John's Journal
Families, Friends and Neighbors: The Battle For Lakeville Bragging Rights 10/8/2011
Before the biggest game in the biggest football class Friday night, the final message from one of the head coaches to his players was this: “It’s our night to play and let’s get after it! Let’s be special!”

A couple of hours later, the other coach said to his triumphant team, “You came out and you sent a message to the state! And people will hear it!”

Between those two little speeches, a wonderful thing happened. A pair of undefeated teams met in a high-pressure game played in front of an overflow crowd on a windy and warm night as friends, neighbors and relatives cheered for their teams in the annual battle for bragging rights in Lakeville.

Parents who graduated from Lakeville High (which is now North High) have completely changed their game-day wardrobes, ditching Lakeville/North red and white for South cardinal and gold as they cheer for children who are Cougars. The family theme even extends to the head coaches. South’s Larry Thompson had a stellar 27-year career at Lakeville High – where his teams played in five Prep Bowls and won three state titles -- before taking over at the new school when it opened in 2005, and North coach Brian Vossen played under Thompson in the late 1990s at Lakeville.

North scored first, scored second, led 10-6 at halftime and opened things up with an interception and another touchdown. Grant Erickson returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown to put the Panthers in front 23-6 in the third quarter, and that was enough to secure North’s 30-6 victory.

If there was a star of the game, it was North senior quarterback Trey Heid, who ran for two scores and threw for one. He has played an understudy role this season to more heralded South senior Mitch Leidner, a big, strong lad who has committed to the University of Minnesota. But much like his team, Heid sent a message Friday with his performance as well as with his postgame comments. Trey talked about the success of the Cougars’ running game, never spoke of himself but mentioned six teammates by name: A.J. Miller, Mike Manikowski, Aaron Baker, Zach Zeimer, Ben Blake and Pat Fitzgerald. That’s a team guy talking.

“We were really confident coming in here,” Heid added. “We expected this. We knew we were a good team, we knew they were a really good team and we had to play our best game.” (To see a video interview with Heid, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.)

The teams came in as the only unbeatens in the South Suburban Conference and angling for the top seed in the Section 1 playoffs. South is ranked No. 4 and North is No. 5 in the Associated Press Class 5A poll. This game was the first time since South opened that both teams were unbeaten and ranked when they met in the crosstown showdown. And it was a blast.

“This is pretty cool, isn’t it?” Thompson said to me during pregame warmups, by which time nearly every seat was filled. The old coach talked about two factors that he figured would be big: the wind and turnovers. He was right on both counts. The team with the wind at its back had a definitive edge, and South’s ability to run the football and transform a turnover into points was crucial.

Heid was intercepted on the first drive of the second half, but Leidner was picked off a few plays later and Heid ran five yards for a touchdown to make it 17-6. Major turning point.

“We got ‘em going against the wind when it was10-6, and they scored,” Thompson said. “That was big.” And the bigness grew when Erickson swiped another Leidner pass and took it into the end zone. Ballgame.

“They were better than us,” Thompson said. “Defensively they’re fast and we needed to run the ball better.”

The Cougars players were celebrating with the “One Community, Two Cats” trophy that goes to the winner of the series when North assistant coach Bob Kovich,whom I have known for a long time, gave me a handshake and hug. I was congratulating Bob -- an assistant to Thompson at Lakeville for years before Larry moved to South – when he summed up the evening perfectly.

“Those guys are my best friends,” Kovich said as he looked toward the South coaches. “I hate this week.”

Thankfully, the big week is over and the battle for Lakeville bragging rights has concluded. And if they meet again in the section playoffs? It will be one heck of a show.

--Photo galleries featuring the game, the fans and the halftime show can be seen on the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 47
*Miles John has driven: 3,619

--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
NW Suburban Conference Announces Football Changes For 201210/7/2011
The Northwest Suburban Conference (NWSC) is pleased to announce a new look in Football for the 2012 season. Elk River will be rejoining the conference in football after competing in the Mississippi 8 for the past 2 years. This would have created an 11-team schedule with an undesirable bye-game to be filled each week. As a solution, the NWSC sought Totino Grace to fill the void as a football scheduling partner. Working with the cooperation of the North Suburban Conference, Totino Grace agreed to the 2-year proposal. The NWSC will be split into 2 divisions based on Minnesota State High School League enrollment numbers. The divisions will be labeled as North and West even though geography was not necessarily a consideration. The divisions will be as follows:

North
Champlin Park (2571)
Blaine (2551)
Anoka (2157)
Maple Grove (2142)
Coon Rapids (2120)
Centennial (2017)

West
Osseo (1823)
Armstrong (1789)
Andover* (1614)
Elk River* (1570)
Park Center** (1471)
Totino Grace* (802)

* indicates a Class 5A school
** indicates a Class 4A school
All other schools are Class 6A
Good Morning From MSHSL Board Of Directors Meeting10/6/2011
Happy Thursday. Today marks the latest meeting of the MSHSL Board of Directors, the 20 people who make decisions that affect League programs statewide. The board meets six times each year, and today's meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m..

Today’s agenda includes a report on a new robotics initiative, a discussion of possible format changes for some postseason tournaments, and a review of cooperative sponsorships. The Action Items section of the agenda is light for this meeting; some minor rule changes for Speech appear to the headline in that area.

The complete agenda can be viewed by going to www.mshsl.org and clicking on “Board of Directors Meeting Agenda.” It can be found under League News on the right side of the page.

I’ll be posting necessary updates during the meeting on Twitter (I’m @MSHSLjohn) and the MSHSL Facebook page and summarizing the meeting afterwards right here on John’s Journal. Twitter is the fastest way to stay connected to the meeting.

My Thursday will end with a special event: St. Paul Academy and the Blake School will meet in football, 100 years after the first game between the schools. It is the oldest high school football rivalry in the state. The game will be played at Blake.
It Was A Quiet Day At The MSHSL Board Meeting … 10/6/2011
Thursday’s meeting of the MSHSL Board of Directors went off with no fireworks and no headline-grabbing decisions. Some changes were made in track and field as well as speech, but it was a very calm and business-like gathering. As one of the reporters in the room Tweeted: “No real ‘meaty’ items here at the MSHSL board meeting today. Will have to dig deep to find a lead.”

One new member was welcomed to the board. Steven Eklund of Braham joined the group after being appointed to the board by the governor’s office, which appoints four board members.

Here’s a quick summary of the meeting…

RULE CHANGES

One track and field rule change was approved. The board changed the number of relay teams advancing to state from one per section meet to two per section meet. Currently, the top two finishers in each individual section event advance to the state meet, as does the top team in each relay event.

Two changes were approved for speech competitions. Here is the information given to board members…

--Change to the Music Rule. Currently we allow singing one time of no more than two musical phrases. The phrases are hard to identify and it is one of our most common disqualifications. The proposed rule will allow unlimited singing as long as it is referenced in the text or stage directions. This will be a lot more singing, but having it in the text or stage directions will limit it to singing to enhance the piece, not show off singing ability. The Regions voted 12-3 in favor of the change.

--Informative – Visual Aids. Currently we require that Visual Aids for the informative speech be 2D. This (allowing 3D aids) opens it up so any type of visual will be acceptable. The Regions voted 11-4 to support this recommendation. Those opposing consider this change an opening of the door to more of a performance, than an informative speech. Since demonstrations, costumes, and videos are allowed, some feel too much emphasis will be on the visual aid, not enough on the speech.

ELSEWHERE…

--A proposal to add Public Forum Debate to the state debate tournament was heard, and may be an action item at the December board meeting.

--The board discussed the possibility of adjusting schedules for seasons and postseason tournaments at some point in the future in order to optimize experiences for all concerned. There are many factors to consider, including weather, facility availability, competition from televised NCAA tournaments, spring breaks, graduation ceremonies, summer vacations, etc.

--The MSHSL is holding discussions with TST Media about sports statistics. TST, which is based in Minneapolis, operates online “Hub” sites for high school sports in Minnesota. The MSHSL is considering the option of finding an online partner to gather statistics and provide them to the MSHSL web site.
A Night Of History And Memories for Blake, St. Paul Academy10/6/2011
Mike Brown hasn’t witnessed every football game played between St. Paul Academy and Blake in the last 100 years, but the former SPA player, coach and athletic director has been to a lot of them.

“I’ve seen every SPA game since 1960,” Brown told me Thursday evening before the two schools marked the 100th anniversary of the rivalry at Blake. This year’s game was the 86th in the series, with Blake holding a 56-23-6 edge before Thursday.

Brown, who now serves as SPA’s assistant athletic director, graduated from the school in 1960. He didn’t stray too far, never missing a game while he attended Hamline University or since. SPA and Blake played every year from 1917 until 1975, then met 10 times between 1976 and 1997. The first game was held on Nov. 3, 1911.

“These have always been good games,” Brown said. “And these have always been fun games.”

Brown smiled as he told me about the 1963 season, when an SPA math teacher scouted every one of Blake’s games until the season ended with the annual SPA-Blake contest. Blake came in undefeated, but SPA’s preparation turned the tide and the Spartans got the big win.

“We always practiced for 20 or 30 minutes every day all season just for the Blake game,” Brown said.

Thursday’s contest oozed history. Former football players joined the current players on the field for the introduction of starting lineups, and honorary captains were at midfield for the coin toss. Representing Blake were Tom Heffelfinger (Class of 1966), whose family tree goes back to grand uncle F. Peavey Heffelfinger, who played in the 1911 game, and Howard McMillan III (1976), whose grandfather, Howard Sr., also played in 1911. For SPA, honorary captain Phil Fitzpatrick (1963) is the grandson of 1911 player Philip Wright Fitzpatrick, and Rick Magnuson (1990) is linked to great uncle Everett Griggs, who was on the field in 1911.

The 2011 teams wore throwback jerseys; Blake wore brown jerseys, modeled after the Bears’ look of the 1950s, and the SPA Spartans wore white jerseys with blue on the shoulders, which was the uniform in the 1960s.

Blake retro jerseys were available via a silent auction on Spirit Plaza, with bids starting at $100. Spirit Plaza is the main entrance to William J. Glenn Field and Gordy Aamoth Jr. Memorial Stadium. Aamoth, a captain of the 1987 Blake football team, was killed in one of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001 and a twisted piece of beam from the towers is embedded in concrete at Spirit Plaze.

“I think this shows (the current players) that they are part of history and that there’s a lot of history before them,” second-year Blake coach John Coatta said. “One thing we’re trying to do, being a fairly new staff and rebuilding a program, is show them how important it is not only to their families today but how many Blake alums wake up Saturday morning and the first thing they think is, ‘Hey, how’d Blake do?’ It makes an impact on these kids that it’s bigger than they are.”

The final score Thursday was Blake 49, St. Paul Academy 8. The Bears improved to 2-4 on the season and the Spartans are 0-6. But as Coatta said, some things are bigger than the now.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 45
*Miles John has driven: 3,608

--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