John's Journal
Coming Friday: A Special TV Segment During The Prep Bowl11/24/2011
As you watch KSTC-Channel 45's coverage of the Prep Bowl football games Friday, please try to be watching between the Class 2A game and the Class 5A game. Sometime in the 6:20 to 6:45 p.m. time frame -- it's hard to predict the time because games can run long or short -- a special story will air.

It's a story that appears in the printed state tournament program, and it's a story that appeared in its original form here on John's Journal in early September. It concerns a tragic death and how two schools and communities came together to honor the young person whose life was lost and to help in the healing process.

A few weeks ago, KSTC sports producer Dennis Silva asked me if there was a great story out there that I could help shape into a video story to air during the Prep Bowl. This story was the easy choice, and KSTC videographer Brian Stemmler and I spent a day conducting interviews at Southland High School and Wabasha-Kellogg High School, as well as attending a football game in Wabasha.

Brian did a masterful job of editing the piece and guiding me -- a novice in TV storytelling -- through the process. It's a story that will touch your heart.

Here is the original printed story, which appeared here on Sept. 6...


Remembering A Teammate, An Opponent And What Sportsmanship Means

WABASHA – Across Minnesota last Friday, 104 high school football games were played. Every one of those games was important, but what took place prior to one specific game was very, very special.

It was a scene unlike anything I have witnessed in several decades of writing about sports of all kinds, from the professional ranks to the youth level. I doubt I will ever see anything like it again. The story, which began a year ago with a terrible tragedy, continued Friday evening with memories, tears and special tributes.

Cole Younker was 16 years old when he was killed in a car accident on Sept. 10 last year. He was a passenger in a car that collided with a semi-trailer on Highway 61 in Wabasha. Cole was a three-sport athlete at Wabasha-Kellogg High School.

On Friday, Southland High School’s football team played at Wabasha-Kellogg in the first game of the season for both teams. As Southland coach Shawn Kennedy told me, “We wanted to do something in honor of and in memory of the young man who was killed. We wanted to do something to really show true sportsmanship.”

It was a simple act, really, involving the planting of a tree and releasing of balloons. But simple acts can have the greatest impact.

The planning began when Southland athletic director Bill Feuchtenberger phoned Wabasha-Kellogg athletic director/football coach Nick Richmond. “He said Southland wanted to do something when the time was right,” Richmond said. “We decided we were going to do a tree and he said, ‘Whatever it takes, just send us a bill and we’ll do it.’ ”

Cole’s mother, Bonnie Younker, was asked to select a tree and she picked out a beauty. It’s a red maple, which will someday stand 35 to 40 foot tall. It was paid for by Southland. Between warm-ups and the start of Friday’s game, both teams lined up on either side of the planting site, which is in a corner of the football/track complex. Four captains from each squad placed the tree in a hole (that had been dug by Richmond a day earlier) and then used shovels to fill in the dirt around the trunk.

Bonnie stood with the Wabasha-Kellogg Falcons and cried while the tree in memory of Cole was planted. When the job was done, she hugged all eight captains.

It was quite a sight: young boys in football uniforms (minus helmets) taking their time and working together to get that tree started on its new life. A few fans gathered around to watch. Some of them cried and others sniffed back the tears.

“I’m very fortunate, along with the rest of the coaching staff, in that we get to play in a conference, the Three Rivers North and South, in which all of us coaches get along very well,” Kennedy had told me earlier. “When something like this happens, I think it affects everybody. He was a son, a sibling and it was a devastating thing. Why not try and do something in his honor, to really show that it’s only a game and to really show true sportsmanship? We always talk about being a class act at Southland, and Nick does the same thing over here, and that’s what it’s all about.”

On the right shoulder of each Falcons jersey this season are two small black numbers: 32. That was Cole’s number. Stickers with his number were affixed to their helmets. Some of the players had written Cole’s initials, CJR, on black anti-glare patches they wore under their eyes. Some have tattoos dedicated to Cole.

On Thursday, Richmond sat down to watch the film from last year’s game between Wabasha-Kellogg and Southland. He admitted that it was hard to watch as Cole made tackles, and he didn’t let the players watch the video.

“The one-year anniversary is coming up and the kids are still feeling it,” he said.

As a recording of the national anthem was played, the teams stood in lines at each end of the field. Bonnie Younker and several other women then brought out bundles of balloons and handed one to each Falcon. The players had written notes to Cole, which had been placed inside the balloons. As the balloons were released into the warm Minnesota sky, they floated up and began taking a southwesterly tack toward the nearby Mississippi River.

“I get goosebumps when I say this, but this is why we do this,” said Kennedy. “I’m starting my 27th year of coaching. And let me tell you something, I think this is pretty special to be able to be a part of this and help do something for Wabasha and for the family.

“I lost my father when he went in for gall bladder surgery and never came home. It just brings back those kinds of feelings for me personally. I am very blessed, because 55 of these kids drove six and a half hours in a snowstorm to be at my dad’s wake service. That’s pretty special. It’s only a game, and this puts it in perspective that there are more important things.”

The game ended with Southland winning 48-0. But that’s not the memory that will remain. The sight of a grieving mother, of young boys doing something larger than themselves and their game, of all those balloons sailing away ... all of it unforgettable.

“In a weird way, I expected a call from them just because I know coach Kennedy,” Richmond said. “From the first time I met him, he was a class act. I love the guy. So I knew it was coming. How do you show sportsmanship better than what they’re doing?”

As the season opener neared, some of the Falcons wrote notes to Cole that were separate from the notes that sailed away with the balloons. One of them read:

“Hey buddy, we miss you. It’s not the same here any more. We’re playing for you, OK? Thanks for everything you’ve ever done to and for me. Miss you.”
Looking Ahead To The Prep Bowl And Back Through A Great Season11/22/2011
If it’s Thanksgiving week, that means it’s also the biggest week of the Minnesota high school football season. The 30th annual Prep Bowl games will be played Friday and Saturday at the Metrodome, where six state championship teams will be crowned.

Seven teams will attempt to finish the season undefeated, and two of those teams will go head to head: Mahnomen and Dawson-Boyd in Class 1A.

One game will be a rematch from earlier this season: Wayzata beat Eden Prairie 9-0 in the final week of the regular season, and they will meet again for the Class 5A title.

Here’s the schedule …

Friday’s Games
10 a.m./ Nine-Man: Edgerton/Ellsworth (13-0) vs. Wheaton/Herman-Norcross (12-1)
1 p.m./ Class 1A: Mahnomen (13-0) vs. Dawson-Boyd (13-0)
4 p.m/ Class 2A: Moose Lake/Willow River (13-0) vs. Caledonia (12-1)
7 p.m./ Class 5A: Eden Prairie (11-1) vs. Wayzata (12-0)

Saturday’s Games
Noon/ Class 3A: Fairmont (12-1) vs. St. Croix Lutheran (13-0)
3 p.m./ Class 4A: Bemidji (12-0) vs. Rocori (11-1)

Predicting is a tough business, but it seems like a safe bet to believe that offenses have an edge over defenses; that was surely the case in the state semifinals. The average score in last weekend’s games at the Metrodome was 43-17, with four games being so one-sided that running time was used in the fourth quarter (running time comes into play when the margin is 35 points or more). Of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t possibly see some low-scoring games this weekend.

As we await the championship games, I’ve gone through my notebooks and compiled some of the memorable moments I have witnessed during the course of watching 31 high school football games so far this season …

--Best Warning: On Aug. 15, the first day of football practice, I visited the Brainerd Warriors during their afternoon workout. I walked onto the field and right into the middle of a passing drill. Assistant coach Deryl Ramey saved me from being trampled by shouting, “Look out John!”

--Nature Sighting: While hanging around practice at Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, I saw what looked like a great big nest on top of one of the light towers at Dixon-Barle Field. Confirmed: Osprey have lived up there for years, and during that day’s practice one of the big birds circled the field and screeched at the players. I was told the osprey sometimes drop dead fish or mice on the field.

--Misidentified: I was getting my pregame meal (booster club burger/chips/cookie/pop) before a game in Fulda when a young man – realizing that I was a stranger – asked me, “Are you a recruiter?”

--Name of the Year (the year 1911): Blake and St. Paul Academy first met in football in 1911. When the 2011 game was played, honorary captains were at midfield for the coin toss. Among those representing Blake was Tom Heffelfinger (Class of 1966), whose family tree goes back to grand uncle F. Peavey Heffelfinger, who played in the 1911 game.

--Official Plea for Help: As the officiating crew exited the field at halftime of a game that was becoming a bit chippy, a member of the crew said to me, “Hey John, did you bring a striped shirt? We could use some help out here!”

--Greatest Place to Play: The natural-grass surface at New London-Spicer's Pederson Field is treated like the White House lawn by a dedicated band of volunteers.

--Finest Transformation: Mahtomedi’s George Smith Field was completely redone before this season, with artificial turf, new bleachers, new press box, new concession stands, new ticket booths, etc. It’s a grand spot for football.

--Best Parade: The 12-minute Homecoming parade at Red Rock Central (it took 12 minutes for the parade to pass my location) in Lamberton was possibly the finest and most fun-filled parade I have ever witnessed.

--Greatest Use of Deer Stands: Minnehaha Academy has no press box at its football field, so where do the “eye in the sky” assistant coaches go? They climb deer stands to get a view of the action.

--Finest Pregame Meal: The roast beef sandwich at K.P. Kompelien Field in Minneota was to die for.

--Hardest Worker: On an extremely windy night, an official was running down the sideline – into the wind -- to loosen up before the game. He said, “I hope I don’t have to run in this direction too much tonight!”

--Favorite Pregame Sound: As the Fairmont Cardinals strode from the school to Mahoney Field, they stood five wide and held hands to the great sound of cleats on concrete.

--Biggest Zero Week Conflict: Football players who raise livestock having to decide whether to play football or show their animals at the state fair.

--Best Greeting: St. Peter coach Brian Odland as we shook hands before a game: “How’s the traveling going?”

--Best Recruiting Tool: An athletic director was trying to find one more person to play a crucial role in the game that was about to start: “Want to watch this game up close? We need one more guy on the chains.”

--Best Halftime Conversation: Female teenage fan No. 1: “Is it over?” Female teenage fan No. 2: “No, it’s halftime.” Female teenage fan No. 1: “I don’t understand football.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 151
*Miles John has driven: 4,928
*Diet Coke Count: 0 for the day, 49 for the fall tournaments

--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
Saluting State Champions In Adapted Soccer and Girls Swimming/Diving11/21/2011
Saturday was championship day in two sports: girls swimming and diving as well as adapted soccer. State champs were crowned in adapted soccer at Stillwater High School and in girl swimming and diving at the University of Minnesota Aquatics Center.

Here are the results …

ADAPTED SOCCER
Championship Games
CI Division/ Anoka-Hennepin defeated St. Cloud Area 3-2.
PI Division/ Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound-Westonka defeated Anoka-Hennepin 3-0.

Third-Place Games
CI Division/ Park Center Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville 5-2.
PI Division/ Dakota United defeated Park Center 4-3 in overtime.

Fifth-Place Games
CI Division/ Dakota United defeated South Suburban 12-4.
PI Division/ South Suburban defeated Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville 8-3.

CLASS 1A GIRLS SWIMMING AND DIVING

TOP 10 TEAMS
1. Sartell-Saint Stephen. 2. Northfield. 3. Hutchinson. 4. Visitation. 5. Monticello. 6. Marshall. 7. Breck School. 8. Mankato West. 9. Benilde-St. Margaret's. 10. Albert Lea.

RECORDS
All-Time mark in the 500-yard freestyle was set by Sartell-St. Stephen junior Marisa Wood. Class A marks were set in the 200-yard freestyle by Wood, 50-yard freestyle by Mankato West sophomore Danielle Nack, 100-yard butterfly by Nack.

CHAMPIONS
200 Yard Medley Relay/ 1 Hutchinson (Megan Bateman, Jordan Ford, Kaylee Kucera, Aspen Billiet)

200 Yard Freestyle/ Marisa Wood, Sartell-St. Stephen

200 Yard IM/ Ellen Bloom, Sartell-St. Stephen

50 Yard Freestyle/ Danielle Nack, Mankato West

1 meter Diving/ Bailey Dupay, Northfield

100 Yard Butterfly/ Danielle Nack, Mankato West

100 Yard Freestyle/ Whitney Weisz, Little Falls

500 Yard Freestyle/ Marisa Wood, Sartell-St. Stephen

200 Yard Freestyle Relay/ Sartell-Saint Stephen (Tarin Anding, Lauren Martens, Molly Peichel, Marisa Wood)

100 Yard Backstroke/ Ellen Bloom, Sartell-St. Stephen

100 Yard Breaststroke/ Kathryn Ostrom, St Louis Park

400 Yard Freestyle Relay/ Sartell-Saint Stephen (Ellen Bloom, Jennifer Thompson, Molly Peichel, Marisa Wood)

CLASS 2A GIRLS SWIMMING AND DIVING

TOP 10 TEAMS
1. Edina. 2. Minnetonka. 3. Stillwater. 4. Eden Prairie. 5. Rochester John Marshall. 6. Rochester Mayo. 7. Wayzata. 8. Robbinsdale Armstrong. 9. Prior Lake. 10. Chanhassen.

RECORDS
All-Time and Class 2A mark in 200-yard freestyle relay was set by Edina.

CHAMPIONS
200 Yard Medley Relay/ Edina (Madeleine Eden, Olivia Anderson, Paige Haller, Maryellen Campbell)

200 Yard Freestyle/ Nikki Larson, Edina

200 Yard IM/ Taylor Bass, Rochester John Marshll

50 Yard Freestyle/ Kaia Grobe, Chanhassen

1 meter Diving/ Jessie Ramberg, Forest Lake

100 Yard Butterfly/ Nikki Larson, Edina

100 Yard Freestyle/ Kaia Grobe, Chanhassen

500 Yard Freestyle/ Kira Zubar, Eden Prairie

200 Yard Freestyle Relay/ Edina (Olivia Anderson, Emma Wittmer, Maryellen Campbell, Nikki Larson)

100 Yard Backstroke/ Emma Paulson, Wayzata

100 Yard Breaststroke/ Olivia Anderson, Edina

400 Yard Freestyle Relay/ Edina (Emma Wittmer, Amelia Anderson, Madeleine Eden, Nikki Larson)
A Rookie Coach, A Great Season And Knowing What's Important11/19/2011
Brooks Bollinger’s eyes were moist when he exited the Hill-Murray locker room Saturday afternoon. The Pioneers had just lost to Rocori 37-35 in the Class 4A state football semifinals at the Metrodome, ending Bollinger’s rookie season as a coach.

A locker room is no strange place for Bollinger, 32, who was a four-year starter at quarterback for the University of Wisconsin and spent time in the NFL with the Jets, Vikings, Cowboys and Lions. Saturday’s loss ended the first chapter in a new phase of his football life, and his postgame words – after an emotional talk with his players -- made it exceedingly clear that the game goes far beyond the X’s and the O’s for him.

“I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms, and that was just a special one,” he said. “I’m fortunate to be a part of it. It’s pretty emotional. We have a great group of seniors. It’s one of the reasons I love being a high school coach; what makes it great also hurts you so much when it ends. Just being a part of these kids’ lives and getting so attached to them.

“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.”

When longtime Hill-Murray coach Vince Conway retired after the 2010 season, athletic director Bill Lechner learned that Bollinger was living in the Twin Cities with his wife Natalie (a Twin Cities native) and their three kids. A phone call was made, interviews were held and the ex-pro had the job.

Before long, Bollinger was arriving at Hill-Murray in the morning and staying there all day, working on becoming a better football coach and shaping his new team.

“Vince Conway didn’t leave the cupboard bare, he left him a nucleus, which was good for Brooks to build on,” Lechner said. “He comes in with a good name, so that helped him. But that only goes so far. The kids can read through it if he’s not a real person. He’s a family guy, he’s a coach, he gets it, the kids love him and respect him and he’s worked hard to get that.”

The Pioneers finished with a 9-3 record, losing to South St. Paul and St. Thomas Academy during the regular season. They defeated Chisago Lakes and Mahtomedi in the Section 4 playoffs and beat Faribault in the state quarterfinals. Hill-Murray had not been to state in football since 1987 and Saturday’s game was the Pioneers’ first in the Metrodome.

Bollinger grew up with football; his father Rob was the offensive coordinator at the University of North Dakota and Brooks played quarterback at Central High School in Grand Forks.

“Growing up around my dad’s teams at North Dakota, this is what I love about it,” he said. “The relationships, the kids, the stories you’re creating, the big-picture stuff. I enjoy drawing up plays and running an offense, but to me that’s a means to an end. That’s what you have to do to build this bond and be able to experience things like this with your kids.”

That sentiment was echoed by a young quarterback: Hill-Murray junior Zach LaValle. Zach, who passed for 232 yards Saturday, called playing for and learning from Bollinger “one of the great experiences of my life.”

“He’s not only made me a better player but a better person,” LaValle said. “As a player, it’s all the little things, being a quarterback himself. As a person, he’s always there, teaching life lessons. He’s a great guy.”

LaValle missed summer workouts while recovering from an injury and wasn’t fully involved in practice until late in preseason drills. Bollinger said Zach’s growth, especially down the stretch this season, was critical to the Pioneers’ success.

“I think when everything came together and things turned the corner was when Zach LaValle really got comfortable at quarterback and just played his butt off the last six weeks of the season or whatever. He’s the kind of kid everybody needs, he’s a leader, he’s the guy you want to play quarterback.”

My final question for Bollinger concerned, oddly, his footwear. I have seen coaches who wear cleats on the sidelines, but this was completely different: Bollinger wore black golf shoes.

“I was waiting for someone to notice,” he said with a smile. “Some of the NFL guys have done it in places I’ve been. I needed some old black shoes and these are my old golf shoes.”

It’s just another part of a great story.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 151
*Miles John has driven: 4,928
*Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 49 for the fall tournaments

--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