John's Journal
Fund Set Up For Perham's Zach Gabbard1/24/2011
A fund has been set up at United Community Bank in honor of Perham High School basketball player Zach Gabbard.

Zach is a 17-year-old junior on the Yellowjacket boys' basketball team who collapsed during a varsity game on Jan. 20. After receiving emergency medical procedures, he was taken to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, where open heart surgery was performed. Once stable, Zach was moved to the University of Minnesota on Sunday for more specialized care.

A fund has been set up at United Community Bank in Perham to help his family defray medical costs. Friends can also visit his CaringBridge site to offer thoughts and prayers for his family. Donations can be made at any UCB location (Perham, Frazee, Dean’s Country Foods in Perham) in the name of the Zach Gabbard Fund. They can also be sent to United Community Bank at 155 Second Street SW, Perham MN 56573.

For more information, call United Community Bank at 218-346-5700, or go to their website, www.ucbankmn.com.
Live Updates from Board of Directors Meeting ... 1/23/2011
The meeting has come to an end. There's been some good discussion about today's board meeting on the MSHSL Facebook page. Take a look.


12:20 update ...

Here’s the headline from today’s meeting: No changes in football.

The board had a lengthy discussion about the possibilities of going to section football scheduling and changing the structure of football classes, including a Class 6A for the biggest 5A teams.

But in the end, board members wanted to have more information before making any decisions. There was a feeling that adjusting classes and section scheduling are two distinct issues.

Board member Mike Rusinko said, “In consideration of section football, what would be the recommended model from the football coaches and the staff? You’ve got kind of a chicken-or-egg thing here.”

Board secretary John Schumacher said one question he has been asked makes sense: “How can we mandate section scheduling when we don’t even know which format (number of classes, number of schools in each class) will be used?”

Board member Ray Kirch said, “I would be uncomfortable voting for section football today. We don’t know what it would look like. There’s no skin on it. … Bring back to our April meeting something we could vote on.”

The board approved a motion to gather more information, as well as more specifics, and return to the issue at its April meeting.


11:35 update ...

The board has ...

--Approved a new format for the state wrestling tournament, effective with this year’s tournament in March. The tournament was changed from four days to three days, with team competition on the first day and individual competition on the second and third days. This year’s tourney will be held March 3-5 at Xcel EnergyCenter. Changes such as these are being done with two objectives in mind: a reduction in missed class time and lower expenses for schools.

--The board heard a presentation about the FIRST Robotics program. The MSHSL is considering adding robotics to its programs.

--The board approved the use of pull carts by golfers.

--The board approved the use of electronic play clocks in football facilities that are equipped with them. Otherwise, officials will continue keeping the play clock.



Today's meeting is underway. I'll post updates as the meeting progresses.

Eden Prairie junior swimmer Rachel Bootsma, who set a national high school record in the 100-yard backstroke at the state meet in November, was recognized at today's board meeting (see photo). Carol Bomben, a member of the Eden Prairie school board as well as the MSHSL board, presented Rachel with a commemorative copy of the MSHSL Bulletin, with Rachel on the cover.



The MSHSL Board of Directors will meet Monday morning, with the gavel falling at 9:30 a.m.

The agenda includes several items of interest, including possible changes to the format for football and the format for the upcoming state wrestling tournament. The board also will hear recommendations from several activity advisory committees, in addition to other agenda items.

Discussion items include adding an extra week for football practice, and the board will hear a presentation about robotics.

I'll post immediate short updates on Twitter (@MSHSLJohn), with further postings on the MSHSL Facebook page and of course right here on John's Journal.

A Splendid Night For School Activities1/21/2011
The good news: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Crystal Lake Elementary School in Lakeville on Friday. The bad news: He didn’t bring a truckful of money with him.

The Lakeville school district is having severe budget problems. The district is facing a two-year deficit of $15.8 million, and lots of things are on the chopping block after voters rejected three levy questions in November. Teachers and other staff could be cut to the tune of 100 jobs, as could several activity programs, including gymnastics, golf and lacrosse on the high school level.

Knowing all this, I drove to Lakeville North High School on Friday evening for a girls’ basketball game between North and Bloomington Jefferson. The game itself was reason enough to be there, with the defending Class 4A state champs from North ranked No. 3 and Jefferson No. 10. North came away with a 59-30 victory, and there were lots of other reasons why people in Lakeville should be proud of their schools and their activities.

They know how to put on a show at North. The pep band is one of the biggest, loudest bands you will find anywhere (I counted 21 drums and seven tubas). Before the game began, members of Lakeville’s 2001 state championship girls’ basketball team were honored (they're pictured here) and a Lakeville sixth-grade girls’ basketball team was introduced; all the players, young and slightly older, threw t-shirts into the crowd.

People did the chicken dance during timeouts … the gym horn sounds like the horn on my dad’s Mercury … at halftime North senior Kellie McNeil received a trophy for being named the Gatorade volleyball player of the year in Minnesota (North won the state championship last fall). Also at halftime, the dance team performed to loud cheers and a frisbee toss was held, with the tossers landing their frisbees closest to center court winning a prize.

After the game, everybody in attendance, including the officials, was invited to a free pizza party in the school cafeteria.

It was loud, it was fun and it was festive.

And it was all the proof you need to realize the value of school activites.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 323
*Miles John has driven: 6,823

--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
Football Needs To Be Fixed, And Here’s Why1/19/2011
When the MSHSL board of directors meets on Monday here at MSHSL World Headquarters, the routine will be the same as for all board meetings. The Pledge of Allegiance will be recited … the minutes of the previous meeting will be approved … reports will be made by board members and committees, etc. It will be business as usual.

The agenda includes several categories and encompasses 15 separate items; some for discussion, some for information purposes and some for action by the board. Among the agenda listings is “Action Item D: Concept for Football Tournament Format.”

For real-world purposes, however, it could be called “It’s Time To Fix Football.”

I’ve been writing about high school activities in Minnesota for a long time. I joined the MSHSL staff 10 months ago after spending nearly 20 years working in the sports department at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Over the years, I have been asked the same question many times: “What’s your favorite high school sport?”

The first answer is always the same: “I love ‘em all, because they all offer something different and they all are fun.” Sometimes I will spin the original question a tick or two and respond with something like this: “For pure theater, for enjoying a total, wonderful scene that goes beyond the playing field, Friday night football games are my favorite event.”

For those of you who follow football closely, you have noticed some changes in recent years. It began with a high-profile Twin Cities story as the Classic Lake Conference fell apart. Then the dominos began to fall. The Lake Conference disbanded. There was shuffling in the Missota Conference and the Wright County Conference. The dominos continue to fall in the metro area as well as all around Minnesota.

Schools from Duluth have been placed in the Mississippi 8 Conference. The new Granite Ridge Conference will begin play next fall … and those schools all came from other conferences. Almost everywhere you look in our state, conferences are in jeopardy. If it hasn’t happened in your conference, just wait because it probably will.

As I travel around Minnesota, I often ask football coaches and athletic directors about their football issues. More and more, they are having trouble filling their schedules. This isn’t just happening with giant metro schools, but with midsized and small schools, too.

That’s why football needs to be fixed. It’s the elephant in the room, sitting on your coffee table and crushing it. It can’t be ignored any longer. If football didn’t exist, conferences wouldn’t be crumbling. But football is the problem and it’s hurting every other sport and activity as it sinks conferences.

The MSHSL does not have the power to create, shape or form conferences. It can place schools into conferences when they have run out of options, but that’s all it can do. So, where do we go from here?

Two words: Section football.

It makes too much sense to pretend that it’s not the answer. Yes, it will change some traditions, because longtime rivalries might fade. It might not be the best answer for your individual school or even your conference, but try to think about Minnesota high school football from a broader perspective. Right now, the sport is being chewed away at the corners. Section football will end those problems before more damage can be done. And remember, just because your school doesn’t have problems right now doesn’t mean those problems aren’t turning the corner and coming your way.

This issue has been discussed at length. Football coaches have met to come up with solutions; athletic directors have done the same. The MSHSL board has been listening to football concerns for years.

Many states have section football with great success. It could work like this: Each school would be assigned to a football section with approximately seven other teams. Playing each section opponent would mean seven games, leaving one non-section game to be scheduled. Again, some conference traditions would be disrupted. Some teams may have to travel farther under section football, but the longest trips would only be made every other year.

In addition to being a scheduling solution, section football also could lead to a new playoff structure. One of the biggest concerns with the football playoffs are section quarterfinal games between teams seeded No.1 and No. 8. The No. 8 seeds have virtually no chance of winning those games (there were two forfeits last season), and many question if they should be played at all. Sections standings could determine playoff seedings, and maybe only the top four or six teams in each section would advance to the postseason. Teams that do not qualify for the playoffs could schedule an additional game against a team in the same boat.

The MSHSL board members will once again discuss the football situation on Monday. They may take no action, they may approve subtle adjustments, they may approve wholesale changes in the football format.

This much is clear: something has to be done. Because as football continues to flounder, it will take other sports and activities – not to mention conferences -- down with it.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 320
*Miles John has driven: 6,811

--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
Talk Fast, State The Facts And Make Your Argument1/14/2011
Thestatedebatetournamentisaveryuniqueeventbutdescribingitcanbedifficult.

The previous sentence was written in the format used by students who compete in the state debate tournament. I visited this competition for the first time on Friday, and I was amazed at how quickly the competitors speak. That’s because they want to provide as much information for the judges in the time allowed, and talking slowly would simply be a waste of time.

Here’s that opening sentence again, presented at normal speed: The state debate tournament is a very unique event but describing it can be difficult.

The debate tournament was held in classrooms at Blegen Hall on the University of Minnesota campus. And I’ll be honest: I had a very hard time understanding what was being said in both divisions of the state tournament. The Policy Debate division consists of two-person teams, while Lincoln-Douglas is a one vs. one format. I don’t know if one in 10 words was understandable to me, so I would make a very bad judge. I was amazed at the judges’ ability to understand what was being said. But the judges and competitors work so hard at this activity that I’m sure they become accustomed to the rapid-fire pace.

This year’s Lincoln-Douglas debate topic is “Resolved: In the United States, juveniles charged with violent felonies ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.”

The topic for Policy Debate is “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reduce its military and/or police presence in one or more of the following: South Korea, Japan, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey.”

I sat in on several sessions Friday. There were four rounds of debates Friday, with two more rounds on Saturday before the quarterfinalists are determined. Then come semifinals and finals.

Here are few observations, jotted down in my notebook …

--I heard references to “The Colbert Report” and “Star Wars.”

--Some students were dressed to the nines. I saw males in black suits and red ties (perfect for a courtroom) and females in very nice dresses. I also saw competitors wearing jeans, hoodies and tennis shoes. My impression? The arguments you make are far more important than how you look.

--Timing is everything. Every competitor and judge carries a small timer or uses a stopwatch application on their cell phone. Each segment of each debate is under a time frame. It was interesting to hear five timers/stopwatches beep at once when a time limit was reached.

--Everybody also had a laptop computer. I was told that not long ago the students hauled around large boxes of files, with all the necessary information available at their fingertips. It’s still at their fingertips, but it’s now stored inside computers and flash drives. But some students still had plastic containers that carried information on paper.

--There isn’t much of a spectator aspect to debate, at least in the preliminary rounds. At the state speech tournament, many classrooms are overloaded with spectators. That was not the case Friday. Other than the debaters and judges, there were one or two other people in the room. During one debate, a sleepy spectator sprawled out on the floor and took a nap.

--There is a lot of gasping for air. The students speak so rapidly that taking in oxygen seems like a waste of time. So they talk as quickly as possible, pause just long enough to gulp in some air and continue with the machine-gun style of speaking.

--Between rounds, students and their coaches met in the hallways, talking strategy and how to handle upcoming rounds. Pizza was available for sale. A lounge for the judges offered snacks, box lunches and soft drinks (including my favorite beverage).

--A question I jotted down: “How much time is spent on researching the facts of the topic and how much time is spent on perfecting the rapid style of speaking?”

--I was never involved in debate when I was in high school. One of our teachers was interested in starting a debate team, and on a Saturday he convinced me and three other students to travel with him to a debate tournament about 30 miles away. We watched, we observed, we took everything in. As soon as we walked out of the school where the tournament was held, my buddies agreed with what I was saying in my head: “I’m not nearly smart enough to do that.”

Yes,debateisaveryimpressiveevent.

Diet Coke Count: 2

(To see more photos, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.)

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 320
*Miles John has driven: 6,811

--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