John's Journal
Let’s Say Farewell To 2011 With A Look Back …12/27/2011
As we turn the calendar to a new year, this is a prime time to reflect on what has taken place in 2011. I spent some time clicking through the John’s Journal archives and selected some highlights, some touching moments and plenty of memories from the year that was.

--The year opens in fine style with a trip to Duluth for a hockey doubleheader.
--The state debate tournament proves to be a fast-talking, quick-thinking event.
--Four days after a Perham basketball player named Zach Gabbard collapses on the court at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, I wrote about a fund at United Community Bank in Perham to help his family defray medical costs.
--A visit to Ellsworth is made for the annual Coaches vs. Cancer event

--Headline: Support For Zach Gabbard Continues
--My debut at the one-act play state festival at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.
--It’s 57 degrees at Giants Ridge near Biwabik for the state alpine ski competition on Feb. 15.
--Tales from the girls state hockey tournament include Edina junior goaltender Maddie Dahl (right) being given a stick by Wild goalie Josh Harding.

--Senior Elisa Reinsma of Fulda/Murray County Central repeats her own history by wrestling at the state tournament for the second year in a row.
--At Xcel Energy Center, hockey fans see Duluth East students chanting Rachel Sandell’s name and holding signs in support of Rachel, who is in Nevada undergoing cancer treatment.
--Headline: Great Debate: Indiana Basketball, Texas Football or Minnesota Hockey? (You’ll have to go back through the John’s Journal archives to find the answer.)
--The Anoka girls basketball team had won 17 games and lost 157 over seven seasons … until they qualified for the state tournament in 2011.
--Zach Gabbard surprises his Perham teammates by appearing in the locker room at Williams Arena before the Yellowjackets play in the state quarterfinals.
--Boys state basketball champions include Perham in Class 2A. Zach Gabbard is unable to attend the game at Target Center but watches the game on TV from a rehabilitation hospital in St. Paul.

--In one of my favorite days of the year, I visit the Cambridge-Isanti adapted bowling team during a practice.
--Fairmont High School senior Sarah Bankson wins the Class A championship in the Informative Speaking category of the state speech tournament at Chanhassen High School. She is the first four-time state speech champion in Minnesota history.
--I write about former Twins catcher Terry Steinbach, working as an assistant baseball coach at Wayzata High School.

--I enjoy researching and writing a story about a program in Spring Lake Park that has high school athletes visiting elementary schools to work with young students on reading skills.
--Headline: State Adapted Bowling Tournament: Where Smiles Dominate
--I journey to Heron Lake to report on Ben Cunningham (left), a senior at Round Lake-Brewster who returned to the baseball (and basketball) team after a vehicle accident in which he suffered massive injuries and lost the vision in one eye.

--You knew summer had arrived by reading this headline: Heat Alert: Boys Lacrosse Semifinals Delayed One Hour
--Thief River Falls senior Brendan “Beezer” Skime is the busiest athlete in Minnesota, competing in the state tennis tournament and state track meet in the same week.
-- Jerry Loegering, 78, ends his career as the girls golf coach at Barnesville in fine style. After beginning his career in 1975, Jerry brings his team to the state tourney … the first girls state golf trip in school history.

--During a month that is a shut-down period for high school activities in Minnesota, one evening is very special. At the Comet Theater in downtown Perham, a documentary film premiers: “For Three” is the story of Zach Gabbard and the Perham basketball team.

--I visit Brainerd for the first day of football practice at Brainerd High School. It’s also the 50th year as a head coach for Ron Stolski, who has won more football games than any other coach in the state.
--Another highlight of the year: spending time with the volunteer army that takes care of the football field at New London-Spicer High School. It might be the finest playing surface in the state.
--A great series of road trips takes me to Fulda and St. Peter for Zero Week football games and Bethlehem Academy in Faribault for the opening of the volleyball season. Great fun.

--I write about one of my favorite athletes of the year: Orono soccer player Nick Manzoni. Nick missed the season while he was undergoing cancer treatments. I don’t think his middle name is Inspiration, but it should be.
--Headline: Future Gophers QB Helps Journalist Break The Rules. This concerns Mankato West’s Philip Nelson and it’s a neat tale.
--One of the most remarkable, special stories of this year or any other unfolds at Wabasha-Kellogg when three-sport athlete Cole Younker – who was killed in a vehicle accident a year earlier -- is remembered with the planting of a tree and the release of balloons before the football season opener vs. Southland.
--I profile Eastview High School’s Matt Percival for a story about the day in the life of an athletic director.
--A story about another inspiring athlete: Pierz junior Beth Broschofsky (right), who returns to the cross-country team after cancer surgery and treatment. A metal rod replaced the humerus in her right upper arm and she runs with a large brace to keep her arm strapped close to her body.
--A profile of soccer official Adalberto Villalobos, a native of Costa Rica who has lived in Minnesota for many years and became a U.S. citizen in 2011.

--A great evening of history: St. Paul Academy and Blake mark the 100th anniversary of their first football meeting with a game at Blake.
--Trevor Schmidt has a lot of wonderful friends at Mound-Westonka High School. Many of his male buddies shave their heads in support of Trevor, whose own hair was thinned out while he is being treated for a condition called angioma.
--Rachel Sandell, the ailing Duluth East student who was remembered and honored by her schoolmates during the boys state hockey tournament, passes away.

--Headline: A Gatorade Bath, Sweet Caroline And Some Football History. When Prior Lake wins a big game to make its first appearance in the state football tournament, it’s quite a night.
--First-year Hill-Murray football coach Brooks Bollinger, a former NFL quarterback, takes his team to the state semifinals. After losing in that round, the rookie coach’s postgame words are special: “We were so lucky to get the experience we did and have some success. It hurts when you get that close and don’t get it done, but my message to them was we lost today, but we won, I won, to be able to be part of something like this.”

--A family profile of Tom and Leah Dasovich, the husband and wife who coach the boys and girls basketball teams at Minnetonka High School.
--The remarkable story of Zach Gabbard continues when Zach is cleared by medical professionals to return to game action. When the senior sees his first playing time in January, it will be almost a year since he collapsed and nearly died.
--A story about the Duluth East boys hockey team, which will travel 3,356 miles this season for road games, spending 56 hours on buses. The Greyhounds travel almost as much as I do.

My total miles for 2011: (Drum roll please) … 11,698.

Here's wishing everyone a great 2012!
Minnesotan Authors A Coaching Handbook Unlike Any Other12/21/2011
When Carl Pierson saw one of his good friends and successful coaching colleagues get abruptly fired, the wheels started turning. Pierson, who has coached at several Minnesota high schools, awoke one day around 3 a.m. and began jotting down thoughts and ideas. And he began writing.

The result is a book about coaching that is much more than a book about coaching. Pierson’s self-published book is titled “The Politics Of Coaching: A Survival Guide To Keep Coaches From Getting Burned.” It’s a rare find; instead of dealing with X’s and O’s or other traditional coaching advice, it offers guidance on issues that have little to do with athletic strategies and everything to do with becoming and remaining a successful coach.

“The whole motivation was that I’ve seen too many good people get pushed out of the profession, and I was tired of it,” said Pierson, the head girls basketball coach at Waconia High School. “Some of it is brought on by themselves because they don’t know how to manage these various situations.”

Pierson, 35, has been a head girls basketball coach for 10 years, with stops in Red Wing, Chisago Lakes and Champlin Park (where his 2006-07 team reached the Class 4A state semifinals) before taking over at Waconia this year. The native of Mitchell, S.D., holds undergraduate and master’s degrees from Northern State University. He is a married father with a young son and another child due in February.

His undergraduate degree is in political science/education, and he writes in the book that he had “been a student of politics for longer than I had even been an athlete or a coach … In nearly 20 years of coaching football, baseball, and basketball this understanding of politics and people has allowed me to navigate the often treacherous terrain that has become youth and high school coaching. I had always taken for granted this understanding was intrinsic in most coaches. That is, until my friend was fired.”

Pierson’s book includes chapters titled The Campaign, Public Relations, Special Interest Groups, Confronting A “Cancer” in Your Program, The Politics of Youth Sports, and Surviving Race and Gender Issues.

He relates stories about his own experiences and those of other coaches in dealing and working with parents, youth programs, administrators, etc. The anonymity of people is protected because he doesn’t refer to others by name.

“It was a labor of love,” he said. “It was rather therapeutic to go through some of that stuff again and re-live it.”

The book is aimed at coaches but the advice it offers can be used in almost any field. Since the book was published last summer, Pierson has heard positive feedback from coaches around the country as well as people in other professions.

“I got an email from a band or chorus director who said it even applies in their area,” he said. “I’ve had a couple from people in private business who said the same thing. That’s been nice to hear, but it certainly wasn’t the intention.”

Some of the topics in the book are touchy, such as dealing with problem parents or problem players, and even how to aid in the process of problem players transferring to another school. In addition, Pierson offers advice on getting hired as a coach, including sections titled “Never use negative campaigning publicly” and “Running a campaign against an incumbent.” Pierson doesn’t shy away from any topics.

He writes in the book, “Some coaches suggest they don’t want to play the political games and that they just want to coach. I would suggest that if they really want to coach, playing the political games, or at the very least acknowledging that politics play a role in their job, is the only way they will get to coach or survive in the profession for any length of time.”

Pierson said he expected to hear some negative feedback, but that has not happened.

“It’s been very positive, and surprisingly so. I expected there would be a little bit more controversy about some of the things that I’ve suggested. But without exception, the emails I’ve received have been very encouraging and very positive and appreciative. That’s been rewarding.

“I didn’t write it with the intention of burning any bridges or hurting anybody’s feelings, it was really to be instructive and to try and help coaches and use some of my own situations and others. I’m glad that it’s been positive to this point.”

He said he is aware of at least three colleges that are using his book in Theory of Coaching classes.

“In the college classes they teach you drills and plays or whatever, but they don’t talk about how to deal with parents or any of those other issues,” Pierson said. “And those are the things that consume coaches and lead you to leave the profession. Everybody can handle a practice schedule, but it’s those extraneous issues that become overwhelming.”

The book can be purchased at, where athletic directors can receive a discount when ordering 10 or more books. It also is available at

The Customer Reviews section at Amazon includes comments like this: “As a new head coach, this is one of the greatest tools I could have ever found. It is very complete as it has great insight to every possible situation a coach will encounter. The way the book is set up and written is very reader friendly, almost like Mr. Pierson is having a conversation with you. I would encourage all coaches, parents of student-athletes, athletic directors, and even fans to read this book. I will definitely be passing this on to the other head coaches in my district.”

Pierson has promoted the book at coaching clinics in Minnesota and neighboring states. While his intention was to tell coaches about the book and hopefully sell a few, he was surprised by the number of people who told him they had already finished it.

“I thought I was going out there to spread the word, and they’d already read it,” he said. “So that was kind of neat.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 231
*Miles John has driven: 5,449

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Sportsmanship And Generosity: Albany Honors Braham’s Dahlman12/20/2011
I received the following email from Braham girls basketball coach Tim Malone on the heels of Bombers junior Rebekah Dahlman reaching the 3,000-career-point plateau last Friday at Albany.

When Rebekah scored her 3,000th point, the game was stopped to honor her, and Malone wanted to publicly thank Albany coach Josh Dorn, his players and the Albany athletic department for their thoughtfulness.

Here is the email…

John - I wanted to write this quick letter both to inform you and more importantly thank Albany High School, their athletic department and Mr. Josh Dorn. With a game on Tuesday night (Dec. 13) in Hinckley-Finlayson, Rebekah Dahlman finished seven points from 3,000. On Wednesday morning I got an email from Mr. Dorn. He offered the game ball, stoppage of the game and basically anything we wanted to recognize the occasion two days prior to our scheduled contest in Albany. I immediately knew I was dealing with a class act!

Several minutes into the second half Rebekah did in fact get her seventh point. The game was stopped, she was presented with the game ball and flowers from her sister. We were back in our huddle getting ready to resume the game when one of the Albany players approached our bench with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. This was obviously something that was planned ahead of time and the Bomber coaches, players and fans along with Becca were all taken back by the show of generosity and sportsmanship.

While she mostly gets accused of being too physical here is a school, a coach and a program that recognizes her for outstanding athletic accomplishments. Thank you Mr. Dorn and the Albany Huskies girls basketball team for being so thoughtful on Friday night.

Tim Malone
Braham Area High School
Activities Director
H/PE Dept.
Head Girls Basketball
Unfinished Business: Forest Lake’s Morgan Wants To End On High Note12/19/2011
Say the words “Ben Morgan” and wrestling fans will immediately think of two things. The first is a memorable sight and the second is a memorable fact.

The sight: It is March 1, 2008, and Morgan is an eighth-grader wrestling for Forest Lake High School. In the Class 3A state championship match at 112 pounds, Morgan defeats Apple Valley ninth-grader Matt Kelliher 3-1, setting off a celebration that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.

Fists clenched and arms raised, Morgan leans back and roars to the heavens. With blood dripping from his forehead, he sprints around the mat and leaps into the arms of his father (and Forest Lake assistant coach), Gordy Morgan. He receives a thunderous ovation from the fans at Xcel Energy Center, who expect to see the young wrestler win more state titles before his high school career ends.

The fact: Morgan has not won another state title. As a freshman (119 pounds), sophomore (130) and junior (130) he placed third at each state meet. (See his year-by-year record at the end of this story.)

Morgan is now a senior and is one of the most accomplished wrestlers in the state. He recorded his 200th career victory on Saturday at the Minnesota Christmas tournament in Rochester and may rank among the state’s all-time top 10 in victories by the end of the season. He has signed a letter of intent to wrestle at Nebraska.

The fact that he has not won another state title remains part of his story, which Morgan says “has been a roller coaster with lots of ups and downs.”

The latest “up” came Saturday in Rochester, where Morgan won the tournament championship at 132 pounds and was voted Outstanding Wrestler by coaches of the 34 participating teams. Morgan won his first three matches via pins, won in the semifinals on a technical fall and then, in the biggest title match of the tournament, defeated three-time state champion Dakota Trom of Apple Valley 5-3.

Morgan’s celebration was muted, although he did look into the crowd and point to the word “Rangers” on his chest in signifying his school pride. The victory was nonetheless huge for Morgan, considering Trom’s pedigree and the tone that was set for the rest of the season.

Trom, a senior who will wrestle at the University of Minnesota, won state championships in each of the last three seasons … while Morgan was placing third. The two have not wrestled at the same weight in a state tournament, but that could change this season.

“I’m pretty excited right now,” Morgan said after defeating Trom. “It was a tough match. Me and Dakota go way back, we’ve trained together our whole lives. We never really thought we’d wrestle each other in high school, but we finally did.

“It feels pretty good. I’m not completely satisfied with my career, and that’s how you have to be. You can never be completely satisfied, you always want to get better. This is a good steppingstone but I need to keep improving.”

Trom was No. 1 and Morgan No. 2 in the latest 3A 132 rankings released by The Guillotine, but those spots will surely be reversed when the next rankings are published Dec. 30.

“It was big for him,” Forest Lake coach Billy Morgan said. “Confidence-wise, it was big. He kind of got a monkey off his back. He hadn’t been able to beat a tough Apple Valley kid. Whether it was Mark Hall or Dakota Trom or Matt Kelliher, he’s had his battles with some great, nationally recognized wrestlers out of Apple Valley. He got a nice win.”

With 200 career victories on his resume, as well as the big victory over Trom, Morgan is optimistic about the rest of the season.

“It’s going to help me roll into the wrestling season now and keep on top,” he said. “I’ll wrestle him again at state and this time I want to make sure I win state again.”

A big crowd of wrestling fans will be watching.

Year          W-L         3A State Finish (weight)
2006-07       32-4        did not qualify
2007-08       40-3        First (112)
2008-09       41-1        Third (119)
2009-10       44-3        Third (130)
2010-11       40-4        Third (130)

*Schools/teams John has visited: 229
*Miles John has driven: 5,341

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Road Warriors: Duluth East Boys Hockey Team Piles On The Miles 12/14/2011
From puck drop to final horn, Tuesday night’s hockey game at Ames Arena in Lakeville lasted one hour and 50 minutes. For the Duluth East boys hockey team -- which is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in Class 2A -- the 4-1 victory over Lakeville North was the easy part.

What followed was another in a long series of long bus rides. The Greyhounds are used to spending more time on a bus than on the ice, but even coach Mike Randolph was surprised when I told him that, according to my math, his team would travel 3,356 miles this season for road games, spending 56 hours on buses.

“Wow, I had no idea,” Randolph said.

That’s an average round trip of 280 miles for each game, and Tuesday’s journey to Lakeville was the season’s longest at 360 total miles. (See mileage and time chart at the end of this story.) It’s a safe bet that no other Minnesota high school team in any sport travels as much as the Greyhounds.

Duluth East is in an odd spot, geographically as well as competitively. None of the school’s athletic teams belong to a conference, so finding enough games to fill schedules is always a challenge. The boys hockey team also faces an issue of scarce 2A teams in the vicinity. Other than Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, whose arena is 25 miles from East, the rest of the road schedule entails loading up the bus. (The East girls hockey team will make three trips to the Twin Cities this season, while the boys basketball team will do so seven times and the girls basketball team three times.)

The boys hockey journey to Lakeville meant six hours on the road. The Greyhounds will make many other trips to the Twin Cities area this season, including games against Maple Grove, Eden Prairie, Edina, Burnsville, Forest Lake, Andover and Hastings.

“We’re the only 2A school in the area,” Randolph (pictured) said. “It’s like any program -- football, baseball – you want to play against the competition you’re going to play against (in the postseason). It’s nothing against 1A, but we want to play 2A schools. So to play 2A schools, and the best 2A schools, they’re down here.”

Making all those trips isn’t as simple as turning the key to start the bus, either. The Duluth school district provides school buses for traveling athletic teams, but teams must raise their own extra funds if they want to ride in charter buses. The East boys hockey team does so with the help of dedicated parents and boosters.

“Teams have sold wreaths, raffle tickets, all kinds of stuff,” East athletic director Shawn Roed said. “It’s a challenge, no doubt about it. But it’s just the reality of where we are.”

For nearby trips to places like Proctor, Hermantown and Superior, Wis., the district provides no transportation. That means parents drive their athletes or the kids drive themselves.

“We’ve had to make some cuts to make ends meet,” Roed said. “That puts a lot of pressure on teams and programs.”

Parents provide meals for the boys hockey team when it travels. Tuesday, for example, there was food on the bus when the players boarded at noon and more was available when they saddled up for the ride home.

A long Tuesday road trip can be especially daunting the next morning, when another school day begins. Randolph requires his players to be at school no matter what time they get home.

“That’s the first thing we say on the bus, but I don’t have to say it much because I’m the first one to find out (if players aren’t in school),” Randolph said. “And I tell them if I find out you’re not in class when you should be, forget practice and forget the next game.”

Players find different ways to spend time on the bus. Senior Jake Randolph (the coach’s son), who leads the Greyhounds in scoring with 10 goals and eight assists in six games, said remaining psychologically fresh is part of the formula.

“One thing we’re working on is being more mentally tough,” he said. “When you’ve got a long drive like this you’ve got to block it out. You can’t let your legs get tired on the bus, you’ve got to have a good warmup. I usually just kick back, put my legs up, listen to tunes and get mentally prepared for the game. We try to stay focused.”

The Greyhounds like to get on the ice as soon as they exit the bus. That often means skating while the junior varsity teams are preparing to play. “It gets a sweat going,” Jake Randolph said.

For the Randolphs, the trips to the Twin Cities mean some extra family time, too. Mike’s daughter Jessie lives and works in Edina, so she can watch her dad coach and brother play quite often.

“There is an upside to it,” Mike Randolph said after a postgame hug with his daughter Tuesday night.

All the miles and all the bus rides are in preparation for one thing: the postseason. Since hockey was split into Class 2A and 1A in 1994, Duluth East holds or shares Class 2A state tournament records for most appearances (12), most championships (two, 1995 and 1998), most third-place finishes (four) and most games won (22).

Last season the Greyhounds came within a whisker of another state title, losing the state championship game to Eden Prairie 3-2 in triple overtime.

If all goes well for the Greyhounds during the regular season, they will hold the top seed in the Section 7 tournament and play only home games as they attempt to reach the state tournament at Xcel Energy Center … which is 154 miles from their school.


Duluth East’s Regular-Season Round-Trip Travels
240 miles Cambridge (4 hours)
294 Andover (5)
296 St. Cloud (5:20)
360 Lakeville North (6)
50 Cloquet (1)
316 Ridder Arena vs. Burnsville in Schwan’s Cup (5)
326 Maple Grove (5)
162 Grand Rapids (3)
350 Eden Prairie (6)
352 Edina at Lake Minnetonka (6)
260 Forest Lake (4)
350 Hastings (5:30

*Schools/teams John has visited: 195
*Miles John has driven: 5,199

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