John's Journal
Foley Football Team Is On The Road Again ... And Again 9/15/2010
Nolan Wennenberg, as with most of the senior football players at Foley, will have an interesting story to tell when he looks back on his high school career.

The story will begin like this: “I was a varsity football player for two years and never played a home game.”

Wennenberg stood on the sidelines during varsity games when he was a sophomore, so he remembers what it’s like for the Falcons to play in front of their home fans at DeRosher Field. But last season and this season, Foley is playing most of its home games 15 miles away at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium.

“It’s a lot different getting on a bus for a home game, that’s for sure,” said Wennenberg, a wide receiver and cornerback.

No kidding. How the Falcons got here – or there, depending on how you look at it – is a story of construction, reconstruction and a team that knows how to travel.

The original plan was that the Falcons would spend the 2009 season on the road while their home field was dug up and rebuilt. So last season the Falcons played at Husky Stadium, an artificial-turf showplace that was built in 2004. But things went haywire when the DeRosher Field construction resulted in a playing surface that was much too hard and filled with rocks.

Hit the rewind button. Heavy equipment is now back on the field, tearing it up once more and putting the Falcons back on the bus every week.

The top few inches of soil on DeRosher Field are being removed and sifted to remove the rocks. The soil will be mixed with sand and peat and put down again. The field replacement is expected to cost less than $100,000, with the school district paying around $10,000. The rest of the cost will be shared by the architectural firm that designed the field and the company that managed the construction.

The hope is that the field will be ready for the 2011 season. There are no guarantees, however, meaning the Falcons could end up playing three seasons on the road.

“It could be another year,” Falcons coach Larry Herm said Tuesday, “depending on when they get that grass in, the temperature of the soil, does it germinate this year or does it happen next year? Yesterday I received a little glimmer of hope that we might be able to play on that field next year. I’m more hopeful after talking to those people yesterday than I was before, looking at seeding windows. But you’ve got to have good weather, good warmth, good rain, a lot of stuff.”

There’s plenty of good stuff happening for the Falcons so far in this young season. They have defeated Yellow Medicine East 21-8 and Melrose 20-6 and will meet Milaca, another unbeaten team, on Friday at Milaca.

“It’s fixin’ to be a good one,” senior lineman Harley Stevens said of Friday’s West Central Conference game.

The Falcons are accustomed to playing every game on the road, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Transportation timetables must be set and every piece of vital equipment must be put on a bus.

“We have to deal with it as coaches as far as when are we leaving? Are we ready? Do we have everything we need? Every game is an away game, which isn’t an easy preparation,” said Herm, who is in his 22nd year as the Foley coach.

“There are a lot of things we do to make things go smoothly, because kids forget stuff. When you’re at home, you get to relax for a little bit because you don’t have to bring all the extra stuff, you don’t have to pack a bus.”

Senior quarterback/free safety Mitch Wenner, who also has never played a varsity home game, said “It’s exciting to play at St. Cloud State because it’s such a nice stadium and it’s kind of cool to get the opportunity to play on turf. But it would be nice to have a chance to play in front of a real home crowd.”

(To see a photo gallery and video from Foley, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.)

Falcons fans come out in droves wherever the team plays, for which the players and coaches are thankful.

“We’ve had tons of support,” Stevens said.

Once DeRosher Field is back in playing shape, Foley – which has an enrollment of 446 and plays Class 3A football -- will have some of the finest athletic facilities in the state, regardless of school size. The football field is encircled by a new track, the gymnasium is roomy and bright and the facilities are capped off by a fieldhouse that contains multiple basketball courts surrounded by a running track. The fieldhouse also has a large, modern weight-training room.

But for now, the football team calls Husky Stadium home.

“We go to a good place, so it’s not a bad situation,” Herm said. “I think the situation could have been a lot worse if we had to use Milaca’s field or Sauk Rapids’ field or Becker’s field; not that they aren’t good fields. But there would be no sense of home, where at St. Cloud State we can create things and make it in a sense our home field.”

One of this year’s “home” games will not be played at St. Cloud State, however. Because Husky Stadium won’t be available, the Falcons will play their homecoming game against Sauk Centre on Oct. 9 at St. John’s University in Collegeville. That’s a Saturday, and the game will be played at 1 p.m.

But it doesn’t seem to matter to the Falcons when or where they play.

“A field’s a field,” said Wennerberg, “and we’re just going to go out and play as hard as we can no matter where we’re playing.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 38
*Miles John has driven: 1,926

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
A Tuesday Trip to St. Cloud and Foley9/14/2010
Hello from MSHSL World Headquarters’ Stearns County Command Post … also known as Barnes & Noble in St. Cloud. Thanks once again to wi-fi access, the John’s Journal staff has found a quiet place to get some work done and connect with the vast worldwide audience.

I tagged along with MSHSL executive director Dave Stead and associate director Kevin Merkle for today’s journey to St. Cloud, where the day began with a Fall Area Meeting at the Kelly Inn. The meeting has ended and I have a small gap in my day, thus the visit to Barnes & Noble.

The meeting room was filled with representatives from schools in this part of the state, plus a few who drove up from the Twin Cities area. This was the first of eight Area Meetings; in coming weeks, meetings also will be held in Mankato, Marshall, Fergus Falls, Thief River Falls, Chisholm, Rochester and Brooklyn Park. (Today's meeting is pictured below.)

These are informational meetings, used to keep school officials updated on what's taking place with the MSHSL and member schools. Today’s agenda included 21 items, ranging from concussion education to membership responsibilities to equipment updates to insurance coverage and beyond. I spoke to the group about the MSHSL’s new Student Sports Information Directors program (which is very exciting), along with updates on John’s Journal and MSHSL on Facebook/Twitter, etc.

But why am I still in St. Cloud? Because I have another appointment in the neighborhood this afternoon. I’ll be visiting football practice at nearby Foley High School, where an interesting story is ongoing.

For the second season in a row, Foley is playing no home football games. There have been issues with the construction of a new field for the Falcons, resulting in two years on the road.

I’ll be visiting the school, chatting with players and coaches and shooting photos and video. At this morning’s meeting, Foley athletic director Michael Johnson told me that work has commenced on getting the football field in shape for next season, so we’ll see how that works out photographically.

I’ll post a story about the Falcons – who are unbeaten through two games, by the way – here on the Journal, and the MSHSL Facebook page will be the home for lots of photos and a little video, as well.

So for now, it’s a beautiful day in St. Cloud!

*Schools/teams John has visited: 37
*Miles John has driven: 1,778

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
New Administrators Gather For Workshop9/13/2010
Twenty-five new athletic administrators, from schools large and small all around Minnesota, gathered in Brooklyn Center on Sunday and Monday for a workshop designed to help them in their new jobs.

Sunday’s events were held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and the group met Monday morning at MSHSL headquarters. The workshop was sponsored by the Minnesota Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and the MSHSL.

(In this photo, the group hears from Jackson County Central AD Larry Traetow, president of the Minnesota Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.)

The workshop offerings included courses in athletic administration as well as several presentations from MnIAAA executives. During Monday’s session, members of the MSHSL staff introduced themselves to the new ADs and outlined their responsibilities.

Another New Team Sits Atop 2A Volleyball Poll9/13/2010
For third time in as many weeks, there is a new team atop the Class 2A state volleyball rankings conducted by the volleyball coaches association. Jackson County Central is the new No. 1, followed by Hutchinson and Marshall (Marshall shares the No. 3 spot with Wadena-Deer Creek).

Marshall was No. 1 in the preseason poll and Hutchinson took over the top spot a week ago. Jackson County Central rose to the top spot this week after winning the Shakopee tournament.

The top teams in Class 3A and 1A remained unchanged, with Lakeville North and Minneota maintaining their positions.

1. Lakeville North (11) 165
2. Wayzata 152
3. Bloomingon Jefferson 143
4. Apple Valley 119
5. Shakopee 108
6. Waconia 82
7. Lakeville South 73
8. Eastview 72
9. Eden Prairie 57
10. Centennial 47
Others: Blaine (42), Stillwater (30), Hopkins (24), Eagan (13), Andover (12), Woodbury (9), Owatonna (7), Chaska (6), Maple Grove (6)

1. Jackson County Central (5) 143
2. Hutchinson (4) 137
3. Marshall 113
Wadena-Deer Creek (1) 113
5. Jordan 95
6. Lesuer-Henderson 88
7. Stewartville 76
8. Delano 73
9. Hibbing 50
10. Belle Plaine 46
Others: Kasson-Mantorville (21), Caledonia (16), Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (15), Minnehaha Academy (13), Greenway (12), Concordia Academy (9), Byron (6), Visitation (6)

1. Minneota (8) 197
2. Bethlehem Academy (5) 187
3. Wabasha-Kellogg 149
4. Canby 137
5. Martin County West 115
6. Mayer Lutheran 113
7. BBE 88
Nevis 88
9. Windom 79
10. Win-E-Mac 74
Mabel-Canton 74
Others: Heritage Christian (19), Northern Freeze (17), Ada-Borup (13), Kittson Central (6), MACCRAY (6), Deer River (6)

Two Hot Dogs, Two Football Games, One Great Day9/11/2010
My doubleheader day of football began at 3:13 p.m. Friday in south Minneapolis. I got out of the car -- a block or so from Minneapolis Southwest’s football stadium -- and heard the song “My Girl” playing on the p.a. system. Nice. The day came to a close (the pre-writing part of the day, anyway) a little more than seven hours later when I pulled into my garage but remained in my car for a couple more minutes, listening to the radio as scores were reported from games played all over Minnesota.

I’ve come to a firm conclusion: This is a pretty good deal, this gig I have. What’s better than spending your workdays watching young athletes play their hearts out while their families and friends cheer them on? Friday can be summed up with a stream of consciousness that includes two halftime hot dogs eaten 63 miles apart, an overturned car on the interstate, the White Stripes, rain, mud and a quarterback called for holding.

Jump in the passenger seat as we turn the key and get going …

The first hot dog was a pregame meal, thrown down the gullet 15 minutes before kickoff as Edina played at Minneapolis Southwest in a 4 p.m. start. At 3:56 the Southwest Lakers were all charged up to run onto the field, but the coaches held them back (see photo at right) as they waited for the proper song to be cued up on the p.a. system. There must have been a mixup, because the Lakers came roaring out from behind the bleachers with “The Zamboni Song” providing the soundtrack.

A vuvuzela was heard from the Edina crowd as I chatted on the sideline with WCCO-AM producer Steve Enck (an Edina resident). This was just the day’s first brush with radio greatness. Edina cruised to a 47-13 victory, sparked by 18-yard first-quarter touchdown runs by Jake Remes and Nick Rallis. The score was 19-0 after Nate Carlson connected with Devin Crawford-Tufts for a 50-yard TD pass with 9:05 left in the second quarter. That was my cue to depart for Game 2, knowing that Edina’s schedule will quickly ramp up as the Hornets’ next four opponents are Wayzata, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and St. Thomas Academy.

I was back in the car at 5 p.m. Three minutes later I was on the Crosstown freeway, absolutely crawling. Half an hour later traffic was moving well on Owatonna-bound Interstate 35… until a big pileup brought everything to a halt. One vehicle was upside down in the median and two or three others were crunched up. Several drivers had already pulled over to help – law enforcement and medical personnel had not yet arrived -- and there didn’t appear to be anything more the rest of us could do. Onward.

(To see photo galleries and video clips from Friday's travels, go to the MSHSL Facebook page).

6:06: A quick diversion to the Medford McDonald’s, because man cannot live on hot dogs alone.

6:15: As the lights of Owatonna’s stadium came into view in the distance, so did flashes of lightning.

6:25: I parked on a residential street behind the stadium to hear someone from Mankato West say to someone from Owatonna, “Thank you for making the rain stop.” Not so fast, friend. Umbrella … check. Raincoat … check.

The Owatonna band was cranking out a Green Day tune, followed by the White Stripes. In the rain, this was an outstanding effort. During the anthem, I held my hat over my camera; Owatonna girls’ lacrosse coach Bill Bernard asked me, “Do you want another hat to hold over your camera?” No, but thanks for asking, Bill.

When Mankato West and Owatonna meet on the football field in the Big 9 Conference, it is quite the contrary styles. West uses a no-huddle, spread offense while the Huskies employ a double wing, with everybody bunched up like a fist. Owatonna quarterback Mitch Hawkins routinely pitched the ball to his running backs and then led the way into the hole, throwing blocks.

As I was holding my umbrella with my left hand and shooting photographs with my right hand, a fellow on the sideline asked, “How do you do that with one hand?” Best question of the day. Answer: Very uncomfortably.

West scored on its second play of the game, with Tyler Resner scooting 63 yards for six. West is a notorious passing team behind big, skilled junior quarterback Philip Nelson, but the Scarlets did all their scoring on the ground in defeating Owatonna 21-8. Nelson – who is surely a top five QB in Minnesota this year and could be at the top of the heap a year from now – ran for TDs of 12 and 8 yards, the first one coming one play after teammate Nick Kaus intercepted an Owatonna pass.

Late in the first half I downed hot dog No. 2. This one got a little soggy, because I didn’t notice the steady drip coming off the concession stand roof. At halftime, I had the honor of being interviewed by Roy Koenig (The Voice of the Huskies) on KRFO 1390 AM. Roy asked about my job with the MSHSL and my past life at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I didn’t trip over my tongue too badly, I hope.

Along with radio coverage, the Owatonna football games can also be viewed via live webcasts courtesy of the Owatonna People’s Press at This is very cool stuff.

Having been soaked to the bone during the rainy first half, I remained in the press box (pictured above) in the second half, hanging out with my sportswriting colleagues Chad Courrier from the Mankato Free Press and Ian Stauffer from the People’s Press. Among the second-half highlights was what appeared to be a holding call on Nelson. I asked West coach Mark Esch about it after the game, and he wasn’t aware of such a call.

“But I wouldn’t put it past him,” Esch said. “He’s a heck of a competitor.”

After the game was over and soggy people returned to their cars and homes, Esch stood encircled by his players. The Scarlets are ranked No. 3 in Class 4A and the victory gave them the inside track to the Big 9 title. But the coach – following the mantra of all smart coaches – was not satisfied.

“Right now we’re not where we want to be,” he told the boys.

The drive home brought some interesting radio news: Glencoe-Silver Lake, the No. 1 team in 3A, had lost to Waconia … a dozen fumbles were reported during Brainerd’s victory over Willmar … and lightning strikes had forced the Rochester game between Century and Mayo to be moved to Saturday. Interesting news on an interesting, exciting, fun-filled day.

The Scarlets may not be where they want to be. But me? I’m exactly where I want to be.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 37
*Miles John has driven: 1,778

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