John's Journal
Day One Of 2018-19: “Rangers! Brothers! Team!”8/6/2018
CROSBY – The night before Bryan Syrstad began his second season as the head football coach at Crosby-Ironton High School, he felt a few nerves. But there was also a lot of excitement.

Monday was Day One of practice for 18 football teams in Minnesota. They will pair up for nine Zero Week games on Aug. 24 and have a bye week later in the regular season. The rest of the state’s football teams (as well as all other fall sports) will begin practice next Monday. Crosby-Ironton lost an opponent when Duluth Marshall chose not to field a varsity team, leading to a Zero Week season opener at home against Two Harbors.

“We’re excited,” Syrstad said at the conclusion of Monday’s workout, with the players wearing helmets and no other pads. “The kids are excited to get going, too.”

The Rangers worked on offense, defense and special teams for nearly three hours on a lush practice field a few blocks from the school; the players walked through a quiet neighborhood to get to practice and back. The weather was dandy: 75 degrees, sun and a few hovering clouds.

There was a lot of encouragement and a few selected barks, as is the case at any football practice. There were frequent water breaks. The kids hustled and listened. Learning and repetition were the themes.

If anybody was in need of an example of commitment, all they had to do was take a gander at Neil Tesdahl, longtime assistant coach for Rangers football and boys basketball. Neil underwent hip-replacement surgery in mid-July, which did absolutely nothing to keep him from the practice field. He used a cane to help get around but it won’t be long until the cane gets tossed.

After drills were done for the day, Syrstad asked the boys to take a knee around him. There were some points of emphasis: If you have a minor injury make sure to see the trainer … let’s work on being efficient in moving from drill to drill … Order forms for photographs will be distributed later in the week.

There were other messages, as well.

“We need to get moving a little bit,” Syrstad said.. “Yeah, you’re going to be tired the first week. That’s OK. You’re going to be uncomfortable. But we need to get in shape, we need to be better when we play in about three weeks.”

The players were reminded that they’ll need three-ring binders to keep offensive paperwork organized. “Let’s do that by Wednesday,” Syrstad said. “If you have a hard time finding one, we’ll track one down for you.” (To which Coach Tesdahl added, “They’re at the dollar store for a buck.”)

There were two final messages from the head coach…

--“We’ll be starting right at 3 tomorrow.”

--“This was a good first day.”

The captains wrapped things up with the hands-together-in-the-center-of-the-huddle tradition, in which a team leader counts to three and the teams responds in unison. This time, the count went to nine…

--“Rangers on three! Brothers on six! Team on nine!” … “Rangers! Brothers! Team!”

Let’s all have a great year.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Vikings Will Host MSHSL Football Games At New Eagan Facility7/31/2018
The Minnesota Vikings will host three separate high school football events during the 2018 season at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in collaboration with the individual schools, the Minnesota State High School League and the Vikings.

The newly-constructed TCO Performance Center and TCO Stadium will be utilized to continue the club’s commitment to youth football programming to showcase and grow the game at the high school level. The facility will give high school players a unique opportunity to compete on the same fields as their NFL counterparts. The events will include a regular-season game on September 28 between Farmington and Eagan (home team), a regular-season game on October 12 between Lakeville North and Prior Lake (home team) and TCO will serve as an MSHSL Playoff host site for the state quarterfinals on November 9 and 10 for 3 games.

“High school football is a unifying and long-standing tradition across our country,” Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said. “We are honored to host high school football games at our new TCO Performance Center facility. The lessons and values learned playing high school football extend well beyond the playing field. The game of football creates bonds and relationships that last a lifetime.”

“The opportunity to share our new facility with the community and with the high school sports teams was always an emphasis of the design of TCO Performance Center from the beginning,” Minnesota Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren said. “The chance to connect with fans, parents and players at the high school level is an important part of our ongoing youth football events and we will proudly share our field with Minnesota high school teams.”

Friday, September 28 – Farmington vs. Eagan (home) at 7:30
Friday, October 12 – Lakeville North vs. Prior Lake (home) at 7:30
Friday-Saturday, November 9-10 – MSHSL Quarterfinal Playoffs
First Rankings Of The 2018-19 School Year7/26/2018
The Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll...

1. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown
2. Minneota
3. Mayer-Lutheran
4. New Life Academy
5. Caledonia
6. Pine River Backus
7. Wabasso
8. Mabel-Canton
9. Bethlehem Academy
10. Rush City

1. North Branch
2. Kasson-Mantorville
3. Stewartville
4. Marshall
5. Kenyon-Wanamingo
6. Concordia Academy
7. SW Christian
8. Watertown-Mayer
9. Belle Plaine
10. Holy Angels

1. Lakeville North
2. Champlin Park
3. Eagan
4. Stillwater
5. Lakeville South
6. Forest Lake
7. Hopkins
8. Shakopee
9. East Ridge
10. Northfield
No. 1 from 2017-18: The Miracle In Monticello7/17/2018
There were 425 posts here on John's Journal during the 2017-18 school year, from the start of practices in August through spring state tournaments in June. If you've been following along in recent days, I've been posting my personal favorite stories during that time. Today we arrive at No. 1. It was originally posted on Nov. 28.

Thanks To The Miracle In Monticello, A Life Is Saved

MONTICELLO – A miracle, performed by angels, took place at Monticello High School. Those words – “miracle” and “angels” – were spoken by the mother of a young man whose life was saved on a basketball court.

It was the second day of boys basketball practice for the 2017-18 season, with workouts/tryouts held before and after school. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, practice began at 6 a.m. Fifteen-year-old sophomore Ryan Monahan was involved in the first drill of the day when he fell to the court.

“I just kind of blacked out,” he said. “I felt lightheaded during a shooting drill and then I just kind of collapsed, I guess.”

The reaction was swift. Head coach Jason Schmidt, knowing that several coaches from other sports were working out in the nearby fitness center, hollered for them to come to the gym. He removed the nearest AED (automated external defibrillator) from a fieldhouse wall and handed it to head football coach Jason Telecky. Assistant boys basketball coach Bruce Balder-Lanoue was kneeling over Ryan when Telecky arrived with the AED.

“We were very fortunate that we had multiple staff members in the weight room working out,” said athletic director Gary Revenig. “One of the football assistants, our head girls basketball coach, our assistant principal; they all kind of took on a role.”

Schmidt had seen Ryan slowly collapse to the floor, falling on his midsection and face; he thought maybe Ryan hadn’t eaten or was dehydrated. “We rolled him over and knew immediately that it was serious,” Schmidt said. Ryan was somewhat conscious but “clearly out of it.”

Boys B squad basketball coach Nate Rengel called 911. Varsity assistant coach Cory Puppe started clearing the other players away, moving them behind a curtain that separates courts in the large fieldhouse. (Pictured, left to right, are Bruce Balder-Lanoue, Nate Rengel, Jason Telecky, Ryan Monahan, Jason Schmidt and Cory Puppe.)

One of Ryan’s friends had the number for Ryan’s mother, Cindy Monahan, in his phone, and Schmidt called her. Cindy’s initial reaction upon learning that her son had collapsed centered on his busy schedule. Monday had been hectic, with basketball before school, basketball after school and a band concert in the evening.

“He was in the right place,” she said. “If he had been with his friends, at a movie or something …” Her voice trailed off at the thought of what might have been.

Two staff members went outside to wait for the ambulance and guide the first responders into the fieldhouse. Balder-Lanoue and Telecky attached the AED’s pads to Ryan’s chest. Once the device is connected to a victim, it analyzes the heart rhythm and instructs the responders in what to do. When it told them to push a button that delivers a shock to the heart, Balder-Lanoue and Telecky looked at each other and realized, “We’re doing this.”

Within seconds, Ryan was back. He was confused, trying to figure out what happened, but he was fully conscious. The ambulance took him to St. Cloud Hospital, home of CentraCare Heart & Vascular Center.

“I knew what happened but I didn’t know they had shocked me when I first woke up,” said Ryan, who had no previous medical issues. “It was pretty scary.”

Cindy drove to the hospital, not waiting for her husband, John, to get dressed; but John moved quickly and wasn’t far behind her on the highway.

“It was absolutely mind-boggling,” Cindy said. “I don’t remember a lot. I remember getting in my car and getting to the hospital.”

She was relieved when she saw her oldest child.

“He was Ryan,” she said. “I looked at him and he looked at me, and he said, ‘Hey.’ He kept telling me, ‘I feel like I can get up and go.’ It’s a miracle. They’re angels.” (Pictured are Cindy, Ryan and John.)

Ryan was released from the hospital the next day, and doctors do not know what caused his heart to malfunction. He will undergo genetic testing and see specialists as they try to pinpoint the issue. In the meantime, he is not allowed to play basketball or do anything physical; although Schmidt told him he is more than welcome to be with the team at any time in any other role he wants to fill.

The Minnesota State High School League requires that all coaches fulfill Coaches Education Requirements (CER), including AED training. All the Monticello coaches in the building that day had done so. A few days earlier, Revenig had reminded Balder-Lanoue that he needed to complete the AED training or he would not be allowed to coach. Balder-Lanoue did so on Sunday.

“He told me Tuesday that because of the CER, everything was fresh in his mind,” Revenig said. “All that saved this young man’s life.”

Schools are encouraged to discuss and practice Emergency Action Plans, and in some cases individual teams will do the same. The Monticello staff members had done so, and everyone jumped in to action.

“When you put this plan together, you know you can’t do everything yourself,” Schmidt said. “Fortunately, we had all those people there. No one in the gym had used an AED in the past. We had done our training, and probably like everyone else you assume you’re never going to have to use it. And then you do.”

He added, “You do the training and maybe you kind of do it with a halfhearted mentality, thinking, ‘When will I have to do this?’ You get educated, and then it happens. Right now you could ask my captains, ‘How many AEDs are in the building?’ Before this they knew where two of them were but now they know where all of them are. What’s the plan if a referee goes down? We’ve talked about these things.”

The first responders and doctors at St. Cloud Hospital said the same thing: Ryan is alive because of the people who were prepared for such an emergency.

AEDs and emergency training are not required for high school coaches in all states. The Monahans are very thankful for the work the MSHSL has done in these areas and how their school administrators and coaches have embraced it.

“John’s brother-in-law in Colorado is a baseball coach and he’s never been trained on it,” Cindy said. “We want to get the word out. Ryan is a success story of why schools have these.”

Schmidt, who has also talked to friends who coach in other states, said, “What I’m coming to learn from talking to people is that this (AED training and use) isn’t even on their radar. That blows my mind. How can we start getting this on everyone’s radar? How in this world of technology are people not aware of this?”

Ryan collapsed on the last day of school before Thanksgiving break. His parents brought him to school after classes ended the following Monday so he could see his friends and his parents could thank everyone for saving their son’s life.

Cindy and John hugged all the staff members who helped out. John noticed the spot where the AED had hung for years and said, “I’ve walked past that thing a thousand times and I always thought it was for old people.”

Thanksgiving was very special for the Monahans this year.

“We’re grateful to the school, we’re grateful to the staff, we’re grateful that everybody did what they were supposed to do,” Cindy said. “We have our son because of what they did. It’s amazing. It was a good Thanksgiving.”

One more thing: The nickname of the Monticello High School teams? They’re the Magic.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
No. 2 from 2017-18: From Minnesota To Iraq, Strong Ties Between Team And Coach7/16/2018
We have worked our way through eight of my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from 2017-18, leaving two more stories. Here is No. 2, which was originally posted on Jan. 31. I got a tip about this situation from Dan Condon, sports editor of the Jackson County Pilot and Lakefield Standard. Dan's note led to some phone calls, a drive to southwest Minnesota and the gym in Okabena, and an email exchange with a member of the military serving in Iraq.

From Minnesota To Iraq, Strong Ties Between Team And Coach

OKABENA – There were some interesting angles to a Red Rock Conference girls basketball game played here Tuesday night. One example: The visiting team, the Fulda Raiders, are spending the season under a replacement coach because their head coach, Sam Voss, is on maternity leave. Her assistant coach, Jon Curry, took over the team.

Sam, who teaches math, is never far from the team here in southwest Minnesota. The head coach of the home team, the Heron Lake-Okabena Wildcats, is also absent this season but she is much farther away.

Anna Brandt, 25, took over as the Wildcats coach last season. Having joined the Iowa National Guard in 2013 while a student at Morningside College in Sioux City, she is currently serving in Iraq … which is nine time zones and more than 6,000 miles from home.

Anna’s replacement provides another intriguing angle to the story. She is the daughter of a coach; her father Neal was her coach in high school at Harris-Lake Park, Iowa, and Neal is back on the bench leading the Wildcats this season.

“I had helped her last year, volunteered a little bit,” Neal said. “The girls kind of knew me. We thought it would be an easy transition and the school thought it would be a good idea.”

Neal, who also coached at Jackson County Central, was busy with cattle, hogs, corn and soybeans on the family farm when Anna received news of her deployment as a Specialist with the 248th Aviation Support Battalion, which during this deployment is attached to the 449th Combat Aviation Brigade. Anna’s battalion includes helicopter maintainers, helicopter test pilots and logistical support personnel.

“Anna and I have the same coaching style for the most part, but it’s still different,” said Neal, who is the team’s fourth coach in four years. “There are challenges.”

Thanks to technology, Anna is able to stay updated with the team, including two video chats so far this season (once while the team was on the bus returning home from a road game). Assistant coach Mara Eichenberger provides Anna with regular messages.

“I talk to Anna all the time,” Mara said. “She’s my best friend, and we talk about everything. I know how much she misses being here with the team and we can’t wait until she comes home.”

In an email exchange, Anna told me, “I get updates after games, follow how practices go, and have even been able to FaceTime.

“People here know I'm a basketball coach, and I was actually able to play some basketball myself while in Texas for my training. The support here, as well as back home, has been great.”

Her deployment started in September and could last more than a year. After pre-deployment training, she has been stationed in Iraq since early December.

Her parents, Neal and Mary, have four other daughters, Sarah, Melissa, Alicia and Lydia.

“Anna had kind of let everybody know she was going to be deployed,” said Heron Lake-Okabena athletic director Jason Fisher. “She brought it to my attention, and it sounded like she wanted to come back when she was done. She had already talked to her dad about it and wanted to keep the same system for the girls.”

As far as scores go, the Wildcats have not had the easiest time. Tuesday’s 46-38 loss to Fulda gave them a record of 1-16 (they finished 8-19 last year). Five seniors form the core of the team, along with a junior, three sophomores and two ninth-graders.

“It’s a great group,” Neal said. “They’re very positive and hard-working.”

Here’s one more interesting angle to Tuesday’s game. Starting next fall, Fulda and Heron Lake-Okabena – the high schools are 23 miles apart – will form cooperative teams in all sports other than boys basketball, volleyball and cross-country.

There are lots of decisions to be made, such as what the merged teams will be called and who will be part of the coaching staff for each team.

No matter what the future holds, the Heron Lake-Okabena players miss their coach but they know she is doing important work.

“It’s very odd,” said senior guard Abi Fest.” It’s just different because she came in here last year and she inspired us so much. But her dad has stepped up and done a great job, influencing us to do better, and we know that Anna is coming back next year and she’s going to want us to work hard.”

Junior forward Claire Rasche said, “It’s just kind of hard because we used to see her every day and she is a really good coach and she really pushed us to do our best. Her dad’s really good and he also inspires us and pushes us. I can see the resemblance between them and the way they coach.”

The players also had a message for their coach. It’s a message that resonates strongly despite nine time zones and more than 6,000 miles of distance: “We love you, Anna. We miss you. We can’t wait for you to get back.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn