John's Journal
Sportsmanship, Human Kindness Trump Wins And Losses1/13/2012
This email arrived at MSHSL headquarters today. It is very self-explanatory...

I just wanted to share my story with you in the hopes that the deserving people would get some recognition. My name is Steve Schreiber. I am the head girls basketball coach in Menahga. I've been the head coach for the past three years and the culture we've developed here is a very tight-knit group of girls that both myself and my assistants care about very much.

The past week has seen an 11th-grade student in our school pass away and a 12th-grade student from neighboring Sebeka pass away. Being a small school the death in our student body was very devastating but many of the girls were friends or relatives of the girl who died in Sebeka as well. It is the toughest week I've had as a teacher or a coach and to see the team that I am so close with really hurting has made me hurt as well.

On Thursday, January 12th, my girls left school early to go to the funeral in Sebeka. We picked them up after the funeral and drove straight to our game with Bertha-Hewitt. Menahga and Bertha girls basketball haven't really been on the best of terms over the past handful of years so I didn't really know what to expect. We had just come off a rough, heartbreaking game against Nevis Tuesday night (and not heartbreaking because we lost, but more so because of some of the extracurricular things that happened and the pain my girls were going through). I was afraid of what another game like that would do to them.

Before the game even started Bertha's star player, Arei Stokes, came and gave me a sympathy card to read to my girls. I chose to hold off until after the game. When I read it, I saw the appreciation in all my girls' eyes. It truly meant a lot to them. The game played out and it gave my girls a few hours of relief from the pain and grieving they are going through. It was a hard-fought, but clean, game that allowed both teams to have fun.

After the game was over the Bertha girls were so respectful towards my girls, with some of them even coming over after the handshakes to give my girls hugs.

It truly meant so much to me to see the outpouring of positive thoughts towards my girls. Notice, I didn't mention a score, or who won or lost. That's because it didn't matter. The Bertha girls basketball team and coaching staff aided my team and me personally in our grieving process and for that I am so grateful.

Steve Schreiber
Menahga Public School
DeLaSalle Remembers Brother Michael Collins 1/11/2012
Dave Thorson was in tears as he talked about calling the cell phone of Brother Michael Collins, president of DeLaSalle High School, even though he knew that there would be no answer. Thorson, who for 17 years has been the boys basketball coach at the private school on Nicollet Island in downtown Minneapolis, just wanted to hear his friend’s voice on the outgoing message.

Brother Michael (right) died early Sunday morning, a victim of lung cancer that came and went swiftly and tragically. Collins, 74, was diagnosed with the disease only in December, and his passing has struck hard at the people of DeLaSalle … as well as people at Shanley High School in Fargo, St. Mary's College High School in Berkeley, Calif., and Cretin-Derham High School in St. Paul.

“I can’t delete him out of my phone,” Thorson said as the tears came and went. “I’ve called his phone to hear his voice.”

I spoke with Thorson on Tuesday night at St. Agnes High School in St. Paul. The Islanders, who are ranked eighth in Class 3A, had just improved to 8-2 with a 93-54 victory over the Aggies in a Tri-Metro Conference game. There was a moment of silence before tipoff in honor of Brother Michael. Basketball, however, has taken a back seat as the Islanders cope with the loss of a man Thorson called “not only a mentor and a boss, but one of my closest friends.”

How close were Thorson and Collins? Brother Michael is godfather to Dave and Rita Thorson’s 3-year-old daughter, Ella Ray. Collins has four other godchildren.

Collins graduated from DeLaSalle in 1955 and attended St. Mary's University in Winona, earning a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies with minors in English, speech and music in 1959. He took his initial vows with the Christian Brothers in 1957, began his teaching and administrative career at DeLaSalle in 1959 and moved to Shanley in 1967 and St. Mary's in Berkeley in 1980. He returned to the Twin Cities in 1987 as one of the first co-principals of the newly merged Cretin-Derham Hall. He spent a sabbatical year in 1990-91 as part-time Assistant to the President at DeLaSalle while finishing his doctorate in Private School Leadership from the University of San Francisco. He was named president of DeLaSalle in 1991 and was the longest-tenured chief administrator in the 112-year history of the school.

“When I think of Michael Collins, the first thing I think of is the brilliance of his leadership in terms of empowering people,” Thorson said. “He was a brilliant, intelligent man and could have done a lot of things on his own without a lot of other help. And the reality is that I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who I’ve seen lead and motivate so many different kinds of people.”

I did not know Brother Michael well. I had several visits with him, the longest and most recent coming in 2009 when DeLaSalle celebrated the opening of a new football facility, the first home field in school history. In a story I wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Collins said this about the event:

“It's not just 40 boys playing football. It's an extension of who we are, creating a sense of community and people celebrating something together.”

Brother Michael absolutely nailed it with that comment. He explained what school activities should be about: the community spirit and celebrations that naturally occur as we cheer for our teams.

“He got it,” Thorson said. “He cast this shadow that will live forever on the island. He cared about so many people.”

I also spoke Tuesday with DeLaSalle junior basketball player Shawn Fitzgibbons, who was lucky enough to call Collins his mentor at school.

“We were close,” Shawn said. “I could go to his office just to talk, we had a bond. He had a great influence on everybody he met.”

Thorson said Fitzgibbons is a living legacy to Collins. “Brother picked Shawn out when Shawn was a little kid coming to my basketball camp. He really liked him and he came up and talked to him. They forged a very nice relationalship.”

Thorson also helped me reach former DeLaSalle star Cameron Rundles, who was a four-year starter, a member of the Islanders’ 2006 state championship team and helped Wofford College (S.C.) reach two NCAA tournaments. Via email, Rundles – who is playing professional basketball in England -- said Brother Michael was a father figure to him.

“When someone asks what Brother meant to me, my answer is simple,” Rundles wrote. “Brother meant everything to me and was somebody that I could count on 100 percent of the time. No matter the situation, no matter the circumstances, he was a person that would do ANYTHING for myself as well as others.

“The biggest memory that I have of Brother -- and I'm sure everyone that has been a part of the DeLaSalle family can account for this -- is every year around Christmas time when he sang the famous “Chestnuts” song during the Holiday Choir Concert. Still to this day, any time that song comes on I think about him and I smile. No matter if I'm in Minnesota or in another country, I can actually close my eyes and hear his amazing voice sing that song with all he has got every time he sings it!

“Brother was the type of guy that a young man like myself and many others aspire to be like. A man that filled the room with joy when he walked into it, a man that genuinely made you feel like you were the most important person in the world at that time when he engaged you, a man that would not only talk to you when you needed him, but would hug you and give you the physical attention that a young man needs, a man that understood the importance of helping the youth so much he made sure he surrounded DeLaSalle students with the best staff members that were not only worthy educators, but worthy people, a man of great character. I'm just blessed and honored to know Brother personally so I can tell my children about this man and attempt to be and do half of what he achieved while he was with us.”

Collins was a towering figure at DeLaSalle and beyond. He was a prominent national education figure during his 53-year career. In his tenure, enrollment at DeLaSalle more than doubled, the school raised more than $25 million from benefactors and at least 96 percent of graduates in the last decade have gone on to college.

With his passing, there will be a lot of adjustments. One of them will come on graduation day, when Thorson won’t be sitting next to his friend.

“He and I would sit at graduation and I would just say to him, ‘Gosh, these kids are going to go on and do great things.’ He would say great things happen because of great people. He deflected the credit, and that was his brilliance, that he empowered so many people.”

Shawn Fitzgibbons will be among a group of honorary student pallbearers during Brother Michael’s funeral at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis. Ella Ray Thorson also will be part of what her dad called “a celebration of life.”

“The impact he’s had on my family, I can’t even begin to talk about it,” Thorson said as his emotions rose once more. “I’m a pretty tough guy. You know me, John, I’m a hard (bleep). Ella Ray asked me on Sunday if Brother was in heaven. And if there’s one question I absolutely know the answer to, it’s that he’s looking down on us.

“I can’t even fathom him not being here.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 249
*Miles John has driven: 5,558

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Jabs, A Big Return, Rubio And More: A Day At The Timberwolves Shootout 1/7/2012
The annual Timberwolves Shootout is one of the highlights of the boys basketball season, with some of the best teams from Minnesota and surrounding states gathering at Target Center for a day of competition. Saturday’s 16th edition of the Shootout consisted of six games, and there were plenty of stories to follow and share.

We saw a team pay tribute to a friend who is in a hospital a few blocks away. We saw one of the state’s top players on the court for the first time all season after suffering an injury. We saw Ricky Rubio, we saw a future Gophers player, a seven-foot center and one of the highest-ranking recruits in the nation. Here’s a look …

IN HONOR OF JABS

The last week has been very tough for everyone at Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Sophomore Jack Jablonski suffered a severe spinal injury in a junior varsity hockey game on Dec. 30, and the Red Knights are hurting for their friend, who is being treated at Hennepin County Medical Center.

The Benilde boys basketball team paid tribute to Jablonski with T-shirts, shoes and positive thoughts. They wore shirts that had the Twitter hashtag #jabs on the front, and Jack’s number 13 on the back with the words “Jack Jablonski In Our Hearts.” Some of the Red Knights also wrote tributes to Jack on their shoes.

Coach John Moore said one of the most important events since Jablonski’s injury came Thursday night, when his team played host to Columbia Heights. The Benilde students wore white and cheered and chanted in support of their friend Jabs throughout the game.

“This has been an incredibly emotional, physically draining week for everybody,” said Moore, who is not a faculty member at Benilde but has a daughter on the staff. “At Thursday night’s game everybody got to just let out some energy, and on Friday everybody was kind of marching to a little different step.”

The Red Knights played very well Saturday, defeating St. Thomas More from Rapid City, S.D., 68-50.

“It’s emotional. It’s tough,” Moore said. “I’m happy with our guys. I thought we would be down a little bit physically and emotionally. And we weren’t.”

FINALLY, BACK ON THE COURT

Before Saturday, Johnny Woodard had not played competitive basketball since July. The Duluth East senior suffered a shoulder injury last April, aggravated the injury in July and underwent surgery. He was on the shelf as the Greyhounds began the season with a 2-7 record, but he was the best player on the court in his first game back. East rolled past previously unbeaten Rice Lake, Wis., 86-71 at the Shootout.

Woodard, a 6-foot-4 guard, finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds, making 11 of 19 field-goal attempts. He received medical clearance to play on Thursday.

“We were 2-7 coming in, so you can kind of see a transformation,” said East coach Chuck Tolo. “He leads and they will follow. He’s pretty much the heart and soul of our group.”

Woodard averaged more than 26 points a game last season and helped East reach the Class 4A state tournament. The Greyhounds were 22-7 a year ago.

“It was stressful,” Woodard said of missing this season’s first nine games, “especially going through the tragedy of watching my team lose.”

Before the injury, Woodard was getting attention from Division I colleges, including the University of Minnesota. Gophers coach Tubby Smith was in the stands for the East-Rice Lake; he has signed 6-foot-5 Rice Lake senior Wally Ellenson, who had 11 points and five rebounds against Duluth East.

Woodard has heard little from Division I coaches since being hurt, but Saturday’s performance was a big first step in returning to their radar.

“Once he got hurt things kind of quieted down,” Tolo said. “I think they want to see what was going to happen. Maybe if any of those people are around, they saw that he’s healthy and he can play.”

OTHER GAMES

--Highly recruited sophomore guard Tyus Jones had scored 32, 34, 37, 38 and 39 points during Apple Valley’s 8-1 start and he went over the 1,000 career point mark during the first half Saturday. Apple Valley defeated Onalaska, Wis., 66-64 in the closest game of the day, with Jones getting 18 points, five assists and two steals. Matt Thomas scored 33 for Onalaska, which was the day’s best scoring total.

--Minnetonka defeated Pelican Rapids 86-66. The Skippers shot 78 percent in the first half and 34 percent in the second half. They were led by Lattrell Love’s 27 points; he made 13 of 14 field-goal attempts.

--Cedar Falls, Iowa, jumped out to a 45-26 halftime lead and went on to defeat Prior Lake 67-56.

--Hopkins led 52-33 at halftime and rolled past Sioux City, Iowa, East 97-74. Four starters scored in double figures for Hopkins, led by Zach Stahl with 21. Iowa signee Adam Woodbury, a 7-1 center, had 23 for East, which is ranked No. 5 in Iowa’s largest class.

TIDBITS

--The Timberwolves worked out in the Target Center practice gym Saturday morning before flying to Washington, D.C., for a Sunday game. As they returned to their locker room to shower and dress, the Pelican Rapids team was in the corridor waiting for their game. The main draw was rookie Ricky Rubio. As he walked past the Vikings, a couple of them said, “Hi Ricky.” To which he responded, “Hello.”

--Prior Lake senior fan Nick Anderson won $1,000 by sinking a half-court shot at halftime of the Prior Lake-Cedar Falls game. During each game, one student from each school took a half-court shot. Shootout organizers had considered buying an insurance policy to pay off any winners, but decided the odds favored no one making the shot.

--Several members of the Vanderbilt football coaching staff watched the Hopkins game. Hopkins senior forward Andre McDonald, who plays wide receiver in the fall, had made a verbal commitment to play football at Vanderbilt but de-committed last week when Vandy receivers coach Chris Beatty took a job at Illinois. McDonald said Vanderbilt remains on his list of possible schools, but he also will look at others.

--I was in the skyway at Target Center, purchasing a soft drink that shall not be named from a vending machine. A fellow walking past, presumably en route to a fun-filled Saturday evening in downtown Minneapolis, saw me and shouted, “Hey John, no Diet Coke?!” My reply: “This is a (unnamed soft drink) building, and they’re killin’ me!”

--The tallest players in Saturday’s field were 7-foot-1 Prior Lake junior Carson Shanks (who has committed to Utah State) and Sioux City East's Woodbury. Right before tipoff of the Hopkins-East game, Woodbury worked his way down the scorer’s table, bumping knuckles with everyone seated there. Nice gesture.

--Tweet Exchange of the Day/ Question from the Twittersphere: “How did the 7-footer from Prior Lake look today?” Me: “Very tall.”

--Rice Lake’s warm-ups carry a nice slogan on the back: “Play True, Live True.”

--Minnetonka coach Tom Dasovich has coached in prior Shootouts, but he was confused when he looked for the scoreboards that are normally positioned above the lower bowl in each end zone ... but weren’t used Saturday. Minnetonka’s game with Pelican Rapids had just begun when the coach looked up and said, “Where’s the scoreboard?” One of his assistants pointed up to the giant scoreboard above the court and said, “You’ve got to look up there.”

--Total attendance for the Timberwolves Shootout was 3,306.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 247
*Miles John has driven: 5,558

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Coming Soon: Story Of A Remarkable Coach1/5/2012
I’ve been working on a story about a coach who has been well-known in Minnesota circles for decades. But in researching the story, I have discovered that there is much, more more to this person than the sport he coaches.

His background reads like a novel; his life is inspirational, hinging on war, relocation and an amazing family story.

I’m wrapping up the reporting on this story and am hoping to post it later today.
From Latvia To Mounds View: Hall of Fame Coach Ziggy Kauls 1/5/2012
Zigurds “Ziggy” Kauls is one of the best-known coaches in Minnesota history, having guided the boys basketball team at Mounds View High School for 45 years. Kauls, who will retire after this season, ranks third in career coaching victories in his sport, has taken 12 teams to state tournaments and owns two state championships.

In the job since 1967, Kauls has coached three Mr. Basketball award winners and is a member of the MSHSL Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He may have even invented the concept of the open gym during the offseason.

The court at Mounds View has received a new adornment, with the words “Kauls Court” painted in large letters near both mid-court sidelines. The court will be officially dedicated in Kauls’ honor on Jan. 13 when the Mustangs host East Ridge in a Suburban East Conference game.

Kauls, 70, should write a book. If he does, however, high school basketball in Minnesota won’t be the only subject. History – personal history – is a major part of his story.

I talked with Kauls after a game earlier this week, sitting with him in the near-empty Mounds View gym, and we chatted again on the phone a day later. He told me about his aunt, Edith “Oma” Kauls, who was 99 years old when she died on New Year’s Day. Edith was born in Latvia, as was her nephew Zigurds. The memories flowed as we talked…

Kauls has a scar on his neck from an injury suffered when he was 4 years old. As he told me, “I fell into a bombed-out window.” This was in 1945, and it’s one of his earliest memories. He received medical attention from a group of nuns, but he just remembers seeing people dressed in black and white. “And I remember getting pushed in a cart to where they did the sewing.”

Latvia, in the Baltic region of northern Europe, was not a pleasant place in the World War II era. Kauls, who was born during the war, said “Russians occupied the Baltic states before the war. Then the Germans occupied it, then Russians re-occupied. That’s not a good deal. It was best to get out of there.”

Because Kauls’ father could speak German the family was able to relocate to Germany, where they lived in a refugee camp that housed about 2,000 people. From there the Kauls – parents Alma and Teodors, six children (sons Teodors, Ivars, Zigurds, Juris and Andris and daughter Mara) and their grandmother – traveled to the United States, arriving in late December1949.

“We were originally destined for Northfield,” Kauls said, “but when the sponsors found out it was a family of six kids and a grandmother they said they couldn’t handle it.”

The president of the school board in Forest Lake – who had a small farm where he grew strawberries and had dairy cows and pigs -- offered to take in the Kauls. They lived in the basement of the family home for almost a year and then were able to rent a house not far from there.

Kauls’ parents found employment and the children worked on the farm and did other jobs. Edith’s family came to the area in 1952, and some of the Kauls kids found work with a contractor in Forest Lake. “He hired my oldest brother Ted and my cousin Guido to work for him,” Ziggy said. “We were like little helpers; we’d bring shingles to the roof, we helped with waterproofing, we helped the carpenters.”

All the Kauls pooled their money – Ziggy didn’t keep a penny until he graduated from high school – until the parents were able to repay the overland portion of their trip to Minnesota.

Ziggy and his brothers were outstanding athletes at Forest Lake, playing multiple sports. Mounds View athletic director Bob Madison has heard the story of Ziggy, as a high school basketball player, asking the coach for keys to the gym so he and his teammates could work on their shooting skills.

“He probably created the concept of open gym before he graduated from high school,” Madison said.

Kerwin Englehart, who was the Forest Lake basketball coach when Ziggy was a junior and senior and later became athletic director for Rochester public schools, confirmed the open gym story.

“He came to me and assured me there was no problem and he would handle everything,” Engelhart said. “And there was no problem. He was a very good player, very hard-working and dedicated, very coachable. I’m very proud of him.”

Ted Kauls played basketball at the University of Minnesota until suffering a knee injury and Ivars Kauls played football for the Gophers and was a standout on the track team. Ziggy played basketball at Hamline under legendary coach Joe Hutton. That’s where the idea of becoming a coach began.

In the fall of 1962 he was a student-teacher at Mounds View. He graduated from Hamline the following spring and was hired as a teacher at Mounds View. When the district opened Irondale High School in 1967, Mounds View boys basketball coach Jim Geske – the only coach in program history -- became Irondale’s first athletic director.

“The guys on staff had been head coaches and had no desire to be head coaches again,” said Kauls, who had done some scouting for Geske. “The principal called me in and asked if I wanted to be the head coach. I said I didn’t have much experience and he said, ‘We’ll give you a chance.’ ”

And now, 45 years down the road, Kauls has a record of 728 victories and 349 losses. The only Minnesota boys basketball coaches with more wins are Bob McDonald of Chisholm (975-392) and Bob Brink of Rocori (924-320).

When Madison was named athletic director at Mounds View 10 years ago, he didn’t know Kauls and was unsure how the longtime coach would view him.

“Ziggy welcomed me with open arms,” Madison said. “Once I was on board I was a Mustang, and he treated me that way. He had two expectations, that the baskets were at 10 feet and the floor got swept. He needs a gym and a ball, and that’s about it.”

Kauls led the Mustangs to the state tournament for the first time in 1972, and they won the Class 2A championship. Eleven more trips to state followed, including the 1999 Class 4A championship. Mounds View’s Steve Schlotthauer (1986), Nick Horvath (1999) and Travis Busch (2005) were named Mr. Basketball in Minnesota.

“We always talk about doing things that you know how to do well and not doing things that make you look bad,” Kauls said. “You have to gauge, you have to know what it is and it will change from game to game. Consistency is important, and eventually consistency gets you to tradition.”

This year’s team has a record of 7-2 and will play at White Bear Lake on Friday night.

“It’s not all about basketball for Coach Kauls,” Madison said. “A lot of people assume life for him is just basketball, but it’s really not. Basketball is a huge passion or him, it’s like an extreme hobby and he loves everything about basketball.

“But what he really loves about it is what it does for young men; the dedication, the discipline, the class. A team slogan is Tradition Never Graduates, and they’re producing success. No matter the sport, that should be the goal. For Zig, basketball is the vehicle he uses to get young men there.”

Indeed, Kauls helps young men get there, while always remembering where he has been.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 235
*Miles John has driven: 5,512

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn