John's Journal
Hope Lutheran: Tiny Numbers, Huge Heart5/28/2010
WINONA, Minn. -- I was standing in one of the five classrooms at Hope Lutheran High School on Thursday, chatting with Tammy O’Laughlin and Angie Meyer, two of the five full-time teachers at the school with an enrollment of 37.

Question: How big is the senior class?

Answer: There are eight seniors.

Question: How many of those eight are going on to college?

Tammy and Angie started naming names. “Jamie, Felicia, Christine …” They quickly went down the list, naming all eight kids, all of whom are going to college.

Yes, Hope Lutheran is a tiny school that’s housed in the basement of a Lutheran elementary school and has no athletic facilities of its own and lacks lots of other things that people in most schools take for granted. But Hope Lutheran, which opened six years ago, has something that goes beyond brick and mortar and enrollment and numbers.

Hope Lutheran -- where everybody knows everybody by their first name – has family.

“Our school began as a dream for a few families who wanted their children to continue their Christian education in a high school setting,” said Meyer. “Their dream has become a reality but not without countless hours of work, as most of our school is run through volunteers.”

Meyer is typical of the staff at Hope Lutheran. Her duties include teaching physical education and health classes, working as an athletic administrator, head volleyball coach and assistant softball coach. Her husband, Kevin, is the head softball and boys’ basketball coach and their daughter, Felicia, is a senior pitcher who is 31 strikeouts away from the career state record.

Softball has become one of the hallmarks of Hope Lutheran. The Patriots are 17-2, ranked sixth in Class A and hoping to make the school’s first appearance in a state tournament. I watched Hope Lutheran squeak out a 2-0 victory over Lewiston-Altura on Thursday in a Section 1 East subsection game. The Patriots will meet Rushford-Peterson on Saturday at Todd Park in Austin as the tournament moves into double-elimination.

(For photos and video from Hope Lutheran, see MSHSL on Facebook.)

The eight seniors graduated on Friday, with the ceremony held at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. Right next door is St. Mark’s elementary school, with Hope Lutheran tucked in the basement. There are no plans for a larger space at this point.

“However long God wants us here, that’s how long we’ll be here,” said O’Laughlin, who teaches math and physics.

The school opened in 2003 with only a freshman class and added grades every year. This year’s seniors are the third graduating class. Sports offered are softball, volleyball, baseball and boys’ and girls’ basketball. All coaches are volunteers. Four Hope girls play hockey at Winona High School and the Patriots have a cooperative agreement for football with St. Charles High School, although the only football player from Hope is ninth-grader Brady Meyer … yes, he’s the son of Angie and Kevin (who is a volunteer assistant coach at St. Charles.)

Home games can be an issue, since Hope has no gym or athletic fields. Volleyball games are played at St. Mary’s University and the softball team’s home field is in the small town of Rollingstone (insert your own Mick Jagger reference here), 11 miles north of Winona. The Rollingstone field is postcard-worthy, set in a shady city park with a huge bluff serving as a backdrop behind center field.

But the field was built for youth baseball, meaning there is a pitcher’s mound. Softball pitchers throw from flat ground, which is not an issue this season. But next season the pitching rubber will move from 40 feet away from home plate to 43 feet. That means the mound will either have to be removed for the softball season or the Patriots will have to search for another home field.

During Thursday’s game, Kevin and Angie Meyer coached, Felicia pitched and Brady watched. Angie’s mother, Marcia Youngs, and her husband Jim worked in the concession stand, where their dog Gypsy lounged.

Cell phone signals are weak or nonexistent in Rollingstone. A local fan, watching someone staring into his phone, offered this advice: “The only place to get a signal is downtown, by the stop sign.”

After the Patriots defeated Lewiston-Altura, I asked Hope Lutheran senior first baseman Christine Klug about the softball team’s role in publicizing the school.

“It’s kind of too bad,” she said. “We’re so blessed to have such good coaches and such a good softball program, but it’s too bad people don’t know more about our school.”

Earlier Thursday, Christine and her fellow seniors, whose school year had already ended, played a prank on the underclassmen and teachers. The staff and 29 students walked to Godfather’s Pizza for a buffet lunch – yes, the entire school went out for lunch together. While the school was empty, the seniors removed all the desks and chairs from the classrooms and stacked them in the narrow hallway. They also wound giant rolls of shrink-wrap plastic around several vehicles.

It was all in fun and everybody got a big laugh out of it. And later in the day, virtually every student and parent was in Rollingstone, cheering for their team.

“A lot of people in Winona don’t even know what Hope Lutheran is,” Angie Meyer said. “But when you have a vision, it’s amazing what you can do.”

--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 Cool School, A Softball Game and Lots of Dead Bugs5/27/2010
I spent Thursday on the road, which is one of the best parts of my job. I visited a high school that most people in Minnesota – including some in the school’s hometown -- know nothing about.

I’m not going to give too much away (because there’s a story in the works), but the school is tiny enough to fit into a basement. This school also has a crackerjack softball team, and I watched the team play on Thursday in one of the nicest ballpark settings in the state.

On the way home I stopped for gas and cleaned off the windshield, but after about 10 minutes of driving -- as the sun was setting – another couple hundred insects had sacrificed themselves on my windshield.

All in all, it was a great day for being on the highways of Minnesota. Keep an eye on this space … the result of Thursday’s travels will be posted at some point Friday.

--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
Track Stars Give Something Back5/26/2010
During a track meet that was packed with stellar athletes who have some of the best times and distances in the state this spring, two former high school stars were the real celebrities at Wednesday’s Lake Conference finals at Rosemount.

One of the assistant coaches for the team from Apple Valley is Shani Marks, who graduated from Apple Valley in 1998. She was a state high school long jump champion as a senior, then became a world-class triple and long jumper at the University of Minnesota and competed in the 2008 Olympics. Shani is a two-time USA indoor champion, a three-time USA outdoor champion and was an NCAA outdoor runner-up. She coaches Apple Valley’s long and triple jumpers.

The meet’s hometown celebrity was Heather Dorniden, a 2005 Rosemount graduate who was a state high school champion at 400 and 800 meters. Heather went on to an outstanding career at the University of Minnesota, where she was a nine-time All-American and the only Gopher who competed in every NCAA championship in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track during the time she was at the university. In 2006, she was the NCAA indoor champion in the 800 meters. Heather holds school records in nine events.

Heather’s duties Wednesday included watching handoff zones during relay events and generally helping out wherever she could. I spotted her walking in the infield carrying a trash bag, picking up whatever needed to be disposed of.

Shani and Heather are outstanding examples of former high school athletes who went on to do great things in the athletic arena and earn college degrees. To see them giving back to current students-athletes is a wonderful sight and a lesson in selflessness.

(To see photos -- including a gallery of T-shirt slogans -- and video from Wednesday's track meet, go to the MSHSL's Facebook page.)

--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


National Honor for Apple Valley Assistant Coach5/25/2010
Congratulations to Apple Valley High School math teacher and wrestling coach Dalen Wasmund, who has been named the 2010 National Assistant Wrestling Coach of the Year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association Scholastic Board of Directors. Here is an excerpt from the press release:

Wasmund has been coaching for 28 years at Apple Valley High School in Minnesota. He briefly left the school, but returned when his sons began wrestling, coming back aboard to also serve as their coach. Wasmund stated, “I am honored and fortunate to be in this position. Receiving an award like this is a result of having a great program, great coaches, great families, a supportive administration and a great support system. We bear the fruits of having things go well.”

The 2010 Apple Valley wrestling team completed the season with seven champions, two runners-up, a third-place finisher and a fifth-place finisher at the AAA state tournament. Since Coach Wasmund has been coaching at Apple Valley, they have won the state championship 18 times. He joins head coach Jim Jackson as an NWCA Award Winner. Jackson was the 2008 NWCA National Head Coach of the Year. “Both of these coaches had given a large amount of their time to the success of their high school programs, both on and off the mat. They are examples of strong leaders who are committed to educational principles,” said NWCA President Jim Beichner.

--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
Inside the MSHSL: AD’s Advisory Committee5/25/2010
This is a busy Tuesday here at MSHSL World Headquarters in Brooklyn Center. Two advisory committees met today – one meeting is still going on as I write this – and there is a new addition to the crew. (More on the addition later.)

The gathering that’s still in progress is a meeting of the Speech Advisory Committee. Since I can’t be in two places at once – and believe me, I have tried – I attended a meeting of the Athletic/Activity Directors Advisory Committee, which ended a few minutes ago.

The agenda varied from wrestling to dance to football to seeding to forfeits to state tournaments and beyond. This group doesn’t make policy for the MSHSL, but like all of the advisory committees, the AD’s offer valuable input from the front lines of high school activities. The committee is composed of 18 AD’s from schools large and small, representing all areas of the state.

One agenda item was especially intriguing. It was, “Discussion of positives and negatives of high school activities.”

Some of the positives mentioned by the group were…

--A mentorship program in which high school athletes spend time with middle school students.

--Health classes in which students are certified in CPR and the use of automated external defibrillators.

--Leadership opportunities in which sixth-graders get together with high school students.

Among the negatives were…

--Specialization in which student-athletes stick to a single sport instead of experiencing several sports.

--School funding issues, and an uncertain future for schools and activities.

--Time demands on administrators, coaches and kids.

--Finding a healthy balance between activities and academics for students.

One of the activity directors made the comment that ADs are often the public face of schools. If that’s the case, there is no better public face.

And now for the new addition to the crew …

Nora Ruth Rajkowski was born at 12:04 a.m. today in St. Cloud. Nora’s proud parents are Ellen Giloy-Rajkowski of the MSHSL staff and St. Cloud Times sports reporter Frank Rajkowski.

Congratulations to Nora and her mom and dad!

--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