John's Journal
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.

Amazing.

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*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 www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
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.

BY THE NUMBERS
*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 www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Hockey Night In Minnesota ... Specifically, Minnetonka12/14/2010
The John's Journal caravan will head to Minnetonka tonight for a girls' hockey game between the Skippers -- ranked No. 1 in Class 2A -- and the St. Cloud Icebreakers.

Minnetonka is 7-1, losing only to Shattuck St. Mary's. The Skippers are coming off a 2-1 victory over Blake -- ranked second in 1A -- on Friday.

The Icebreakers are 6-2 with losses to Blake and Sartell/Sauk Rapids.

I'll be Tweeting score updates during the game, and the postgame coverage will include a story right here on the Journal plus photo/video on the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 261
*Miles John has driven: 5,531

--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
An Interesting Day, An Inspiring Athlete12/14/2010
It’s mighty interesting what can happen during a day in the life of a journalist. When I woke up Tuesday morning, I knew I would be at Minnetonka High School in the evening for a girls’ hockey game. But the biggest story of the day turned out to be a remarkable return to the athletic arena by a boys’ basketball player.

Stay with me here.

The plan was to attend a girls’ hockey game between Minnetonka and the St. Cloud Icebreakers, a cooperative team with players from Tech, Apollo and Cathedral high schools. And that did happen. I was inside the arena at Minnetonka when the Skippers and Icebreakers began their game. It ended with a 7-0 victory by Minnetonka.

The Skippers (9-1), who are ranked No. 1 in Class 2A, have lost only to Shattuck St. Mary's. Last Friday the Skippers defeated Blake, the No. 2 team in Class 1A, 2-1. Next up for Minnetonka is a game against Benilde-St. Margaret’s (No. 7 in 2A) on Saturday.

Minnetonka had outscored its opponents 13-4 in the first period prior to Tuesday. The opening period this time was scoreless, which was agood omen for the Icebreakers. But the Skippers sealed the deal with four goals in the second period by Hadley Cookson, Amy Peterson, Laura Bowman and Carolyn Draager.

The Icebreakers fell to 6-3. Tuesday’s game was their first trip to the Twin Cities this season; they also will play at Blake on Jan. 6.

Earlier Tuesday I had received this email from Tom Dasovich, the boys’ basketball coach at Minnetonka:

Hi John,

I know it is short notice but I wanted to make sure he was healthy enough to play. Larry Rice, a senior at Minnetonka, is going to play in our varsity basketball game tonight against Rosemount. He had open-heart surgery in late August and has been cleared. He is a great kid, I haven’t seen many kids work as hard to come back or overcome as much.

I hope all is well!

Thanks,
Tom

A little sleuthing uncovered the fact that this would be a home game for Minnetonka. Knowing the gym is a very short walk from the ice arena – like about 50 feet – this was a doubleheader jackpot.

After arriving at the school, I walked back and forth between the rink and the gym several times, darting across a road on the school grounds. I watched the basketball teams warm up for a while, snapped a photo of the Minnetonka pep band and put it up on my Twitter feed, chatted with one of the officials briefly and talked with Dasovich for a minute about Larry Rice.

Then I hit the rink for the opening faceoff and scoreless first period. Back to the gym in time to see Rice come off the bench for the Skippers in the first half. Back to the rink as the Zamboni finished its work and the teams came out for the second period. Then it was bang-bang-bang-bang and Minnetonka had a 4-0 lead.

I returned to the gym for the last eight minutes of the basketball game, which was close throughout until Rosemount won 61-57. As the teams went to the locker rooms, I asked Dasovich if I could talk with Rice. We chatted for a few minutes about his heart, his surgery and his return to action.

Rice (shown in the photo at left with Dasovich) is a top-flight football player and he missed the entire football season after a heart defect was found over the summer.

“Basically I was conditioning and I felt a little tightness in my chest so I had to go get it checked out,” Rice said. “A cardiologist said one of my arteries wasn’t pumping enough blood to my heart. I had to get that taken care of as soon as possible because it’s sometimes fatal.”

He had surgery on Aug. 27. There were some complications along the way, but two weeks ago he was given medical clearance to play basketball. Tuesday’s game was Larry’s first competitive activity since the last game of the 2009-10 basketball season.

Being cleared to play again “was just a relief after everything I’ve been through and all the training I’ve been through,” he said. “Just to be out there and compete again is a blessing.”

Before the game, Dasovich had told me that Rice was wearing an undershirt with a special pad over his heart. I assumed that it was a specialized piece of medical equipment. But after the game, when Larry had taken off his jersey, it was clear that his special shirt was homemade.

A pad had simply been sown into a blue sleeveless shirt. My question: Did you make that yourself?

“I did some of it,” he said as he smiled. “Well, my mom helped me. I can’t take the credit for this.”

No, maybe not for the shirt. But he can take plenty of credit for being an inspirational young man. Have a great season, Larry.

--To see photo galleries from both games, check out the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*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 www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Winter Weather Results In A Crazy Weekend12/10/2010
When weather experts predicted up to two feet of snow and drifts high enough to bury an elephant, we all knew it was time to hunker down for the weekend. High school activity schedules took a hit over the weekend from the storm that brought snow, cold and wind to Minnesota.

The biggest surprise from the storm was the deflation of the Metrodome. If you haven't seen video of the heavy snow making the roof cave in early Sunday morning, it's definitely worth a look.

One of the big early events on the boys’ basketball schedule was postponed; the 14-game Breakdown Tip-Off Classic at Minnetonka High School. It was scheduled for Saturday and the organizers say they plan to reschedule. Many other events across the state also were affected by this weekend's storm.

But now, as we begin a new week and move closer to the holidays, let's be grateful that the storm has passed and we made it through safely.

Have a great week!