John's Journal
Terry Steinbach: Major League Player, High School Coach And Dad4/27/2011
Terry Steinbach played in more than 1,500 major league baseball games during a 14-year career, but some of his favorite baseball memories have come after his retirement as a player. Coaching your sons will do that.

Steinbach, who played with the Oakland A’s and Twins before retiring after the 1999 season, is in his fourth year as an assistant coach at Wayzata High School. He took the job when his son Lucas was in high school; Lucas is now playing college baseball at Minnesota-Duluth and Jake Steinbach (pictured here with his dad) is a junior catcher, second baseman and outfielder at Wayzata.

“For me it was a natural fit because I was going to be at the games watching my kids play, anyway,” Steinbach said before a game this week. “It’s nice just to be able to be here, to help all the kids and try to give back some of the stuff that I’ve learned.”

Steinbach grew up in New Ulm, where he was a baseball and hockey star, and he played baseball at the University of Minnesota before being drafted by Oakland in 1983. He played in three All-Star Games with Oakland as well as three World Series, including the A’s 1989 World Series championship. In 2007 he was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame as well as the National High School Hall of Fame.

I remember sitting in the Twins dugout at the Metrodome late in the 1998 season, interviewing Steinbach. He was 37 years old at the time, knowing his playing career was in its closing stages. Back then, Terry and Mary Steinbach’s children were 11 (daughter Jill), 8 and 5 years old.

He told me back then, “The kids are getting pretty active in a lot of their sports. They're like, ‘Hey Dad, can you come and watch my game?’ And I’d love to, but Dad's got to be down at the field, too. They understand, but I don't think it makes it any easier.”

This week, the 49-year-old Steinbach sat in the home dugout at the Wayzata field and talked about spending time with his kids on the ballfield. There was a clear sense of contentment as he spoke.

“It’s fun,” he said of coaching his children. “It’s a little bit of a challenge, too, because here I’m their coach and at home I’m their dad.”

The Steinbachs aren’t the only connection between Wayzata High School and the major leagues. Freshman infielder Mickey Leius is the son of former Twin Scott Leius and brothers Maris (senior) and Matt (sophomore) Blanchard are grandsons of the late New York Yankees player Johnny Blanchard.

Trojans head coach Bobby DeWitt said that whenever Steinbach talks to the players, “Literally, there’s a hush. He’s a guy with experience and know-how, and he’s been where every kid dreams of going. The people he’s played with and played against, those are all the pros that guys like me grew up watching in the '80s.”

Luke Steinbach fondly remembers when he was little, playing baseball with his father on the Metrodome field. His dad became a coach when Luke was 13, and Luke admitted it was a little strange.

“I didn’t know what to say, Dad or Coach? But now it’s 100 percent natural. I’d definitely say it’s a benefit having him out here. He teaches what he calls perfect form, how to throw faster, good footwork and most of all how to be a good catcher. Respecting the game is his main priority.”

Terry Steinbach said he has noticed some differences between his own days as a high school athlete and today.

“I think it’s a little bit different because of the competition for the kids’ time," he said. "In our era we didn’t have the internet and the social networking that they all have now. Not that that’s good or bad.

“I remember my group, we’d get up on Saturday morning and go to the ballfield. We’d just meet there, you didn’t have to call and it wasn’t orchestrated. You’d find ways to play games. Now everything has to be orchestrated. Again, I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. And it’s that way in all sports. But the game’s the same. And there’s better training, better equipment, even some better fields.”

He also has realized that not all players dream of playing baseball beyond high school.

“When you spend a lot of years in pro ball, everybody has aspirations of being a pro ballplayer,” he said. “When you come to high school, there are a few people who might have aspirations of playing college ball, and there are probably more kids who are like, ‘this is it.’ And that’s OK. But when I first got here I would have assumed that everybody would want to play college ball. The reality of it is there’s a select few who would move up that ladder.”

Steinbach still plays baseball with the Searles Bullheads amateur team; his older brothers Tim and Tom are teammates. (Terry Steinbach’s bio on the Bullheads website says he “was a perennial last pick for kickball on the playgrounds of New Ulm in elementary school. … Unfortunately for Terry, his years in the majors prevented him from recognizing his childhood dreams of becoming a corn de-tasseler.”)

Playing amateur baseball “is competitive enough and you’re still playing baseball,” he said.

I’m tempted to write “You can take the kid out of the game but you can’t take the game out of the kid.” But that would be incorrect, because Terry Steinbach and the game remain together. And that’s a great thing.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 600
*Miles John has driven: 9,172

--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
Wrestling Weight Changes Announced For 2011-124/26/2011
Today's news is two-fold: 1) Another wet, cold day that is knocking outdoor sports off the schedule; 2) Big news in the wrestling world.

Starting with the 2011-12 season, high school wrestling will see a change in weight classes. There will still be 14 classes, but some of the weights have changed.

Here's a statement issued today by the National Federation of State High School Associations:

In the most significant changes in weight classes in the high school ranks in 23 years, the NFHS Wrestling Rules Committee approved an upward shift of the weight classes, beginning with the 103-pound class moving to 106 pounds, which resulted in new weights for 10 of the 14 classes. The changes in weight classes, along with 17 other rules revisions, were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

The 14 weight classes approved by the committee for 2011-12 are: 106 pounds, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220 and 285. Three middle weight classes -– 145, 152 and 160 -– were retained, although they are 7-8-9 in order now rather than 8-9-10. The largest weight class (285 pounds) remains unchanged as well.

“The change in weight classes resulted from a three-to-four year process utilizing data from the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Optimal Performance Calculator,” Dale Pleimann, chair of the NFHS Wrestling Rules Committee and former assistant executive director of the Missouri State High School Activities Association, said in a statement. “The rules committee was able to analyze data from almost 200,000 wrestlers across the country, with the goal to create weight classes that have approximately seven percent of the wrestlers in each weight class.

“Throughout the process, each state association was kept completely informed and was provided multiple opportunities for input. The results of the last survey of each state association indicated that the majority of states favored a change, and the committee listened and acted accordingly.”

The last wholesale shift in weight classes occurred in 1988, when the lowest weight class was increased from 98 to 103 pounds. The only other changes since then were in 2002, when the number of classes went from 13 to 14 and the 215-pound weight class became mandatory, and in 2006, when the 275-pound class was increased to 285 pounds.

Among changes in wrestling holds, the Figure 4 around the head has been ruled an illegal hold/maneuver. Previously, the Figure 4 was illegal around the body or both legs.

“This move was being used by high school wrestlers more and more on the head, so to minimize the risk of injury, the committee voted to outlaw the Figure 4 on the head as well as around the body and both legs,” said Bob Colgate, NFHS assistant director and liaison to the Wrestling Rules Committee.

Another significant change was made in Rule 2-1-3, which now makes the boundary line inbounds and, thus, expands the wrestling area. Previously, a wrestler was out of bounds if he or she was touching any part of the 2-inch-wide line which marks the wrestling area.

Wrestling is the sixth-most popular sport for boys at the high school level with 272,890 participants in 10,363 schools during the 2009-10 season, according to the NFHS athletics participation survey. In addition, 6,134 girls were involved in wrestling in 1,009 high schools.

Let’s Get Outdoors And Enjoy Some Sunshine4/25/2011
Other than a little cold and wet bump in the road, the weather forecast looks promising as we continue to wait for spring to arrive in our part of the world. Seeing “90 percent chance of precipitation” for Tuesday is a little daunting, but we’ll get through it. Temps in the 60s are forecast for central Minnesota later this week, which should be a good sign statewide.

Members of the MSHSL staff will hit the road this week for the twice-yearly area meetings. These gathering with school administrators offer them an opportunity to stay abreast of what’s happening with the MSHSL, and also is a great time for MSHSL folks to get a strong feel for what’s happening across the state.

This week’s meetings will be in Mankato on Tuesday and Rochester on Friday. Over the following two weeks, meetings will be held in Fergus Falls, Thief River Falls, Chisholm, Brainerd and the Twin Cities.

I’m planning to be in Mankato and Rochester for the area meetings this week, while also attending as many outdoor activities as the weather allows. I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to squeeze in, but on my calendar this week I’ve penciled in a baseball game, a softball game, a golf tournament and three track meets.

The biggest event of the track regular season will take place Friday. It’s the Hamline Elite Meet, which will be held for the sixth time on the same track that is the site of the state meet in June.

The Elite Meet format is unique in that the athletes who have posted the top nine times/distances this spring are invited to compete. All races are finals with the exceptions of the 100 meters, which has prelims. We won’t know the entry lists until they are posted on Thursday, but this meet always draws the best track and field athletes from schools of all sizes across the state. The meet will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Klas Stadium on the Hamline campus in St. Paul.

There are other important events in spring sports this week. The Edina Invitational boys tennis tournament on Saturday will be a gathering of some of the top talent in the state, the North St. Paul Polar Classic softball tournament on Friday and Saturday is one of the top regular-season events in that sport, and the Tri-State Invitational Friday and Saturday at Edinburgh USA in Brooklyn Park is a high-level event for boys golfers.

I’m confident we’ll make it through whatever Mother Nature will throw at us this week. Hopefully it will be tons of sun.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 597
*Miles John has driven: 8,994

--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

Spring Sports Weather Report: Cold, Wet And Waiting 4/20/2011
Rochester Mayo athletic/activities director Jeff Whitney keeps his school’s sports schedules in a handy, easy-to-read, single-page format on his desk. When an event is postponed because of bad weather, he marks it in red. You can guess at the appearance of his paperwork during this cold, wet spring of 2011.

“It looks like I’ve spilled ketchup all over my schedule,” Whitney said Wednesday. “We’ve postponed 12 events in the last five days.”

From Rochester to Marshall, from Crookston to the Iron Range, from the Twin Cities to all corners of Minnesota, the theme of spring sports is the same: Cold, wet and waiting. Practices for softball and track began March 14 and other outdoor spring sports fell into line later in March, but rotten weather all over the state has put almost everything on hold. Some examples:

--If Thursday’s weather cooperates, Hibbing High School’s baseball and softball teams will play their first home games of the spring; the track, golf and tennis teams have yet to compete at home, and the road schedules have not been much better.

--In the week that ended Wednesday, teams from the varsity level on down at Farmington High School had seen 44 events cancelled or postponed. Baseball and softball games against Northfield had been postponed once, were postponed again Wednesday and the teams will make a third attempt to play on May 9.

--In Thief River Falls, the baseball and tennis teams have played once, the softball team has played two games and the track teams are still waiting for their first competition. In the past week, 35 events have been postponed or cancelled. One exception was a boys tennis match at Moorhead, which was played Tuesday in 41 degrees on dry courts surrounded by snow.

--Teams at Marshall High School have been practicing on parking lots while waiting to play games. The baseball and softball teams have only played once, with a total of seven games rescheduled. Two track meets have been called off and will not be rescheduled, one golf tournament has been cancelled and another postponed.

In other words, it’s getting ugly out there.

“Mother Nature has given us a little wake-up call,” said Hibbing athletic/activities director Tim Scott. “But our people are pretty good at improvising, even if it means the first time our kids catch a fly ball it might be in our first game.”

With the weather taking a turn for the worse in the last week, and this being Easter week, rescheduling some events can be nearly impossible. Many schools are closed late this week with no activities scheduled … or rescheduled.

Adding to the spring uncertainty are the weather forecasts. Southern Minnesota got snow on Tuesday into Wednesday, but the worst of the snow didn’t materialize as far north as some predicted. A large track meet scheduled at Farmington on Tuesday was called off early Tuesday, even though the weather turned out to be not as bad as predicted.

“We had to think about the number of kids coming, where the schools are the, release times and other things,” said Farmington athletic/activities director Jon Summer. “We made that decision fairly early in the morning when we were looking at the forecast. One of the challenges of being an AD is everyone kind of has different guidelines in how and when you make that decision. And it’s hard. The AD side of me is thinking of the headaches of rescheduling, but in the end you want to walk out the door feeling that you did the right things for kids and health and safety.

“Sometimes people expect ADs to be better weather forecasters than the professional weather forecasters. When I was working on my master’s degree in sports management, I never took a class where I needed to read a Doppler radar.”

A year ago, excellent spring weather arrived in early March and cooperated all the through the completion of the seasons. Rochester Mayo’s Whitney only had to reschedule seven spring events in 2010.

In 2011, however, spring teams all over Minnesota are making use of indoor practice space, which can mean gymnasiums as well as hallways. Mayo is a “round” school, and athletes can run five laps around the building to cover a mile. That also means, however, that teachers exiting classrooms and custodians pushing carts have to keep an eye out for fast-moving students.

In Thief River Falls, there is a plethora of outstanding outdoor athletic facilities as well as Ralph Engelstad Arena for hockey teams. “But when it comes to indoor stuff, we are really, really short,” said athletic/activities director Mike Biermaier.

A middle school track meet was scheduled for Monday, with members of the high school track team helping run the meet. But weather killed the event, meaning 90 middle school athletes and 80 varsity athletes needed indoor space to practice. Biermaier and others scrambled.

“We couldn’t be outdoors, so we sent 25 kids to Ralph Engelstad Arena to work out with Tim Bergland, our boys hockey coach,” Biermaier said. “We put 50 or 60 kids in the pool, we put more in the middle school gym and others in the high school gym. We had them everywhere.”

The baseball and softball teams had to wait their turns, using the indoor spaces when the track athletes were finished.

Some schools have more indoor options, including Crookston High School. The Pirates can work out at the Crookston Sports Center, which opened last year. The center has three full-size ice rinks, with one covered by artificial turf this time of year.

“It’s getting a lot of use,” said Crookston athletic/activities director Don Donarski. “We’ve been very fortunate. Our baseball, softball and golf teams have been making great use of it. It’s incredible and it’s taken a lot of pressure off our gym.”

As the cancellations and postponements pile up, the odds of playing a full season grow longer. May will soon arrive, followed by the end of the regular season and the onset of playoffs. If the weather does ever return to normal (cross your fingers), teams may be jamming a lot of games into a very short time frame.

“We’re coming to the realization that we’re not going to be able to reschedule everything,” Biermaier said. “Percentage-wise, I would say more than half of our games that have been postponed will not be rescheduled.”

Marshall athletic/activities director Bruce Remme said, “You come down to about a three-week season when you get to May. You just cram it in.”

Farmington’s varsity baseball team has games scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday next week and a tournament on Saturday.

“Pretty much everybody on the team better be able to throw some strikes,” said Summer.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 593
*Miles John has driven: 8,944

--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
Fairmont’s Sarah Bankson: A History-Making State Champion4/18/2011
Wearing a black jacket and matching skirt, black shoes, a purple shirt and matching headband, the Babe Ruth of Minnesota high school speech smiled and ducked her head slightly as a gold medal was placed around her neck.

In what has become an annual event, Fairmont High School senior Sarah Bankson won the Class A championship in the Informative Speaking category of the state speech tournament Friday evening at Chanhassen High School. It was her fourth gold medal, making her the first four-time state speech champion in Minnesota history. That’s 42 years of history.

“There are a lot of feelings,” she said after the awards ceremony. “It’s joy, relief, happiness. It’s just kind of overwhelming.”

Her speech this season -- titled “Tearing Up or Breaking Down” -- was an explanation of tears. That sounds so simple, but gold is found in the preparation and presentation. Using an easel and homemade visual aids, Sarah explained to the judges and the audience that tears are a mixture of water, mucus and oil. She showed posters from the movies “The Notebook” and “Bambi” … both are listed among the top tearjerkers of all time. She showed teary-eyed photos of John Boehner and Hillary Clinton.

Sarah spoke and moved effortlessly. Watching her speech, it was clear that she knows how to do research and prepare her material.

“She works hard,” said Cliff Janke, who along with his wife Roxy coaches the Fairmont speech team. “Sarah’s the champion and it’s because of her hard work. She has support from her family and support from her teammates, but Sarah’s a hard worker.”

But there’s more than that to a gold-medal performance. There’s creativity. There’s talent. Sarah ended her speech with these words: “There is more to a tear than meets the eye.” Boom. Gold.

“She’s an amazing, amazing kid to work with,” said Roxy Janke.

Sarah’s fourth gold medal was only part of the weekend success story for Fairmont. The Cardinals and Mounds Park Academy each took home three gold medals, and this was the seventh consecutive year in which Fairmont has finished either first or second in the Class A medal count. Thirteen Fairmont students qualified for the state tournament, seven reached the championship round and the Cardinals had three first-place finishers for the first time in history.

Senior Craig Gemmill won the Storytelling category for the second year in a row and junior Matt Nordquist finished first in Creative Expression. And no one was more proud than the Jankes.

“We’re lucky to have motivated students,” Cliff said (that's Cliff hugging Sarah in the photo at left.). “A lot of it is self-motivation, and they motivate each other. There’s a strong team spirit, and we’ve always said success breeds success. We’ve had some success and they learn from each other. The other thing is that when kids don’t reach finals they watch and they see what makes other students good.”

Roxy said, “It’s a lifelong skill, it’s dedication from the students, it’s class, it’s playing right, that’s what speech is.”

Sarah became interested in speech by watching her big sister Leah compete in the activity.

“I would go to the open houses every year and watch everyone,” Sarah said. “I just thought it was a real different, unique activity. And I saw informative speech and it just really drew me out; ‘This is something I’d like to do.’ ”

Settling on a topic for Informative Speaking is the first hurdle, she said.

“I just read books or I get books recommended to me by other people. One year my uncle recommended a book, and that’s where I found my topic. This year, I was reading a magazine, I think it was Good Housekeeping, and I saw a little article about (tears) and I thought, ‘I should look into that.’ It’s just something that catches my interest and you go from there.”

Sarah was aware that she was on the doorstep of history before the tournament, but if she felt any pressure it didn’t show.

“She handles it so well,” Cliff said. “No one would suspect that there’s any kind of pressure there.”

Sarah said, “Everything changes every year, you don’t take anything for granted when you come here. You never know. You just do what you’ve got to do and don’t take anything for granted.”

She certainly doesn’t take her coaches for granted, saying the Jankes offer “so much support and it’s so important to have someone you can go to every week. They give us so much positive feedback and so much help. They’ve just set such a high bar for our team as far as respect and how we act and how we perform. It’s been an awesome experience to be coached by them.”

Not surprisingly, Sarah is involved in other activities. She’s in choir and orchestra, has been on the Fairmont cross-country and track teams and stays busy with church activities, too. She plans to attend North Park University in Chicago.

“Right now I think I’m going to major in communications,” she said.

Sounds about right.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 593
*Miles John has driven: 8,944

--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