John's Journal
Future Teacher Signing Ceremonies Continue To Grow6/5/2019
During a special ceremony last month, held for the first time at Delano High School, several soon-to-be-graduating seniors sat before their families and teachers and signed the same statement. They intend to become educators as they head off to college, and the statement read, "I dedicate myself to the life of an educator and providing the foundation upon which future generations will build their lives. I commit to the cultivation of character, for I know that humanity cannot flourish without courage, compassion, honesty, and trust. Further, I commit myself to the advancement of my own learning and to the cultivation of my own character, in order to promote the love of learning in my future students."

The students from Delano were Aili Barta, Joseph Colanino, Chloe Holman, Blake Koehler, Ellie Norling and Reier Sjomeling.

Similar signing ceremonies were held this spring at nearly 20 other Minnesota high schools. A year ago I was made aware of three such signings, so clearly the idea of holding Future Teacher Signing Ceremonies has taken off in our state.

Here's my list of schools that did so this spring…

Albert Lea
Blue Earth
Henry Sibley
Maple Lake
Prior Lake
Red Wing
St. Cloud Apollo
St. Paul

There may be more schools that held Future Teacher Signing Ceremonies this spring, and I'm pretty sure that even more will do the same in the spring of 2020. I have attended several of these events, and they are always inspiring.

At Burnsville High School, Hayley Ohama is an advisor to the school’s Future Teachers of America club. During the signing ceremony, she told the future teachers, “To all of you amazing students here today, congratulations on making such a powerful decision. You are committing to a brighter future for everyone. You are dedicated to improving lives.

“Your future holds empowerment. As a teacher, you have the power to provide students with the tools they need to succeed in life. You will provide them with the critical thinking minds they need to challenge the future and make our world a better place. Your future holds the most rewarding job in the world.”

The Burnsville future teachers who signed documents that day were Hannah Appold, Simon Ault, Thomas Faba, Taylor Harris, John Hummel, Alec Johnson, Rachel Kelly, Jennifer Le Vvintre, Bryana Maddox-Sanders, Tyana Maddox-Sanders, Andrew Moe, Taylor Robinson, Sam Scheuneman, Kara Schwenn, Angie Paz and Crystal Yiu.

I first wrote about the concept of Future Teacher Signing Ceremonies two years ago after learning of such an event at Norwalk High School in Iowa. They held their first signing event in 2017 and have continued the tradition. Norwalk superintendent D.T. Magee came up with the idea, telling me in 2017, “When I became a superintendent, I said to our staff on the first day, ‘We have to do a better job of promoting and honoring our profession.’ This ceremony dovetails off of that. We’re going to put some things in front of students who want to go into education: It’s a good career choice, a noble career choice, and we as educators support you.”

The idea has not only spread to Minnesota but around the nation. This spring, signing ceremonies were held in South Dakota, Florida, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Georgia and Arkansas.

In some of places, state departments of education, local teachers groups, civic organizations and colleges and universities have helped spread the word about signing ceremonies. In Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson held a press conference to tout these events.

“Our students are our future, and our educators are a critical part of shaping that future,” he said. “I am proud to celebrate a new generation that is committed to a career in the education profession.”

The first Future Teacher Signing Ceremony in Minnesota that I am aware of took place last spring in Maple Lake. I was honored to be there to witness seven seniors sitting side by side at a table and signing letters of intent to become educators.

That day in Maple Lake, math teacher Casey Pack talked to the future teachers.

“The education field is a rewarding profession,” he said. “Choosing a future as a teacher means you choose to impact students every day. Deciding to major in the education field requires being a special individual; like surgeons who are skilled with their hands, teachers have the skills to mold students and inspire them. These future educators have all the skills to become the next generation of great teachers.

“Most adults can name a teacher, from their own time as a student, who influenced them. It is rewarding as a teacher and as a staff to think we might have been an influence on these students choosing to become education majors. Congratulations to these individuals on deciding to impact students for years to come.”

Indeed. Congratulations to everyone.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Sights And Sounds And Some Favorite Scenes 5/31/2019
As I was entering Pesonen Stadium at Orono High School for the Section 6AA track and field championships, a lady came sprinting past. She hadn?t bought a ticket but she had a good explanation. A few seconds earlier, as she was walking toward the stadium gate, she heard public-address guy Scott Stallman announce the field for the boys 110-meter high hurdles. Her son was among the entries, and here was mom still outside the fences.

"That's my son!" she said, rushing past the ticket taker. "I have to get a picture! I'll be back to buy a ticket!"

I assume she fulfilled her promise, and I'm still chuckling at the sight of her frantic sprint, camera phone at the ready, to memorialize her son's race. I don't know who she was, I don't know where her son goes to school, I don't know how he did in the race. But I do know that it's often these small, nearly unseen events that help make high school activities so special.

I've been chronicling such scenes in recent days as they have have unfolded around the state. Here are some of the things I've noticed ...

--As the softball team from Chatfield was facing Winona Cotter in a section game in Elgin, Chatfield right fielder Kimberly Greiner made a spectacular catch for the third out. She raced in, leaned down to grab a sinking liner off her shoetops, then threw a dart to first base to double off a runner. As Chatfield fans cheered from their lawn chairs beyond the other side of the fence down the right-field line, Kimberly looked towards them and smiled the best smile you've ever seen.

--The leadoff runner in a 4x100 relay race was ready to go in Lane 2. He had taken off his warmups, set them inside Lane 1, and was settling into the blocks. As the starter said, "On your marks," the runner in Lane 2 quickly stood up, dashed to his warmup gear and started digging through the pile. He finally pulled out an important piece of equipment, his baton, and returned to the blocks. Crisis averted.

--Working as a play-by-play announcer for a small-town radio station has unique challenges. There are often no press boxes or otherwise convenient spots from which to broadcast. Craig Manahan of KFIL radio in Preston wasn't stopped by any of that during the softball action in Elgin. He set up a folding table just outside a gap in the fence in the right field corner, within easy electrical-cord length of an outlet near the concession stand, and went to work.

--On a cold, wet, muddy afternoon for a track meet in Princeton, umbrellas were in heavy use by fans in the stands and watching from the fencelines. Folks watching field events had larger issues than moisture from above as they sidestepped puddles and mud slicks to get to the appointed events.

--During the same rainy track meet, pole vaulters showed that they also had some engineering skills. They used a tarp and several pole vault poles to erect a teepee-like structure that kept them dry.

--The words "concession stand" don't really do service to the facility at Orono stadium. They have almost everything anyone would want in terms of food and drink, and cash isn't the only way to pay. Customers can use credit cards or Apple/Android Pay with their phones. Never thought I'd see the day.

--Hopkins senior Joe Fahnbulleh is one of the top sprinters in Minnesota high school history. He holds all-time state records in the 100 and 200 meters and has anchored the Royals' 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams to state-record times. Unsurprisingly, Fahnbulleh cruised to an easy win in Tuesday's 200 prelims at the 6AA meet with the fastest time among runners competing in six heats. After Joe smoked the field in the sixth heat, a sophomore from Orono named Holden Scharf had some fun. Holden, who ran in the same heat with Fahnbulleh and finished nearly two seconds behind him, said loudly and in pure jest, "I was catching you! I almost got you!"

--Discerning fans (and umpires) weren't confused but non-aligned onlookers at a softball section tournament game between St. Charles and Lewiston-Altura had to look twice to figure out who was who. That's because both teams wore nearly identical uniforms -- white tops and black pants, with the only difference in the color on the numbers and the team names; St. Charles had "Saints" on the front in orange and Lewiston-Altura had "Cardinals" in red.

--It was easy to identify the parents of St. Charles softball player Inga Jystad, who wears number 11. There were two adults watching the action, both wearing jackets with big beautifull orange 11s on the back.

--A common fundraiser at athletic facilities is to sell space on commemorative bricks. Such is the case at Orono, where space on a plaza near the concession stand is filled with bricks carrying various statements; some extend thanks to coaches and teachers, some represent classes or teams, and some simply state the name of a grateful family. One stands out for its grand sense of humor, saying simply "I can't, my kid has practice."

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to ?Preps Today with John Millea? wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
The Emotional Return Of Emily Covert 5/28/2019
Emily Covert has accomplished just about everything a high school distance runner can accomplish. The senior from Minneapolis Washburn has won the last two Class 2A cross-country state championships and won the 2A 3,200-meter state title last spring. She has qualified for state in cross-country and track every year since she was in seventh grade and owns top 10 finishes in 13 races. Nationally, she placed second in the two-mile race at the New Balance National Championships and in December she was fifth in the Foot Locker Nationals cross-country race.

She set a state record of 10:06.19 in winning the 3,200 meters at state last year. She won the same event in Tuesday's Section 6AA meet at Orono with a time of 10:59.72, which is no match for her state record. But she was thrilled nonetheless.

"Getting to the (starting) line was an accomplishment in itself," she said later.

That's because Tuesday's event was Emily's first race of the spring track season, which she sat out because of injuries. She was the only runner among 31 competitors who didn't come to the meet with a seed time, so she was placed in the first of two heats, traditionally known as the "slow heat." Seventeen of the top 18 finishers ran in the second heat ... all but Covert.

Her return to the state meet on June 7 at Hamline University in St. Paul, however, was in doubt after the first heat was done. She could have qualified automatically with a time of 10:48.92 or better, but she didn't finish that fast. The top two runners in the 3,200 (plus anyone else who reached the standard) qualified for state. As the second heat finished, Covert's time bested them all, securing the state appearance.

Wayzata sophomore Emilia Arnone placed second in 11:06.69 and Washburn senior Grace Dickel was third in 11:08.38. As happy as Covert was to get to state, she was crushed that her teammate won't be running there with her.

"It's kind of bittersweet," Emily said. "I'm able to go but my teammate isn't. It's nice to be able to go to state but it would have been better if I was going with Gracie."

The first sign that something wasn't right health-wise came in December when Covert ran in the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego. She finished fifth despite a sacral stress fracture, which was discovered through an MRI after she returned home. When she tried to come back a little too quickly, that led to a tibial stress fracture, diagnosed in April. That blew the regular season in track out of the water.

"I came back very slow (this spring) because that's what got me into my first mess," she said. "I literally started doing workouts just last week. Everything is slowly coming together. I'm trying to trust the process right now."

As the gun went off Tuesday, Covert ran to the lead on the first curve. That's where she stayed, building a large margin on the field. As she completed the second lap to cheers from the crowd, she turned her head toward the fans and smiled.

"A lot of my friends and family came out," she said. "They really wanted to see me run."

At the halfway point of the eight-lap race, she led the field by 35 seconds. Her time at 1,600 meters was 5:22, meaning she would beat the state qualifying standard if her second 1,600 was equally fast. With one lap remaining, Washburn coach Curtis Johnson yelled from the fence, "75 and you got it! 75!" That meant a final lap of 75 seconds would beat the standard. That didn't happen, but the largest step had been taken; she started and finished a race for the first time this spring.

"I've never had an injury before," she said. "I feel like I'm stronger now because I'm focused more on strength and physical therapy. I'm a stronger runner than I was last year.

"Getting to the line was an accomplishment in itself. I took a lot of time off. I thought I won because I got to the finish line. That's all I was hoping for, kind of wiping the slate clean. Going to the line was emotional, and finishing was emotional. Everything about today was emotional, both happy and sad.

"I honestly was more nervous for this race than I was for my national races. I felt so prepared for national races and came to this race with like a week's worth of workouts. I feel like I'm ready to run again. I want to be in a position where I want to win state."

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea" wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
80 Umpires, 900 Games, 40 Schools5/25/2019
How important are officials to high school activities? How about this fact: By the time section playoffs have ended, the St. Cloud Officials' Association will have supplied umpires for more than 900 softball and baseball games among 40 schools. The story is the same all over the state: dedicated officials, assignors and administrators working hard to get games in regardless of weather challenges.

Here's an important email that was sent Friday...

To: ADs, Admin. Assistants, and SCOA Umpires

Good afternoon,

Now that we have reached the end of the regular seasons, I thought it was an appropriate time to say thank you - two words that will never really express my gratitude.

It was an interesting spring. In the past, we have known we were going to lose an early portion of the season and had time to react, prepare and reschedule. This year we got started in early April, but it seemed like we would get a least one weather day or two each week - not to mention a few snowstorms. It was very challenging and frustrating for all, I know.

So - I thought I would share my gratitude - both as a fellow school administrator and as an assignor.

Here is what I witnessed this year -- umpires willing to make switches, sometimes with less than two hours notices, ADs willing to look for creative solutions and find times to play games when umpires were available that fit into the schools' schedules, and schools working together for the benefit of student-athletes in all schools. And, both groups understanding the challenges that the other faced through a tough spring, appreciating and supporting each other - and doing it cheerfully and professionally the entire journey.

The end result - we got most of the games in, we had very few miscommunications, and we covered 99+% of the games.

I want to share some numbers:

By the time the section playoffs have concluded, the St. Cloud Officials' Association will have supplied umpires for over 900 softball and baseball games among 40 schools - 600+ varsity games and 300+ sub-varsity games. To do that, 80 umpires filled over 1,600 "slots" in less than eight weeks time - all of these numbers are record highs since I have been assigning for the SCOA.

I know that these same efforts to get the games in and get the games covered went on in many other areas of the state with many other schools and officials' associations. This story needs to be told as much as the stories about the shortage of officials. The officials and administrators we have are dedicated to kids.

It is my extreme pleasure to work with each and everyone of you. I am proud of my colleagues - both in school administration and in officiating. And, I look forward to doing it again next spring.

Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend - you all have earned it ten-fold.

See you at the ballpark!

Emmett Keenan
Athletic and Activities Director, St. Cloud Cathedral
Baseball and Softball Umpires' Assignor for St. Cloud Officials' Association
An Unforgettable Week, Filled With Unforgettable Memories5/18/2019
Anyone who is heavily involved in Minnesota high school activities can tell you a solid truth: These things are special; I have occasionally referred to them as sacred, because of the lessons they teach and the countless positives they produce.

On Saturday afternoon, after a busy week attending a wide-ranging variety of events, I saw something that, maybe oddly, tied some sort of psychological ribbon around this entire endeavor. I was attending the MSHSL robotics state championships at Williams Arena. It is an unbelievably good time, with big crowds cheering for their hometown teams, kids dancing, music playing, lights flashing, and students doing amazing things with their robots.

This is also the time of year when school activities sometimes interfere with end-of-the-school-year events. For robotics team members from Math and Science Academy in Woodbury, it's become habit to wear their formal prom attire while tuning up and operating their robots, then racing to the prom afterwards. Saturday, boys wore suits and girls wore gowns. This is nothing really new at robotics, but something jumped out at me Saturday when I saw one of the Math and Science girls on her knees, working on the Fighting Calculators' robot (yes, that's the team name).

I could see the soles of her shoes ... more correctly, her boots, which carried the manufacturer's name. I posted a Tweet with a photo and this message: "If you had 'Girl in prom dress wearing Harley Davidson boots and repairing a robot' on your bingo card, you win."

It so summed up what our kids do, in all sports and activities, and capped a tremendous week. The week began with the MSHSL's 48-member Representative Assembly meeting Monday morning to weigh several bylaw changes (which they approved). Tuesday evening, a first-time event was held at Tartan High School in Oakdale to recruit graduating seniors and current college students as officials.

Thursday in Wheaton, out on the South Dakota border, the track coach at Wheaton/Herman-Norcross, John Tauber, was honored for 50 years of coaching that sport. His son Mike, the boys basketball coach at Rockford High School, had invited me to the Pheasant Conference track meet in Wheaton, where Mike was honored in a surprise ceremony by family, colleagues and current and former athletes. Sadly, I wasn't able to be there but Mike provided photos that were posted on Twitter and the MSHSL Facebook page.

Friday was extra special, beginning with a morning trip to Waseca. I was there to present the Waseca High School theater department with an award from the National Federation of State High School Associations. The Heart of the Arts award was given to Waseca for their 2018 one-act play, titled "Booby Trap." The military-themed play was dedicated to Caleb Erickson, a Waseca grad who joined the Marines and was 20 years old when he was killed in Afghanistan five years ago.

I presented the award to theater director Karen Pfarr Anderson during a Staff and Student Recognition Program in the school gym, with the entire student body attending. After the presentation, Karen gave a touching talk about Caleb, the play and its impact. After thanking many people in the community who were important to the play's success in raising money for veterans, among other things, she talked about Caleb's legacy.

"I encourage you to please continue to lift up the Erickson family by supporting the Caleb Erickson Memorial Fund if you can and/or attending one of the many festivities this year on August 24 for the Caleb Erickson Memorial Day in Waseca," she said. "Finally, I thank Caleb for the immeasurable sacrifice he made for each and every one of us. While many of you in the crowd may have not known Caleb, we all should carry on his memory. Young men and women like Caleb are the reason we have the freedoms to do the many things we do each day. Since going through this process and time thereafter, I often think of the wonderful things Caleb has missed: his sister getting married and the birth of his beautiful niece Autumn are two that instantly come to mind. He would have loved to have been a part of these moments and I can guarantee he would have been the crazy, fun uncle. Therefore, we owe it to Caleb to treat each day as a gift and recognize even the monotonous, daily grind moments are truly treasures. Our community will forever miss this hero. At this time I would like to take a moment of silence to recognize Caleb's sacrifice for us all. Thank you, Caleb, for your service and may you rest in peace. Again, thank you for this tremendous honor. We are very humbled. Thank you."

When Karen finished speaking, everyone in the gym stood and applauded. There were tears in my eyes as I walked to the car for the drive back to the Twin Cities and the MSHSL adapted softball tournament. If you saw the photos and videos I posted from bowling on Twitter, you know about the giant, enthusiastic crowd and the great competition. Here's a moment that stood out to me ...

A young girl in the CI (cognitively impaired division) was among 10 bowlers to receive medals in her category. She was tiny and apparently a little shy, because she was hesitant to stand in front of the crowd with the other top 10 bowlers. Her proud, smiling father was ready to take photos of his child with the other medalists, but she left the line and put an arm around her dad's neck. He spoke to his child in Spanish, encouraging her to return to the line. But she stayed with her father, which was just fine.

Another competitor at bowling is someone I wrote about a few weeks ago when she played with the Austin pep band at the state girls basketball tournament. Tyra Wiles is a senior at Austin who has been with the band throughout her high school career. On Thursday, Austin's senior band members were honored and Tyra was presented with a new award called the Spirit Award. How fitting for such an inspirational person.

And finally, on Saturday, the week was capped off at the robotics tournament. When it was over, members of the winning teams celebrated with whoops and cheers, and kids from other teams offered warm congratulations. Sportsmanship is one of the greatest things about robotics.

The Fighting Calculators took home a state runner-up finish, but the kids dressed for prom weren't able to stay for the awards ceremony. The robotics event ran late and they hustled out to catch a riverboat that was serving as the site of the prom.

I sure hope they made it. If not, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that they pulled out their tool kits on the river bank, constructed a robotic canoe and made it out to the boat after all ... in formal wear and Harley Davidson boots.

POSTSCRIPT: The girl in the prom dress and boots was Addie Abrahamson, a junior at Math and Science Academy who is the Fighting Calculators' electronics lead. The kids made it to the prom. Addie's mom told me in a Twitter message Sunday afternoon: "Boat was to leave at 7. Captain said can wait no longer than 7:15. But then he heard they were in their cars racing from Minneapolis to Stillwater, he took pity on them. Moved it to 7:30. Of course parking was at a premium and they had to run many blocks to the pier. Addie was barefoot no clue why lol. But they made it! Safely too!

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to ?Preps Today with John Millea? wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.