John's Journal
Perham’s Zach Gabbard Returns To The Gym3/23/2011
Zach Gabbard can’t talk in more than a whisper, but his message was loud and clear before the Perham Yellowjackets opened play in the Class 2A boys state basketball tournament Wednesday.

In the locker room, coach Dave Cresap asked Zach if he had any advice before the Yellowjackets faced Virginia at Williams Arena. Zach told the boys, “Just win.”

Just win. That’s what Zach has been doing since Jan. 20, when he collapsed on the court during a game at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. Cardiac arrest changed him from a skinny high school junior who was full of life into a young man fighting for his life. Thanks to an AED, quick action from people at the game and first responders, along with multiple surgeries in Fargo and Minneapolis, Zach was able to be with his friends in the gym once more.

He’s weak, there’s no doubting it. He was recently moved from University Hospitals to Bethesda Rehabilation Hospital in St. Paul, where he is undergoing a daily treatment regimen. He’s in a wheelchair, but he was certainly able to shake hands and laugh with his teammates on Wednesday. And when Zach was wheeled out to the court during pregame warm-ups … oh my, it was one of the most memorable things I have ever witnessed.

You see, Zach’s appearance was a secret. Cresap knew and Zach’s parents, Steve and Meridee, knew. The MSHSL knew, as did a couple of media members. There was a very small media presence in the locker room when the team and Zach were reunited. The players had been told that a video link would allow them to see and talk with Zach before their game. So they gathered in their locker room, around a big-screen TV.

From behind them came a smiling Zach, pushed by his dad. The kids spent 15 minutes or so shaking hands and hugging Zach, joking about his short haircut and their missed free throws. And the smiles, oh the smiles, especially on the faces of Meridee and Steve (pictured). How hard has this been for them and their son? We can only imagine, but Wednesday was a very special day.

The next surprise came when Zach went to the court. As his wheelchair was lifted onto the famous elevated court, the crowd first buzzed, then stood … and cheered … and applauded like crazy. Tears? Oh yes, tears.

As the Virginia players were introduced, they ran to the other end of the court and shook hands with Zach or patted him on the back. Zach was introduced along with the rest of the Perham reserves, and the wave of applause and cheers returned. Zach and his parents sat behind the Yellowjackets bench during the game, back where a spot has been saved for Zach since that day in January. “One Clap for Zach” t-shirts filled the stands.

In the locker room, Cresap had told his team, “We love this guy to death and we need to be focused on what we need to do.”

The Yellowjackets found their focus and defeated Virginia 57-40. They will play in the state semifinals Friday at 6 p.m. The game will be played at Target Center and it will be televised by Channel 45. Will Zach be back again? I don’t know, but it’ll be worth watching.

In the postgame locker room, with Zach and the boys gathered once more, Cresap told them, “This is magical. You guys probably don’t even realize how special this is.”

He asked Zach if he had any advice before the state semifinals. “Win the next one,” he whispered.

Cheers. Tears. Relief. Emotion. Joy. One of Zach’s teammates summed up the events perfectly as the Yellowjackets left the locker room, where they had been reunited with their friend, to take the court for the school’s first-ever appearance in the boys state basketball tournament. He said simply, “I have goosebumps.”

Join the club.

--Another great story that may have been lost in the shuffle somewhat is St. Cloud Apollo senior guard Ibrahim Abukar. His 15-year-old sister Zamzam has leukemia, and Ibrahim was found to be a bone marrow match. His bone marrow was removed during a surgical procedure Tuesday in Minneapolis, and he was on the court for Apollo’s Class 3A quarterfinal game with Orono on Wednesday.

He played 30 minutes and scored 16 points with five assists. Orono defeated the Eagles 67-62 in overtime. In a word: Inspiring.


--During last week’s girls state basketball tournament I wrote about Red Wing coach Kraig Ulveling. He is a rarity, having brought both boys and girls teams to state during a 28-year coaching career. He took six boys teams to state, switched to the girls side and brought the Wingers to state this year.

Last week Red Wing lost to Hill-Murray in the Class 3A quarterfinals at Williams Arena. One of the seniors on the team was Ulveling’s daughter Jennifer. She will play college basketball at the College of St. Benedict.

Last week, Kraig hinted to me that it was time to resign from his coaching job. He made it official Wednesday morning and sent me this email: “It is official. Tough day but many good ones to follow. Not many coaches get to end their head coaching careers at Williams Arena with their daughter.”

--More than 1,100 students at Hopkins High School bought tickets for Wednesday’s 4A games. The Royals beat Owatonna 71-57 to move into the semifinals on Thursday night vs. Cretin-Derham Hall. The Raiders beat Duluth East 68-49. Also advancing in 4A were Eden Prairie and Osseo.

-- The tournament’s first upset came in the first game of the Class 3A quarterfinals. New Prague beat top-seeded and defending state champion St. Paul Johnson 83-77. The Trojans trailed by seven with 5 minutes, 12 second to play but went on a 21-4 run to take control. They will meet Columbia Heights in Thursday’s semifinals, with Waconia and Orono meeting in the other semifinal.

--High-Ranking Official: Mike Kolness, who is the superintendent/principal in Ada-Borup as well as a member of the MSHSL board of directors, was one of the officials for Wednesday’s Orono-St. Cloud Apollo 2A game.

--Musical Memories: I was met with a friendly handshake from Owatonna band director Pete Guenther at Target Center. The Huskies have a great band; one of the highlights of my winter was seeing them play at a hockey game in Owatonna. On the other end of the court, when the Hopkins band played “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” the low brass was something to behold.

--The Perham High School band is, uh, not your everyday pep band. This is a rock and roll band, plain and simple. Guitars, drum kit and singing. The band program was dropped due to budget reasons, and the result is something special, a real School of Rock look and sound. “Gimme Me Some Lovin’ ” … “Sweet Child O’ Mine” … “Hey Ho, Let’s Go!” Ada-Borup band, you have some competition for best Outside the Box Pep Band.

--Mascot Mania: Perham’s Yellowjacket (pictured) is hard to beat in this category.

--Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 5 for the tournament, 66 for the winter tournaments.

For lots of photos and video of Zach Gabbard and the Yellowjackets, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 566
*Miles John has driven: 8,759

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
Coaches vs. Cancer: A Minnesota Success Story3/21/2011
“Oh coach, you look so cute in pink!”

The compliment came from a smiling elementary student, and Ellsworth High School boys basketball coach Tyler Morris smiled right back. He was wearing a white shirt, pink tie and pink sweater vest on this special Saturday in January.

Pink, in fact, was the color of the day because it was Coaches vs. Cancer night in Ellsworth. The occasion was a boys basketball game; the Ellsworth Panthers have a reputation for excellence in the sport, winning Class 1A state titles in 2007 and 2008 and finishing second at state in 2003, 2006 and 2009.

One of the smallest schools in Minnesota with an enrollment of only 61 students in grades nine through 12, Ellsworth (Morris is pictured at right) also has become a champion at raising funds to fight cancer. In 2010, Ellworth’s Coaches vs. Cancer event brought in more than $1,500. This year, the total was more than $2,200. For such a small school in a rural southwestern Minnesota community of approximately 500 people, those are amazing numbers.

But that’s the story all over Minnesota, where the number of schools wrapping cancer awareness around athletic events has grown steadily. Whether it’s football, wrestling, swimming, gymnastics, hockey, basketball or activities that include Relay For Life events, pink has become a dominant color scheme all over the state.

During the 2009-10 school year, Coaches vs. Cancer events at Minnesota high schools raised a total of more than $78,000. The number for 2010-11 (as of last week) was $167,158. The money goes toward the fight against cancer, but the benefits extend far beyond donations and research.

“I think any time you can get people, and especially teenagers, to think outside themselves, it’s a good thing,” said Osseo High School activities director Ray Kirch, who also is a member of the Minnesota State High School League board of directors. Osseo has been very involved in Coaches vs. Cancer.

“For us to teach our kids about service and gratitude and giving back, whether it’s to their family or in this case to the community, those are all good things,” Kirch said. “And we should be about that as much as we should be about winning and losing.”

Coaches vs. Cancer began on the college level in the early 1990s. It evolved from a concept championed by Norm Stewart, then the men’s basketball coach at the University of Missouri. Stewart, a cancer survivor, began the program by challenging fans to pledge a dollar amount for every three-pointer made by his team during the season.

Today, more than 2,000 college coaches are involved in the program, as are hundreds, if not thousands, of high schools around the nation. Since its inception, Coaches vs. Cancer has raised nearly $50 million to support the American Cancer Society’s mission to eliminate cancer as a life-threatening disease. University of Minnesota men’s basketball Tubby Smith is a member of the Coaches vs. Cancer Council.

The Minnesota branch of the American Cancer Society helps coordinate Coaches vs. Cancer events in the state. Michelle Stepka, who works with the American Cancer Society’s Youth Initiatives program, is heavily involved with schools around the Twin Cities.

“I definitely think these (Coaches vs. Cancer) experiences bring team cohesiveness to a new level,” Stepka said. “Cancer is an illness that most people have been touched by in some way, shape or form. It’s a big visual when these events happen, with Walls of Hope or T-shirts. And when teams get involved, it really shows their community that these students know there’s more to life than just wins and losses.”

In Ellsworth, people are used to working together for a greater cause. Last summer, more than $27,000 was raised to replace the basketball court in the school gym. The old court had been there since the 1950s, and the new court is a source of pride in town ... as are the annual Coaches vs. Cancer events.

“It speaks for all the people willing to help and chip in,” said Ellsworth’s Morris, who is the driving force behind the Coaches vs. Center efforts in Ellsworth. He takes no credit, but he works year-round to plan the event and gather donations for raffles, a silent auction and basketball bingo.

The hallway outside the Ellsworth gym was filled with tables that carried all kinds of prizes: T-shirts, banners, backpacks, fruit, candy, CDs, hats, power tools, Timberwolves and Twins tickets and autographed items from the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, the Wild’s Niklas Backstrom, the Twins’ Tony Oliva, the 1954 Milan, Indiana, basketball team (which inspired the movie “Hoosiers”) and former University of Minnesota football coach Tim Brewster (donated while Brewster was still with the Gophers). There also were coupons for free subs, free golf, beef jerky from Ellsworth Locker and a one-year family membership at the nearby Luverne pool and fitness center (a $499 value).

People bought tickets for the raffle items, they filled out silent auction forms and everybody played basketball bingo. That entailed buying a bingo card that instead of numbers contained events that happen during basketball games. It was interesting to see something happen on the court – a traveling call, an over-and-back, a ball bouncing off the rim and behind the glass, etc. – and then seeing a couple people scurry out of the gym with their now-filled card to select a prize.(In the photo at left, White Bear Lake coaches dressed for a Coaches vs. Cancer game.)

“We’re trying to raise awareness and have fun,” Morris said. “It’s easy to pass a bucket in the stands and get donations, but it’s a lot more fun to get people involved.”

The Westbrook-Walnut Grove players wore pink Coaches vs. Cancer t-shirts during warm-ups, coaches from both teams dressed in pink shirts and/or ties, the Ellsworth players wore pink socks, the Ellsworth cheerleaders wore pink sashes around their waists and a majority of the fans wore pink shirts, hats, headbands, socks, etc. Most of all, everyone had fun and lots of money was raised for the fight against cancer.

“A lot of times we’re finding that a teacher or a player or a coach’s mother or another family member has been affected by cancer, and they may dedicate the game to them,” Stepka said. “Also, many of the youth are involved in some kind of charity of work outside the season, such as Relay for Life.

“The more you can show them volunteering at a young age, the more likely they will continue to do that type of service work through high school, college and on into careers and their own families.”
It’s Championship Saturday In Girls Basketball; Boys Fields Are Set3/19/2011
Hello again from courtside at Target Center, where we will decide four state championships in girls basketball before the day is out. Here’s the lineup …

1A at noon: Maranatha Christian 59, Nicollet 52
2A at 2 p.m.: Minnehaha Academy vs. Braham
3A at 6 p.m.: DeLaSalle vs. Hill-Murray
4A at 8 p.m.: Hopkins vs. Eden Prairie

All the games are televised by Channel 45 and webcast at

We’ll finish the run of winter tournaments next week with boys basketball, and the pairings are set. Four teams are seeded by the coaches in Class 4A and 3A, with their quarterfinal opponents drawn at random. There are no seedings in 2A and 1A; their brackets are done on a rotating basis between section champions.

Class 4A (with seeds)
Owatonna (24-4) vs. #1 Hopkins (28-1)
Duluth East (22-6) vs. #4 Cretin-Derham Hall (22-7)
Lakeville South (21-8) vs. #2 Eden Prairie (25-4)
Maple Grove (18-10) vs. #3 Osseo (27-2)

Class 3A (with seeds)
New Prague (23-6) vs. #1 St. Paul Johnson (25-3)
Marshall (21-8) vs. #4 Columbia Heights (23-6)
Grand Rapids (19-9) vs. #2 Waconia (21-7)
St. Cloud Apollo (25-4) vs. #3 Orono (25-4)

Class 2A
Rochester Lourdes (22-7) vs. Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (25-4)
Redwood Valley (21-7) vs. Minnehaha Academy (17-13)
Virginia (25-4) or Moose Lake-Willow River (27-2) vs. Perham (28-1)
Waterville-Elysian-Morristown (28-2) vs. Zimmerman (22-8)
(Virginia and Moose Lake-Willow River play Saturday night to decide who goes to state.)

Class 1A
Goodhue (24-7) vs. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (30-0)
MACCRAY (26-3) vs. Maranatha Christian (26-2)
Chisholm (27-3) vs. Fosston (21-6)
Springfield (23-3) vs. Upsala (25-3)

--About the photo: Yes, those M&Ms have Tessa Cichy’s name written on them.

--After Friday’s games ended with Braham defeating Providence Academy in the 2A girls semifinals, I was finishing my work at courtside when I heard a voice behind me ask, “Hey John, what’s the Diet Coke count today? And did that cat ever call you back?” It was Braham coach Tim Malone, who apparently had enough time in his busy day to click on this site. The cat has not called again, and …

--Diet Coke Count: 0 for the day, 13 for the tournament, 57 for the winter tournaments.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 542
*Miles John has driven: 8,711

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
A Late Night, An Injury And Lots Of Emotion3/19/2011
I have this theory about the state basketball tournaments, both girls and boys. To me, the toughest spot to be in is exactly where the girls team from Braham High School found itself this weekend.

The Bombers played in the final game of the day on Friday night at Target Center, and their 59-50 victory over Providence Academy didn’t end until around 10 p.m. That victory put them in Saturday’s title game against Minnehaha Academy, with tipoff scheduled for shortly after 2 p.m.

For teams that normally play two games -- maybe three -- in a week’s time, this short turnaround is a real challenge. The Bombers didn’t leave the arena until almost 11 p.m. Friday. My question to coach Tim Malone: What happened then?

“We got a little bit of a snack in them last night, filled up a whole bunch of bath tubs with ice and they just laid in that ice bath for a while, resting some of those legs. And then we got them to bed as quickly as we could.”

The Bombers met for breakfast at their hotel at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, had a team meeting at 11 and left for the arena at 11:30. There wasn’t need for much scouting, since they had met Minnehaha Academy in last year’s title game.

Minnehaha won the 2010 contest 64-46, and Braham turned the tables Saturday with a 68-61 victory.

“I had last year’s tape with us, in my back pocket, and we knew what to expect,” Malone said. “They have a great, great program over there. We knew it was going to take everything we had and then some.”

The key moment in the game came with 10 minutes left in the first half when Minnehaha senior guard Jana Halstensgard suffered a serious knee injury. She left the arena in an ambulance.

(Later Saturday, during the 4A game, I received this note from Minnehaha coach Josh Thurow via the MSHSL Facebook page: “John - Jana's knee was too swollen for an MRI today, we appreciate all the warm wishes we have received. She's at home and medicated right now. Thanks, Coach T.”)

Something to remember: Last year Halstensgard defended Braham’s dangerous Rebekah Dahlman,who scored just seven points in the title game. This time, Dahlman (now a sophomore) scored 23.

“The exact difference to me was last year Jana Halstensgard held Dahlman to seven points and kept her off the free throw line,” said Thurow. “But credit her, she used her body well and to get refs to call fouls for you, you’ve got to do things the right way. She’s a heady player.”

Hannah Dahlman, Rebekah’s senior sister, scored six points and ended her career with a gold medal. You surely recall the oldest Dahlmans, Isaiah and Noah, helping the Bombers boys win state titles in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

“We don’t take it as a (family) competition, we take it as a challenge to be the next one to do it,” Hannah said. “This experience is unbelievable. It’s what we’ve wanted since second grade. We’re on top of the world right now.”

Asked about winning a championship with her sister, Hannah said, “I have all these sisters; there’s not just one, there’s about 20. This is so emotional.”


Hopkins claimed its third state championship since 2004 with a 67-45 victory over Eden Prairie in the third meeting between the teams this season. During the Lake Conference season Eden Prairie beat Hopkins 71-65 and Hopkins won the rematch 49-44. Both won on their home courts.

The Royals also won titles in 2004 and 2006, finishing second in the state in 2005. Hopkins and Eden were the No. 1 and No. 2 seeded teams in the girls tournament, and their boys teams will fill those same roles next week.


DeLaSalle claimed its first girls basketball state title with a 63-43 victory previously unbeaten Hill-Murray in the 3A final. DeLaSalle was the state runner-up in 2007 and 2008; that’s also where Hill-Murray finished last year.


All kinds of interesting, entertaining and enlightening things happen behind the scenes at Target Center. After Maranatha Christian Academy defeated Nicollet 59-52 in the Class 1A title game Saturday, I witnessed two very memorable scenes …

After leaving the court carrying the championship trophy and wearing gold medals around their necks, the Mustangs waited in the corridor while someone found the key to their locker room.

They grinned, they laughed, they hugged each other. And then they decided to do their favorite chant: “We Are ... Mus-Tangs! We Are … Mus-Tangs!”

Assistant coach John Carpentier leaned into the middle of the scrum and whispered something. Then, following the same cadence, the Mustangs inaugurated a brand new chant: “We Are … State Champs!”

A few steps down the hall, Mankato Free Press reporter Shane Frederick was interviewing Nicollet senior Kasslin Swenson,who had scored 15 points in the Raiders’ loss.

Here’s what Kasslin said about the experience: “To play in the state finals, no matter the outcome we all had fun.”

That right there is what it’s all about.


1A All-Tournament : Ashlynn Muhl, Minneota; Kendra Schmidgall, Hancock; Charlotte Overbye, Dakota Winans, Mountain Iron-Buhl; Kayla Wenner, Anna Skrien, Kasslin Swenson, Nicollet; Onye Osemenam, Alexis Long, Madison Lee, Maranatha Christian.

1A Consolation: Mountain Iron-Buhl 61, Hancock 45.

2A All-Tournament: AnnMarie Healy, Leah Szabla, Providence Academy; Kali Peschel, Macy Weller, Sauk Centre; Sarina Baker, Katelyn Adams, Gabbi Stienstra, Minnehaha Academy; Rebekah Dahlman, Kelsey Sorenson-Giffrow, Hannah Dahlman, Braham.

2A Consolation: Sauk Centre 58, Providence Academy 57.

3A All-Tournament: Lauren Trumm, Sam Trumm, Alexandria; Khadijah Shumpert, Grace Coughlin, Benilde-St. Margaret’s; Tyseanna Johnson, Mariah Adanene, Allina Starr, DeLaSalle; Claire Van Dyk, Corrine McCallum, Bethany Doolittle, Hill-Murray.

3A Consolation: Benilde-St. Margaret’s 54, Alexandria 51

4A All-Tournament: Rachel Banham, Apiew Ojulu, Lakeville North; Alexis Foley, White Bear Lake; Shayne Mullaney, Morgan VanRiper-Rose, Jackie Johnson, Eden Prairie; Ebony Livingston, Gracia Hutson, Brianna Williams, Hopkins.

4A Consolation: Lakeville North 68, White Bear Lake 50


--Best-Dressed Coach: Hopkins’ Brian Cosgriff is always nicely dressed on the sidelines, but he stepped it up a few notches Saturday. Coach Cos had on a very sharp double-breasted brownish suit, blue shirt and a tie that, uh, tied everything together. (No, I am not a fashion writer…)

--Pep Band Honors: There have been some dynamite musical performances during the tournament. Hill-Murray’s band grabbed the early frontrunner status, highlighted by “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Hopkins brought its usual energetic, solid wall of sound, with “I’ve Gotta Feeling” setting the bar high. But the nod for this tournament goes to Hancock from Class 1A, the little band with the big sound. My favorite tune performed by the Owls band was The Offspring classic “Pretty Fly.” For a high school with only 74 students, this band is sensational.

--Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 17 for the tournament, 61 for the winter tournaments.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 542
*Miles John has driven: 8,711
Lost Keys, A Phone Call From A Cat, And A Special Request3/18/2011
Good morning from Target Center, where the small schools have taken over the girls state basketball tournament. Hancock and Maranatha Christian Academy just finished a double-overtime game, with Maranatha winning 60-57 in the first Class 1A semifinal. Mountain Iron-Buhl and Nicollet are getting ready to tee it up in the second 1A semifinal. In Class 2A, it will be Sauk Centre vs. Minnehaha Academy at 6 p.m. and Braham vs. Providence Academy at 8 p.m.

But first, a quick note about the everyday life of a media specialist. On my way out of the Target Center last night, I couldn’t find my car keys. Not in my jacket pocket, not in my camera bag, not in my briefcase. I figured I must have locked them in my car, so I called AAA to send a guy over and pick the lock on my car.

They said it might be an hour before help arrived. In the meantime, I retraced my steps … and found my keys. They had fallen out of my jacket pocket and were under a courtside table in the arena. Crisis averted.

On my way back to the arena this morning, I received a phone call from a cat. That is no joke. My cell phone rang and it said the call was from, and I quote, “Home.” I said “Hello” about seven times and got no response. My wife was at work and the only person in the house was our daughter, who is home from college on spring break. I hung up and phoned home.

Daughter answered. Obvious question: “Did you just call me?” She said no, and then she started to laugh. She said, “I think the cat was walking on the phone.”

Darn thing could at least have left a message. That’s just rude.


This next item was posted on Thursday and it's back by popular demand. I'll explain in a post later today ... this is a great story.

--She Was Tempted: Basketballs occasionally roll underneath the courtside media tables at Target Center. While a referee was reaching under the table to retrieve a ball Thursday and Hill-Murray’s Tessa Cichy was standing ready to throw the inbounds pass, Tessa glanced at a small pile of Peanut M&Ms on the table. I had brought them out (from the MSHSL’s back-room secret stash…shhh) to share with Star Tribune reporter Amelia Rayno. I think Tessa would have liked to grab a couple.

OK, back to today's action … and great pep bands. Hancock is the smallest school in the tournament with only 74 students, but a whole bunch of those kids are in the band. Their first tune of the day was the Offspring classic “Pretty Fly.” You can see video of the band on the MSHSL Facebook page.

--Diet Coke Count: 1 for the day, 10 for the tournament, 54 for the winter tournaments.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 542
*Miles John has driven: 8,661

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at