John's Journal
5,000 Games And Counting: Brainerd’s Scearcy Still Going Strong5/8/2012
BRAINERD -- Lowell Scearcy estimates that he has been involved in somewhere around 5,000 athletic contests over the past 45 years or so. That’s not bad for a guy who jokes about studying engineering in college but wondering if that meant he would learn to operate trains.

Scearcy is best known as the baseball coach at Brainerd High School, a job he has held for 40 years. His teams won state championships in 1995 and 2000, went to state 10 times between 1981 and 2010 and own 14 conference titles. But there’s more. Much more.

Scearcy, 66, also has coached basketball. And track. And cross-country. And football (a job he still holds). And he worked for many years as a basketball and football official, working state tournaments and Prep Bowls. Add up all those games, and the number he comes up with is 5,000. Plus, the total is growing because he isn’t thinking about retiring.

“At my age it’s like it’s always been, a year-to-year thing as far as coaching,” Scearcy told me Tuesday evening, after the Warriors dropped a 7-0 game to Rocori at Don Adamson Field. “I think when you get to the point where you can walk away and not look back, it’s probably time to walk away. And you never really know, I think, when that’s coming.”

Scearcy was a three-sport athlete before graduating from high school in 1963 in Pillager; that’s where he first coached in 1967 and where he returned as the head football coach in 2007. Before that, he was an assistant football coach at Central Lakes College in Brainerd for 35 years.

He taught and coached in Pillager for two years, spent three years at Verndale and arrived in Brainerd in 1972. This all came after he began college (at Brainerd Community College and Bemidji State) with a plan to study engineering.

“I’m not even sure I knew what an engineer was at that time; I probably thought I was going to learn how to drive a train,” he said with a chuckle. “After a couple years in that I decided I wanted to stay involved in athletics in one way or another, and the way to do that was to go into teaching.”

Oddly, Scearcy – who retired as a math teacher in 1999 -- said he has never considered himself a career coach.

“It was always kind of, ‘Well, let’s give it another year and see how it works out,’ ” he said. “It’s a strange thing because I don’t know how many years ago that was, 45 or something like that? But it’s been a lot of fun. It’s rewarding and I don’t really know what I could have done that was more rewarding than working with young kids every day and listening to what they have to say about things and how they feel about things. That’s an interesting part of the job.”

Brainerd’s baseball success has helped Scearcy build a career record that currently stands at 664-265. His victory total ranks No. 2 in Minnesota high school baseball history behind retired New Ulm coach Jim Senske (707-171). It’s been so long since Brainerd had a losing season that nobody can easily recall it happening.

“I’ve always hoped that we would have a program here that if we were really down, it would still be at least a .500 year,” Scearcy said. “And we played another one of those teams tonight, Rocori. And they’re not down this year.”

Having coached for all these years, Scearcy has seen a lot of changes. But the ballplayers, whether you’re talking the 1970s or now, haven’t really changed, he said.

“I hear people say kids are different. I don’t think kids are different, I think everything around kids is different,” he said. “With all the disruptions around them, it’s so different from what it was 30, 40 years ago. My gosh, when we were in athletics you either played ball or you went home and milked the cows. That was pretty much it. Things are so different now. Everything that’s pulling on the kids is different today.”

Another thing that hasn’t changed is Scearcy’s firm belief that school activities play a vital role in the development of young people.

“I preach to kids constantly about the value of activities. I tell them, ‘Don’t go through school and not be involved in something.’ That’s really the way I feel about it. You can probably learn as much about later life in activities as you can in the classroom. And I taught math for an awful lot of years.”

Lowell and his wife Diane will celebrate 45 years of marriage in June. Watching from the press box during Tuesday’s game, Diane was asked how many games she has seen as a coach’s wife. Her answer was in perfect sync with her husband’s count. She said, with a smile but no hesitation, “5,000 games.”

--To see a photo gallery from the Rocori-Brainerd baseball game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 511
*Miles John has driven: 7,523

--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
Championship Experience Pays Off For Hastings Softball Team5/4/2012
Last year was a dream softball season in Hastings. After finishing third in the Class 3A state tournament the previous two years, the Raiders capped a 23-2 season by capturing the school’s first state softball championship.

Let’s fast-forward. Today the Raiders have a record of 5-9 with more close defeats than they care to remember. There is a level of frustration, but it is swamped by a work ethic and determined attitude to keep improving as the season continues.

“I think we’re getting better each game,” sophomore infielder and team captain Michaela Mills told me before the Raiders hosted Cretin-Derham Hall on Thursday. “We started off a little bit rough but our defense is really coming along, our hitting is really coming along, more people are starting to step up. It’s cool to watch.”

Hastings began the season with five consecutive losses and then won five of seven games before losses this week to Forest Lake and Cretin-Derham Hall, both by two runs. The Raiders have lost seven times by two runs or less, and getting over that hump is high on the team agenda right now.

“We’ve been in every game, that’s the big thing,” said coach Dean Robinson. “We’ve been right there, it’s just a matter of having that big hit. We’ve gotten girls on base, had the bases loaded in every game; a couple games ended with the bases loaded and we couldn’t get the hits we needed.”

Hastings lost some key players to graduation. Two of them, Treya Connell and Brittani Robinson, had been on the varsity since eighth grade. Both were named to the all-tournament team at state last year, as was Mills. Connell’s departure left a big hole in the pitching circle, and sophomore Courtney Van De Velde (pictured) has stepped in.

“Courtney’s learning as she’s going along and she’s pitched every game this year,” Robinson said. “She’s playing a huge role, too. It’s a matter of our defense stepping up and helping her out. I told her she doesn’t need to replace Treya from last year, she just needs to do her part.”

The returning players from last year’s championship team know what it takes to get to the state tournament, and they hope to put that knowledge to good use as the regular season winds down and the Section 1 playoffs begin.

“The biggest thing I think our team learned (last season) is team unity,” said junior center fielder Hailey Lundquist. “In order to win we have to be playing together and be focused.”

Senior right fielder Kaitlin Stark said, “I don’t think our record shows how good we’re playing, but I think by the end of the season people will know we’re a good team. It’s kind of cool because we’re kind of under the radar. When the end of the season comes, no one expects us to do what we hope to do.”

Losing so many close games can become discouraging, but Mills said the Raiders are using it as motivation.

“You have to make it a positive thing and learn from it,” she said. “If you see someone kind of getting down, you have to go over and say, ‘You’re fine, just let it go and just be you. Don’t let whatever happened before affect you. Play like we know you can.’ ”

Robinson said it’s encouraging to see his players continually stick together and keep moving forward.

“That’s the big thing, they’re backing each other and the parents have been awesome,” he said. “We’re right there and everybody can see that. It’s just a matter of one or two things in each game. The big thing is that we peak at the end of the season and that’s what we need to do, just keep working hard.

“They’ve been there, they know what it takes. You can’t coach experience; they either have it or they don’t. It’s just a matter of coming together.”

--To see a photo gallery of the Hastings softball team, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 509
*Miles John has driven: 7,369

--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 Game For The Ages: Orono’s Flemmer Hits The Record Book5/2/2012
Before a baseball game at Orono High School on Tuesday, I asked Jake Flemmer what he thought of the new bats that are required across the nation on prep diamonds this season.

“They don’t have as much pop but I don’t mind them,” said the Orono sophomore catcher. “They’re all right.”

Yes, they indeed are all right. Judging by Flemmer’s accomplishments this season – including a state-record-tying performance in a game last week – you get the feeling the lefthanded hitter could swing a crooked tree branch and knock the ball all over the park.

In an eight-inning, 14-8 victory at Dassel-Cokato on April 26, Flemmer (pictured) went 6-for-6 to tie the state record for the most hits in one game. The mark is the state’s oldest hitting record, established 61 years ago (in 1951) when New Ulm’s Walt Keckeisen had six hits against St. Peter and matched in 2001 when Bryan Kramer of Blooming Prairie did the same thing vs. Medford.

Flemmer, who had six singles at Dassel-Cokato, said, “I’ve had pretty good days but I’ve never seen the ball as well as I did that day.”

As the Spartans’ leadoff hitter, Flemmer singled in the first, third, fifth and seventh innings, then batted twice in the eighth and got two more singles. His hitting streak actually was eight in a row, because he had ended the previous game with a hit and did the same in his first at-bat in the next game.

Flemmer, who also is a talented hockey player, became Orono’s starting catcher early last season.

“This year he’s continued to grow and learn,” Spartans coach Dick Crandall said. “He has a really good awareness in the batter’s box, he knows what pitchers are trying to do. He’s a smart hitter.”

Flemmer’s statistics are astounding. Through the season’s first 10 games he had a .639 batting average with 23 hits in 36 at-bats. He had three doubles, one triple, one home run and 15 RBI with five walks and two strikeouts.

Orono has a solid lineup, with Will Sperduto hitting .500, Jack Halverson .486 and Tommy Wachman .469. The Spartans are 6-6 after losing to Hutchinson 2-1 Tuesday.

Immediately after Flemmer’s 6-for-6 game, no one was aware that he had tied a record. He learned about it the next morning in school via a text message from his mother.

“I hadn’t really thought about it too much,” Jake said. “We were just thinking about winning.”

Offense in high school baseball has been dialed down this season by the mandated use of BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats. The bats, which reduce the speed of the ball as it is struck, are now required by the National Federation of State High School Associations as well as the NCAA.

Crandall said the changes in the game are clear.

“I’ve only seen one go out of the park in batting practice this year,” he said. “There were some in every round in past years. Everybody will get used to it and it will be fine. But there is a difference.”

In an odd twist, the new bats may have played a role in Flemmer’s 6-for-6 game.

“Maybe that had something to do with the bats,” Crandall said. “Maybe he would have flown out instead of hitting singles.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 507
*Miles John has driven: 7,332

--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
Monson The Miler: Albert Lea Champion Balances Work, Fun 5/1/2012
ALBERT LEA -- Chrissy Monson works hard, trains hard and loves to run. But the Albert Lea junior is learning that the work of being an elite athlete can sometimes interfere with the fun. An important reminder came early this spring.

Monson made a big splash at last year’s state track championships, outpacing some of the state’s headliners in winning the Class 2A 1,600 meters. She finished third in the 3,200 at state last year; she also ran those events at state as an eighth-grader and ninth-grader.

But she had a disappointing cross-country season last fall, was coming off an injury when the spring track season began and did not win her first outdoor 1,600 race of 2012. There was a reason for that.

“One of our captains, Ashley Tewes, said to me, ‘Chrissy, your parents have been trying to tell you but you just aren’t seeing it. You’re getting too worked up, you’re getting too involved. You need to smile. I’ve never seen you run a race without a smile on your face, and you haven’t had that. There’s something different.’ ”

Chrissy was smiling as she told me that story last week during a four-team meet at Hammer Field. But then, she almost always is smiling. When she doesn’t smile, people notice.

“I think it was kind of a rocky winter,” she said. “My dad was like, ‘Chrissy, smile. This is fun, that’s why you do it.’ I have great support that can get me focused. I have so many different people looking out for me. I love the sport and I’ve met so many great people and have had so many great opportunities. Obviously I want to be the best I can but I don’t want to get caught up in it.”

As an eighth-grader Monson placed seventh in the 3,200 and 13th in the 1,600 at state. As a freshmen she finished third (3,200) and sixth (1,600). Last year’s big-school title in the 1,600 catapulted her into the top echelon of Minnesota milers, and she is continually committed to improving.

“She’s totally focused,” said Albert Lea coach Margo Wayne. “She eats, lives and breathes track and running. She’s a wonderful spokesman and role model and just does everything right from the amount of sleep she gets to what she eats to how she trains. She is the whole package.”

My first chat with Chrissy came after she outdueled Shakopee’s Maria Hauger and Alexandria’s Jamie Piepenberg to win the 2A 1,600 last year at Hamline University’s Klas Field. Her father, Maurie, was cheering near the finish line and their embrace after Chrissy’s victory is one of the scenes that endures from that day. When I was in Albert Lea last week – where Chrissy won the 1,600 and 3,200 against competition from Rochester Mayo, Winona and Owatonna -- athlete and father continued the tradition of post-race hugs.

Chrissy has not run as well as she would like in the early part of the season, but she knows that thousands of strides remain to be taken before the state meet June 8-9. In past seasons she would often scan the statewide honor rolls, checking the competition. She doesn’t do that any more.

“I think it was always like, ‘Where can I go next?’ I told myself, ‘You are there. Act like it. Present yourself like it. Don’t get cocky.’ My dad checks (the honor rolls) and I’ll ask him what’s going on?

“He’ll say, ‘Some girls are running some really fast times and you’re not running as fast as they are.’ He’ll tell me, straight out. And I’ll say, ‘OK, let’s do some crunches!’

That’s the kind of commitment that builds state champions. Wayne, however, said Monson can sometimes push herself too hard.

“We talk about that a lot,” the coach said. “If she feels fairly fresh after a workout, she thinks, ‘Should I be doing more?’ It can hard to convince her, ‘Nope, you’re done. That’s your workout.’ ”

The competition among female distance runners in Minnesota is historically strong. Hauger and Piepenberg have battled each other for numerous state tites on the track and in cross-country, and Monson has inserted herself into the discussion. She said the transformation from young unknown to state champion was as simple as trying to run faster than the competition.

“It’s kind of strange,” she said. “I came in as a seventh-grader, eighth-grader, just thrown into varsity right away. No one knew who I was. There was this little girl, ‘Is she in the wrong race?’ All I was trying to do was get the next person. The people in the running world are amazing. Everyone who competes is a down-to-earth, great person. Just getting to know the people has made me want to be that sort of person. I can see that they have fun, they love what they do and they have a passion. I wanted to get that passion, and I have gotten there.

“I want everyone to do their best, and I obviously hope my best is better.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 505
*Miles John has driven: 7,290

--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
Once In A Lifetime Opportunity4/29/2012
(This article was written by one of the high school students who attended a Timberwolves game through the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program.)

By Katie Halter
Red Rock Central High School Student SID

How many high school students can say they have interviewed an NBA player? That’s right, I’m betting close to zero. Well, on March 25, myself, Thomas Elness from Windom High School, Turner Blaufuss from Breckenridge High School, Nick Wagner from Ada-Borup and Luke Sleeper from the University of Minnesota all got the opportunity of a lifetime.

We are involved in an MSHSL program called Student Sports Information Directors. Through this program there have been many perks: Meeting various media personnel at the local level, getting into games free, and the best thing of all is writing about different sporting events we witnessed. I’m sure not all of us thought when we initially got involved in this program that we would ever go to a Timberwolves game and interview a player.

We started the first-ever Student Sports Information Day with the Timberwolves getting a tour of the team offices by Aaron Seehusen, the public relations senior coordinator for the Timberwolves and the coordinator of the student SID day.

We stopped at the boardroom where the team holds various meetings on multiple subjects. We were then joined by various media personnel. Star Tribune beat reporter Jerry Zgoda, Augsburg College sports information director Don Stoner, Fox Sports North television play-by-play man Tom Hanneman, Associated Press reporter Jon Krawczynski and KARE-11 sports anchor/reporter Dave Schwartz all shared the stories of their success and answered some of our questions.

When asked if they believe ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’, they all agreed that it’s a combination of both in this business. You have to know how to handle situations, meet deadlines, and work together; but on the other hand, who you know might impact how far you move up the job chain as well.

We finished our hour-long roundtable discussion and were treated with a tour of the Target Center. We walked around the court and eventually made it into the Timberwolves locker room, which is probably even smaller than my high school locker room! While in the locker room, Nikola Pekovic had just come in from his pre-game shoot around. The media immediately surrounded him, which showed me that you truly have to honor the time and relationships that media gets with players and coaches.

After our tour, it was time for one of the best pasta bars in the world. It was honestly the best pasta I’ve ever had. We enjoyed the company of each other and talked about our experiences being involved in the MSHSL SID program.

We found our seats in the fourth row of the press area. As we got situated, it hit me that we were sitting in the same area as some of the great media personnel in Minnesota.

As the game proceeded we received quarter notes, injury reports and next game previews. The Timberwolves went on to beat the Denver Nuggets 117-110.

After the game, Aaron asked if we would like to stick around and interview a player if they agreed. Of course, all of our immediate answers were YES!

It took about five minutes after the game to get the interview set up. Aaron told us that Anthony Tolliver had agreed to be interviewed by us. I’m not going to lie; I was very star-struck during this, as you can see from this picture. He was a very genuine and down-to-earth player, one that every little kid should look up to.

As our interview came to a close, so did our day. It was one of the best days any up-and-coming journalist could ask for. Thank you to John Millea for setting up this experience and to Aaron Seehusen and the entire Minnesota Timberwolves staff making this day possible. It truly was a day I will never forget.