John's Journal
A Visit To Coon Rapids High School, And A Tuesday Road Trip5/23/2011
I spent some time Monday visiting a class at Coon Rapids High School. Faculty member Stephanie Hicks invited me to her English classroom to talk to her students about journalism.

This was my second trip to Coon Rapids to discuss journalism, and the hour flew by. The students (pictured) asked great questions, many of them about writing and interviewing techniques. Students always like to ask about people I have interviewed, so today I went throught my mental checklist: Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley, Cal Ripken, Bobby Knight, Joe Mauer I (high school) and Joe Mauer II (Twins).

I also talked with the class about the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program, which is a wonderful way for students to gain journalism experience.

Thanks Cardinals!

--My assignment on Tuesday is a drive to southwestern Minnesota for a baseball game in Heron Lake. The Southwestern United Wildcats (a coop involving Southwest Star Concept and Round Lake-Brewstar) will face Windom Area at 4:30. There's a special story in play here, but my lips are sealed until the story appears here...
State Adapted Bowling Tournament: Where Smiles Dominate5/20/2011
Dominic Slattery’s smile told the story. The junior at Cambridge-Isanti came into Friday’s state adapted bowling tournament as a two-time defending champion, and he had visions of a threepeat. It didn’t happen, with Dominic finishing in a fourth-place tie in the PI (physically impaired) division of boys singles.

But his smile never wavered as another medal was placed around his neck and he posed for photos.

I met Dominick and his teammates earlier this spring, visiting practice and writing a story about their team and their sport. So I knew I would see some familiar, smiling faces when I walked into Brunswick Zone in Eden Prairie on Friday. And there they were, amidst a throng of athletes, coaches, families and friends.

Like all the adapted sports sponsored by the MSHSL (the others are softball, soccer and floor hockey), bowling is filled with joy and everything is positive. Cheers ring out as balls are rolled by hand or down a ramp. High-fives are the order of the day.

The day was not without a few bumps, which had nothing to do with the competitors or the competition. After 40 singles medals were awarded to the top10 boys and top 10 girls in the PI and CI (cognitively impaired) divisions, a scoring error was discovered. Everyone was patient while things were straightened out, and hopefully everyone was happy afterwards. Some athletes had to turn in the medals they had just received, but they were exchanged for participation medals.

The end result of the scoring error was that more than 40 athletes went home with medals. And it is always so neat to see the kids hang onto their medals as they smile with their friends and trade hugs and high-fives.

As I talked with Dominic and his teammates during the delay, they had one major concern: getting back to Cambridge-Isanti on schedule. You see, there was a big welcome home celebration planned for the Bluejackets. There was plenty to celebrate, too; along with Dominic’s fourth-place medal, Victoria Koukol placed eighth and Haley Stoehr-Magnuson placed ninth in girls PI singles.

A school administrator made a statement Friday that did a wonderful job of summing of adapted sports. He said to me, “Whenever one of our coaches thinks things are going a little rough for him, I tell them to go watch adapted sports.” In other words, if you want to see athletes competing for the challenge as well as the joy of sports, take in adapted sports.

It’s a wonderful thing.

--To see a photo gallery from the adapted bowling tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 654
*Miles John has driven: 9,913

--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
Student Journalists: Let's Visit The Twins And Timberwolves!5/19/2011
I'm proud to make this major announcement regarding the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program: The Twins and Timberwolves will sponsor "MSHSL Student SID Days" beginning next season.

Students selected to take part will experience stadium/arena tours, interviews with players and team officials, clubhouse/locker room visits and much more, including watching a game from a media viewpoint.

If your school is not yet part of the Student SID program, it's time to get started. Go to the bottom right corner of mshsl.org and click on the Student Sports Information Directors link for all the details.

More information on these exciting opportunities will be forthcoming. For now, let's offer a a big Thank You to the Timberwolves and Twins!
St. Francis' Ewen Extends Her Own State Discus Record5/19/2011
Updating a post from earlier this month...

St. Francis sophomore Maggie Ewen, who set a state record of 165 feet, 9 inches in the girls discus earlier this month, extended her record a bit further at Thursday's North Suburban Conference meet at Chisago Lakes with a toss of 166-8.
New Ulm Cathedral: Small School With Big Success5/18/2011
One wall of the gymnasium inside New Ulm Cathedral High School tells the stories … or at least the ending of some of the best stories. Ten banners celebrate state championships: six in softball, two in baseball and one each in dance and football.

The first baseball title came in 1964, but the rest of the championship stories are more current. Three softball state titles came in the 1990s and were followed by more gold in 2003, 2005 and 2007. The Greyhounds won a 2005 state baseball championship, the dance team brought home a 2000 crown and the latest banner to be hoisted honors Cathedral’s 2010 Class 1A football champions. Overall, Cathedral has won nine state titles in the last 18 years.

The banners are a testament to a small school with big aspirations, as well as an administration, coaches, teachers, families and students committed to excellence.

“We just kind of have an atmosphere right now of really trying to do the best we can,” said football coach Denny Lux. “And that’s in everything we do at Cathedral; it’s in the arts, it’s in athletics, in everything.”

Cathedral, which was founded in 1919, has an enrollment of 171. A large number of those students are involved in activities, and most of the athletes compete in more than one sport. The school’s facilities are spartan; the gym dates from the 1950s … the weight room is in the basement, where pads protect skulls from colliding with overhead vents … and the football team walks eight blocks to the practice field.

One of the thickest threads running through the athletic program at Cathedral is its corps of veteran coaches. Lux has been a teacher at the school for 26 years and the head football coach for 16. Baseball coach Bob Weier is in his 19th year and softball coach Bob Mertz has been on the job for 32 years. Weier, Mertz and longtime athletic director John Vetter are all Cathedral graduates from the 1960s.

“I think that we have an excellent coaching staff throughout, in all the sports,” said Weier (pictured at left), who recorded his 299th and 300th career coaching victories Tuesday when the Greyhounds swept Comfrey/Cedar Mountain in a Tomahawk Conference doubleheader.

The coaches’ career records tell the story, as well. Mertz is 642-114, Weier is 300-127 and Lux is 105-63. The Cathedral softball team is ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, the baseball team is No. 5 in 1A and the football team is coming off that state championship, a 13-1 season and 35-3 mark over the last three seasons.

“I look at it in two ways,” Vetter said of the coaches’ longevity and success. “One of them is we’ve been fortunate to have a tremendous sense of cooperation between coaches, players and parents. The other thing we’ve had here is that in order to be successful over a long period of time you need veteran coaches. And to have veteran coaches, people have to be able to coach in the right kind of environment. The board of education, the administration, parents and all the different stakeholders have to provide an environment in which coaches learn and grow and do their jobs.”

New Ulm has long been known as a baseball town, with a string of players signing professional contracts. At the top of that list is Terry Sterinbach, a graduate of New Ulm High who enjoyed a lengthy major league career and was profiled here on John’s Journal in late April.

“It’s tremendous,” Weier said of the town’s baseball tradition. “A kid in New Ulm, when he gets to 4 or 5 years old he wants to be a baseball player. You’re steps ahead. There are communities where kids want to be basketball players or football players. Here, they want to be baseball players.”

The story is similar in softball, said Mertz, who was an assistant coach when Cathedral started its softball program in 1979.

“Kids come to me with a lot of background in softball,” said Mertz (pictured at right). “We are able to work on some of the fancy pickoff plays, the slap bunting, and we’re able to do those things because they come to us with more knowledge of the game.

My whole thing is believing in defense. That puts those banners up in the gym. Bob Weier and I are fanatical about defense. We know that’s where it starts, and the kids know it, too.”

Defense also has played a major role in Cathedral’s success on the football field. After losing to Springfield 21-7 in the season opener last fall, the Greyhounds gave up only six touchdowns through the rest of the regular season. Their average margin of victory in the 2010 regular season and playoffs was 36-12.

Along with practices and hard work in the weight room, the football team’s long walk through the neighborhood to and from practice is part of their success, according to Lux.

“For practice we walk about eight blocks, and our athletes here don’t know any different because they’ve been doing it since the high school was founded,” he said. “It is a time, I think, to build that team chemistry as the guys walk down and walk back together. They’re joking around, having a good time. When our practice is over, they still have another 20 minutes to get back to the shower yet. That whole team concept continues for a while.”

The weight room has been a factor for all the athletic teams at Cathedral, even if it isn’t fancy. After all, what happens in that room is more important than how the room looks.

“We take a lot of pride in our weight room, we take a lot of pride in the fact that our athletes are dedicated to it,” Lux said. “In the summer, our weight room is open at 6:30 in the morning and it’s open again at 4:15 in the afternoon. When you hear the older generation talk about these younger kids and that they don’t know how to work, I tell them to come to our weight room at 6:30 in the morning and you’ll see the guys lined up to get in there. So they know what work is all about.”

In a small school, everyone helps each other, and that includes the coaches.

“I think we do learn from each other, and the athletes learn from all of us here,” Lux said. “We feel that our coaches, whether it be fall, winter or spring, are the kind of people who put in a lot of hard work. The kids trust us, they believe in us, and we do the same thing with them. We give them that respect back.”

--To see a photo gallery from New Ulm Cathedral, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 634
*Miles John has driven: 9,873

--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