John's Journal
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 John Millea is on Twitter at
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.


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…

*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 John Millea is on Twitter at
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.
The History of Hyphenated Schools (continued) 8/27/2010
I have just heard from one of the great historians of such topics, and he sheds some great light on hyphenated schools in Minnesota.

This information comes from Dave Giles, whose public-address voice you have heard at countless state tournaments (he was the "voice" of 146 regular-season and postseason games and events in 2009-10). Dave also is the game historian for the Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game. Here is his email:

Hi John,

This is a great theme you have going. Here is what I have:

An early one is Crosby-Ironton. My All-Star football history database shows a player from Crosby-Ironton in the 1946 All-Star Football Game.

Kasson-Mantorville became a merged district in 1954. They became the Kasson-Mantorville KoMets. Previously, they were separate schools as the Kasson Raiders and the Mantorville Indians.

Norwood-Young America was definitely hyphened in the 1950’s – I show two all-star football players from N-YA (1956 and 1958).

In the 1950’s, there was a high school called Lindstrom-Center City, which later came together with Chisago City to form Chisago Lakes (now Chisago Lakes Area.

Wells and Easton became Wells-Easton around 1956. They are now part of United South Central.

Edina High School was known as Edina-Morningside from 1951 to the mid-1960’s.

There were many school district mergers in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Here are three examples:

Dover-Eyota 1961
Lewiston-Altura 1965
Chokio-Alberta 1967

Visiting New London-Spicer on a Beautiful Day8/25/2010
Today’s weather was easily the finest we have experienced since fall sports practices began last week. It was a wonderful day to get in the car, drive a hundred miles or so and hang out with the New London-Spicer football team. The Wildcats were the latest stop on my Champions Tour, and as you can see by these photos (as well as the photo gallery posted on the MSHSL Facebook page), the conditions were perfect for working out the kinks on the practice field.

The Wildcats were one of the surprises of the 2009 season, rolling to a 14-0 record and winning the Class 3A state title with a 28-21 victory over Glencoe-Silver Lake in the Prep Bowl. Glencoe-Silver Lake, which had won the previous three 3A crowns, was the team to beat and New London-Spicer got the job done.

One of my favorite memories from last season came after the Wildcats’ Prep Bowl victory at the Metrodome. Coach Dan Essler, completing a lengthy series of postgame sideline interviews with the media, looked at me as he finally ran off the field to join his team in the victorious locker room. He grinned and said, “Hey John, this is kinda fun!”

Essler, now in his 11th season as the New London-Spicer head coach, knows that getting back to the Metrodome will be a challenge in 2010. The Wildcats have a grand total of five returning starters.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces,” he said. “So the first couple games we’ll be a little green but I expect us to be really good by the end of the season.”

Of course, nothing breeds success like success. And an awful lot of young players experienced the long playoff run of 2009.

“A lot of these guys saw what it’s like to be on the Dome turf and the excitement that surrounds the state semifinals and the state finals,” Essler said. “It really made them work harder so they could try to be varsity players. We have quite a few juniors out here playing this year, based on how hard they worked in the offseason.”

Among the returning starters is wide receiver Brandon Zylstra, who caught five passes for 56 yards in the Prep Bowl; he will also play linebacker in 2010. Shawn Hatlestad returns at strong safety and he’ll also play some at wing back. And quick-footed quarterback Jayme Moten, who completed 14 of 17 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns in the Prep Bowl, returns.

“It’s a team that is starting to jell a little bit,” Essler said. “Our offensive line has a little bit of work to do, but they could be very good as a group. It depends on how hard they want to work.”

The Wildcats will open the season against the three M’s: Morris, Mora and Melrose. Then comes an always-big game against Albany.

“I think our big rival right now is Albany,” Essler said. “We were like 0-15 against them when we started playing them and now we’ve beat them three out of the last four times. I’m sure they’re looking forward to getting back at us a little bit, and their coaching staff is very fun to play against.”

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.

Thursday will be a doubleheader day, with two soccer games on my agenda for the first day of competition for soccer, volleyball, cross-country and girls’ swimming and diving. I’m planning to watch a 4 p.m. boys’ soccer game between St. Paul Harding and defending Class 1A champion Mahtomedi at Mahtomedi, followed by a 7 p.m. girls’ soccer game with Minneapolis South at defending Class 2A Wayzata.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 11
*Miles John has driven: 993

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at