John's Journal
A Blown Knee, A House Fire … And A Trip To The State Tourney6/15/2012
ST. CLOUD – Braxton Lindow, senior right fielder for the Cannon Falls baseball team, beamed when I asked him about the experience of playing in the Class 2A state tournament this week.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s exactly what you want out of your senior year.”

That’s a pretty good attitude to have, especially for a young man who has seen his share of heartache since his senior year began. Between games in the consolation bracket Friday, I posed this question to Braxton: What’s worse? Blowing out a knee or watching your house burn to the ground?

His answer was as honest as they come: “I have to put them both at the same level.”

The knee went bye-bye last Oct. 7 during a football game at Rochester Lourdes. Braxton was running downfield on punt coverage when his left knee exploded. The first person to check on him was his father Bucky, the football defensive coordinator and head baseball coach.

“The trainer looked at me and said, ‘ACL,’ ” Bucky told me. “That hits you right away.”

Braxton had surgery later in October, missed the entire basketball season and was finally cleared to play baseball in late April. He missed the first few games of the baseball season and now wears a brace on the knee. His baseball career will continue at St. Olaf College.

This week’s trip to state was the second in school history and the first since 1997. The Bombers lost to Holy Family 8-0 in Thursday’s state quarterfinals, then defeated Roseau 5-0 Friday in the consolation bracket before falling to Delano 6-1.

Ending the season with a trip to state was another step in moving past what has happened. Braxton was nearly asleep on an evening in January when he heard people running through the house … which was on fire. Bucky, his wife Wanda and their three teenage sons escaped safely but the house was a total loss.

“It was kind of shocking to see fire come through your door, having your family standing in the front yard with the garage doors flying off, and the firemen rushing into your house,” Bucky said.

“The coolest thing about it is that I have connections with a lot of the firemen through coaching. Either I coached them or their sons or their nephews or something. The care that they had for our house was incredible. They said the chief might have been a little frustrated with them because they were hauling things out of there that they normally wouldn’t do during a fire. It was really cool.”

The Lindows found immediate shelter in the home of neighbors who made their house available while they were in California. After three weeks, the Lindows found a home to rent. A new house is being built on the site of the fire, and if things go well the family will move in around the time school starts in the fall.

“Watching the new house go up has been fun,” Braxton said. “We get to see what the whole process is like.”

Through it all – Braxton’s knee injury and then the devastating fire – the Lindows have been supported by the people of Cannon Falls.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Bucky said. “The love and the support in every possible way has just been unbelievable. We feel so fortunate to live in that town and to be a part of that whole community. We’re not surprised by it, but we’re humbled.

“It makes you wish that every time somebody went through a tragedy, you would have helped. And hopefully it’s something we can learn from, so in the future when anything happens we can be helpful.”

--THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP baseball games are set after teams in all three classes survived major weather-related schedule changes on Thursday. The semifinals were completed Friday, and here is what’s next …

Monday at Target Field

Class 1A at noon: Lac qui Parle Valley (18-9) vs. St. Agnes (22-6)

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)

--Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 31 for the spring tournaments.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 683
*Miles John has driven: 8,761

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
After A Very Lengthy Delay, Murray County Central Makes Golf History 6/13/2012
BECKER – The boys golf team from Murray County Central High School in Slayton came within a whisker of taking home a trophy and third-place medals Wednesday at the Class 1A state tournament. The Rebels finished fourth, however, one stroke behind Dawson-Boyd.

One stroke? That’s a single putt that lipped out of the cup instead of falling in. One putt that broke this way instead of that way.

One stroke? Murray County Central had a total team score of 668 strokes. Dawson-Boyd had 667. That was the difference between a trophy in the case and medals around their necks.

As with most small schools, trips to state tournaments are not a regular occurrence; the Murray County Central football team went to state in 2000 and the girls golf team did so in 2002. But nobody -- and I mean nobody -- wearing Rebels colors was down in the dumps about the razor-thin margin Wednesday at Pebble Creek Golf Club.

Here’s the deal: The Rebels had not even fielded a boys golf team between 1976 and 2012, according to coach Kim Delong. That’s 36 years with a ZERO chance of taking home a trophy and medals, so just playing in this week’s two-day state tournament was almost as good as winning the the whole thing.

“We didn’t really have any expectations,” said freshman Adam Christensen, one of five underclassmen on the six-man tournament roster. “We just went out there to have fun and do our best. We thought we were pretty good, though.”

The boys who played at state – senior Devin Ryan, juniors Ben Loosbrock, Devin Erickson and Cole Degreeff and freshmen Christensen and Grant Everson (pictured) – had as much fun as anybody.

“It’s been pretty awesome because I’m not used to being on a team that wins,” Degreeff said. “And we don’t lose for the most part. The pressure feels good; it’s a good kind of pressure. And I like the atmosphere around here. The people are nice, the course is nice and it was just a great couple of days.”

Murray County Central has fielded a girls golf team all these years. The boys team was resurrected when people realized that there were enough players to do so, with a booster club helping with funds and the school board approving the move.

“For several years we’ve had student-athletes who are out golfing and some of their parents are golfers, and we had enough interest,” said Delong, who coaches the boys and girls golf teams. “The majority of these kids are out there every day all summer.”

The Rebels’ first big splash this season came when they won the Red Rock Conference championship by 11 strokes. They kept winning, qualifying for state with a five-shot victory in the Section 3 tournament.

“I think conference kind of justified how good we were,” Ryan said. “I think that’s when we knew we had a good chance to go pretty far.”

Eight boys played on the team this spring and Delong thinks that number could easily be doubled in 2013. And with everybody except Ryan returning next season, the Rebels might want to think about making room for a new trophy.

“I’m a senior this year so it’s been amazing for me,” Ryan said. “I’ve never made it to state in anything so it’s just great to be here.”

--In the Class 1A tournament, Lewiston-Altura repeated as the girls team champion and Legacy Christian Academy senior Rachel Gray won the individual championship. On the boys side, Legacy Christian Academy won the team title and Cordell Weber of Martin County West was the individual champ.

--In Class 2A girls, Detroit Lakes took the team title and Detroit Lakes eighth-grader Kate Smith won the individual championship. Detroit Lakes also won the boys team championship and Hermantown's Taylor Sundbom won the individual title.

--And in 3A, New Prague won the girls title and Cretin-Derham Hall's Celia Kuenster was the individual champ. Moorhead captured the 3A team championship and the individual title was shared by Chaska's Jon Dutoit and Moorhead's Ben Welle.

--The best-dressed fans at the 1A tournament were a trio from Russell-Tyler-Ruthton. Andrew Bakker, Hudson Van Drunen and Ryan O'Toole all wore SpongeBob SquarePants t-shirts, sunglasses and matching hats.

--Culinary highlight of the day: A freshly grilled, world-class cheeseburger at Pebble Creek.

--Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 21 for the spring tournaments.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 675
*Miles John has driven: 8,571

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
The Seeds Are Re-Planted And The Fans Are Not Happy6/11/2012
Here is a quick – and unedited -- summary of comments that were posted on the MSHSL Facebook page and my Twitter stream late Monday morning and into the afternoon ...

--“Why not seed 1-8, afraid feelings will be hurt??”

--“so instead it's the 6 seed that might get screwed #makesnosense”

--“classic case of League not wanting to hurt feelings...if you're going to do it, go all the way 1-8 both genders all classes”

--“ How bout 1-8? Oh yeah, we dont want to hurt the feelings of the team that is the #8, total BS”

--“no one's self-esteem is going to be crushed bc they are the 7 seed - they just made the state tourney!”

This, uh, feedback was the result of the MSHSL Board of Directors changing the structure for seeding teams at state tournaments. The board approved a change to seeding the top five teams instead of the top four in tournaments that use seeding.

Coaches whose teams are playing at state will continue to use an electronic process to seed the teams. The change affects Class 3A and Class 4A in girls basketball and all classes in boys basketball, boys and girls hockey, boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls soccer, volleyball, wrestling and adapted sports.

The online outcry was clear and full-throated in its support for seeding all eight teams at state tournaments. But it’s just not that easy. I attempted to calm the waters during the meeting by issuing this Tweet: “Something to ponder: #mshsl board makes change verrrrrry slowwwwwwly. Seeding 1-8 remains an option. 1-5 is a step in that direction.”

The process for such changes can be ponderous. That slow pace also means that such changes are not taken lightly. Before Monday’s vote, region committees from around the state, as well as coaches associations in various sports, were asked to hold their own votes on seeding 1 through 4 or 1 through 5 at state.

The 16 region committees (eight representing small schools and eight representing larger schools) split down the middle, with eight regions voting in favor of seeding 1-4 and eight in favor of seeding 1-5. Coaches associations in four sports (soccer, volleyball, girls basketball, boys basketball) voted in favor of 1-5, coaches in four other sports (girls hockey, boys hockey, wrestling , lacrosse) are happy with either 1-4 or 1-5 and adapted sports coaches are in favor of seeding 1-4 based on season records.

With no clear direction being offered by those votes, the board jumped in anyway and made the change. It might not be the drastic change that many people wanted to see, but it was a step in the right direction … if seeding all eight teams is what you want.

As the meeting ended I thought a little levity might be in order. So I sent this Tweet: “#mshsl meeting has ended, lunch is being served. I'm hitting items 1 through 5 on the buffet. I used to eat only items 1 through 4.”


--The members approved four requests for experimental rule changes from National Federation rules. They are …

Football/ At least four members of the team kicking off must be on either side of the kicker when an onside kick is attempted, and no member of the kicking team can contact an opponent until the kicked ball has traveled 10 yards. This rule was first used in Minnesota last season and it will be continued.

Hockey/ Minnesota will continue to use the changes in rules and penalties regarding contact and player safety that were instituted during the 2011-12 season, while giving officials options for severity of penalties for contact to the head.

Track and Field-Cross Country/ The MSHSL will request an experimental exemption from a National Federation rule that bans jewelry on competitors. Monitoring jewelry can be difficult and jewelry isn’t viewed as giving an advantage or compromising safety.

Volleyball/ A change was approved to adjust officials’ hand signals so they will immediately indicate which team will serve after an infraction, allowing for a faster tempo and fewer errors in game management.

--The board voted to select officers for the 2012-13 school year. The officers will be president Mark Fredericksen, principal at Waconia; vice president John Hamann, principal at Underwood; and treasurer Rick Bleichner, superintendent at Breckenridge.

--New board members, whose terms will begin with the August board meeting, observed Monday’s meeting. They are Tom Conzemius, athletic/activities director at Sauk Rapids-Rice, representing Region 7-8AA; Bob Grey, athletic/activities director at Montevideo, representing Region 3-4A; Shelly Hotzler, softball coach at Jackson County Central, representing Girls Sports; Erich Martens, principal at Sauk Rapids-Rice, representing the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals; and Chris McDonald, speech coach at Eagan, representing the Communication and Theater Association of Minnesota. One public representative to the board remains to be selected by Gov. Mark Dayton.

--Board members whose terms ended Monday are president Mindy Sparby, athletic/activities director at Belle Plaine, representing Girls Sports; treasurer Luanne Wagner, assistant principal at St. Francis, representing the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals; Chris Laird, athletic/activities director at Heritage Christian Academy, representing Region 3-4A; Perry Aadland, athletic/activities director at Chisago Lakes, representing Region 7-8AA; Jill Lofald, speech coach at Duluth Denfeld, representing the Communication and Theater Association of Minnesota; and Kim Algoo, representing the public.

--After last week’s flurry of state tournaments in boys tennis, boys and girls lacrosse, softball and girls and boys track, Monday was a day off from tourney action. The action will resume with state golf tournaments Tuesday and Wednesday and state baseball tourney games Thursday and Friday. The spring will conclude next Monday, June 18, with baseball championship games in all three classes at Target Field.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 664
*Miles John has driven: 8,431

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
From Minnesota To Rwanda: The Drive Behind ‘All Day Fore Africa’ 6/11/2012
As Kate Lesnar plays in the Class 2A state golf tournament Tuesday and Wednesday at the Ridges at Sand Creek course near Jordan, she will surely concentrate on each shot but her mind may wander ever so slightly. The student at Worthington High School, who will be a senior in the fall, can be forgiven if her thoughts turn to children and families who live 8,000 miles away but know they can count on their friend Kate.

Kate is passionate about golf and talented at the game, also qualifying for the state tournament a year ago. Her other passion is the village of Kibeho in the African nation of Rwanda and the children who attend St. Stanislaus School there. One week after the state tournament ends, Kate will wake up very early to head for Worthington Country Club and a day of fundraising for the children in Rwanda.

It’s quite the connection; a teenage girl from Minnesota and a small village in Rwanda. It began because Kate’s mother, Kathy Lesnar, works as a personal manager for Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of genocide in Rwanda during the 1990s who has become a best-selling author and one of the world's leading speakers on peace, faith and forgiveness.

As Kate (pictured) learned about Immaculee’s background and her mission to aid people in Rwanda, the idea seemed so natural: Raise money by playing 100 holes of golf in a single day, taking pledges from anyone who wanted to contribute. The first event, in 2010, raised more than $10,000, which paid for a new water system for St. Stanislaus School as well as clothing, shoes and similar items.

“My goal was $1,000,” Kate said. “We thought that was really high but we thought we could get close to it. Every single day we’d get checks in the mail; from a person in Georgia and just random people. It was a miracle how it all came together.”

This year’s event will be held June 20 at Worthington Country Club. The non-profit project is called “All Day Fore Africa” (you can find a website under that name as well as a Facebook page). The project is subtitled “Kids Playing For Kids” because much of the work is done by teens and younger children. An example: Kate’s younger sister Annie and her friend Kailey Wendland will help raise money by performing with their guitars at BenLee's Cafe in downtown Worthington on June 19, with BenLee's donating a portion of each lunch sold to the cause. More than a dozen people have signed up to play 100 holes in Worthington the next day, so the project is growing.

“Lots of people say, ‘This is such a good idea: Kids using their passion to make a difference.’ It’s a super idea,” Kate said. “It’s going to be as big as God wants it to be.”

After all that money was raised in 2010, Kate, Kathy, Immaculee and several others traveled to Kibeho to visit and present the funds to Father Leszek Czelusniak, the Polish-born priest at St. Stanislaus. Last year’s effort spread to similar events in California, Pennsylvania and Nebraska and raised more than $30,000. Each event is followed by a trip to Kibeho.

Kate will never forget her first journey to the village.

“I was so overwhelmed. They have to walk a mile up a hill to the school. Right when we could see the school, the kids saw us and sprinted out to us. It was so cool seeing how happy they were. They were barefoot, in ripped t-shirts. … They realized that something good had happened. They were all so happy.”

Immaculee Ilibagiza and Father Celusniak will attend next week’s event in Worthington. The Lesnars are hoping that more people around the country learn about All Day Fore Africa and plan their own events.

“I feel like it’s starting,” said Kathy. “Some people may want to go bowling all day for Africa or play soccer. For me as a parent it’s so awesome to see the kids realize they can make a difference in the world. As far as building character, we push our kids to be the best they can be. This organization is focused more on shaping kids’ hearts, and the benefit is as much for the kids in the U.S. It’s planting seeds of love in people’s hearts.”

The money raised this year will go toward teachers and a much-needed medical facility. “When someone’s sick they put them on a stretcher and walk them to the nearest place,” Kate said.

Kathy said, “The medical facility is a big one. We’re talking bigger money, and we can do it.”
The Lesnars will have materials about All Day Fore Africa with them at the state tournament this week, and they will accept donations from anyone who wishes to help. They are happy to spearhead the project, but they know they are not alone.

“It seems like a story about Kate,” Kathy said. “But it’s really a story about a bunch of kids.”

To which Kate added, “And without the community support it never would have grown like this.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 664
*Miles John has driven: 8,431

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
Divine Intervention Or Not, He's Headed To State6/10/2012
Here's a great story of an injured athlete who recovered just in time to qualify for the state golf tournament. It comes to us courtesy of Joel Alvstad, sports editor of the Cottonwood County Citizen in Windom ...

Mt. Lake Christian freshman Aaron Walzak will be playing in the Class 1A state golf meet this week in Becker, after sharing Section 3A champion honors.

His appearance in the state meet is both historic and somewhat miraculous.

He becomes the first male athlete from his school to qualify for an MSHSL state event (sophomore Whitney Klassen was the first girl from the school to advance to state after she qualified for the state cross-country meet last fall).

The somewhat miraculous part is that Walzak missed a significant portion of the season. While on the yearly school-wide mission trip in mid-April, Walzak suffered a broken collarbone while playing a game of pick-up basketball with a group of classmates and other mission workers.

The recovery time from a broken collarbone is typically about six weeks, sometimes shorter. On the day he suffered the injury, the sub-section meet was just over five weeks away.

The frustrations for Aaron, who has played competitive golf in summer tournaments since he was 6, were that he couldn't even putt or chip. Making things worse, he said, was the fact that the MLC team, which only had four varsity players, was unable to post team scores at meets in his absence.

Aaron's father and coach, Kevin Walzak, serves as pastor at Alliance Missionary Church in Mt. Lake. Following the team's first meet after Aaron's injury took place, Kevin told me, "Let's just say that we're praying very hard for a speedy recovery."

As it turns out, Aaron was cleared by doctors to return to playing golf on May 16, the day after the Red Rock Conference Meet and one week before the sub-section meet -- and just over four weeks after he was injured. He was able to play in one regular-season meet before sub-sections. At the Section 3A South Sub-Section Meet in Worthington, he took third, shooting a 79. Then, on May 30 at the Section 3A Meet in Marshall, Aaron shot an 80, which tied him with Monte DeKam of Southwest Minnesota Christian/Edgerton for individual first-place honors.

Aaron said that in the three weeks since he received his medical clearance, he's been able to slowly progress back to 100 percent, but acknowledged that the time he missed left him feeling a bit rusty. However, he heads to Becker as a first-time state qualifier and said he is familiar with the Pebble Creek course and anticipates being in the hunt for a state medal.