John's Journal
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.

*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 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.

*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 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.

*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 John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
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.

*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 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.

*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 John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn