John's Journal
We’ll Kick Off 2011 With A Full Day In Duluth1/1/2011
Hello and welcome back to the show. The holiday break is about at its end and the John’s Journal staff is gearing up for a blockbuster beginning to 2011. The new year will open in Duluth, and I’ll get to those details after this brief Hollywood interlude ...

Mr. and Mrs. John’s Journal have been spending time at the local cinemas over the holidays. In a one-week span, we saw “The King’s Speech”, “True Grit”, “The Fighter” and “Black Swan.” According to the Twitter messages dispatched to the universe by Mrs. Journal, “Black Swan” topped her list. My order of preference: “The King’s Speech”, “The Fighter”, “True Grit” and “Black Swan”. I loved ‘em all, and I put those four and “The Social Network” in my Top 5 for 2010.

OK, back to reality. By which I mean Duluth. We’ll be in the Air-Conditioned City on Monday for a day filled with good stuff. Our headquarters will be the brand new Amsoil Arena, hockey home of the UMD Bulldogs. The arena has been open for just a few days.

Monday’s big athletic draw will be a high school hockey doubleheader. The Duluth Northern Stars will meet Proctor/Hermantown/Duluth Marshall in a girls’ game at 5:30 p.m., followed by a boys’ game at 7:30 between Duluth East and Duluth Marshall. The evening has been dubbed “High School Hockey Frenzy.”

Our day will also include a gathering of high school students who are interested in the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program. Duluth East activities director Shawn Roed has been instrumental in setting up a workshop in which I will meet with students from several area schools. The students will learn about the Student SID program and maybe get a journalism tip or two along the way.

The students will be given a tour of the arena before the workshop, and they will be encouraged to stick around for the evening’s hockey doubleheader. It has the makings of a very special day.

I’ll be shooting photographs throughout the day in Duluth, with Twitter and Facebook activities highly likely.

--On another note, I’m looking for an event to attend on Tuesday evening. Basketball, hockey, dance team; you name it and I might be there. I have posed this question on the MSHSL Facebook page, so feel free to post suggestions there or send me an old-fashioned email. I’ll be back in the Twin Cities on Tuesday, so anything too far outside the metro might be a stretch that evening. But I’m open to any and all possibilities.

See you soon.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 302
*Miles John has driven: 6,249

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
A Holiday Story From Hawley: Family, Football And Staying Strong12/22/2010
Kevin Olson is a gifted athlete. Strong, skilled and determined. His coaches at Hawley High School use words like “drive” and “heart” and “desire” when they talk about the 5-foot-10 three-sport senior.

Olson is an all-state football player, an all-conference basketball player and he has gone to state in track. But there is much more to Kevin Olson’s story, which began in the Central African Republic and has taken him to Hawley, a town of less than 20,000 people 22 miles east of Fargo, N.D. Through a stellar athletic career that includes a devastating injury, one thing is clear: Kevin Olson is sure to be a success no matter where life takes him.

“I think everybody is in awe at his athletic ability,” said Hawley boys’ basketball coach Jon Hinrichs. “But I guess I’m a person who’s in awe of Kevin as a human being.”

Kevin (pictured at right) was adopted at a young age. His adoptive father is Tom Olson, a minister in Hawley who spent 15 years working as a missionary in Cameroon and the Central African Republic. In 1995, Tom married Eunice, a native of the Central African Republic. And soon after, through adoption, their family quickly expanded.

“Within six months we had three kids,” Tom Olson said. “And we got two more in 1997.”

Kevin is the middle child and all five are related. His older brother Con and older cousin Fedilia also were adopted by Tom and Eunice, as were his sister Laure (a junior at Hawley High School) and cousin Olivia (an eighth-grader).

“They are really neat kids who have done a lot with the opportunity to come to the U.S. and have a better life,” Hawley athletic director Brett Schmidt said.

As a youngster in Hawley, Kevin gravitated towards sports. He suffered a knee injury playing basketball in seventh grade, but it didn’t seem serious and as Kevin said, “I just put it aside.” As an eighth-grader he was on the junior varsity football and basketball teams, and got a taste of the varsity level in those sports as well as track. But his left knee began nagging him.

After running in the state track meet as an eighth-grader, a doctor told Kevin that he needed surgery on the knee, where a piece of bone had been chipped off. He missed most of his freshman football season, and during the summer before his sophomore year he spent two months visiting relatives, including his birth parents, in the Central African Republic.

“That was an eye-opener because we hadn’t been there for eight years,” Kevin said. “There were a lot of emotions. I met my younger brother, who looks just like me, and my younger sister, who looks just like (Laure). I was amazed.”

He trained for football while in Africa, with his siblings tagging along. “It was hard to get the workouts done because they hadn’t seen you for so long and they wanted to do what you did,” he said. “I figured I might as well let them join in.

“The last day was kind of hard for me and my younger sister, having to say goodbye to our mom and dad. I remember breaking down and crying at the airport. I made myself a promise that I’d try to get them all here. “

His sophomore football season was a breakthrough year, as he rushed for 1,800 yards and helped the Nuggets reach the Class 2A state semifinals. His junior year was hampered by knee problems and a groin injury, but last summer he was invited to the North Dakota State football camp.

“The coaches started talking to me there. They said ‘If you can dominate your senior year, we’ll talk.’”

But on the third day of practice last fall, he reinjured his knee. Then came the worst news of all. In the original surgery, three screws had been used to stabilize the knee. The screws, as planned, had dissolved but bone in the knee had also dissolved. The boy who had dreamed of playing college football was told by doctors that his dream was an extreme long shot, if not an impossibility.

“It was really tough,” Kevin said. “It was really hard to take all that in at once.”

He was allowed to play football this year, wearing a knee brace normally used by athletes with torn ACLs.

“It was one of the most painful things we had to do when he had the knee injury,” Hinrichs said. “You sit down and you see the hurt in a kid’s eyes.

“Kevin’s initial thought was, ‘Why is this happening to me? Why is God doing this to me?’ One day I said to Kevin, ‘Maybe God did this for you. Maybe you were meant to be a coach and you still have that burning passion for sports and that's what the sports need.’ ”

Nuggets football coach Peder Naatz said, “I think the thing that makes him so special is his desire and his drive. As a sophomore he had well over 200 yards in a state quarterfinal game against Eden Valley-Watkins in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. It took five, six, seven kids to bring him down. He’s physically tough, and it hurts him so much inside that he can’t do some things all the time because of his knee.” (In photo at left are Tom, Kevin, Laure and Olivia.)

Hinrichs said the greatest challenge in working with Kevin is helping him realize how talented he is. He can be modest almost to a fault, his coaches say. At halftime of one basketball game, Hinrichs told the entire team, “Raise your hand if you think Kevin needs to take more shots.” Every hand went up, with the exception of Kevin’s.

“He’s a tremendous kid to work with, he gets along great with other people, you can have fun with him,” Hinrichs said.

“I just think the world of him and I think the world of the family. With kids like him, it’s not the wins and losses that make coaching worth it, it’s the kids.”

Kevin is playing basketball this winter with a knee brace. He plans on attending North Dakota State and studying computer engineering; if no further surgery is needed he may try walking on with the NDSU football team.

And once he has that college degree, he has another goal in mind: he would like to help bring computers to people in the Central African Republic.
Three Days And 674 Miles Later, Here’s What I Learned 12/19/2010
Here’s what you learn from driving 674 miles over three days, crossing into North Dakota on day one and hitting southeastern Minnesota on day three: This is a big state where people know how to move massive amounts of snow off the roads. This is especially true in small towns, if my experience this week is any indication.

I had never been to Breckenridge until Thursday. School began two hours late there that day because of seven inches of snow. I pulled into town shortly after noon and every street was clear. As I told students at Breckenridge High School during my afternoon visit: “Here’s what I know about Breckenridge … you guys know how to move snow.”

That evening I was in Hawley for a basketball game and the scene was similar. Snow had been pushed to the side and business was getting done.

Saturday was my annual trip to Rochester for the Minnesota Christmas wrestling tournament, and – we have found a theme here – traffic was moving easily despite way too much snow at this point in the winter.

This was a great week for a guy who loves to wander. Here are a few items scribbled in a notebook…

--Great scene: As I passed through Barnesville, a kid walked along the side of the highway with a hockey stick and a puck, working on his stickhandling.

--Hawley has a gymnasium that almost every high school in the Twin Cities would envy. It’s roomy, the lights are first-rate and it’s a tremendous place for fans as well as players.Those are some lucky Nuggets.(And those are the Barnesville cheerleaders, posing in the Hawley gym.)

--You know it’s a small town when fans can hang their outerwear on coat racks outside the gym.

--Nice touch: During introductions of the starting lineups, the boys’ basketball players from Hawley and Barnesville shared fist bumps with the opposing coach as well as all three officials.

--Best-dressed list: Barnesville had a couple of elementary boys acting as ballboys/managers, and they wore dress shirts, slacks and ties. You stay classy, Barnesville.

--Best save: Near the end of the Barnesville-Hawley game, one of the officials had a quick request for Hawley athletic director Brett Schmidt. The official was supposed to provide beef sticks for he and his partners to enjoy on the ride home, but he had forgotten. He asked Schmidt if he could save him, and Brett rounded up some goodies from the concession stand for the men in stripes.

--It was no surprise that Apple Valley won the Christmas wrestling team title and Eagles senior Destin McCauley became the event’s first four-time champion. The surprises came when two Class 2A wrestlers defeated opponents from 3A power Apple Valley in title matches pitting defending state champs. Jackson County Central’s Bronson Steuber (pictured at left) beat Matt Kelliher 4-2 in overtime at 135 pounds, and Simley’s Jake Short recorded a first-period pin against Brandon Kingsley at 140.

--You will be hearing more about the latest phenom from Apple Valley. Mark Hall, wrestling at 130 pounds, became the first seventh-grader to win a championship at the Christmas tournament. Yes, that’s right, he’s a seventh-grader.

--Everybody was happy for Donny Longendyke, defending state heavyweight champion from White Bear Lake. Donny pinned Sam Stoll of Kasson-Mantorville in the first period of the championship match, giving him 150 career wins and 100 career pins.

--The only cheerleaders I saw Saturday at the Christmas tournament were from Kasson-Mantorville. The girls sat matside on pillows and slapped the mat as they performed their routines to perfection.

--My car and I have become overly acquainted in the past week. So I think I’ll keep the miles to a minimum for a few days. Yes, my backside needs the rest.

(To see a photo gallery from the Christmas wrestling tournament, including photos from all 14 championship matches, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.)

*Schools/teams John has visited: 302
*Miles John has driven: 6,249

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
A Quick Note From An Honored Guest In Fergus Falls …12/17/2010
You drive a couple hundred miles, you visit a high school and spend an afternoon talking about journalism, then you drive another hour and watch an exciting boys’ basketball game in a first-rate gym filled with fine, friendly people.

And then your day gets even better.You check into one of the finest lodging establishments in Fergus Falls and you learn that you have been selected as guest of the day … I mean, Guest Of The Day! Complete with the No. 1 parking spot right in front of the building and a little gift basket of goodies waiting in the room.

How sweet can one day be?

Stop No. 1 for me Thursday was Breckenridge High School. It’s easy to confuse Breckenridge with Wahpeton, North Dakota, because they are basically Twin Cities separated by an apparently indistinguishable border. I spent the afternoon talking journalism with students, and it was all kinds of fun. (Some of the students are pictured.)

I also learned more about the world-famous Diet Coke Count: People see me coming and Diet Coke immediately springs to the front of their brains. At Breckenridge, talented student journalist Turner Blaufuss – a recent John’sJouurnal guest author – welcomed me to his school with a freshly chilled Diet Coke. The kid knows how to butter me up.

I spent Thursday evening at Hawley High School, watching the gloriously nicknamed Nuggets defeat Barnesville in a boys’ basketball game. As I stepped up to the concession stand and ordered a (fill in the blank), one of the students behind the counter immediately said something along the lines of “That’s the journal guy who loves Diet Coke.” I was interviewed at halftime by students who do webcasting duties for Hawley games, and one of the many well-researched questions was about the Diet Coke count.


It’s pretty easy to make new friends when your job includes driving around Minnesota and spending time in small towns. In Breckenridge I met Eric Grover, sports editor of the Wahpeton Daily News. Eric, a native of Milwaukee, Wis., and recent graduate of Marquette University, sat in on some of my time with the high school students and we chatted afterwards. It’s always nice to spend time with young colleagues, especially knowing that I can learn some things.

In Hawley the dance team performed at halftime, the fans were enthusiastic and the game was well-played. My drive from Hawley to Fergus Falls took about an hour, and then came the big surprise: Guest Of The Day! Amazing.

OK, it’s very late and that’s it for the day. I’ll be home Friday morning, honey … don’t forget to take the dog outside.

--To see photo galleries from Breckenridge and Hawley (as well as video of some Breckenridge students), go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

--Diet Coke count: 3


*Schools/teams John has visited: 268
*Miles John has driven: 6,107
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
Time To Hit The Road For Breckenridge and Hawley12/15/2010
It’s Thursday, and you might see me on the highway today. I’m heading out of town to visit two new places (for me): Breckenridge and Hawley. The weather experts are talking about some snow falling, but my fingers (and a few toes) are crossed in hopes that the roads do not present any issues.

This will be a fun trip. I’ll be spending Thursday afternoon at Breckenridge High School, talking to students about journalism and the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program. Breckenridge superintendent Rick Bleichner is a member of the MSHSL Board of Directors and has helped coordinate my visit.

After the school day ends in Breckenridge, I’ll head to Hawley for a boys’ basketball game between the Nuggets and the Barnesville Trojans. I’ll also be researching a very special story in Hawley, which I will keep to myself for now. But it is an extraordinary story that is very fitting for the holiday season.

I’ll be shooting photos at both schools, and I’ll post them on the MSHSL Facebook page first chance I get.

My drive time looks like about three and a half hours to Breckenridge and then another hour to Hawley. The timetable for arriving home? We’ll figure that out later.

Honk if you see me.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 265
*Miles John has driven: 5,575

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