John's Journal
Remembering ... 5/2/2011
In the wake of Sunday evening's news, I began thinking about 9-11 and what happened in the days and weeks that followed.

I recalled writing about a monument to Flight 93 victim Tom Burnett at Bloomington Jefferson, where Tom was a football team captain in the class of 1981. That story found it way to Tom's widow, Deena, who sent me a very nice thank you note.

I recalled writing about Gordy Aamoth Jr., who was killed in the Twin Towers. He was a football player while a student at Blake, where the stadium now bears his name and a section of beam from the World Trade Center is displayed.

Then I recalled a column I wrote in the Minneapolis Star Tribune the day after 9-11. It seemed to touch people at the time, and it might be worth reading today...

Headline: High school sports can help the healing

In the horrible wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all after-school activities were canceled Tuesday in the Jefferson County (Colo.) School District. This didn't surprise Ed Woytek, the athletic director at Columbine High School.

The day's events hit Columbine hard, especially the senior class. They were freshmen on April 20, 1999, when two students shot and killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

"Our coaches and all of us are on kind of a fine line, especially with what happened here previously," Woytek said.

Columbine still is recovering from that day. Recovery also is an ongoing process in Osceola, Wis., where twin brothers Eric and Aaron Kipp, 18, died in a car accident on the way to football practice 30 days ago.

With thousands of innocent people presumed to have perished this week, what do you say? How do you heal? Maybe it's best to listen to the kids. That's among the lessons learned at Columbine and Osceola.

"Pretty much all of them are saying to us, 'We need to be a family,'" Woytek said. "Because that's what happened a few years ago; they got with family. And that's where we need to be, that's where our American people need to be, is with family."

After the Kipp brothers died, football practices were stopped for a short period. But soon, everyone wanted to return -- or try to return -- to some sense of normalcy.

"Very soon, the kids were ready to go back," said Osceola coach/principal Mike McMartin. "They said, 'Coach, I need to keep busy.' And they were right. When we jumped back into it, although they weren't the best practices in the world, there was almost a big sigh of relief that they could start moving forward and take with us all the good things that the boys had shared with us for so many years, instead of thinking about the bad."

Activities went on as scheduled Tuesday in Osceola, the day of the attacks.

"We just really felt during that time it was massively important that we show to the kids, 'Hey, we're going on. We're not going to let these people defeat us or take us off our feet here. We're going to move forward and be proud,'" McMartin said.

At Columbine and Osceola, tragedy struck a specific community of people. This week, tragedy struck us all.

The Columbine Rebels take a 1-1 record into tonight's game at Dakota Ridge. Osceola is 3-0 and the homecoming opponent for rival St. Croix Falls. The games go on, as do our lives.

"Everybody keeps saying we'll never get back to normal, just like our nation will never get back to normal," Woytek said. "But hopefully we're going to get as close to normal as we can."

So if sporting events are part of your normal routine, stick with it. If you haven't been to a high school game in years, tonight would be a wonderful time to go. Get away from the television, escape the headlines. Find a seat in the bleachers and take a break, however temporary, from all that's gone so wretchedly wrong in this world.

Watch the team captains shake hands before the coin flip. Hold your hand over your heart during the national anthem as the flag flutters at half-staff. Bow your head during the moment of silence to honor this week's victims. Get on your feet for the opening kickoff. Watch our young people -- players, cheerleaders, fans -- as they smile, holler and laugh together during this evening that is tradition both athletic and social. Buy popcorn, listen to the band, cheer first downs, simply celebrate.

Maybe administrators at every school can find a recording of God Bless America, and across our states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and beyond -- we'll sing together when the game ends. Just like a family.
Track Record Watch Gets Rolling At Hamline Elite Meet4/29/2011
Friday was on the cool and blustery side, which is probably fitting considering the kind of spring weather we’ve all been seeing across Minnesota. All sorts of outdoor athletic events have been cancelled or postponed in recent weeks, including lots of track meets.

Those kinds of scheduling problems usually mean that athletes are not in the condition they might be in under better weather conditions. But any doubts about the state of high school track – especially in a couple of boys field events – were slapped in the face during Friday evening’s Hamline Elite Meet.

In other words, be prepared for a bona fide Record Watch to take us through the rest of the track season. We very nearly saw the state record in the boys triple jump fall at Hamline on Friday, and the boys high jump record is another one to keep an eye on as the season continues. Here are the details:

--Eden Prairie senior Michael Sandle (pictured at right) won the triple jump with a distance of 50 feet, 3 1/3 inches, which ranks second in state history. The state record is 50 feet, 4 inches, set by Reondo Davis of Blaine in 1999. Sandle, who won the Class 2A state title last year with a jump of 49-5 ½, will have several more chances to break the all-time record. If the weather is favorable at the June 10-11 state meet, right back at Hamline, big things could happen … if Sandle doesn’t get the record before then.

--In the high jump, senior Trevor Yedoni of Benilde-St. Margaret’s came within two inches of the all-time state record. Yedoni’s winning height Friday was 6-11 before he failed three times at 7 feet, one-quarter inch. The record of 7-1 is shared by Rod Raver of Rochester John Marshall (1973) and Jon Markuson of Chaska (1993). Yedoni also won the long jump Friday.

(To see video of Yedoni clearing 6-11, as well as a photo gallery from the Elite Meet, go to the MSHSL Facebook page. In the photo below, Yedoni clears 6-11.)

The Elite Meet’s most decorated individual was senior Devin Crawford-Tufts of Edina, who has signed to play football at the University of Minnesota. He was a triple champion, capturing the 100 and 200 titles and anchoring the Hornets’ winning 4x100 team with a breathtaking come-from-behind leg. (Video of his anchor leg also can be found on the MSHSL Facebook page.)

Other stars of the meet included senior Analisa Huschle of Bagley-Fosston , a decorated state championship veteran who won the 200 and long jump Friday. St. Francis sophomore Maggie Ewen, the best young thrower in the state, captured the shot put and discus titles.

The Elite Meet, now in its sixth year, is easily the top track event of the season other than the state championships, also held at Hamline University’s Klas Field in St. Paul. The Elite Meet plan is simple: Gather the state’s top athletes in each event and turn them loose. All events are one-race finals except the 100 meters, which has preliminary races. It is a fabulous event.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 625
*Miles John has driven: 9,354

--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
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