about.

Wheaton/Herman-Norcross coach Tony Thiel, whose team played in the Prep Bowl last season, has only two starters back this year. But every season is a new journey.

“They want to get back there (to the Metrodome),” Thiel told me before the Warriors met Underwood. “We’re not living on the laurels of last year’s team, we want to make our own identity.”

Things worked out pretty well for the Warriors, who beat Underwood 26-8.

The other bookend came after Hopkins defeated Episcopal 20-14 in a game that came down to the final play. The Royals led 14-0 at halftime before Episcopal scored twice in the third quarter to force a 14-14 tie. Hopkins quarterback J.T. DenHartog scrambled for a 41-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the game ended with Episcopal completing a long pass to the 3-yard line.

As Hopkins coach (and quarterback’s dad) John DenHartog talked to his euphoric players, he said this: “High school football is about making great memories. And after the season you’ll have a great memory.”

These two games were played in two distinct settings – one in a small town and one in a large suburb – but the essence was the same. After months of lifting weights, training and weeks of workouts, it was time to play for real.

THE FIELD IN UNDERWOOD is a lush carpet of nature’s green grass, with a row of small trees behind each end zone. The school grounds back up the home sideline, with a parking lot and a gravel road behind the visitor’s side. As the Underwood Rockets took the field for warm-ups – and whenever they made a great play – fans sitting in their cars honked the horns. That is a glorious signature sound of American small-town football.

Underwood principal and athletic director John Hamann said a handful of cars were parked in prime spots at 7:30 Friday morning. “People are absolutely crazy,” he said with a smile.

The Zero Week game in Underwood provided a prime scouting opportunity for teams who will face the Rockets and Warriors later this season. Only five other games were played within Minnesota’s borders on Friday, so nine-man coaches were thick in Underwood – carrying clipboards and notebooks, jotting down jersey numbers, diagramming plays and gathering gridiron intel.

Visiting fans are at a distinct disadvantage in Underwood, especially early in the season, because they are forced to squint into the bright sun as they watch the early action. By the time the sun said goodnight, the scene was enough to make a small-town native weep: young boys flipping footballs and chasing each other behind the grownup fans, who were standing along a single wire fenceline on both sidelines … two little girls sitting with their backpacks and candy, one stride behind the goal line … four older girls laying on blankets next to the scoreboard, which carries the logos of the local Lions club, a bank, a gas station and other supporters of the Rockets.

At halftime, with his team holding a 14-8 lead thanks to a short touchdown pass from Jake Rinke to Carter Thiel with one second on the clock, coach Thiel told his players, “What happens if they don’t score in the second half? We win.”

The prediction came true. Wheaton/Herman-Norcross did all the scoring in the last two quarters, leaned on impressive defensive footspeed and got the win.

“For the first time out I am very pleased,” Thiel told me at game’s end. “Underwood’s a quality football team, they’re going to win a lot of games. I’m very happy with the way we played.”

A PARKING LOT AT Hopkins was designated as “Handicapped and VIP Parking.” I snuck into that lot but made the rookie mistake of not bringing along a jacket or umbrella. Whenever rain began to fall, I scurried from the field to the press box. It was dry most of the time, but the 6A crowd at Hopkins was smaller than the nine-man crowd at Underwood the night before.

Episcopal is a private, coed school with about 300 male students. Due to conference changes (much like Hopkins and the other four Lake Conference teams), Episcopal was looking for a game to fill its schedule. Knights coach Steve Leisz is a 1984 Minnetonka graduate, and the parents of six Episcopal football players are Twin Cities natives.

The Knights flew in on Friday and had a walk-through on the artificial turf at Hopkins in the afternoon. Their postgame plans Saturday included a cruise on Lake Minnetonka, although the gloomy weather – and the last-minute loss – could have combined to dampen the mood just a but.

A group of Episcopal cheerleaders also made the trip, bringing along a pair of Texas flags. This was a rare sight: Lone Star flags flying over a Minnesota football field. The Texans also brought some star-studded athletes, including senior quarterback Austin Robinson (who saw several passes flutter off the fingers of receivers) and sophomore running back Tyreik Gray, whose cutting, leaping, 67-yard run to tie the score 14-14 was the play of the day … until young DenHartog’s second touchdown all but clinched the victory for the home team.

“We were just pumped to be able to play a team from Texas,” J.T. DenHartog said. “Everyone talks about how great Texas football is, and we came out with the mindset that we wanted to prove everyone wrong and not play for just Hopkins but play for every team in Minnesota. To prove that Minnesota is just as good, and now even better, than Texas football.”

J.T.'s father talked about the Royals hanging together when they could have folded, and how the experience will pay dividends down the road.

“At times we played really well and at times we showed that we’re pretty young and in the first game of the season we made a lot of errors, too,” the coach said. “But our effort was certainly there and I liked the way our team didn’t point fingers and didn’t get down when things didn’t go well. I liked how they stuck together and supported each other. It’s a fun group to work with and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun this year.

“I think it shows if you do things right and support each other as teammates and work hard and try hard, good things happen. We tell the kids that message and they got to live it out a little today.”

Hard work in the offseason. Lessons learned on the practice field. And gratification now that the games are for real.

It’s going to be a great year.

--To see photos and a video from the weekend's football games, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 17
*Miles John has driven: 718
(*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
Football Season Has Arrived … I’ll See You At Underwood And Hopkins8/23/2012
The football season kicks off with eight Zero Week games on Friday and two on Saturday. I’m starting the season in grand style Friday, driving to Underwood to watch the Rockets play host to Wheaton/Herman-Norcross in a big Nine-Man matchup.

These are two teams with strong traditions. Underwood reached the Metrodome two years ago before losing to Cromwell in the state semifinals and Wheaton/Herman-Norcross played in the Prep Bowl last season, falling to Edgerton-Ellsworth 36-28.

Sixty-miles separate Wheaton and Underwood, and I’ll be making a 334-mile round trip for the game, heading there in the afternoon and returning to the Twin Cities afterwards. I’ll sleep fast and be at Hopkins on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game between the Royals and Houston (Texas) Episcopal.

I’ll combine the two games into a story that should be posted here Saturday evening, and photos from each game will magically appear on the MSHSL Facebook page. I’ll also be offering Twitter updates from both ballgames.

Here's the schedule (with last season’s records) ...

Friday, all games at 7 p.m.
Holy Angels (8-2) at Edina (5-5)
St. Paul Humboldt (0-8) at Columbia Heights (0-9)
Mesabi East (2-6) at Eveleth-Gilbert (0-9)
Minnetonka (8-3) at Arrowhead (Hartland, Wis.) (8-2)
Lewiston-Altura (5-5) at Cochrane-Fountain City, Wis.
Bertha-Hewitt (2-7) at Hancock (1-8)
Minnesota Valley Lutheran (4-6) at United South Central (1-8)
Wheaton/Herman-Norcross (12-2) at Underwood (7-3)

Houston (Texas) Episcopal (7-3) at Hopkins (3-6), 1 p.m.
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (3-5) at Pipestone (0-9), 7 p.m.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 13
*Miles John has driven: 268
(*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
Lakeville’s Ringeisen: 100 Seasons And Going Strong 8/22/2012
Rick Ringeisen has not been coaching for a century but he is in his 100th season as a high school coach. Think about that, because it’s a remarkable feat: Ringeisen, 56, has coached three sports for 33 years, and this fall marks the beginning of his 34th year and 100th season, all in his hometown of Lakeville. Remarkable.

Every fall, Ringeisen coaches girls swimming. Every winter it’s boys swimming. And every spring he coaches throwers on the girls and boys track teams. First at Lakeville High and now at Lakeville South, the seasons change but Ringeisen doesn’t. As former Lakeville head track coach and current Lakeville North athletic director Bob Ertl said of Ringeisen, “He’s a guy who comes to work as excited today as he did 25 years ago. You can see that spark in his eye; ‘Let’s get after it, let’s help kids.’

“He goes three seasons every year, back to back to back, and he never loses energy, never loses steam, to help kids. He’s always helping, always giving back to kids, tirelessly.”

Ringeisen was once one of those kids. His father died when Rick was 4 years old, and as he grew, his coaches became his role models. “My coaches took really good care of me,” he said. “They were my inspiration in life.”

At Lakeville High School Ringeisen participated in baseball, track, football and swimming before graduating in 1974. He was a swimmer at Winona State, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1979 and was hired back in Lakeville as a social studies and history teacher as well as a coach. He could have joined the family trucking business but he said teaching and coaching “was my true passion in life. I came from a time and a place where people wanted to make the world a better place. Delivering boxes wasn’t going to do that. I wanted to have an impact on lives, the way my teachers and coaches did for me.”

He has a passion for Lakeville and the kids – like him – who grow up there. “Lakeville is a great place to grow up and it gets better every day,” he said. “We put kids first.”

And a lot of the kids he has coached have finished in first place. In the swimming pool, Ringeisen has coached two boys teams to True Team state championships and two boys teams to MSHSL state titles. He has coached 260 girls and 312 boys who qualified for state meets, and Lakeville athletes have won state titles in every swimming and diving event. During the track season, Ringeisen has coached discus throwers and shot putters to 63 state meet appearances, and five of them have won a total of 11 state championships.

Hailey Campbell, a 2010 Lakeville South graduate who now swims at Brigham Young University and competed in this year’s U.S. Olympic trials, was a state runner-up in the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle and anchored a 200-yard freestyle relay team that set a state record in 2008 (they share the record with Stillwater). Campbell said Ringeisen had a tremendous impact on her.

“When I first came in I sat down and told him my goals, like ‘I want to be a champion’ and ‘I want to be recruited by a lot of colleges.’One thing he did was he worked with me a lot and he made sure my head was in the right spot. He was a really great motivator for me; he always made sure I was motivated and ready to go.”

POOL SPACE AND TIME are limited in Lakeville so the teams from South and North practice together under the direction of Ringeisen and North head coach Dan Schneider. When Lakeville had one high school, Ringeisen was the head girls coach and Schneider was the head boys coach, with each of them working as assistant for the other. When South opened in 2005, Ringeisen became the head coach of both swim teams there and Schneider did the same as Lakeville High became Lakeville North.

“I don’t think there are many places that would have high school swimming workouts at the same time in the same pool,” Schneider said. “It’s tight and there are a lot of bodies in there, but we’re making the best of what we have.”

Ringeisen and his wife Joyce (a nurse) have been married for 34 years. Their son Alex is in medical school and their daughter Rachel is training to become a physical therapist. Family and community are vitally important to Ringeisen, who stresses to his athletes that sports translate to life.

“The sports we play and the things we coach are important,” he said. “But the life lessons are much more important. You compete with people, not against people. You learn to collaborate. You learn to ask for help and help others. We tell our kids they must conduct themselves with class and integrity, that they’re representing their family, their school and their team.”

Every practice includes a quote of the day and discussions that extend beyond sports. During one recent practice, the quote of the day was written on a white board on the pool deck at Kenwood Trail Middle School: “Teammates are forever!”

“We have a teaching session every day. We don’t just practice,” Ringeisen said. “I always tell kids practice is the place we get to go to every day. We check our bags and leave our baggage at the door. Teammates are forever. It’s the camaraderie, it’s what you accomplish together.”

Lakeville South athletic director Neil Strader said Ringeisen always cares about details and the people he works with.

“I’ve never been around a guy who cares more to do all the details the right way,” Strader said. “He’s so diligent in doing things the right way and asking me time and time again, ‘Do we have anything else to cover? Is there anything else we should talk about?’

“As a younger athletic director, those of us in the profession need someone to confide in, someone who’s been there. Ringer’s been a wealth of knowledge for me and a calming presence. He’s the first guy to talk to and he always has great advice. He’s a good friend to go to.”

Ringeisen, who has coached two generations of some Lakeville families, is always gratified when former athletes get in touch with him.

“I love to get an email from an athlete who wants you to know the affect you had on them,” he said. “They want you to meet their kids or introduce you to the person they’re engaged to. Those are the moments that touch your heart.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 13
*Miles John has driven: 268
(*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
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.