John's Journal
Nickname Challenge Update: #ThankARef Region Results5/20/2020
The first round of voting has been completed in the #ThankARef Region of the MSHSL Nickname Challenge. Voting is now taking place in the Pork Chop Region.

Through the first two rounds of voting, 22,838 votes have been cast.

Here are results from the #ThankARef Region:

1 Moorhead Spuds 76.9%
Waseca Bluejays 23.1%

8 Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks 55.2%
Battle Lake Battlers 44.8%

5 Kimball Cubs 35%
Tri-County Northern Freeze 65%

4 Aitkin Gobblers 83.2%
Adrian/Pine City/Litchfield Dragons 16.8%

3 Winona Winhawks 64.8%
Columbia Heights Hylanders 35.2%

6 Stillwater/Warren-Alvarado-Oslo Ponies 32.5%
Chisholm Bluestreaks 67.5%

7 Breckenridge Cowboys 36.6%
Little Falls Flyers 63.4%

2 Fergus Falls Otters 78.8%
East Ridge Raptors 21.2%

Here are the first-round matchups in Pork Chop Region:

1 Thief River Falls Prowlers
Minneapolis Washburn Millers

8 Brooklyn Center Centaurs
Barnum/Cannon Falls/Braham Bombers

5 Badger/Greenbush-Middle River Gators
Anoka Tornadoes

4 Minneapolis North/N. St. Paul Polars
Underwood/Randolph/Rochester JM/Rockford Rockets

3 Perham Yellowjackets
Bemidji/Cloquet Lumberjacks

6 Duluth Marshall Hilltoppers
Grand Rapids Thunderhawks

7 McGregor Mercuries
Burnsville Blaze

2 Wrenshall Wrens
Minnetonka Skippers

Follow me @MSHSLjohn on Twitter to see the all matchups and cast your votes.

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

Nickname Challenge Update: Pretzel & Cheese Region Results5/19/2020
The first round of voting has been completed in the Pretzel & Cheese Region. Eight teams from that region have advanced to the second round while voting is now taking place in the #ThankARef Region.

Here are results from the Pretzel & Cheese Region:

1 Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms 76%
Ely Timberwolves 24%

8 Edgerton Flying Dutchmen 83.4%
Cleveland Clippers 16.6%

5 International Falls Broncos 48.5%
Fosston/Duluth East/New Ulm Cathedral Greyhounds 51.5%

4 Elk River Elks 52.1%
South St. Paul/Austin Packers 47.9%

3 Triton Cobras 61.9%
DeLaSalle Islanders 38.1%

6 Sauk Centre Mainstreeters 49.6%
East Grand Forks Green Wave 50.4%

7 St. Paul Johnson Governors 66.3%
Holdingford Huskers 33.7%

2 Lanesboro Burros 80.1%
Mountain Iron-Buhl/Forest Lake/Crosby-Ironton Rangers 19.9%

And here are the matchups in the #ThankARef Region:

1 Moorhead Spuds
Waseca Bluejays

8 Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks
Battle Lake Battlers

5 Kimball Cubs
Tri-County Northern Freeze

4 Aitkin Gobblers
Adrian/Pine City/Litchfield Dragons

3 Winona Winhawks
Columbia Heights Hylanders

6 Stillwater/Warren-Alvarado-Oslo Ponies
Chisholm Bluestreaks

7 Breckenridge Cowboys
Little Falls Flyers

2 Fergus Falls Otters
East Ridge Raptors

Follow me @MSHSLjohn on Twitter to see the all matchups and cast your votes.

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

MSHSL Nickname Challenge Bracket5/15/2020
Here's a fun project for Minnesota high school sports fans. We've put together a bracket of 64 of the finest high school nicknames, with public voting determining the winner of each matchup all the way to the champion.

There are four regions: Pretzel & Cheese Region, Pork Chop Region, #ThankARef Region and #BeTheLightMN Region. In each region, eight teams are seeded 1 through 8 with their first-round opponents determined by random draw.

Voting will take place on Twitter and begin Monday, May 18. Follow me @MSHSLjohn on Twitter to see the matchups and cast your votes.

Here are the regions and first-round matchups...

PRETZEL & CHEESE REGION
1 Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms
Ely Timberwolves

8 Edgerton Flying Dutchmen
Cleveland Clippers

5 International Falls Broncos
Fosston/Duluth East/New Ulm Cathedral Greyhounds

4 Elk River Elks
South St. Paul/Austin Packers

3 Triton Cobras
DeLaSalle Islanders

6 Sauk Centre Mainstreeters
East Grand Forks Green Wave

7 St. Paul Johnson Governors
Holdingford Huskers

2 Lanesboro Burros
Mountain Iron-Buhl /Forest Lake/Crosby-Ironton Rangers

#ThankARef REGION
1 Moorhead Spuds
Waseca Bluejays

8 Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks
Battle Lake Battlers

5 Kimball Cubs
Tri-County Northern Freeze

4 Aitkin Gobblers
Adrian/Pine City/Litchfield Dragons

3 Winona Winhawks
Columbia Heights Hylanders

6 Stillwater/Warren-Alvarado-Oslo Ponies
Chisholm Bluestreaks

7 Breckenridge Cowboys
Little Falls Flyers

2 Fergus Falls Otters
East Ridge Raptors

PORK CHOP REGION
1 Thief River Falls Prowlers
Minneapolis Washburn Millers

8 Brooklyn Center Centaurs
Barnum/Cannon Falls/Braham Bombers

5 Badger/Greenbush-Middle River Gators
Anoka Tornadoes

4 Minneapolis North/North St. Paul Polars
Underwood/Randolph/Rochester JM/Rockford Rockets

3 Perham Yellowjackets
Bemidji/Cloquet Lumberjacks

6 Duluth Marshall Hilltoppers
Grand Rapids Thunderhawks

7 McGregor Mercuries
Burnsville Blaze

2 Wrenshall Wrens
Minnetonka Skippers

#BeTheLightMN REGION
1 Wabasso Rabbits
Hancock Owls

8 Chatfield Gophers
Houston Hurricanes

5 Blackduck Drakes
Two Harbors Agates

4 Esko Eskomos
Canby/La Crescent-Hokah Lancers

3 Yellow Medicins East Sting
Montevideo Thunder Hawks

6 Eastview Lightning
Pipestone Arrows

7 Hawley Nuggets
Proctor Rails

2 Grand Meadow Superlarks
Jordan Hubmen
Shutdown Diary: A Participant Says Thank You To A Coach5/13/2020
In this spring with no MSHSL sports or activities, it can be difficult to find positives. But they are out there, as the two emails below attest. Lisa Lindemoen, a senior member of the clay target team at Crookston High School, wanted to make sure her coaches knew how much she appreciates what they have done for her. She sent a special note to coach Darren Gjerswold, who responded. Crookston activities director Greg Garmen forwarded their conversation to me, with the permission of Lisa and Darren to post it here.

Hey Darren!

It's been awhile since we've talked. I'm pretty bummed about trap shooting this year since it was my last. But I've made so many good memories the past few years. It was the only sport I've been in, but also the only one I've ever been interested in and I'm very thankful for having the best coach to help me. Along with all of the other guys. Al was so nice to me and I wish I could've thanked him for that.

When I picked up my cap and gown a few weeks ago I got an extra tassel to give to someone who helped and inspired me during high school. I thought that I should give it to you because you helped me get out of my shell and made me love the sport. I truly don't think I could've made the progress I did if you hadn't helped me. I even was working so hard first semester to make sure my grades were good so I wasn't ineligible this year. I also plan on going to Northland in Thief River in the fall for precision ag, and I'm hoping to join the trap team there.

My grandpa told me I should just stop by your shop one day to give it to you but I didn't want to be weird and just walk in so I figured I'd message you first. I was also wondering if I could use you as a reference for a scholarship I'm applying for? Hope you're staying safe and healthy!

Lisa Lindemoen

Thanks Lisa!

I'm glad that I was able to work with you and make a difference. Trapshooting is a very mental sport and you need to be able to shake off the days that don't go so well, just like in life. It's very humbling to me that you would want me to have a tassel, and it makes the time and energy of coaching a trap team worth every minute. You are a kid that wants more for yourself every day and that drive is not instilled in most kids these days. You are not the kind of person that would sit around and feel sorry for yourself, you would get up and do something about it, and I admire that.

We all saw your potential, you just needed to find it in yourself to unlock it, and you did that. That's why we took the time to work with you, you wanted to do better. We all saw it. Keep that up in life too! I have Al's number so you can call him if you want. You are welcome to stop by here any time you want.

Darren

Selfless Moorhead Athlete Makes A Wish For Others 5/7/2020
Scott Verkuilen was at pretty much rock bottom last August. Shortly before his senior year and final football season at Moorhead High School was to begin, he was hospitalized. There was surgery. Then chemotherapy.

He was, as he told me recently, "really, really sick."

He was undergoing treatment for nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma, which is as scary as it sounds. Visitors from Make-A-Wish Minnesota were with Scott in the hospital, asking if he had any wish that they could help fulfill.

The options were amazing. Did he want to go skydiving with Dwayne The Rock Johnson? How about traveling to Australia or another exotic location?

Verkuilen talked with his parents about the possibilities. “The options were completely wide open,” he said.

But Scott also thought about Moorhead. He had lived in Little Falls until sixth grade before moving to Moorhead. And he loves Moorhead; his friends, his school, the community, the tradition, the Spuds.

Last fall, voters in Moorhead overwhelmingly approved the construction of a new high school. Verkuilen thought about that, came up with an idea and made his wish known. He wanted his school to have a world-class weight room.

“I thought what better way to not only better myself but to help those around me,” he said. “That pay-it-forward movement, treat others as you would like to be treated. I knew the school was getting redone and I knew sometimes those expenses get overlooked.”

And that's when others jumped in. Moorhead High School strength and conditioning coach Cory Herrmann, who coaches the Spuds weightlifting team, spread Scott's story and wish through contacts nationwide. A monetary contribution from Make-A-Wish Minnesota got the ball rolling. Power Lift, a company specializing in weightlifting equipment, got on board, as did similar firms Intek Strength and Dynamax, along with the Moorhead school district. Essentially, the new weight room will receive $200,000 worth of donated gear.

“It gives you goosebumps just thinking about it,” Spuds head football coach Kevin Feeney said of Scott’s wish.

All the Spuds football players and coaches gathered for an online team meeting one evening last week. Representatives from Make-A-Wish Minnesota and Power Lift were also on the video call as Scott learned that his wish had been finalized and a top-shelf weight room would serve Moorhead students for many years to come.

“For a teenage kid, a high school kid, to come up and think of something like that to give back, rather than take a trip somewhere you always wanted to go, I thought it was fantastic,” Herrmann told Verkuilen.

Scott said on the call, “I just wanted to make sure that everyone knows they are not alone.”

That was a sentiment that helped carry Scott through surgery, chemotherapy, loss of his hair and everything that went into his recovery. He now has a clean bill of health. After his final chemo treatment in December at Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo, his teammates and other friends filled the lobby with smiles, hugs and cheers as Scott rang a celebratory bell.

“Before all this happened, I would have told you Scotty was one of those guys who was wise beyond his years,” Feeney said. “He’s a very mature young man. Going through this process, I could not believe how he handled it and how he consistently worried about everybody else and not himself.

“Our team learned so much, like you’re never alone. Our team rallied around him. The kids who went through this with him understand his legacy. He was as strong as he could be and more selfless than he should have been. This group understands that legacy and it will be easy to keep that legacy more visible for future generations.”

Scott will enroll at Concordia University in Moorhead this fall on a pre-med track with the goal of becoming an oral surgeon. It will be a grand day, in three years or so, when he helps cut the ribbon on the weight room that will have his name on the wall. Weight plates will bear some of his signature phrases, such as “Never Alone.”

The Moorhead weightlifting team began when Scott was a ninth-grader and he loved it from the start; the room, the work, the support, the goal-setting.

“The team was really important to me and coach Herrmann has been a mentor for me,” he said. “He gave us an opportunity to be a part of something great.”

Verkuilen missed his junior football season when he suffered a hand injury during summer training. He wrestled that winter and had what he called a “decent season.”

His cancer battle began last July began when tumors were discovered in his neck. A lymph node the size of a golf ball was surgically removed. And here he is now, ending his high school days with health, a smile and a joyous attitude.

“I received a few messages from various teammates, saying this was inspirational,” he said. “I just wanted to pay it back. I hope that it inspires others to leave a mark on the world.

“It’s a dream that came true. I’m so unbelievably grateful to everybody.”

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