John's Journal
Racing For Records: Park’s Alowonle Clears Every Hurdle5/25/2012
R.J. Alowonle is fractions of a second away from making Minnesota track and field history. And if – when? – the senior from Park High School in Cottage Grove carves his name into the record books, those closest to him will remember the days when he was a little kid carrying his Pokemon cards and tagging along with his big sisters when they were Park athletes.

Alowonle is the youngest of five children and the only boy. Track runs in the family; his sister Jummy was a two-time state champ in the long jump and won one triple jump title before competing at Iowa State.

“When I was younger I would always come with my sisters to practice,” R.J. said. “People remember me as Jummy’s little brother, who had his Pokemon cards at every practice.”

Park boys track coach Mike Moran, who has known Alowonle since he was small, said. “His sisters ran for us and he hung around the pole vault pit. We knew he was going to be a good track guy.”

He has turned into much more than a good track guy. As a sophomore, Alowonle won the big-school state championship in the 300-meter hurdles, finished fourth in the 110-meter high hurdles and was a member of Park’s third-place 4x200 relay team. A year ago he won both hurdles races at state, placed fourth in the triple jump and ran a leg on the Wolfpack’s third-place 4x100 relay unit.

And this season he is on the cusp of breaking two of the oldest records in state high school history. The record in the 110 hurdles is 13.85 seconds, set by Owatonna’s Rick Schroeder in 1981; Alowonle’s best time this spring is 14.13. The 300 hurdles mark is 36.97 by Minneapolis North’s Dan Bannister in 1987; Alowonle’s best is 37.03.

But he’s not just a hurdler with the best times in the state in 2012. He also ranks No.1 in the 100, the 400 and the triple jump while ranking second in the 200 (to Park classmate D’Monte Farley). Park’s 4x100 relay team also has the second-best time in Minnesota this spring (behind North St. Paul). And for good measure, Alowonle ranks 18th in the long jump.

“He’s a really good student, top 10 in his class,” Moran said. “He’s got everything going for him. He’s really, really popular and the kids all love him. Mention ‘R.J.’ and the whole school knows who he is.”

Alowonle, who also is one of the state’s best soccer players, was “untouchable” on the junior high track team, according to Moran. As a ninth-grader he fell just short of qualifying for the state meet in the 110 hurdles. And as a sophomore he exploded onto the scene.

He didn’t run the 300 hurdles as a freshman and stayed away from that event for most of his sophomore season. “I just thought it was way too hard and I didn’t want to try it,” he said.

Late in his sophomore spring, however, he ran the 300 hurdles for the first time in a meet for sophomores and freshmen. He finished first, practiced for a few days and then won again at the Suburban East Conference championships. He won once more at the section championships and took home a gold medal at the state meet.

That means Alowonle has never been beaten in the 300 hurdles. Which, as Moran said, “is amazing.”

Alowonle’s legend became even larger in recent days, when he expressed a desire to run the 400 meters. He had run in the 4x400 relay but never in the open 400. So what happened? He set a school record of 48.28, which is 1.1 seconds off the state record and the fastest time in Minnesota this year. (Other 400 runners will be relieved to learn that Alowonle will not run the 400 in this year’s section or state meets.)

Park has had a boys track program since the 1940s and all-time standings have been compiled in each event. Alowonle ranks first or second in the 100, 200, 400, both hurdle events, the long jump and triple jump.

“And if he ever high jumped he could probably be in that, too,” said Moran.

Alowonle’s high school career is winding down. The Suburban East Conference finals were held Friday at East Ridge, the Section 3 meet is scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday at the University of St. Thomas and the state championships will be held June 8-9 at Hamline University. Alowonle will compete in both hurdles races, the triple jump and the 4x100 relay in those meets. If all goes well, his dreams will be fulfilled.

“I would really like to get four firsts in the state meet, and more importantly I really want Park to take first (in the Class 2A team race),” he said. “Last year that was never one of our goals, but getting third last year really opened a lot of kids’ eyes and everybody’s been training really hard this year.

“My times, I would like to see them drop as well because I want to get the state records in the 110s and the 300s.”

Alowonle and Farley will be key components to the Wolfpack’s team title aspirations. They have been good friends and teammates since junior high.

“We’ve been really close, always,” R.J. said. “In junior high we did some of the same events. We push each other so hard in practice and we love each other so much that if we are going to lose, we want to lose to each other. That relationship is what’s helped me a lot. We’re super competitive but super friendly. Him without me or me without him, I don’t think we’d be nearly as good as we are.”

Farley has signed with the track program at North Dakota and Alowonle has the done the same with North Carolina. A year ago they became the first male Park track athletes to qualify for state in four events. They hope to do the same this year and end their high school careers in high style.

As for breaking a state record -- or two? Alowonle has envisioned what that would feel like.

“It would mean the world,” he said with a smile. “It’s a crazy feeling; even beating any Park record is fantastic. It’s one of the greatest feelings ever.”

UPDATE: Alowonle broke the state record in the 300-meter hurdles at Friday's Suburban East Conference championships. His time was 36.38 seconds, breaking Dan Bannister's 1987 record of 36.97.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 571
*Miles John has driven: 7,734

--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
From Germany To Rosemount, A Surprise Tennis Star 5/23/2012
When the Rosemount High School boys tennis players gathered for their first preseason meeting this spring, there was a new member of the group. A sophomore foreign-exchange student named Andreas Dinkelmeyer wasn’t known to many of the tennis players. He had played soccer and basketball, but no one had pegged him as a tennis player.

Practice began in late March, and it didn’t take long for Dinkelmeyer to become known.

“He started beating all the varsity players, one by one,” said Irish coach Dana Beck. “He ended up being our top player, and we knew we had a good player on our hands.”

Dinkelmeyer has been more than good. He has been ranked among the top 10 Class 2A players in the state and is seeded third in the individual portion of the Section 3 postseason tournament, which begins Friday.

Dinkelmeyer, 16, began opening eyes in the Minnesota tennis world by defeating Bloomington Jefferson’s No. 1 player, senior Luke Robertson, during an early-season tournament in Woodbury. Robertson is currently ranked sixth in 2A. Dinkelmeyer also defeated Eagan senior Brady Radermacher (ranked seventh) and Eastview senior Will Biernat (ranked eighth).

A shoulder injury sidelined Dinkelmeyer for a couple of weeks during the season, he lost a match after returning and is currently listed among the honorable mention players in the 2A coaches poll.

“Now he’s back at full force again, and we wanted to make sure that the timing was good,” Beck said. “We overdid it a little bit on the rest, but that’s better than not enough rest.”

An even more surprising aspect of Dinkelmeyer’s success this spring is that he had not swung a tennis racket since arriving in Minnesota last summer.

“The first day of tryouts was his first day using his racket,” Beck said. “He played two other sports and he wasn’t hitting any tennis balls. So he came in a little rusty and he has great strokes and skills that just needed a little tweaking.”

Dinkelmeyer’s host parents are Tom and Mindy Wychor of Rosemount, who have three children. He arrived in Minnesota last summer in time to visit the State Fair.

“It was really nice,” he said. “I liked the food.”

He has visited the Mall of America, attended a Timberwolves game and took a spring break trip to South Carolina with his host family.

“I really like it here,” Andreas said. “It’s really been a successful year. If I had heard ‘Minnesota’ (before planning to spend a year here) I would have said, ‘Where is that?’ Actually I think it’s way better than somewhere in a big city. Rosemount isn’t that big but you’re still close to a bigger city.”

He learned tennis from his parents (“They took me out on the courts when I could walk”) and is involved in tennis in Germany through a club called 1. FC Nurnberg near his hometown of Treachtlingen, which is near Nuremburg.

He played soccer until he was 11, “and then I had to choose between tennis and soccer.” His family – he has one older sister and one younger sister – likes to travel to Austria to ski.

Dinkelmeyer began learning English in fifth grade and speaks the language very well. While he’s learning about Minnesota and the United States, his teammates and others at Rosemount are learning about Germany.

“He’s nice to have on the team,” Beck said. “He uses some different terminology, with the cultural thing. Some of the guys will use an accent sometimes, and he’ll use (the German phrase) for ‘Let’s go!’ He says that all the time, so you’ll hear that on the courts.

“He’s really been a good motivator and the guys really like having him as part of the team. He fits in, he’s bonded with some of the players. He’s a good role model.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 570
*Miles John has driven: 7,682

--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
One Weekend, Three Wonderful Activities And Opportunities5/21/2012
When people think of the Minnesota State High School League and the activities that take place under the MSHSL umbrella, many minds surely turn to the Prep Bowl or the state hockey tournament or any of the other “traditional” sports.

Those types of activities – particularly the events that draw big crowds as well as large television audiences -- are certainly a major part of the MSHSL’s mission. This past weekend, however, demonstrated how far-reaching the MSHSL has become in providing opportunities for students who do not always fall into the realm of “traditional” activities.

Nearly a thousand students from all over Minnesota were involved in three events at three Twin Cities venues. The atmosphere at these activities ranged from the quiet dignity of an art gallery to the cheers of a crowded bowling alley to bright lights and loud music as robots played basketball.

--The Minnesota State Visual Arts High School Exhibition ran for nine days and ended Saturday at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul. It showcased the work of 100 students in the categories of media arts, drawing, painting, crafts, sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, 2D mixed media/collage and graphic design.

--The Adapted Bowling State Tournament, held Friday at Brunswick Zone in Eden Prairie, brought together 320 students in divisions for cognitively impaired and physically impaired bowlers. Competition was held in singles, doubles and teams.

--The inaugural Minnesota State Robotics Championships was held Saturday at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena. A total of 551 students from 28 Minnesota high schools took part in the event, which was held in conjuction with FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). FIRST, a not-for-profit public charity, was founded in 1989 to inspire young people to pursue science and technology.

The three events are certainly different, in venue as well as theme. From viewing the artistic expression of a sculpture or a self-portrait … to watching a student in a wheelchair concentrate on pushing a bowling ball down a ramp and on toward the pins … to seeing a team of robotics engineers, wearing their team uniforms of capes and crowns, celebrate success … well, those are achievents that are equal to anything accomplished by anyone in any MSHSL activities.

The adapted bowling tournament is a happy madhouse, with families and friends of the athletes packing the venue and cheering wildly. The competition can be fierce, as demonstrated when the CI team from North/Tartan won the state title with a one-pin margin (1,627 to 1,626) over Albany. The awards ceremonies are as boisterious as any other, with athletes and fans holding their breath as the medalists are announced, then cheering and applauding for everyone.

In the 1990s, the MSHSL became the first statewide high school activities body in the country to create and govern adapted sports. Also part of the yearly MSHSL schedule are adapted softball, floor hockey and soccer.

Robotics is a different sort of madhouse, with team members often dressed in fun get-ups as they combine hard work with enjoyment and camaraderie. The robots are designed and built from a common set of parts during a six-week period before competitions begin. For the 2012 FIRST season the contest was called Rebound Rumble, with robots designed to shoot basketballs through hoops. Robotics is a very fan-friendly environment, with energetic in-arena announcers and lots of raucous music. Students from different schools often gather to dance between rounds of competition. It’s a blast.

As with adapted sports in the 1990s, the MSHSL is the first high school governing body in the nation to officially sanction FIRST robotics. Minnesota has the third-largest FIRST contingent in the nation with 153 teams and has the most teams per capita of any state.

There was no loud cheering or wild rounds of applause at the visual arts exhibition, where adults and artists quietly studied each piece before moving on to the next. Occasionally, parents would snap photos of their children standing next to their artwork.

The most powerful piece at the exhibition was a simple self-portrait of a young girl wearing glasses and a scarf over her head, her face turned slightly but her eyes focused on the viewer. The painting was done by Claire Frick, 18, a student at Roseville Area High School who died in March after a two-year battle with a rare form of cancer. Claire had planned to study at the College of Visual Arts after graduating from high school.

There is a quiet dignity to Claire’s portrait. The same word – dignity – can be used when describing the other weekend activites. Amid the cheers, hugs, music, costumes, dancing, competition and celebration, that’s a word that describes all MSHSL activities. Dignity.

--To see photo galleries from all three weekend events, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 570
*Miles John has driven: 7,658

--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
Andover’s Anderson Is An All-Weather Record-Holder5/16/2012
For a guy who craves warm sunshine in the desert, Thomas Anderson does pretty well under cold Minnesota conditions. The first-person evidence is this Twitter message dispatched by the Andover High School senior on April 21: “Broke the minnesota state shot put record today 65'8 in 45 degree weather.”

The 6-foot-4, 260-pound redhead made history on that chilly day during the Pony Relays at Stillwater. His distance of 65 feet, 8 inches bettered the previous state shot put record by two inches; the prior mark had been set by Mounds View’s Nate Englin in 2003 in the same Stillwater throwing circle. Anderson will return to Stillwater on Saturday for the Class 3A True Team state championships (1A and 2A competition will be held Friday).

The forecast for Saturday predicts temperatures in the 80s, which is more in line with Anderson’s warm-weather wishes. He has signed a letter of intent with Arizona State, and that decision was two-pronged: his affinity for warmth and a desire to be coached at the highest level. He called Sun Devils throwing coach David Dumble “one of the best coaches in the world, hands down.”

Anderson knows about quality throwing coaches because he has been raised by two of them. He is the only child of Colin and Lynne Anderson, two Olympic throwers turned coaches. Lynne, a former American discus record holder and an Olympian in 1976 and 1980, is in her 31st year as a throws coach at the University of Minnesota. Colin, a 1980 Olympian in the shot put, is a former Gophers assistant coach who now coaches the throwers at Andover.

The first college to offer Thomas a track scholarship was not Minnesota, but Iowa. That happened long ago.

“It’s a pretty funny story,” Thomas said. “The coach at Iowa offered me a full scholarship at birth. So when he was recruiting me, he technically had first dibs.”

Despite his family’s ties to the University of Minnesota, Anderson said he didn’t feel any pressure to become a Gopher. He took official recruiting visits to Arizona State, Minnesota and Kansas before making his decision, and his choice was not very popular on the Minneapolis campus.

“They were not happy with me choosing ASU,” he said of the Gophers coaches who are not members of his immediate family. “They understood but they weren’t happy.

“There wasn’t any pressure; it was wherever I wanted to go. When it finally came down to it, (my parents and I) were discussing where I wanted to go. I had already made my decision and I was getting their unput, and we all agreed that Arizona State was the best place.”

Anderson was the MSHSL Class 2A state champion in the shot put last year and finished second in the discus. This season Anderson has a discus best of 177-2, which ranks second in the state behind Champlin Park’s Bryce Johnson (185-3).

Anderson easily won both events during a dual meet with Anoka on Tuesday at Andover. His distances were 63-10 in the shot put and 170-10 in the discus. (He is pictured here with his father and fellow Andover throwers Kevin Olson and Joe Putz.)

“It wasn’t a bad day,” he said. “It was a dual meet so there wasn’t much adrelanine pumping.” (On the same day a few miles away, St. Francis junior Maggie Ewen threw the discus 172-7, breaking her own girls state record.)

Anderson’s performance Tuesday was a tuneup for Friday’s True Team event in Stillwater. When Anderson thinks back to his record-setting performance there in April, he still seems slightly surprised.

“It was really cold and I wasn’t feeling all that great. I didn’t think I was going to break the state record. I got into the right position and got a big one off.”

Among Anderson’s goals during this final season of high school competition is reaching 70 feet in the shot put.

“That’s the benchmark number that I’m looking for,” he said. “It’s going to take getting in the right position and it’s going to take warm weather. When it’s cold the muscles don’t fire like they do when it’s warm.”

There’s a message on Twitter that says otherwise.

--To see more photos of Anderson, plus video, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 513
*Miles John has driven: 7,553

--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
Representative Assembly Rejects Ski Change, Waits On Other Proposals5/14/2012
When references were made to former University of Michigan and NBA player
Chris Webber, it became clear that Monday morning’s annual meeting of the MSHSL Representative Assembly was going to be interesting. And that was certainly the case, as two proposed MSHSL bylaw changes were put on hold and the 48-member legislative body defeated another proposal.

By the time the meeting at Edinburgh USA Conference and Event Center in Brooklyn Park ended, after one hour and 20 minutes, the result was that no bylaws were changed.

Webber was brought into the discussion because of what took place during his high school career in Michigan. When he was in the NBA, claims were made that Webber and his family had received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a University of Michigan booster while Webber was in high school in Detroit. After that was revealed, the Michigan High School Athletic Association attempted to have Detroit Country Day School forfeit three state championships it won while Webber was a team member. In 2004, Webber was sentenced to community service after pleading guilty to criminal contempt for lying to a grand jury about his dealings with Martin.

And why did this matter to the Representative Assembly? Because of a proposal to change the wording in two eligibility bylaws. After the meeting was called to order, MSHSL Executive Director Dave Stead asked the members to refrain from voting on those changes. He said that because of questions that were gathered during recent MSHSL area meetings, more discussions needed to be held before those proposed changes were considered by the assembly.

The proposed bylaw changes deal with student eligibility and violations that are discovered after students have participated. In Bylaw 205 (Chemical Eligibility) and Bylaw 304 (Student Eligibility), it was proposed that the following language be added: “Student who has violated an MSHSL Bylaw; has participated; and is subsequently found to be in violation of an MSHSL Bylaw shall forfeit any honors won as an individual as determined by the MSHSL Board of Directors.”

The issues with the proposed changes included a worry that there may be no end to the time limit of when questions could arise ... as in the Chris Webber situation. For example, what if an athlete competes in a state tournament but it is revealed a year or more later that the athlete violated eligibility rules shortly before the tournament? Should there be some sort of statute of limitations?

The only item on which the Assembly voted involved post-state tournament training between Alpine skiing coaches and athletes. Under the proposal, coaches would have been allowed to continue working with their school’s skiers after the state ski meet through the second Saturday in March. Thirty votes were needed for passage and it received only 18 votes. The ski proposal may be amended and returned to the Representative Assembly in the future.

The Representative Assembly is the legislative body of the MSHSL. In order for proposed bylaw changes to reach the Representative Assembly, they must be approved by a majority of the state’s 16 region committees. Once that has happened, the MSHSL Board of Directors can recommend that the proposal be sent to the Representative Assembly for final approval.

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