John's Journal
A Memory-Making Night At South St. Paul10/16/2010
Friday nights at South St. Paul’s Ettinger Field have always been special. The football stadium is an historical throwback, with bleachers that have been in place since they were built as a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s and a playing surface nestled down inside a grassy bowl.

Before the South St. Paul Packers met Mahtomedi on Friday, South St. Paul native and highly decorated coach Paul Miller talked about the history of the place. The area was once a farming area known as “Swede Hollow,” said Miller, a former Packers head coach and current assistant who also has coached at Hamline, St. Olaf, Apple Valley, Burnsville and elsewhere.

So we began with history. Add to the mix a game that had major implications on the Classic Suburban Conference race as well as the upcoming Class 4A, Section 3 playoffs, and Friday was a recipe for wonderful memories. Sure enough, anybody who was at Ettinger Field on Friday will never forget it … for several reasons, including a power outage, another perfect night for football, a rock ‘em-sock ‘em back and forth game and the rise of a football program.

That program on the rise is South St. Paul. In the three seasons ending in 2008, the Packers had a combined record of 3-24. They went 7-4 last season, lending credence to the efforts of head coach Chad Sexauer and his staff. Friday’s 28-17 victory over Mahtomedi moved the undefeated Packers up another level, marking them as a team to be reckoned with in the conversation of 4A state championship contenders.

THE PACKERS’ STARS were many. Junior running back Sam Sura had already made headlines while piling up yards this season, and Friday he rushed 39 times for 210 yards, giving him 1,363 yards in seven games. Mahtomedi’s Brenton Braddock, another 1,000-yard rusher, was injured in the first half and did not return, which surely put a dent in the hopes of the Zephyrs, who lost for the second time this year.

Two other South St. Paul juniors also had big nights: Reid Bjorklund intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and quarterback Harrison Rund ran for two TDs.

Rund, who played tailback a year ago, moved to quarterback when expected returning starter Adam Wilcox – who has committed to play hockey for the University of Minnesota – departed to play junior hockey. Rund adds an extra dimension to Sura’s pounding runs behind a big, mobile offensive line.

“We asked Harrison to step into a difficult situation and he’s handled himself extremely, extremely well,” Sexauer said. “Tonight he came out and made a statement that we’re at least a two-headed monster.”

THE GAME STARTED 45 minutes late due to a power outage in the area around the school. And that delay only added to the memories. The South St. Paul pep band was in fabulous form, entertaining the big crowd throughout the delay. The school mascot -- a kid in a big red smiling steer costume -- is one of the best in Minnesota, and the steer added to the festive atmosphere even as darkness enveloped everything and everybody.

The only big downside to the power outage was that pregame Senior Night activities were cancelled and the seniors and their parents were not able to be introduced.

The teams waited inside the school, which might have been a positive for the Packers.

“It actually may have been kind of a good thing for us, to let us cool our nerves a little bit,” Sexauer said. “We were out in pregame, we were a little excited and a little animated. I think it gave us some time to relax and put us back into a regular focus.”

Mahtomedi led 17-6 at halftime behind two TD runs by Andrew Lindquist and a 31-yard field goal by Colin Johnson as the half ended. But all the scoring in the second half was by the Packers, with Rund getting two TDs and Jacob Schwantes scoring one.

After the game ended and the teams shook hands, the Packers gathered in front of those ancient bleachers – filled with the faithful – and everyone sang the school song in raucous celebration.

“This senior class, they were 0-9 as sophomores,” said Sexauer (pictured at right). “We’ve asked the world of them and they’ve kept producing. There’s a nice junior class that’s behind them and pushing, and the whole school is falling in with where these kids are. It’s nice community support, lots of enthusiasm.

“This is a game where we said if we want to be compared as a program to Mahtomedi and St. Thomas Academy and all those great schools, these are the types of games you’ve got to come out and play.”

They played, they won and anyone who was there will never forget it.

TO SEE A PHOTO gallery and video of the postgame celebration, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 64
*Miles John has driven: 3,968

--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
Lakeville North Volleyball: The Real Deal10/14/2010
Since the volleyball season began, I had heard great things about the team from Lakeville North. I finally saw the top-ranked Panthers play on Thursday evening, and they are everything I have heard and more. I watched them defeat eighth-ranked and visiting Shakopee 25-11, 25-19, 25-20 in an impressive performance over the three-time defending Class 3A state champions.

(To see video and photos from the match, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.)

The two big names for Lakeville North are the McNeil sisters. Kellie is a 5-foot-11 senior setter and Taylr (that is correct; Taylr with no ‘o’) is a 6-foot freshman hitter. Both sisters have committed to play volleyball at the University of Minnesota.

The only other seniors on the roster are 6-1 Paige Leclerc and 5-6 Whitney Abrahamson, so the Panthers are a young team but a powerhouse nonetheless. Kelly Nizzari and Nicole Latzig are tall juniors, 5-7 junior Jessica Wolff plays a key role, 5-10 freshmen Alyssa Goehner joins Taylr McNeil as a hitting force at the net and 5-4 freshman Abby Monson adds to a strong lineup.

Before Thursday’s match began, one veteran volleyball observer told me that North was a “once in a century team.” Someone else referred to the Panthers as “a dream team.” I believe it. They are quick, smart and powerful, all the ingredients that go into successful volleyball.

The volleyball postseason will begin soon, and Lakeville North will carry high expectations. The school (which was Lakeville High until Lakeville South opened in 2005) has never won a state volleyball title in 14 trips to state. The Panthers have been state runners-up five times, most recently in 2006. Coach Milan Mader is one of the legends of the game -- Thursday's victory was the 800th of his career; only Hibbing's Gail Nucech has more all-time volleyball victories in Minnesota -- and seeing him finally lead a team to a state championship would be a truly memorable moment.

But there’s a lot of volleyball to be played.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 62
*Miles John has driven: 3,930

--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
Student SID Program Is Up And Running10/13/2010
A photo of Brett Favre was being projected onto a screen in front of a classroom, which was overflowing with high school students. Chris Ison, a faculty member of the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was leading a discussion on journalism ethics.

If a high-profile personality like Favre is being accused of questionable off-the-field activities, is there a threshold for media reporting? Does the public have a right to know? Who might be harmed by the reporting? How does a reporter know what’s true and what’s not? These were the types of questions Ison, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former colleague of mine at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, asked the students.

The session was part of the Minnesota High School Press Association’s annual convention, held Tuesday at the U of M’s Coffman Memorial Union. Approximately 550 students attended the convention, which featured sessions on topics ranging from interviewing to photos to diversity to online trends to story ideas to graphics and beyond. The day’s keynote speaker was WCCO-TV reporter/anchor Liz Collin, a native of Worthington, and the event was capped with an awards ceremony.

As someone who has been involved in journalism since I was a high school student, it was heartening to see so many students so enthused about this profession. And I was honored to meet many high school faculty members who advise their school’s yearbook, newspaper, magazine, broadcast and online staffs. These are talented, committed people.

When people ask me how I became interested in journalism, I tell them about Mrs. White. She was my high school English teacher and someone I admired very much. When I was in 10th grade, she said to me, “John, you’re on the football team and you like to write. Would you like to write the stories about the football games?” These stories appeared in the weekly newspaper in my little hometown on the prairie. I gave it a try, liked it a lot and here I am decades later, having written about everything from professional sports to youth sports and now working for the MSHSL.

In the spirit of educating and inspiring young journalists, we are proud to announce the official roll-out of our new MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program. I have written about it previously here on John’s Journal, and now it has a place on our main web page (in case you missed it when you clicked on this page, look to the lower right corner, below the Facebook and Twitter links).

The Student SID program has been on my radar since the day I joined the MSHSL staff in March. All of us who have been fortunate enough to have mentors help us on our paths -- thank you, Mrs. White – feel a responsibility to do the same for others.

A few schools are ahead of the curve, thanks in part to having representatives on the MSHSL Board of Directors. Ada-Borup superintendent/principal Mike Kolness and Underwood principal John Hamann have been on the ground floor of the Student SID project, and their school’s students are doing a great job. You can see their work by clicking on the “Schools” link near the top left of this page and then clicking on Ada-Borup and Underwood.

More than 160 schools have received media credentials for use by their Student SIDs, and we expect them to dive right into the reporting and writing process. I have corresponded with administrators, teachers and students from many schools around Minnesota, and the excitement level is exceptional. We believe this program will provide opportunities for students to become involved in their schools, explore the world of journalism and improve their communication skills.

It’s a win-win-win.

Feel free to contact me with questions and comments about the Student SID program. My email address is at the top of this post.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 60
*Miles John has driven: 3,919

--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
Park Rapids' Schumacher On The Comeback Trail10/12/2010
John Schumacher, the activities director at Park Rapids High School and a member of the MSHSL Board of Directors, has undergone surgery for tonsil cancer and will soon begin radiation treatments.

The prognosis is positive, befitting John's larger-than-life personality. Here is a fine article about John, courtesy of Vance Carlson of the Park Rapids Enterprise ...

Park Rapids high school sporting events just weren’t the same for most of August and September.

It wasn’t tough to miss the reason why.

John Schumacher’s presence was missed at several athletic events at the beginning of the fall season. Since becoming the Panthers’ activities director, Schumacher has been a noticed fixture at every home event.

That changed this fall when Schumacher was diagnosed with cancer on his right tonsil. Fortunately, the prognosis for Schumacher to return to the sidelines is promising.

Last winter, Schumacher noticed a lump on the right side of his throat, but thought it was just an inflammation due to a cold.

The lump didn’t go away and on Aug. 5 Schumacher went in for an exam. Surgery was performed on Aug. 13 to remove a lymph node. Tests revealed Schumacher had squamous cell carcinoma cancer in his right tonsil.

Surgery was scheduled for Sept. 16 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to remove the tonsil and find the source of the cancer. During the five-hour surgery, 79 lymph nodes and the tonsil were removed. The tonsil proved to be the source of the cancer. The doctors called the surgery a success.

“The doctors said the cancer was very treatable and the success rate was very, very, very good,” said Schumacher. “The tonsil and lymph nodes were intact, which was great news. If they had burst open, it would have attacked my lungs. The cancer was confined to that area and the doctors feel they got it all.”

Schumacher was discharged from Mayo on Sept. 19 and has been recovering ever since. He had been working a little every day before starting back full time this past week. Once again, Schumacher has been a fixture at all home sporting events.

“The toughest thing has been that I can’t move at the speed I want,” said Schumacher, who has lost more than 20 pounds since the surgery. “I’m getting better every day. Last Thursday was the first time that I felt that I was back.”

Recovery will continue with radiation treatments five days a week for six weeks beginning Oct. 18. The doctors are confident that Schumacher will make a full recovery.

“Without the radiation treatment, there’s a 90 percent chance the cancer will come back. With the radiation, there’s only a 4 percent chance it will come back,” said Schumacher. “The administrative team, the coaches, the kids and the community have been so supportive. It means a lot that people took the time to send cards and e-mails and said they were praying for me. It was very special seeing how many people care for you. The outlook is great. We have a game plan and we’re going to attack it. When I was coaching, I always told the kids that you play the cards you’re dealt and you go after it and get the win. That’s what I’m going to do.”
MSBN Will Broadcast Adapted Soccer on Tuesday10/11/2010
If you haven't had a chance to watch adapted soccer, here's your chance ... and you don't even have to leave your computer.

A game Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. between the Dakota United and South Suburban teams in the PI (physically impaired) division will be broadcast live on the internet (and for free) at mnsportsnetwork.com (MSBN).

Having this game on MSBN is a great opportunity to increase awareness about adapted sports. The game will also be archived on mnsportsnetwork.com for later views.