John's Journal
Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton: Small School, Big Facilities 4/18/2019
JANESVILLE -- In late August of 2017, a back-to-school open house was held at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton. A focal point at the southern Minnesota school was a new stadium and softball field, all cloaked in artificial turf.

During the open house, superintendent Bill Adams asked a member of the Bulldogs football team what he thought of the new facilities. The young man replied, "It's way awesome and we don't deserve it. We’re in Janesville, Minnesota, and we don’t deserve this."

Adams told him, “Don’t ever think that way. Your zip code doesn’t determine what you deserve.”

The population of Janesville is 2,259. Waldorf has 227 souls and Pemberton comes in with 240. The current high school enrollment at J-W-P is 191 students. And the zip codes mean zip.

One day earlier this week, as outdoor spring sports schedules all over the state were being postponed and cancelled after recent snow, the softball field in Janesville was a busy place. And the J-W-P team was nowhere to be seen; teams from New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Medford were playing.

The contest had been scheduled as a home game for NRHEG but the Panthers’ field was unplayable. Same thing in Medford. NRHEG activities director Dan Stork called his counterpart at J-W-P, Ryan Luedtke, and asked if the field was available. A few hours later the game was underway, with NRHEG paying a rental fee of 125 dollars.

“We try to have as many people use it as possible,” Luedtke said. “Right now it’s being used every day.”

NRHEG softball coach Wendy Schultz said, “First we thought we were playing at our place, then maybe we were going to Medford, then this transpired. We love it.”

During the softball game, J-W-P track and field athletes were working out on the all-weather track in the stadium, where everything is first-rate; lights, bleachers, press box, scoreboard, concession/restroom building. The previous cinder track had become an eyesore, and the Bulldogs are now happily hosting track meets again after years of road-only competition.

The previous facilities, which dated from the early 1970s, were built in what was described as a somewhat swampy area. Drainage issues sometimes meant standing water.

“It served it’s time, but it was time” for an upgrade, Adams said. “It turned out really nice.”

That is an understatement. Three years ago no one was using the term “Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton University,” but that’s what some hometown students like to say. Last spring, when the Bulldogs hosted a track meet for the first time in years, visiting students from neighboring small schools were overheard expressing jealousy. And new jaws drop every time new visitors arrive.

The cost of the facilities was estimated at $4.2 million and the final price tag was $3.9 million, financed by a combination of general-fund dollars, state bonds and funding from a 2011 tax levy.

“Our school board was very intentional in building a fund balance to start a savings account for an athletic complex,” said Adams, a Janesville native who has been superintendent there since 2012 and will assume the same duties at New London-Spicer this summer.

That fund held around $1.5 million when planning for the project began, Adams said. In the end, “There was actually a decrease to taxpayers.”

J-W-P isn’t the smallest school district in Minnesota with turf. Mountain Iron-Buhl (enrollment 126) put in a turf field last fall when a new school opened. Others include Triton (290) and Esko (346).

There were naysayers as J-W-P’s new facilities were discussed, planned and completed.

“That part’s been really interesting,” Adams said. “We had people up front really excited about it and people not excited at all. Some of those people have seen how much the complex is being used and they understand now why it was a good decision. There still are a few people who are not very excited.”

The softball field is being used by high school and college teams, and coaches from nearby Minnesota State Mankato have inquired about holding football and soccer practices in the stadium. The Waseca High School marching band has made the stadium a regular summer rehearsal spot.

“It’s just so nice to be able to come out and play,” said NRHEG’s Schultz.

Lights may be the next addition to the softball field, which would further add to the amount of time that physical education classes, home teams, visiting teams, youth groups and others could use and rent the facilities.

Adams has been contacted by administrators in other school districts who are considering similar projects. He’s glad to offer advice and answer questions.

Nobody asks about the zip code.

--See a photo gallery on the MSHSL Facebook Page.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Making Debate And Speech History In Hawley4/15/2019
During the MSHSL debate state championships in January at the University of Minnesota, almost all the entrants were from large schools. There are four categories in debate and the 2019 state champions came from Eagan, Minneapolis Washburn, Lakeville South ... and Hawley.

Hawley's champion was junior Kelso Anderson in Congressional Debate. The other Congressional state qualifiers came from Eagan, Chanhassen, Eastview, Apple Valley, Andover, Maple Grove, Moorhead, Champlin Park and East Ridge. Those schools have enrollments ranging from 1,514 to 2,415 students. Hawley's enrollment in grades nine through 12 is 276.

"That was maybe a little bit of a shock to the debate world," Hawley activities director Brett Schmidt said. "Not many schools this size participate in debate, especially not at that level."

Debate is a single-class activity and speech has two classes, so there probably weren't quite as many raised eyebrows on Friday when Hawley's Anderson won a state title in Extemporaneous Speaking in the Class 1A state speech tournament at Wayzata High School. But ...

"I was surprised at both, actually," said Anderson (pictured). "There was some pretty tough competition at both of them."

Kelso has had some unique experiences at state debate and speech. As a sophomore competing at state debate for the first time, he became ill after the first round and could not continue. Last week, his trip to the Twin Cities for state speech was somewhat of a wild ride.

While Anderson was in Brainerd competing at a Knowledge Bowl competition (which isn't an MSHSL activity), Schmidt loaded the speech team into a brand-new school van for the trip south. They made it to the Twin Cities but the van was not running properly. While the van was being repaired, Schmidt rented a Chevrolet Suburban to drive through bad weather, meet Anderson in Motley and get back to the metro. It all worked out, but not without some excitement.

"I got to Monticello fine, and then it was a whole different world," Schmidt said of the conditions. "Very, very icy and snowing; the visibility was good but the roads were not very good."

Anderson admits to being asleep for most of the trip.

"The past two weeks have been pretty busy," he said. "I was in D.C., then Knowledge Bowl and preparing for state speech."

He's getting some down time now, with no major competitions until a National Speech & Debate Association event in Dallas in June. If all goes well, Anderson and Hawley senior Derrek Christensen, who won a state championship Friday in Serious Interpretation of Prose, will be there. (In order to to make the trip possible, a Go Fund Me page has been set up, called "Send Derrek and Kelso to Speech Nationals.")

Christensen, who like Anderson has been in speech since seventh grade, was Hawley's Homecoming king last fall.

"I'm really going to miss our seniors on the team," said Nuggets debate and speech coach Kim Jeral. "They're in everything. Our whole fine arts department is super involved."

Hawley has a strong speech tradition, with around 35 participants each year. Along with Anderson and Christensen, other Hawley students who qualified for state speech this year were Torsten Haugen, Alex Diaz, Anna Kronbeck, Hannah Christensen and Ian Kronbeck.

"It is an individual activity but it's really a community, we have a close-knit speech team," Anderson said. "We all like each other, we get along."

The debate program at Hawley is smaller, with Congressional the only category in which the Nuggets compete.

"That's a hard sell for my kids because they're in so many different things," said Jeral. "We didn't go to very many meets this year. They're in every activity."

Anderson is Hawley's first medalist at the state debate tournament.

"Ideally if we had been offered all the debate categories I would have wanted to be in Lincoln-Douglas," he said. "I just wanted to be part of the debate team. I was involved in the category of original oratory when I first joined speech, then I found extemp speaking and I've grown into it. With extemp I like dealing with the international issues. I like learning about these issues that I speak about."

Kelso, who also participates in cross-country in the fall, has a current class schedule that includes physical education, chemistry, Advanced Placement psychology, online college history, English and Spanish. He would like to work in the field of international relations, possibly becoming a diplomat.

If his first name sounds familiar, it's because he was named after one of the characters on "That 70s Show."

"Whenever somebody meets me, that's usually one of the first questions," he said.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea" wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Henning’s State Champions Will Gather Again For Jacob 4/10/2019
HENNING – On Saturday, three weeks to the day after winning their school's first state championship, members of the Henning Hornets boys basketball team will go to the gym and play. And laugh. And remember their friend and teammate Jacob Quam.

Saturday will mark the second anniversary of Jacob's death. Early in the morning on April 13, 2017, Jacob was driving six miles from his home in Vining to Henning for a before-school weightlifting session when the driver of a semitrailer heading in the opposite direction crossed the center line and collided with Jacob's vehicle.

Later that morning, the Henning students were informed of Jacob's death as they gathered in the gym. Four days after that, his funeral was held in the gym. He would have been a senior this year.

After the boys play basketball Saturday, they will go to Jacob’s grave a mile away at St. Paul’s Cemetery. Jacob’s mom, Angela Quam, will meet them there and they will celebrate Jacob with fireworks.

"We’ll do five grand finales," Angela said. "All the boys will be there, then they’re going to somebody’s cabin for a sleepover. Hopefully that’s a tradition they’ll be able to carry on."

The Hornets were the story of this year’s basketball tournament, coming to state for the first time since 1966 as a team that few outside of Otter Tail County knew much about. Their dedication to Jacob -- evidenced by his No. 33 jersey being on the bench for every game since his death – made the Hornets an easy team to cheer for.

Coach Randy Misegades is still receiving emails from strangers offering congratulations and wanting to order state championship apparel.

“Some of them had never heard of Henning before the tournament,” he said, sitting with the team’s four seniors Tuesday afternoon.

The Class 1A state championship trophy and net from Target Center are on display in the school office. Memories of Jacob are everywhere in the community of 800 people. Signs in the windows of businesses say “6 on 5” … a slogan about Jacob’s memory serving as a sixth man on the court. His 33 is a common sight. His locker, a few steps from the gym, bears a nameplate with his name and number; his basketball shoes are still inside, with his combination lock in place. A chain-link fence on the school grounds carries the message “6 on 5. Hornet Pride.”

A plaque in the school, with a photo of Jacob, says, “There are some people in life that make you laugh a little louder, smile a little bigger and live just a little bit better.” Jacob’s jersey, along with his gold medals from the Section 6 and state tournaments, hangs in assistant coach Mark Oscarson’s classroom.

Angela Quam calls herself “a lucky woman” because of how Jacob, her only child, is being remembered.

“It’s meant the world to me,” she said. “I was worried that people would forget about him. That was my big concern. And now he’s a part of history. I knew these boys were out there playing their hearts out for themselves and for Jacob. And for me.”

The players not only dedicated two seasons to Jacob, they also dedicated themselves to improving their skills in his memory.

“That summer after (Jacob’s death) we had basketball at 6 in morning,” said senior Dylan Trana. “I know I wasn’t excited to wake up before 6 but he would have been there, too, if he could.”

Fellow senior Adam Lange said, “It definitely united us all. It made us better friends.”

Trana added, “We wouldn’t have been nearly as close. It’s pretty much like we’re all brothers.”

Basketball is the only boys sport in which Henning still fields a stand-alone team. The others are cooperative teams with kids from Battle Lake and Underwood; those teams are known as the Ottertail Central Bulldogs.

“We hope we can hang on because you can look out there and see how much pride there is in the orange and black,” said Misegades, who is a special ed teacher and Henning’s athletic director. “We want to hang onto it.”

Senior basketball players Trana, Lange, Sam Fisher and Jack Bjorklund hope their state championship helps the program remain Henning-only forever.

Lange said, “It’s like we’re all a big family here. Once you add other schools it doesn’t mean as much.”

Henning has long been a basketball town; photos of the 1965 and 1966 state tournament teams hang in the gym lobby as a testament to history and tradition. Neal Oscarson played on those teams and later became the head coach of the Hornets. Misegades played for Neal, and now Neal’s son Mark is Misegades’ assistant.

“It’s really important,” Trana said of the town’s basketball tradition.

In Misegades’ first season as head coach, 14 years ago, the team won one game. Two years ago the Hornets finished 7-20 and last season they went 19-9. This season they finished 31-1, losing to Parkers Prairie in overtime in the regular-season finale but defeating the Panthers by two in the section title game.

“I’ve got to be honest; you go through those first years and think, ‘Is this worth it?,’ ” said Misegades, whose career record is 184-183. “Obviously this is pretty special, but you learn a lot when you get your brains beat in.”

The players and coaches still receive congratulations on a daily basis. They recall with amazement the giant crowds wearing Hornets orange and black at the state tournament.

“A number of people thanked me for creating an all-school reunion at Target Center,” the coach said with a smile. “I told these guys that for the rest of their life they’re state champions. We talked a lot about the journey, and the destination was pretty special, too.”

Like the players and coaches, Angela Quam continues to hear from people who offer support, along with memories of Jacob and what a special young man he was.

“It’s remarkable, I don’t even have words for it,” she said.

“As horrible as it was, I am blessed. I’m thankful for everyone and everything that people have done for me. The basketball team is always going to have a special place in my heart. Always.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Making Beautiful Music: Tyra Wiles And The Austin Band 4/3/2019
Tyra Wiles is not always very verbal but she loves music. The senior at Austin High School has Down syndrome, which doesn't stop her from performing as a percussionist in the Packers band program. And if you saw the 160-member pep band play at the girls state basketball tournament last month – like I did -- you might have seen Tyra playing a snare drum.

I found it intriguing as well as inspiring.

"She loves to play, and there's nothing better than being on the bus and going with the other kids," said Tyra's mom, Linda Gibeau.

When Tyra started middle school, Linda asked about having her be part of the middle school band program. "I said, 'I don't care if you give her foam sticks and a foam drum, I want her in the band.' "

Watching Tyra play with the band is a real treat. Her skills have improved to the point that she can perform the national anthem perfectly. But hanging out with the other band kids and being part of the group is the best part.

"I never played a musical instrument and was never in sports," said Linda, who works as a substitute teacher in Austin, her hometown. "I live vicariously through my kid. I work the same hours as she's in school, and if the band is heading to a game in the morning I cancel my job and go. I'm the only substitute teacher at every game and I’ve got a (school employee) badge so we go for free. Wrestling, girls or boys basketball, volleyball, track meets, everything, I go."

Tyra is also a six-year member (and a captain) of the Packers adapted bowling team, which has competed at state. When a pepfest was held for the bowlers last year, Tyra entered the gym with the pep band, then put down her drum and joined the bowlers. Her mother had helped her write a speech, which went like this: “I’m Tyra Wiles, I like bowling. Go Packers!”

Another highlight of Tyra’s high school career was going to the prom with Derek Olmschenk, a 6-foot-6 hockey player who was with the Austin Bruins junior team after graduating from Cretin-Derham Hall and is now playing at the University of St. Thomas.

Band is Tyra’s only mainstream class, and Austin band director Christoph Dundas said her impact has been bigger than most people realize.

“It’s good for both Tyra and for the other students,” said Dundas, who is the parent of an elementary special needs student. “For Tyra it’s a chance to experience something that a lot of students with special needs never get to experience just because of the way life happens. And it’s good for the other students, too, because they get to experience a class with somebody they don’t see in other classes.

“Band is multi-grade, multi-age, and Austin is a big enough school that a lot of kids really don’t see kids from other grades other than in music classes. She’s impacted students three years older than she is and students who are three years younger. Tyra’s impacted seven different grades of students.”

Brad Mariska, currently a band director at Farmington High School, used to teach in Austin. In his final year there, he worked with Tyra when she was in ninth grade.

“She was involved in middle school band and had a great band director, Nino Tarara. I met with him when Tyra was in eighth grade,” Mariska said. “We asked, ‘How can we make this work at the high school level?’ We kind of brainstormed and we wanted to help her be involved as much as possible.

“It was great. She was able to be a part of the band. She comes to concert band every day, she plays in concerts. We had weekly band lessons when she and I would work one on one.”

During the 2018 football season, Dundas received an email from a member of an opposing team. The player, also a band student at his school, had noticed Tyra in the band during a game in Austin and wrote to Dundas to tell him how neat it was to see Tyra in the band.

“So Tyra even reaches students from other schools,” Dundas said.

This is Tyra’s last year as a member of the band, although she will continue attending school in a job-training program for up to three years. She will graduate with her class in June; Linda admits to shedding a few tears when she wrote a check to pay for Tyra’s cap and gown.

“She’s a cool kid,” said Mariska. “That’s why we teach. That’s why we do this.”

Dundas said, “In the grand scheme of things Tyra may not realize her impact. There can be everyday experiences that people take for granted. And she gets to take that for granted, too.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
“Minnesota Made Me” Is A Book For Every Sports Fan3/30/2019
While watching the NCAA basketball tournament on Friday evening, I flipped between games involving Duke and Kentucky. As this happened, I Tweeted the following: "Kinda cool to flip from Duke/Tre Jones to Kentucky/Reid Travis. Minnesota: State of Basketball."

Tre Jones, like his big brother Tyus, was a high school athlete at Apple Valley before playing at Duke. Reid Travis was a star at DeLaSalle High School before playing at Stanford and now Kentucky. As I write this, I'm watching Gonzaga play Texas Tech in the tournament; another DeLaSalle grad, Geno Crandall, plays for Gonzaga.

Minnesota is a state of hockey, a state of basketball, football, baseball, you name it. Minnesotans are a proud lot, whether that pride is focused on our lakes and rivers, our forests and other natural areas, our wonderful lifestyle or our athletes.

“Our” athletes are the focus of a terrific book published recently. It's titled “Minnesota Made Me” and it’s the perfect embodiment of the pride Minnesotans take in our favorite home-grown athletes. Thirty-eight individuals are profiled in the book, written by Pat Borzi, a longtime Minnesota journalist. The foreward is written by Sid Hartman, the 99-year-old sports columnist from the Minneapolis Star Tribune whose byline first appeared in 1945.

Pat and I have something in common: Neither of us are Minnesota natives. I grew up in an Iowa town about 20 miles south of the Minnesota state line, so I like to claim that I’m an honorary native of this great state. Pat is an East Coast guy who worked at newspapers in Maine, Florida, New York and New Jersey before moving to Minnesota for love; he is married to veteran Minneapolis Star Tribune sports reporter Rachel Blount, a romance that blossomed from their time covering several Olympics together. They are the finest people I know.

Pat is a noted freelance sports reporter, contributing to MinnPost and covering the midwestern American sporting scene for The New York Times. He’s lived in this state for nearly 20 years and has come to know many of Minnesota’s highest-level athletes. In this book, he tells their stories. I learned a lot.

For example, I always knew that Matt Birk had played football and earned a degree at Harvard. But I didn’t know that his decision to say yes to an offer from Harvard was a yes-or-go-home thing. Birk visited the campus the very day the football coach had to submit his list of recruits to the admissions office, so he asked Birk point-blank if he was in. The book quotes Birk, “And I said, ‘If I get into Harvard, I’ll come.’ And I did."

In Birk’s senior year, he thrived under first-year offensive line coach Joe Philbin (a future NFL head coach). That single season helped catapult Birk to a long NFL career with the Vikings and Baltimore Ravens.

I have known Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer for many years from my time covering the team as a newspaper reporter. I knew he had grown up in the little Minnesota hamlet of Dumont. I learned in “Minnesota Made Me” that Dick was adopted, for which he is clearly grateful.

If there is a theme that runs throughout the profiles in the book, it can be summed up by a comment from Bremer: “For work ethic, the one thing I took from my parents and the people I was surrounded by in Dumont was, if you commit yourself to something, then it is a commitment – you see it through to the end, and you devote yourself to that particular challenge.”

Many of the athletes profiled in the book are very familiar names: Lindsay Whalen, Adam Thielen, Tyus Jones, Herb Brooks and others. But Borzi didn’t just write about current athletes who everybody knows so well. He goes back in time with chapters about golf legend Patty Berg and 1941 Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith, as well as soccer stars Tony Sanneh and Briana Scurry, Olympic curling champion John Shuster and others.

The profiles are in alphabetic order, beginning with Patty Berg and ending with Lindsay Whalen. Those are two fine bookends to this project; Berg was born in 1918 and we all know almost everything about Whalen.

Whalen, the basketball legend whose playing career wound from Hutchinson High School to the University of Minnesota to the WNBA and the Olympics, is now the Gophers women’s basketball coach. After graduating from high school and before starting college, Whalen worked a summer job on a 3M assembly line in Hutchinson; that’s where her father was employed for many years.

One morning at 5 a.m., facing a 12-hour shift that would start at 6 a.m., a young, tired Lindsay begged her dad to let her skip work that day and go back to bed. Her father insisted that they were both going to work. She asked, “You can’t just tell my boss I couldn’t sleep (all night)?” He answered, “No. If you want to get fired, that’s your deal. We’re going to work.”

Borzi writes … “It taught Whalen about responsibility and accountability, lessons she still brings to everything she does; Do your best. No griping. No excuses. And most important, never disappoint those relying on you.”

Responsibility. Accountability. No excuses. Hard work. Those words provide an underlying theme to everything that’s great about Minnesota. And “Minnesota Made Me” is now part of that greatness.

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