John's Journal
New London-Spicer’s Spectacular Field: “It’s The Passion, It’s The Pride”8/25/2011
We see wonderful acts of community pride and community spirit on a regular basis in our world of high school activities. People at New London-Spicer High School know all about those qualities, thanks to a band of volunteers who have transformed the Wildcats football facility into what might be the finest in Minnesota.

Beginning in 2005 with about a dozen fathers of football players, the NLS Wildcats Grounds Crew has grown to more than 50 members. They do everything from mowing the grass and painting the yard lines (on the practice fields, as well) to improving the sound system, upgrading plumbing systems, laying concrete and everything else that makes Pederson Field so special.

And believe me, it is special. I visit athletic facilities all over the state, and Pederson Field is an absolute showplace. The grass is equal to Target Field, the end zones are painted with the school colors of black and gold in a checkerboard pattern, large NFL-quality numbers mark the 10, 20, 30, etc. … and all the work is done by volunteers.

Not only do the dads not receive any compensation, they all pay dues of $40 to belong to the group. They wear matching black t-shirts when they gather to improve the field, as they did Wednesday evening. They all had already put in a full day’s work on their own jobs, but they spent several hours preparing Pederson Field for the season ahead.

“Last week we had 36 guys here working,” New London-Spicer football coach Dan Essler said on Wednesday. “And this is the third night in a row they’ve been out here.”

One of the big jobs Wednesday was improving the entry into the stadium. When fans come out on Sept. 2 for the opener against Paynesville, they will walk across a giant concrete football – colored brown and decorated with a Wildcats logo – as part of the latest in many improvements. As the concrete was setting Wednesday, Grounds Crew leader Tom Tengwall wrote “GROUNDS CREW ‘11” in the surface.

“It’s the passion, it’s the pride,” said Tengwall (pictured at left directing the crew), one of the original members of the Grounds Crew. From that small group of original volunteers, the membership has grown steadily. “We try to get four or five new guys each year, people with kids in seventh or eighth grade,” Tengwall said. “We have a few dads who don’t even have sons.”

When I asked New London-Spicer athletic director John Vraa how much money is saved through all the volunteer work, he just smiled and shook his head. “Oh, we’re talking thousands of dollars a year,” he said. In addition, much of the equipment used and installed is owned by the volunteers or purchased through funds from the Wildcat Booster Club or 50-50 raffles on game nights.

“And this is such a diverse group of guys,” Vraa said. “There are a lot of guys in the trades; masons, electricians, there’s just so much knowledge out here. And I think they get a pretty good kick out of Friday nights, watching the kids compete.”

The volunteers – whose ranks include a professional agronomist -- don’t score touchdowns or make tackles, but their work certainly has helped play a role in the success of the Wildcats football program. The team was a Class 3A state semifinalist in 2008 and won the state championship in 2009. They finished with a 9-2 record last season, with both losses to state runner-up Albany. Hopes are high for another great season in 2011.

The scene Wednesday evening at Pederson Field looked like this: A concrete truck dumped part of its load at the new stadium entryway before being driven to the practice field to create mud-free footing at the players’ water station … a boom was raised up to the one of the speakers attached to a light pole for wiring work … new speakers were attached to shorter wooden posts and the posts were secured to the back of the bleachers …. a crew member sprayed vegetation killer underneath the bleachers to make the area look sharp … 80 gallons of paint were mixed and sprayed onto the stadium and practice fields as separate crews made sure the ropes that set the lines were straight, and painted the hash marks as well as the numbers every 10 yards. It was a volunteer beehive.

In the middle of it all, New London-Spicer sophomore Mac Johnson was manning a video camera. The Grounds Crew’s work has been noticed by people from other communities, who often ask, “How can we do that, too?” Tengwall acted as film director during part of Wednesday’s work session, in the efforts to create a video that will explain how everything gets done.

All that work makes game nights something special. Fans who don’t want to sit are allowed to follow the action closely by walking on the track that surrounds the field, a 10-gauge cannon is fired when the Wildcats score and sound expert Keith Bangasser makes selections from his 40,000-song electronic music catalogue to play on the sound system.

It’s a very special place, tuned to perfection by some very special people.

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

NOTES FROM THE ROAD …

--Wednesday was a beautiful day for a drive, one of those days we will dream about during the cold winter months. One good thing about winter, though: there’s no road construction. I took I-94 north past St. Cloud before turning west on Highway 23. There was a darn good backup on I-94 with one lane closed, and Highway 23 had a detour that included some really fun driving on gravel. Coming home, I droves south through the little village of Kandiyohi, then turned east on Highway 12 through Atwater, Grove City, Litchfield, Dassel, Cokato, Waverly, Delano and back into the Twin Cities. All told, a 255-mile round-tripper.

--Ah summer: I saw a great big truck loaded down with sweet corn in Monticello. I can taste it now.

--Dinner? Papa Burger combo at the A&W in New London before heading home.

--Thursday night I'll be in Fulda for the season-opening Zero Week football game between Murray County Central and Fulda. On Friday I'll head to St. Peter to see the Saints take on Minnewaska in another Zero Week game. Photos will be posted on Facebook and I'll post a Zero Week wrapup story here on Saturday.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 3
*Miles John has driven: 684

--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
St. Clair Drops Varsity Football For 2011 8/24/2011
Football is a numbers game, and the numbers this fall at St. Clair High School were deemed too low to field a varsity football team. As Mankato Free Press sports editor Jim Rueda reports below, school officials have decided that the Cyclones wiill play only junior varsity games this season and hope for enough numbers in 2012 to return to varsity play. St. Clair plays Class 1A football in Section 2.

This season there is only one senior with any football experience on the roster, seven juniors and only six players who weigh more than 170 pounds. Safety is paramount.

The decision means St. Clair's varsity opponents will lose one game from their schedules. Those teams are West Lutheran, Bethlehem Academy, Medford, Randolph, Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, Le Center, Blooming Prairie and Mankato Loyola. Administrators from those schools were informed of St. Clair's decision last week. Details are being worked out, but it's expected that some of the JV games will be played on Friday nights.

Here's the story ...

By Jim Rueda
Sports Editor
The Mankato Free Press

ST. CLAIR — The St. Clair school district had to make a hard decision late last week but it is confident it will pay dividends in the future.

After looking at the number of players out for this year’s St. Clair team, and even closer at how those numbers break down by class, officials have decided to drop varsity football for at least one season. The hope is that, after a year of junior varsity play, the numbers will grow enough to enable the Cyclones to reinstate the varsity program for 2012-13.

“It was a difficult decision but we felt it was in the best interests of our kids to make this move,” St. Clair athletic director Brad O’Donnell said Tuesday. “Looking at the number of seniors and juniors we had to play at the varsity level, we began to realize we’d have to use a lot of freshman and sophomores throughout the season.”

At that point, O’Donnell, head coach Chris Harvey and some St. Clair administrators talked with the seniors and, “from a safety point of view, concluded that eliminating the varsity schedule was the right decision to make.”

The Cyclones were looking at a team with just two seniors — one of whom was a foreign-exchange student who has never played football — and seven juniors. As a squad, they had just six athletes who weighed more than 170 pounds and only two of those weighed more than 200.

Seventy percent of the team would have been freshmen and sophomores who had not played varsity football before.

“We felt that with the prospect of injuries throughout the season, we would have had to move too many players into positions that would be a disadvantage to them both mentally and physically,” O’Donnell said. “Sometimes, in order to move forward, you have to take a step back.

“We told the parents we’re playing beyond the scoreboard, beyond the wins and losses.

“We want to make this (a junior varsity) season of some significance that will enable us to play football in a much more safe environment in the future.”
A Big Week Ahead As Fall Sports (And The State Fair) Kick Into Gear8/22/2011
Thanks to Zero Week football scheduling, this week is even more hectic than normal. Volleyball, soccer, cross-country and girls swimming and diving teams can hold competitions beginning Thursday, which is also the day when the football season will begin.

I try to plan my schedule two or three weeks ahead, so I spent time today looking at the first two weeks of September. I have a pretty good idea of where my travels will take me in early September, but nothing is definite. What is locked in like concrete are my plans for this week.

The gridiron season will begin with one game on Thursday. The team from Murray County Central in Slayton will journey13 miles south on Highway 59 to Fulda, and I will also make the trip for the game between the Rebels and Raiders … although my drive will be about 158 miles each way.

On Friday I will be in St. Peter for another Zero Week game, this one between the Minnewaska Area Lakers and St. Peter Saints. And before those two games are played, I will take a Wednesday trip to visit one of the finest high school football facilities in the state and spend time with the volunteer grounds crew that makes it all happen.

My Friday schedule also includes a visit to the University of St. Thomas, where I will lend a hand at a sports journalism camp for high school students directed by ThreeSixty Journalism. And that’s not all that’s happening this week …

THE STATE FAIR WILL begin Thursday, and the MSHSL will have a presence. A major announcement concerning a new MSHSL program will be made at a news conference Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Main Stage in Carousel Park in front of the grandstand. And Saturday, the MSHSL and Prep 45 – the TV partner of the MSHSL – will sponsor a day of fun activities and information at the fair.

A section of Dan Patch Avenue will be filled with interactive activities, including six bowling lanes, baseball speed pitch, basketball toss, live music and more. There also will be cool stuff to win:Twins tickets, oil changes for a year, M11 hockey helmets for your entire team, etc., as well as seminars directed toward healthy lifestyles and sports.

Let’s all have a great week!

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 2
*Miles John has driven: 429

--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
No. 1 In Volleyball Rankings: Lakeville North, Jackson County Central, Nevis8/20/2011
The first state volleyball rankings, compiled by the coaches association, have been released. Defending state champion Lakeville North leads the Class 3A rankings, Jackson County Central is No. 1 in Class 2A and Nevis leads the Class 1A field.

Wadena-Deer Creek, last year’s 2A state champion, is ranked No. 10. Defending 1A champion Wabasha-Kellogg is ranked No. 2.

The first date for volleyball matches to begin is Thursday. Here are the rankings (first-place votes in parathenses, total points)…

CLASS 3A
1. Lakeville North (2) 86
2. Bloomington Jefferson (3) 85
3. Wayzata (1) 74
4. Shakopee 57
5. Lakeville South 54
6. Blaine 47
Centennial 47
Eden Prairie 47
9. Hopkins 20
10. Andover 19
Others: Hutchinson (16), Totino-Grace (16), Apple Valley (15), Hill-Murray (14), East Ridge (11), Chanhassen (10), Eastview (6), Waconia (6)

CLASS 2A
1. Jackson County Central (1) 42
2. Lesuer-Henderson 39
3. Stewartville (1) 37
4. Belle Plaine 36
5. Kasson-Mantorville (1) 35
6. Maple Lake 30
7. Visitation 26
8. Jordan 25
Marshall 25
10. Wadena-Deer Creek 20

CLASS 1A
1. Nevis (3) 59
2. Wabasha-Kellogg (1) 57
3. Bethlehem Academy 49
4. Mayer Lutheran 46
5. Win-E-Mac 45
6. Minneota 41
7. BBE 35
8. Canby 33
9. Southwest Christian 31
10. Ada-Borup 12
Others: Goodhue (6), MACCRAY (6)
First Rankings Of The Season: Cross-Country8/18/2011
Here’s another sign that the school year is upon us. The state cross-country rankings in Class 1A and 2A, as compiled by the coaches association, have been released.

The top-ranked teams are St. Cloud Cathedral (1A boys), Adrian (1A girls), Stillwater (2A boys) and Monticello (2A girls). Individually, the top preseason rankings are held by Brandon Clark of Blake (1A boys), Elena Danielson of St. Cloud Cathedral (1A girls), Cole O'Brien of Burnsville (2A boys) and Maria Hauger of Shakopee (2A girls).

The first competition date for cross-country teams is next Thursday, August 25.

Here are the rankings…

Class 1A
Boys Teams
1. St. Cloud Cathedral
2. Minnehaha Academy
3. Esko
4. Perham
5. Waseca
6. Mora
7. Albany
8. LaCrescent
9. Plainview-Elgin-Millville
10. Byron
11. Mesabi East
12. Blake

Boys Individuals
1. Brandon Clark, Blake
2. Jonnathan Surber, St. James
3. Shane Streich, Waseca
4. Byron Schuldt, Nevis
5. Matt Welch, Proctor
6. Nick Stoks, Canby-Minneota/LinHi
7. Jackson Lindquist, Esko
8. Jacob Siekmeier, Math & Science Academy
9. Cade Ekstrom, Madelia/Truman
10. Charlie Lawrence, Foley
11. Jesse Delgado, Waseca
12. Pat Reinschmidt, Painview-Elgin-Millville

Girls Teams
1. Adrian
2. St. Cloud Cathedral
3. Esko
4. Blake
5. LaCrescent
6. Albany
7. Waseca
8. Annandale
9. Perham
10. Canby-Minneota/LinHi
11. Fairmont
12. Park Rapids

Girls Individuals
1. Elena Danielson, St. Cloud Cathedral
2. Marissa Shady, Esko
3. Lauren Friese, Fairmont
4. Jordan Chancellor, Blake
5. Kayla Woltz, Chatfield
6. Victoria Alexander, Lake of the Woods
7. Leah Jessen, Canby-Minneota/LinHi
8. Clare Flanagan, Blake
9. Emi Trost, Cannon Falls
10. Sadie Novak-Klug, Waseca
11. Savannah Ramirez, Litchfield
12. Hannah Goemann, United South Central/AC

Class 2A
Boys Teams
1 Stillwater
2 Wayzata
3 Rosemount
4 Moorhead
T5 Edina
T5 Andover
7 Mounds View
8 Eden Prairie
T9 Eastview
T9 Burnsville
11 Owatonna
12 White Bear Lake
Others receiving votes:
Forest Lake, Lakeville North, Alexandria, Monticello, Roseville, Minnetonka

Boys Individuals
1 Cole O'Brien, Burnsville
T2 Josh Thorson, Wayzata
T2 Glen Ellingson, Moorhead
T4 Joel Reichow, White Bear Lake
T4 Zach Roozen, Mounds View
6 Riley Macon, Rochester Mayo
7 Nathan Rock, Rosemount
8 Parker Wharram, Mound Westonka
T9 Connor Olson, Wayzata
T9 Tom Linner, Stillwater
11 Jan Ketterson, Jefferson
12 Will Burke, Edina
Others receiving votes:
Eric Colvin, Stillwater; Abdulah Salah, Burnsville; Mubarik Musa, Worthington; Jensen Orlow, Holy Family; Ryan Erdman, Mankato East; Keeghan Hurley, Fergus Falls; Will Sieling, Alexandria

Girls Teams
1. Monticello
2. Lakeville South
3. Eden Prairie
4. East Ridge
5. Elk River
6. Prior Lake
7. Wayzata
8. Alexandria
9. Andover
10. Albert Lea
11. Brainerd
12. Rosemount

Girls Individuals
1. Maria Hauger, Shakopee
2. Jamie Piepenburg, Alexandria
3. Erica Seidenkrantz, Monticello
4. Nicole Heitzman, Andover
5. Amber Seidenkratz, Monticello
6. Haylie Zenner, Fergus Falls
7. Bailey Ness, East Ridge
8. Chrissy Monson, Albert Lea
9. Taylor Scholl, Prior Lake
10. Kaelyn Williams, Robbinsdale Cooper
11. Elizabeth Frick, Eagan
12. Jenna Truedson, Bemidji