John's Journal
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.
I’ve Seen Nine Football Games in 2011, and Number Nine Was Special9/24/2011
The football regular season is at the halfway point, with most teams having played four games so far in 2011. I have the luxury of watching lots of games, and on Friday I saw my ninth football game of the autumn. And it was a dandy evening.

The occasion was Minnetonka’s homecoming game against Edina in a matchup of Lake Conference teams. I have been to games at Minnetonka in the past, but this one was extra special. The football was grand, with the Skippers defeating Edina 28-14. The score was 21-0 at halftime; until Edina quarterback Mark Handberg scored on a 1-yard sneak in the third quarter, Minnetonka’s defense had not yielded a point all season.

I arrived about 90 minutes before kickoff and the place was already jammed with people. A student rock and roll band was playing, grills were cooking up burgers and a long line of people was waiting for the good eats.

It was as perfect a night for football as I can remember … and I’ve been going to high school football games for a long, long time. A few miles away from Minnetonka, Minneapolis Southwest was hosting Minneapolis Washbun in the first night game in Southwest history. Boosters had rented temporary lights for the game, and I can’t imagine a better night to do so.

I parked my car, walked to the Minnetonka locker room and chatted briefly with Skippers coach Dave Nelson and some of his assistants. I have known Dave for a long time; this is his 10th year at Minnetonka and I knew him long before that when he was the Blaine coach. (I’ll be writing about Coach Nelson – several Coach Nelsons, in fact – in a few days.)

Minnetonka athletic director Ted Schultz estimated the crowd at 8,000 people. But the atmosphere went beyond the size of the audience. There were about a million little kids maintaining a noisy din on a bank off one end zone; as the sun set a cloud of brown dust rose from that end of the field as kids ran up and down the slope. The Minnetonka student section was large and loud; when things briefly got a little chippy on the field, the students chanted “Sportsmanship! Sportsmanship!” The cheerleaders and dance team literally kept things hopping, the marching band performed in the stands as well as on the field at halftime. The sunset was absolutely beautiful, adding to a perfect night.

The last words Nelson said to his players before they took the field were simple and exemplified what high school sports are all about: “Go out and have a blast!”

Before kickoff, Skippers assistant coach Terry Westermann said to me, “What’s our record when you show up?” I replied, “I don’t think it’s all that good.” Which is true, because I’ve been to several playoff games in which the Skippers didn’t come out on top.

At halftime, with Minnetonka ahead 21-0, Westermann told me, “You get to stay for one more half. You’re on double-secret probation.”

And of course, he was smiling on both occasions.

Good humor was everywhere. As referee Pat Whalen spoke to the team captains and prepared for the coin toss, he said, “Fellas, I’m going to show you all the athletic ability I have left in this body and catch this coin. If I drop it, we’re going to do it again.”

He nailed it on the very first try.

--To see photos and video from the Minnetonka-Edina game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 37
*Miles John has driven: 2,352

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
Guest Posters Now Available9/23/2011
This is from Chris Franson, a great up and coming scribe.
A Great Story Of One Runner Coming To The Rescue9/22/2011
This story comes courtesy of a press release from the Anoka-Hennepin School District….

When Andover High School cross-country runner Josh Ripley heard the screams of Lakeville South runner Mark Paulauskas, Josh knew he needed to help. While other competitors in the Applejack Invite in Lakeville ran by, Josh stopped to see what was wrong.

In the first mile of a 2-mile junior varsity race held Sept. 16, Josh found Mark holding his ankle and bleeding profusely. Worried that Mark had punctured his Achilles heel, Josh carried the wounded runner for a half a mile to get him to his coach and parents. After making sure Mark was in good hands, Josh jumped back into the race.

It turns out Mark had been “spiked,” meaning he was stepped on or came in contact with pointed metal spikes some runners wear on their shoes to get better traction. Mark was taken to a hospital where he received more than 20 stitches and is in a brace/boot to immobilize the area so the stitches do not pop out.

Josh, a junior at Andover High School, said stopping to help the injured runner was “just natural instinct.”

“I didn’t think about my race, I knew I needed to stop and help him,” Josh said. “It was something I would expect my other teammates to do. I’m nothing special; I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Josh, the son of Stacey and Jason Ripley of Andover, will be honored by the Anoka-Hennepin School Board for his actions at the board’s meeting Monday, Sept. 26 at 6:30 p.m. in Coon Rapids.

Mark’s coach and parents are extremely grateful to Josh for his actions.

“I was stunned and so proud of the sportsmanship and kindness he showed to our runner who was injured,” said Jessica Just, the Lakeville South team’s coach. “The family, our Lakeville South coaching staff and our whole team were so thankful and appreciative of Josh's act of kindness and selflessness to a rival competitor.”

Gene Paulauskas, Mark’s father, learned of Josh’s actions after Mark had been handed off to him.

“While I was running with Mark in my arms [to get medical attention], he told me that it was a runner from another team who had stopped and helped him to an area of the course where he could get some help,” Paulauskas said. “It was horrible to see Mark with such a bad injury, but we were all struck by the selfless act of compassion, kindness and sportsmanship exhibited by Josh Ripely, the Andover runner.”

When someone told Josh’s coach, Scott Clark, that Josh was carrying another runner, Clark said he thought he misheard.

“Then Josh comes jogging into view carrying a runner,” Clark said. “I noticed the blood on the runner’s ankle as Josh handed him off to one of the coaches from Lakeville. Josh was tired and you could tell his focus was off as he started back on the course, clearly he intended to finish, this happening inside the first mile. I got his attention and told him to relax and get his focus back for racing and not worry about his place. Josh continued to run and finished.”

Clark said what Josh did says a lot about him as an individual.

“Clearly Josh is a compassionate and caring person,” Clark said. “We consistently talk about being a team and caring about how each person on the team does. Cross country is filled with quality athletes at each school. It is always gratifying to see it exhibited in such a way as Josh did.”
As New U.S. Citizen, Soccer Official Knows What’s Really Important9/22/2011
ST. CLOUD -- Adalberto Villalobos has played soccer all his life and worked as a high school soccer official in Minnesota for many years. But when Villalobos stands for the pregame national anthem this season, something is different.

The native of Costa Rica became an American citizen in May, and here’s how he describes hearing the anthem at his first soccer game this fall…

“A young lady sang it beautifully, and I found myself turning so the other officials wouldn’t see me getting teary-eyed. Emotions took over and it hit home; it’s for real, I’m here, I’m part of it. Not that I didn’t feel part of it or welcome or respected before, but it has taken a different turn. It’s a different lens now. It kind of makes you see things from a different perspective.”

Villalobos (right), 42, lives in St. Cloud with his wife Diane and their children Gabriel, 12, and Sofia, 8. Adalberto and Diane met when she visited Costa Rica as a student at St. Cloud State in 1991. He worked with a program that helped visiting students become acquainted with the country’s culture.

“The moment I saw her, the stars and the butterflies and everything came together,” he said, smiling. “She tells everybody the feeling was mutual.”

When Villalobos was 12 he had lived with relatives in Michigan for a year. He learned English at that time and he calls that year “one of the best gifts I’ve received. It continues to give.”

As his relationship with Diane – who teaches Spanish at St. Cloud’s South Junior High -- continued, he moved to Minnesota in 1993 and the couple was married. He played soccer in St. Cloud for several years, worked as an assistant coach at Tech High School and got into officiating. He worked junior varsity games for seven years and is now in his sixth season as a varsity official.

“Officiating definitely gives me a way to maintain that connection with a sport that is a passion in my life, to give back to the community and to give to the future generations,” he said. “I think that is key. Not only do we officiate and enforce the rules of the sport, but we serve as role models in a very direct way. We are almost a sample of authority that young adults will be faced with in their lives and they have to learn to respect that. I see it as a huge opportunity to contribute.”

In Costa Rica, soccer was everywhere for Villalobos. He was kicking a ball as he learned to walk, began playing on teams in elementary school and continued playing to the college level. Diane played soccer at Rosemount High School, and they both help coach their children’s soccer teams.

Villalobos (he is known to his friends as Adal), who works as a Spanish translator/interpreter, became an American citizen on May 4 at the Federal Courthouse in St. Paul. He was the only Costa Rican among 60 people who were naturalized that day. (In photo at left, he holds his certificate of citizenship.)

He could have applied for citizenship in 1996, three years after marrying Diane. “At the time the expense to become a citizen was enough to kind of say, ‘You know, if I’m a legal resident and all I’ll be missing is voting and being able to run for office, I’m OK with that.’ All the other benefits and advantages were there.”

But one day his children came home talking excitedly about holding elections at school. Their question: “Daddy, who are you voting for?”

“I had to explain it to them, which they understood,” he said. “It put a bug in my brain; this country has opened its doors to me, I feel welcome, respected, proud. How about if we formalize it?”

I spoke with Villalobos on Sept. 15, which was Costa Rica’s independence day. He admitted that his native country still tugged at his heart.

“It kind of bugged me, ‘Am I giving up being Costa Rican?’ Deep in my heart, I’m not stopping being Costa Rican. I’ll never stop cherishing and valuing just being who I am. But at the same time, it is an honor, it is a privilege and I take it with all the seriousness that it entails to be a U.S. citizen.

“To me, the participation in democracy at all levels is important. I’m a firm believer that we teach and we do much better when we show with our actions, when we are role models. If I’m teaching my kids to be good citizens and participate in democracy, why not show that dad is also proud of that and part of it.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 35
*Miles John has driven: 2,304

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at