John's Journal
It’s Volleyball Night in Minnesota8/31/2010
Fall sports mania is about to hit full stride, with the volleyball, soccer, cross-country, girls’ tennis and girls’ swimming and diving seasons already underway. Football will join the fun Thursday and Friday and we won’t take a breath until after Thanksgiving.

I’ll be taking in my first volleyball competition of the season this evening, traveling to Shakopee to watch the three-time defending champion Sabers take on Eastview. Eastview is ranked third in the Class 3A coaches poll; Shakopee received some votes but not enough to crack the top 10.

Shakopee defeated Eastview in the 2008 state championship match and did the same in last year’s season opener. Eastview’s 2009 season ended with a loss to Burnsville in the Section 3 finals.

I’ll post a report from the match here later tonight, and throw a bunch of photos (and maybe video) on the MSHSL Facebook page.

I'll venture into the football universe in a big way later this week. On Thursday I'll be in southwest Minnesota for a game between Minneota and Adrian in Adrian. That's a rematch of last year's Class 1A Prep Bowl, won by Minneota.

Friday night will take me to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, where defending 5A champion Cretin-Derham Hall will open the season against Forest Lake.

It's sure to be a fun-filled week!
Shakopee Sends a Message: Rankings Mean Very Little8/31/2010
Shakopee and Eastview are in different conferences, but the two schools have developed an outstanding volleyball rivalry. And in Tuesday night’s season opener for both teams, a definite tone was set.

Shakopee capped a three-year string of Class 3A state championships with an undefeated season in 2009, but the graduation losses were substantial. The Sabers had several seniors a year ago who now play Division I volleyball, including 2009 Gatorade national player of the year Ashley Wittman, a three-year ball-pounding force for Shakopee and now a star for the University of Minnesota.

So it was probably no great surprise when the Sabers were not among the top 10 teams in the preseason Class 3A poll conducted by the volleyball coaches association. Eastview was No. 3; Shakopee received enough votes to place the Sabers 12th in the rankings.

Going into Tuesday night’s opener, the conventional thinking was that No. 3 should be able to beat a non-top 10 team. Not so fast, conventional thinkers…

Shakopee defeated the Lightning 25-18, 25-17, 14-25, 25-19 and made a strong statement that the Sabers are not going away.

“They’re not going to be a gimme, especially with their tradition,” said Eastview coach Becky Egan. “You can’t fight tradition; it doesn’t matter how many girls you lose. It’s disappointing I’m sure for them (to not be in the top 10) and at the same time I don’t like being No. 3 at the beginning of the season.”

(To see a photo gallery of the match, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.).

The biggest celebrity in the crowd was Wittman, who wore a Gophers shirt as she watched her former team. Early in the match, Shakopee athletic director John Janke had the quote of the night when he said to me, “This is a top 10 team against a team that’s looking for its identity, and that identity is standing over there in a Gophers shirt.”

Indeed, it was an interesting scene: Ashley Wittman was watching, like everyone else, to see what it’s like for Shakopee to play volleyball without Ashley Wittman.

If there were any doubts about the Sabers’ ability to come through with a victory, they peaked when Eastview won the third game.

“One of our goals is if we play a five-game match, we win it,” Sabers coach Matt Busch said. “I didn’t want to do that tonight. So I’m very proud of them for picking it up.

“(Eastview is) a really good team and they have a great program. This is a really big one for us. The girls knew they could compete, it was just getting through that mental hurdle. And with all these people wanting to see that continue, that was probably a big confidence builder for them.”

Even though the school year has not yet begun, the atmosphere Tuesday night had a postseason feel. The Shakopee student section was large and boisterous, with some of the boys decked out in bathrobes and slippers (I didn't ask for an explanation, but you can see a video of the crowd on Facebook). The music was cranked up during timeouts, with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” laying the groundwork for the fourth game.

This was the third year that Eastview and Shakopee have opened the season against each other. They also ended the 2008 season in the same fashion, with Shakopee defeating the Lightning.

“This was very telling,” Egan said. “You see glimpses of the athletic ability that we have and then you see glimpses of immaturity. You see glimpses of the competitiveness and the lack of competitiveness. You could tell what’s going to bite you in the butt and what’s going to help you win. So it was telling.”

NOTES…

--I tried to send a Twitter message (yes, technically a Tweet) containing a photo from the match and the news that Shakopee had won the first two games. The technology didn’t want to work from inside the gym, so I walked out to the school doors, stuck my smart phone outside and hit the “send” button again. Success!

--I ran into an old friend after the match when Don Murtha walked up and shook my hand. Don’s grandson Lydon Murtha was a football lineman at Hutchinson who went on to an outstanding college career at Nebraska, was drafted by the Detroit Lions and is now with the Miami Dolphins. Don has another talented grandchild, Ashley Murtha, playing volleyball at Eastview.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 29
*Miles John has driven: 1,140

--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
Some Thoughts On A New Season, A New School Year8/29/2010
With the first games of the high school football season upon us this week, I have some thoughts rolling around in my head. They have to do with competition and memories and right and wrong and hazing and setting an example and keeping school sports in the proper perspective.

This past weekend was interesting if you watched ESPN. The network broadcast high school football games involving teams from Florida and Texas and California and Georgia and South Carolina and Maryland and Ohio. Several times, the people in the booth spoke of the purity of high school football. But in the next breath they talked about all the big-time college football programs that are recruiting the big-time talent on the field.

That makes me nervous in a big-time way. Like it or not, money is a major factor in college football, and the ugliness and silliness which accompanies that fact trickles down to the high school level. I have seen it first-hand in the recruiting world, and it can be slimy. There is a time for college sports, but it can wait until the athletes are in college.

Also shown on ESPN this weekend was an hour-long program called “Boys of Fall.” It is the brainchild of country singer Kenny Chesney, who played high school football in Tennessee. “Boys of Fall” is a documentary-style look at high school football, focusing on several teams and including interviews with the likes of Joe Namath, John Madden, Brett Favre, Sean Payton, Nick Saban and many other big names from college and pro football.

Chesney has a new song called “Boys of Fall.” As he began putting together a video for the song, it developed into a deeper journey into the importance of high school football, how it ties communities together, what the traditions mean, how it molds young men. The documentary is well worth seeing, and I hope ESPN shows it repeatedly.

Madden, talking about coaching, says, “Coaching is giving a player a chance to succeed. If you just had to take what a person was and play with that, you wouldn’t need coaches.”

You can see the frustration in Tony Dungy’s eyes as he talks about the loss that hurts the most … it came when he was a sophomore in high school.

Bill Parcells talks about football and team-building: “It’s like a blood kinship. You never forget.” And Namath says, “We talk about football being a team game. Well, life is that way.”

This all comes as we learn that four players have been permanently removed from the football team at Elk River High School and five have been suspended after a hazing incident. Clearly, something went off the tracks at Elk River. Football players did things they shouldn’t have done and there are consequences to that. I don’t know what took place and it’s not my business or your business. All we can do is trust the people in charge, hope the teenagers learn something, and be encouraged that others take a lesson from it.

The theme here is football, but the same rings true for all school sports and other activities. These opportunities are presented to our young people for all the right reasons. If done right, the students learn about hard work and determination, about team and pride, about success and defeat. Joe Namath is right … sports are just like life. You try. You may fail, but you never stop trying.

Madden talks about making memories, about the importance of young people enjoying this time. As old guys in a small-town barbershop discuss the local team, one of them says, “They’ll be talking about playing ball 50 years from now.”

A new football season begins in a few days. A new school year has already begun in some Minnesota districts, and the rest will open their doors shortly.

Let’s work hard, let’s take care of each other and always do what’s right. Let’s make some memories.

Have a great year.

--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
A Morning Filled With Football Scrimmages8/28/2010
The young football player from Blaine High School trotted onto the field with the rest of the Bengals offense and said, “Finally! We get to hit somebody else!”

That was the Saturday theme as football teams around Minnesota gathered for morning scrimmages. In most cases, four teams came together at a host school, pairing off for scrimmages on either end of the varsity field. Competing against other teams is one of the major steps in preparing for the regular season, which will begin on Thursday and Friday.

I visited three scrimmages this morning, seeing 13 teams. My first stop was the magnificent Farmington stadium, where the Tigers hosted Richfield, Park Center and Minneapolis Southwest. Then I ventured to Lakeville South, where the Cougars hosted Owatonna, White Bear Lake and Armstrong. And my final stop of the morning was Burnsville, where five teams came together: the Blaze, Apple Valley, Blaine, Shakopee and St. Thomas Academy.

Referees were on hand at all three locations, lending an air of reality to the scrimmages. Farmington had its full contingent of cheerleaders in action on the sideline. Fans sat in the bleachers and walked the sidelines at all three stops.

I chatted with coaches from many of the teams, and there was a recurring theme. Most of them said they had holes to fill and questions that had to be answered, but they also had enough returning veterans to offer reason for optimism.

And if you can’t be optimistic at this point, you’re probably in the wrong business.

For a wide range of photos from all three scrimmages, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

THE GREAT HYPHEN DEBATE (continued)

Here are a couple more additions to the question of the week…

“As far as I'm aware, Crosby-Ironton has to be the original hyphenated school They played in the boys state basketball tournament as early as 1932 as Crosby-Ironton.”

“According to the Minnesota State High School League website, Eden Valley-Watkins was founded in 1921.”

The debate rages…

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 27
*Miles John has driven: 1,097

--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
The Great Hyphen Question 8/27/2010
I have received some feedback on this trivia question, posed here earlier:

The word at New London-Spicer is that they may have been the first “hyphenated” school district in the state. Spicer joined New London in 1963. Does anybody know of any earlier hyphenated school districts? Send me an email at the above address and I’ll spread the word.

Here are some of the responses that have rolled in from the vast corps of John’s Journal correspondents…

“I confirmed it last night that Bertha and Hewitt consolidated in 1953 to form Bertha-Hewitt High School. My dad was a 2nd grader when they did this.”

“You may have to look in the archives for this, but I'd be willing to bet Elbow Lake-Wendell came before 1963. Of course, they're no longer on their own like New London-Spicer is -- EL-W paired with Barrett in 1986-87 to form West Central. West Central then merged with Hoffman-Kensington in 1994-95 to make West Central Area. I know that Storden-Jeffers came later than 1963 (around 1970 or so). I'm also thinking that Hills-Beaver Creek came later than that, but again, not really sure.”

“Montgomery-Lonsdale and Norwood-Young America may have both been before 1963.”

"I think that Nashwauk-Keewatin was in the late fifties or early sixties."

"I believe that Kasson Mantorville merged together in 1957 (or so)..."

Keep 'em coming.