John's Journal
I Found Heaven, And It’s Homecoming Day In Lamberton, Minnesota9/30/2011
LAMBERTON – “John! John!” I was standing along Main Street in this southwestern Minnesota town early on this Friday afternoon, jotting something in my notebook, when I heard my name being called. “John! John!”

As I looked up, two little candy suckers were landing at my feet, tossed from a Homecoming parade float by Red Rock Central senior Katie Halter. I had met Katie earlier in the day when I spoke to a couple of classes at the home of the Falcons. Athletic director Bryce Pack, who had heard me talk about the MSHSL Student Sports Information directors program at a meeting in Marshall recently, invited me to visit with the students.

I was already planning to be in the area for a football game in Minneota (I’m sitting inside a Culver’s in Marshall as I write this; kickoff in Minneota is a few hours away) and I had a blast in Lamberton. Bryce saw me parking my car outside the school and waved at me from the door. He bought me lunch at the American Legion, and the lasagne special with a Diet Coke was stupendous.

One thought kept running through my head during my time in Lamberton: I hope all these wonderful, friendly people know how lucky they are to live in a town like this. I’m the first to admit that I love small towns, having grown up in a village very much like Lamberton. But being there on Homecoming, with all the excitement and fun, was very special.

Since it was Homecoming, the students, teachers and staff were all dressed in the school colors of black, red and silver. Some had their faces painted and wackiness prevailed … in a good way. I spoke with students about the Student SID program, showed them examples of the program from other schools via and talked a lot about writing, reporting, interviewing and other facets of journalism.

After lunch, the real fun began. Everybody got out of school in time for the 1 p.m. parade, which was a delight. Elementary students sat on the curbs and waited for their high school heroes to throw candy. Parents, grandparents and other assorted grownups sat in lawn chairs or on lawns. The town’s police officer led the parade in his squad car with lights flashing, and the parade ended with a local fire and rescue vehicle and an ambulance. In between were vehicles carrying the Homecoming royalty, the marching band, pickups pulling flat-bed trailers carrying various groups of students, and a couple of fire trucks. The football players piled onto a trailer of hay bales that was pulled by coach Isaac Jenniges in his truck; the team had great fun pelting their teachers with candy fastballs along the parade route.

It took exactly 12 minutes for the entire parade to pass by where I was standing, and it was one of the greatest 12-minute periods of my life.

My favorite float was a graveyard on wheels, with a pile of dirt and a large headstone that said “Greyhounds RIP” (Friday night’s opponent was the New Ulm Cathedral Greyhounds).

Then came powder-puff football at the football field, which also serves as the baseball outfield. The senior girls played the freshmen, coming away with a resounding victory … just as a couple of senior girls had promised me earlier. Then the junior girls played the sophomores and on the fun went. The rest of the junior high and high school students sat in the home grandstand and the elementary kids sat across the field on the visitors bleachers. (Great cheer: “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! That’s the fifth-grade battle cry!”)

Football players filled the roles of referees, chain gang members and public-address announcers. No greater fun have I ever witnessed.

I had to depart before the powder puff games were finished, but Pack sent me out in style as we stood next to the concession stand: “Hey John, how about a Diet Coke for the road?”


--To see a photo gallery from Red Rock Central, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 43
*Miles John has driven: 3,439

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
A Trip To Dassel-Cokato … Next Up: Red Rock Central And Minneota9/29/2011
After a Sunday-through-Wednesday journey through Fergus Falls, Thief River Falls, Grand Rapids and Chisholm, Thursday was a relatively quiet travel day for me. I spent some time at Dassel-Cokato High School, talking to a large group of students about the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program and telling tales from a life in journalism.

English teacher Brian Johnson organized the gathering, and I had a wonderful time with Brian and the students (that's them in the photo). They asked lots of good questions, and hopefully I came up with a few answers.

Friday will mark a return to the road in a big way. I’ll hit the highway around 6 a.m. and venture out to southwestern Minnesota for a school visit and a special event tied in with a football game. My morning stop will be Red Rock Central High School in Lamberton, where I will spend a couple of class periods visiting with students. It’s also Homecoming week at Red Rock Central, and I’m looking forward to the afternoon festivities.

Later Friday I’ll be at Minneota High School for a special ceremony before the Vikings face Fulda on the football field. For the first time, Minneota has won the MSHSL Challenge Cup, which will be presented to school officials just before kickoff.

The Challenge Cup is a year-long competition among MSHSL schools. Schools earn points for success in postseason athletic and fine arts events and the school earning the most points in each classification — A, AA and AAA — receives the traveling Challenge Cup. Minneota is the Class A winner for the 2010-11 school year. The other winners are Eden Prairie in Class AAA and Breck in Class AA.

Maybe I’ll see you on the highway … or at the gas pump!

*Schools/teams John has visited: 42
*Miles John has driven: 3,312

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
Historic Chisholm, A Game In Grand Rapids And Cross-Country Rankings9/28/2011
Good morning again from the road. Our MSHSL crew is in Chisholm for another area meeting today, this one at Valentini’s Supper Club. Valentini’s is one of those places that, if you went back in time 50 years or so, would probably appear the same. It’s a grand old historic establishment on a corner in downtown Chisholm.

The weather on this road trip has been fantastic. After watching volleyball in Climax on Monday evening, Tuesday’s event was outdoors: a boys soccer game between Cloquet/Esko/Carlton and Grand Rapids. Noble Hall Field in Grand Rapids is surrounded by trees, and with the sun shining and the leaves changing colors it was a beautiful scene. The teams played to a 1-1 tie. (To see a photo gallery from the game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.)

After today’s meeting the MSHSL caravan will head for home, ending the Fergus Falls/Thief River Falls/Chisholm swing of meetings. I’ll get some sleep and head to Dassel-Cokato on Thursday to talk journalism with students. My Friday schedule will take me to Red Rock Central for more journalism talk (as well as homecoming festivities), followed by a football game in Minneota.

This week’s cross-country rankings shine a big bright light on St. Cloud Cathedral. The Crusaders have the top-ranked Class 1A teams on both the girls and boys side, marking them as teams to watch as we near the home stretch of the season.

See you on the road!

Here are the cross-country rankings ...

Boys Teams
1. St. Cloud Cathedral
2. Perham
3. Blake
4. Esko
5. Waseca
6. Redwood Valley Area
7. Minnehaha Academy
8. Winona Cotter
9. Crosby-Ironton
10. Plainview-Elgin-Millville
11. Albany
12. Ottertail Central

Boys Individuals
1. Brandon Clark, Blake
2. Shane Streich, Waseca
3. Charlie Lawrence, Foley
4. Matt Welch, Proctor
5. Nick Stoks, Canby-Minneota/LinHi
6. Byron Schuldt, Nevis
7. Romeo Benish, Proctor
8. Dan Borash, Royalton
9. Jackson Lindquist, Esko
10. Pat Reinschmidt, Plainview-E-M
11. Nick Golebiowski, St. Cloud Cathedral
12. Jonnathan Surber, St. James

Girls Teams
1. St. Cloud Cathedral
2. Esko
3. Adrian
4. LaCrescent
5. Waseca
6. Blake
7. Trinity of River Ridge
8. Minnehaha Academy
9. Luverne Area
10. Annandale
11. United South Central
12. Fairmont

Girls Individuals
1. Clare Flanagan, Blake
2. McKenzie Holt, St. Cloud Christian
3. Marissa Shady, Esko
4. Elena Danielson, St. Cloud Cathedral
5. Emi Trost, Cannon Falls
6. Morgan Durbin, St. Cloud Cathedral
7. Lydia Lutz, Park Rapids
8. Jordan Kopplow, Adrian
9. Meghan Henrikson, Mankato Loyola
10. Lauren Friese, Fairmont
11. Liz Miller, Watertown-Mayer
12. Mary Ennis, Trinity

Boys Teams
1 Stillwater
2 Rosemount
3 Wayzata
4 Edina
5 Eden Prairie
6 Moorhead
7 Andover
8 White Bear Lake
9 Eastview
10 Hopkins
11 Centennial
12 Sartell-St Stephen
Others receiving votes: Rochester Mayo

Boys Individuals
1. Josh Thorson, Wayzata
2. Joey Duerr, Chaska
3. Cole O'Brien, Burnsville
4. Will Burke, Edina
5. Glen Ellingson, Moorhead
6. Wayde Hall, Stillwater
7. Riley Macon, Rochester Mayo
8. Connor Olson, Wayzata
9. Eric Colvin, Stillwater
10. Jan Ketterson, Jefferson
11. Tom Linner, Stillwater
12. Zach Roozen, Mounds View
Others receiving votes: Kieran Kelly, Chanhassen; Mubarik Musa, Worthington; Sidney Speir, Eagan

Girls Teams
1. Monticello
2. Lakeville South
3. Eden Prairie
4. Eagan
5. Wayzata
6. East Ridge
7. Edina
8. Alexandria
9. Moorhead
10. Shakopee
11. Andover
12. Chanhassen

Girls Individuals
1. Maria Hauger, 11, Shakopee
2. Jamie Piepenburg, 12, Alexandria
3. Danielle Anderson, 11, Eagan
4. Kaytlyn Larson, 9, Lakeville South
5. Kaelyn Williams, 12, Robbinsdale Cooper
6. Megan Hasz, 8 Alexandria
7. Chrissy Monson, 11, Albert Lea
8. Bethany Hasz, 8, Alexandria
9. Jenna Truedson, 9, Bemidji
10. Vivian Hett, 9, Burnsville
11. Nicole Heitzman, 11, Andover
12. Martha Hubbell, 10, Visitation

*Schools/teams John has visited: 41
*Miles John has driven: 2,938

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
Notes From The Road (“Good Evening, Officer”) And Volleyball Rankings9/27/2011
THIEF RIVER FALLS – Hello from the latest stop on the MSHSL Statewide Area Meetings Tour. Our crew docked here last evening and we’re holding a meeting with area administrators here this Tuesday morning before heading off for the next stop.

Monday was one darn fine day. Our meeting in Fergus Falls went off without a hitch (except for one very minor Powerpoint hiccup), and from there our traveling party headed out in two automobiles. MSHSL Program Specialist Amy Doherty -- who is brave enough to ride shotgun in the John’s Journal vehicle – and I took a side trip to Climax for some small-school volleyball.

It was Lake Park-Audubon at Climax/Fisher, and it was a grand scene. The gym in Climax is a real gem that has history and memories oozing from every corner. It’s always a joy for me to visit such places, and Monday evening’s volleyball match was terrific. Amy and I purchased tickets for the 50/50 raffle, but the $46 pot went home with someone who is not employed by the MSHSL. The other $46 went toward an FFA trip to Indianapolis, so it was well worth the purchase.

Climax/Fisher senior volleyball player Amanda Donarski sang the national anthem beautifully … both teams sat on the edge of the stage, which runs the length of the court … the U.S., Minnesota and North Dakota flags hung in the gym (after all, we were a very short walk from the N.D. border) … and dinner was a three-dollar gourmet delight: hot dog or hamburger (grilled just outside the school doors), a bag of chips and a homemade bar. Amy went for the dogs; I had a burger and what may have been the finest brownie in the history of mankind.

As great as the volleyball was, the real excitement came as we traveled to Thief River Falls. As we reached Red Lake Falls I saw the sign informing travelers that the speed limit was reduced to 30 miles per hour. I slowed down quickly, always remembering the speeding ticket I was awarded by an officer about 13 months ago in Renville. As we got into Red Lake Falls, a squad car pulled up behind with the lights a-flashin’. Oh joy.

“Good evening, sir,” said the friendly officer. “Where are you folks headed tonight?” I explained our destination and that I had seen the “30 mph” sign and certainly tried to get below that speed. He said he had clocked me driving in a speedy manner BEFORE I hit the 30-mph sign. Oh.

I handed him my license and he said, “If everything checks out with your license it’ll just be a warning.” Whew. I knew two things: 1) My license was clean; 2) This was a very fine officer. It was dark, but I swear he could have been the brother of actor Seth Rogen.

He asked me to please watch my speed, we parted company and here we are in Thief River Falls for this morning’s meeting. Then we’ll be off again, with the next meeting in Chisholm on Wednesday morning.

And with that, here are this week’s volleyball rankings … (drive safely, everybody) …

1. Blaine (12) 203
2. Lakeville North 193
3. Bloomington Jefferson 183
4. Lakeville South 166
5. Shakopee 142
6. Eagan (2) 133
7. Wayzata 132
8. Eden Prairie 95
9. Chanhassen 62
10. Centennial 58
Others: Andover (49), Waconia (33), Hill-Murray (10), Hutchinson (7), Totino-Grace (6), Edina (6), Delano (1)

1. Marshall (11) 179
2. Jackson County Central 164
3. Stewartville 141
4. Belle Plaine (1) 139
5. Jordan 122
6. Lesuer-Henderson 117
7. Kasson-Mantorville 104
8. Caledonia 100
9. Wadena-Deer Creek 89
10. Maple Lake 59
Others: Byron (31), Triton (7), NHREG (6), Visitation (5)

1. Bethlehem Academy (16) 240
2. Wabasha-Kellogg 203
3. Canby 199
4. Mayer Lutheran 189
5. Minneota 180
6. Southwest Christian 159
7. Ada-Borup 122
8. BBE 96
9. Nevis 95
10. MACCRAY 92
Others: Mabel-Canton (40), Win-E-Mac (38), Lake of the Woods (24), Rushford-Peterson (14), Hancock (12), Tracy-Milroy (8), Littlefork-Big Falls (7), Northern Freeze (4)

*Schools/teams John has visited: 39
*Miles John has driven: 2,737

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
A Meeting In Fergus Falls And A Special Story From Alexandria9/26/2011
FERGUS FALLS -- Hello from beautiful Fergus Falls, where administrators from the area have gathered for another in a series of MSHSL area meetings on this Monday morning. The MSHSL crew drove to Fergus Falls on Sunday evening, and we’ll continue on from here to Thief River Falls for another meeting on Tuesday and Chisholm for a meeting on Wednesday.

Before today’s meeting began, I learned of a wonderful story in Alexandria. Dave Harris, who is the MSHSL’s region secretary for Region 8AA as well as a well-known radio broadcaster in Alexandria, told me about Gideon Hartsell, a senior at Jefferson High School in Alexandria.

Eric Morken of the Alexandria Echo Press documented Gideon’s story, and it’s a story that is definitely worth sharing…

Card football: Gideon's moment

Gideon Hartsell, a special needs student at JHS, works his way onto the football field

By Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press

Every now and then fans are reminded in sports that the most important outcome of a game is not always the final score.

That scene played out on a hot Friday night two weeks ago when Alexandria’s Gideon Hartsell got an opportunity he won’t soon forget. Hartsell, a special needs senior at Jefferson high school, actively participated in football through his freshman year before taking over as the student manager for the varsity team as a sophomore.

Hartsell has been on the Alexandria sideline in jeans and his jersey every game since then. But on Parents’ Night in the Cardinals’ home opener against St. Cloud Tech, he stood in full pads, wearing the same No. 47 jersey that two of his older brothers had worn before him as seniors.

Hartsell was announced as the Cardinals’ Player of the Week before the game. He then waited anxiously for his chance to take the field in a varsity game for the first time. Hartsell met with all the coaches the Monday leading up to the game where he was asked how he felt about kicking the extra point after the team’s first touchdown.

“He’s kind of a talkative kid,” head coach Mike Empting said. “He’s super into sports, so he’s fully aware of the significance of going in and kicking a point after and the impact that could have on a game…initially he was kind of speechless. One of us asked him, ‘are you OK with this?’ He looked up with a smile and just said, ‘heck yeah!’ ”

Hartsell had to wait through the first half as Alexandria was held to a field goal before the break. On the second half kickoff, Gideon Burnham, a classmate of Hartsell’s at Zion Lutheran School through 8th grade, gave his teammate a chance with an 88-yard return for a touchdown.

Hartsell took the field with all eyes in a packed Citizen’s Field on him. Senior Tanner Rice put down the hold and Hartsell followed through on the kick.

The ball fell short of the uprights, but one could never tell by the reaction of his teammates. The rest of the Cardinals’ kicking unit surrounded him near the 10-yard line. Hartsell’s face lit up when senior captains Brock Wood and Jesse Hacker lifted him onto their shoulders and carried him off the field.

“Lots of tears,” his mother, Shirley, said of watching her youngest of nine children take the field. “It was very emotional. Very proud of him.”

Earning his shot

Shirley has seen her son’s passion for sports from the time he was a toddler. He grew up eager to participate in things like t-ball and any other sports that his siblings were playing in the back yard. He couldn’t always keep up, but that never affected his desire to participate.

“I try my best,” Gideon said.

He has continued to put everything he has into his role as student manager. Hartsell is on the practice field before a lot of his teammates, organizing footballs, cones and doing anything else he can to help things run smoothly.

“He does such a great job,” Empting said. “Every day he is out there for practice. Every game he has been there since his sophomore year. He works as hard as some of the [players] do in practice, getting things ready, making sure everything is in place for practice to get started.”

In the coaches’ eyes, his hard work had earned him the chance to get on the field. Defensive coordinator Russ Hinrichs brought the idea to Empting after last season. They went over all the different scenarios, including what to do if the score was close late in the game.

“We went over it all,” Empting said. “The bottom line is that we were going to do it. It didn’t matter the situation, close game or not, the first time we scored that night, he was going to go in and kick the extra point.”
True to their word

Sure enough, the game was close.

Burnham’s touchdown gave Alexandria a 9-7 lead. The Cardinals come into every season hoping to compete at the top of the Central Lakes Conference and needed to win the game to keep from falling to 0-2.

All of that was secondary in this moment. Empting stayed true to his word and sent Hartsell in with his parents and many of his siblings watching on.

“It could have lost the game,” Shirley said. “It could have boiled down to that, but [Empting] still went for it. I just have the utmost respect for him and give him credit for doing that.”
Shirley called it a teaching moment for anyone who saw it. Empting thought of it as just the right thing to do.

“I really believe in the fact that our football team is a family,” he said. “The players that have come and gone through here, they’re always welcome back into the locker room…Gideon and his family have been a huge part of our football family for a long time. It just felt like giving back to one of your own.”

It ended up not coming down to that one point. The Tigers scored a touchdown on their first drive of the second half and held on for the 14-9 win. At least for one night, that final score did not feel like the most important outcome of the game.

“It was an awesome night,” Shirley said. “It was a night he will never forget. We won’t either.”

Postscript: Last week, Gideon was voted Homecoming king.