John's Journal
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
Adapted Bowling: An Exceptional Activity At Cambridge-Isanti And Elsewhere 4/13/2011
Cambridge-Isanti is a high school that has nearly 1,500 students and offers a wide range of activities. But ask athletic/activities director Mark Solberg about his favorite student activity, and his answer comes without hesitation: Adapted bowling.

“Nothing against anything I ever used to coach, but it’s my favorite activity,” Solberg said. “It’s exceptional.”

Adapted bowling – which offers coed divisions for Cognitively Impaired (CI) and Physically Impaired (PI) athletes – is a popular sport at Cambridge-Isanti and many other schools around Minnesota. As a prelude to the Bluejackets’ appearance in last year’s state tournament, the bowlers were honored during a send-off rally in the school gym. The team received thunderous ovations from their fellow students, faculty and staff.

“Probably the loudest our gym has been for years was when the bowling team came out of the tunnel,” Solberg said. “That was pretty darn cool.”

The Bluejackets give everybody plenty to cheer about, too. Junior Dominic Slattery is a two-time state champion, juniors Chrissy Schermerhorn and Austin Sprandal placed second at state in 2009, junior Todd Champion finished sixth in 2009, junior Cody Beardslee was seventh at state in 2009 and junior Jon Furlong – who along with junior Jackson Larson is a 2010 team captain – also competed at state last year. Other members of the current Cambridge-Isanti team are ninth-graders Austin Johnson, Haley Stoehr-Magnuson and Victoria Koukol.

“This is fun,” Furlong said. “I always feel real happy to do this. It’s really fun and I just feel like I’m home.”

Coach Susie Kaspar knows the athletes well, because she is a developmental and adapted physical education teacher at Cambridge-Isanti. She also coaches the Bluejackets girls swimming and diving team.

Asked what coaching the adapted bowling team does for her, Kaspar said, “Pride, a sense of pride. I just get excited watching them. I’ve had a lot of these athletes in elementary and middle school, so to watch them mature physically, emotionally, socially, from point A to point B is just incredible. And we get some good laughs. I enjoy their personalities. Sometimes I get a little quiet because I get emotional; I’m so proud of them.”

The Bluejackets practice once a week at Junction Bowl in Isanti. The first practice of the 2011 season coincided with the Minnesota Twins’ home opener, so the Bluejackets wore Twins hats along with their blue team jerseys. The athletes posed for team photos before bowling, with smiles and positive encourgament the theme of the morning from the athletes, their coach and a group of aides who are vital to the enterprise.

“I was Susie’s teacher years ago, and she does a bang up job,” Solberg said. “She’s very caring and she treats the kids exceptionally well. And all those aides who help, it’s an extraordinary group of people.”

Regular-season competition in adapted bowling can be unique. In some cases, teams that are competing against each other bowl in their respective home alleys, with the coaches exchanging scores via email or fax to determine the outcome. The season will culminate with the May 20 state tournament at Brunswick Zone in Eden Prairie.

As the opening practice wound down, Kaspar informed Furlong and Larson that they had been chosen as captains for the season. When Larson asked about the duties of the captains, Slattery – a past captain – spoke up.

“You kind of do what the coaches do,” Dominic told Jackson. “You cheer people on and if they’re having a bad day you help them.”

Dominic smiled as he talked about what he enjoys about being part of the team: “We get out of school (during practice).” Then he added, “We do stuff we like to do, associate with people that we know throughout the school, people we have common interests with.”

Talking about being a two-time state champ, Dominic’s smile never wavered. “It feels great,” he said. “You get a lot of notoriety around the school, a lot of respect by your peers and throughout the community. I’ve been in the paper four times now. I got interviewed by the Cambridge Star, so that was pretty great.”

Kaspar said Dominic’s bowling success is based on attitude and enthusiasm.

“He has the ability to improve consistently. And that’s what I stress as a coach,” she said. “I don’t care who has the highest score, it’s where you start and where you finish. From the beginning of the season to the end of the season, he always improves. Also, his enthusiasm; he’s a very outgoing and positive individual. He’s always looking at the positives versus whining about he doesn’t have. I think that really makes him a state champ. He gets in there with the attitude of a professional athlete.”

Adapted bowling, along with adapted softball, soccer and floor hockey, are offered by the Minnesota State High School League. Adapted programs began in Minnesota in 1975, when the Metro Association for Adapted Athletics (MAAA) instituted an indoor floor hockey league. The MSHSL adopted adaptive athletics in 1992. The four adapted activities have participation numbers that range from 390 individuals in bowling to 573 in softball. Adapted bowling has the highest number of teams, with 31 CI teams and 25 PI teams in 2009-10.

Kaspar said the benefits of adapted athletics are nearly immeasurable.

“It represents the PI and CI communities,” she said. “It gives people awareness of what’s out there, and the lack of opportunity they have. So to have the Minnesots State High School League provide this and to have our school support it is just such a blessing.

“A lot of these athletes cannot be on other mainstream sports teams, and with their cognitive impairments they can’t always make the honor roll, so their names are in the paper and a picture in the paper is just an awesome thing. So it means a lot to them. I had them write an essay, and a lot of them wrote, ‘It’s the one thing I can do, and I do it well.’ ”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 567
*Miles John has driven: 8,885

--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
Notes On Football, Track And Other Spring Sports4/11/2011
The sun is shining here at MSHSL World Headquarters, making me think (hope) we’ll have a nice week with temperatures heading in the right direction and spring sports going at a good pace.

Let’s kick off the week by revisiting a big news item from last week: The addition of a seventh class in football. Some clarifications seem to be in order, based on feedback following Thursday’s decision by the MSHSL board of directors to add a new class for the largest 32 schools beginning in 2012. Some of the screamers and shouters seem to think this is about awarding more medals and trophies. It is not.

First, the size disparity between Class 5A schools was a major factor in the decision. Ideally, the largest football schools in a class should not have an enrollment more than twice the enrollment of the smallest schools. Under the current 5A setup, the disparity is approaching 3 to 1.

A related reason for the change is very simple: the safety of the athletes. Concussions and other injuries are a real concern in high school athletics, and at the board of directors meeting in January, safety issues in 5A football were addressed by Rochester Century athletic director Mark Kuisle.

Kuisle, a former board member as well as past president of the board, told the members that 5A football “needs to be fixed” because of the size disparity between schools. Kuisle suggested adding a new class for the largest schools, telling the board, “The disparity of a 3-1 ratio is becoming unsafe for kids. 1,200 vs. 3,000; it’s wrong and I’m tired, as an athletic administrator, of trying to defend this and tolerate this disproportionality.”

So the next time you hear someone complaining about how “the MSHSL wants everyone to win a medal,” tell them that the MSHSL is just a bit more concerned with safety than medals.

A possible football change that was not approved was section football scheduling. This issue centers on the difficulties some schools have in filling their regular-season football schedules. For several months the board has received input and discussed the issue. The members voted against instituting section football on Thursday, although if the problems persist the question will be revisited at some point in the future.

Now for another clarification: If section football had been approved, everything’s not as simple as some appear to think. There have been questions about travel and long road trips, but people are not realizing what section football might change besides the scheduling system.

Bottom line: If section football were implemented, the sections might not look like the current sections. So don’t go down that, uh, road and assume the section your team is in right now will look exactly the same under section football scheduling.

WHEELCHAIR TRACK

Also on Thursday, the board approved three wheelchair events in track and field. The events are the 800, 1,600 and shot put, and the change takes place with the current season.

In the 800 and 1,600, wheelchair athletes will compete in races that are separate from the able-bodied athletes. In the shot put, wheelchair athletes may be placed in flights with able-bodied athletes but their results will be tabulated separately.

Wheelchairs used must meet various specifications, including: the chair shall have two rear wheels and one front wheel.

Wheelchair events can be held at all track meets this season, including sections and the state meet. It’ll be interesting to see how many wheelchair athletes take advantage of this change. Several other states have high school wheelchair track events, and we’re happy to join that group.

SPEAKING OF TRACK…

There’s going to be a very special track meet at Foley High School on Tuesday. It’s been more than 10 years since Foley hosted a track meet. But the Falcons’ new football/track complex is good to go for Tuesday’s meet against Sauk Rapids-Rice. Congratulations to all in Foley.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 566
*Miles John has driven: 8,807

--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