John's Journal
The Best of John’s Journal: Honorable Mention Stories7/5/2018
This is the point each year when I take time to reflect on what has taken place during the past school year. I have taken a look at everything that’s been posted on John’s Journal from the start of practice for fall sports in August through state tournaments in June. The goal is to come up with a Top 10 list of my favorite stories. This is a difficult chore.

Looking back at 2017-18 was a delightful mission, enabling me to re-live some wonderful road trips and fun stories. I sifted through 425 total entries that were posted between August and June, jotting down notes on several pages of a yellow legal pad and beginning with a very long list in the course of finalizing a Top 10.

Several rounds of winnowing brought the number down from 425 to 57. And then the real work began. As I went through those 57 posts I realized that we’ll need an Honorable Mention category, as well. Five stories belong to that group, and they are summarized here today (including a few paragraphs from each story). You can find these stories by going to John’s Journal and clicking “More of John’s Journal” at the bottom of the page; a month-by-month list of stories is on the right side of the page.

In the days ahead I will re-post each of the Top 10 stories individually, counting down from No. 10 to No. 1.

Thanks to everyone for reading these posts throughout the year(s).

Honorable Mention Stories (in calendar order)

Aug. 26/ Football trip to International Falls and Ada

On Thursday night in International Falls, a grandfather who played in the NFL long ago watched his grandson catch a touchdown pass while another old-time footballer returned to the field where he had coached for four decades. The next night in Ada, young boys from schools that have been longtime rivals took the field together for the first time as teammates.

Such is football, and all high school activities. They are family, ritual, old soldiers and young pups, forming and renewing the fabric of community, spirit and pride.

I hit the road as the fall season began, driving to the Canadian border to see the International Falls Broncos host the Virginia Blue Devils on Thursday in the very first football game of the year, and then angling southwest to Ada where the Polk County West Thunder met the Ada-Borup/Norman County West Cougars on Friday.

It was glorious, to say the least. I drove 902 miles, listened to fans laugh and cheer, and walked the sidelines during two splendid evenings of season-opening football. Here’s what I saw…

Oct. 24/ Bemidji’s Linaes Whiting

Linaes Whiting was not in uniform for the Bemidji High School boys soccer team in Tuesday’s Class 1A state quarterfinals. And that just doesn’t happen, especially during the fall sports season. Here’s why: the senior is a member of the Lumberjacks’ soccer, football and cross-country teams.

He also plays basketball in the winter and runs track in the spring; it must be easy to play only one sport at a time compared to three at once, right?

“I hear a lot of people say that,” said Linaes, whose team fell to Austin 3-2 in overtime Tuesday. “But I don’t think it’s that much tougher than playing one sport. I have more games but I wouldn’t say I’m that much busier. I do my homework, I have a social life, and there are days when there are no games. I find time.”

Dec. 7/ Dasovich family

For any television producers interested in creating a reality show centered on family, school and sports, take a look at Tom and Leah Dasovich and their daughters, Emma and Evelyn.

Their life is a wild ride of girls basketball practices and games at Minnetonka High School, where Leah is the head coach and teaches English … all manner of events at Lakeville South, where Tom is the activities director … and plenty of things that keep Emma, 11, and Evelyn, 5, busy. Thanks to a nanny, help from grandparents and friends, and a family schedule that is often frantic, everything clicks.

The Dasoviches live in Minnetonka, a short drive to school for Leah, Emma and Evelyn; Tom’s commute is about 35 minutes to Lakeville South. In a rare scheduling blessing for which all are grateful, Leah’s team played at Tom’s school on Tuesday evening. The girls rode the team bus to the game and hung out with their dad while mom coached. Minnetonka won the game 63-38, after which the girls helped Tom stack chairs from the team benches on a cart and put them in a back room before heading to the bus with their mom and her players.

Life used to be a little simpler. “Oh gosh, we talk about that a lot,” Leah said with a smile. She looked at her husband and said, “Remember when we used to go to movies? When we used to sleep in?”

Dec. 20/ Gymnastics in the barn on the farm

HENDRICKS – In this small town near the South Dakota border, gymnastics is a family affair. Before the Hendricks/Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Grizzlies and their state-line neighbors from Brookings (S.D.) High School competed in a dual meet one evening this week, the Johnson cousins -- Greta, Sophie and Kaylee -- sang the national anthem beautifully. Grizzlies coach Sherri Johnson – mom to Greta and Sophie and aunt to Kaylee – then took the microphone to introduce the athletes and coaches.

Gymnastics is close to the hearts of Sherri and her husband Gary, along with Greta, 18, Sophie, 16, Sadie, 11, and their extended family and friends. It’s so close, in fact, that the Johnsons can exit their house in the country and take a short walk across the farm yard to the home of the Grizzlies.

It’s called The Barn and it might be the most unique sporting venue in Minnesota and beyond.
To unknowing motorists driving past the Johnson place, the building looks like any other large, modern farm shed. It has several giant garage doors, large enough for tractors and combines to be stored inside. The inside, however, is a gymnast’s dream: top-notch vault, uneven bars, beam and floor exercise equipment, bleachers and chairs for spectators, a fully stocked concession stand, killer sound system, bright lighting, restrooms, drinking fountain, heated concrete flooring, wifi and more … all surrounded by sheet-metal walls and plenty of windows. It is an absolute showplace.

Jan. 8/ Detroit Lakes gymnast Kennedy Hegg

Saturday was big for the Detroit Lakes High School gymnastics team. The Lakers are the three-time defending Class 1A state champions, and Saturday they proved to be the top team in the state regardless of school size by winning the Minnsota Girls Gymnastics Officials Association Classic.

In the meet at Park Center, Detroit Lakes finished ahead of the top two teams in Class 2A, Lakeville North and Lakeville South. The all-around champion was Detroit Lakes sophomore Jackson Hegg.

Most people may not have noticed one member of the Lakers team who didn’t really stand out unless you looked closely. Kennedy Hegg, Jackson’s twin sister, did not compete Saturday because she had been fighting an illness, but she was in uniform as she stood with her teammates and cheered.
Her right arm was different, however. Kennedy wore a large apparatus that extended from her wrist to her upper arm. It affected her mobility somewhat, but nothing can limit her desire to be with her teammates and compete … not even two broken arms.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Pride Of The Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks: Carrie Tollefson Is A Hall of Famer 7/2/2018
CHICAGO – When a video crew from the National Federation of State High School Associations arrived in Dawson, Minnesota, in March, Carrie Tollefson met them wearing a jacket that said “Blackjacks” across the front.

The Olympian and NCAA champion could have worn any number of things, including some or all of the 13 MSHSL state championship medals she won in track and cross-country during the 1990s. But she wanted to simply be known as a proud Blackjack from Dawson-Boyd High School.

The video aired Monday evening during the 2018 National High School Hall of Fame induction dinner, where Carrie and 11 others were honored as the 36th annual induction class. The event was held at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile in conjuction with the 99th annual summer meeting of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

During the video, Carrie walked the halls of her high school, stood in front of the house where she grew up and pointed out the large sign on Highway 212 that carries a photo of her, the Olympic rings, a list of her accomplishments in high school and at Villanova University, and the words “Dawson, Proud Home of Carrie Tollefson.”

The pride works both ways.

After the video aired and Carrie, 41, received a Hall of Fame plaque and medal, she spoke on behalf of all 12 inductees. Among them was former University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, who was one of Nebraska’s top high school athletes during his days at Hastings High School from 1951 to 1955, and Dick Fosbury, who revolutionized the high jump by creating the “Fosbury Flop” as an Oregon prep athlete in the 1960s. (Watch video from the ceremony, including the video from Dawson and Carrie's speech, by visiting the MSHSL Facebook page).

During her remarks, Carrie thanked her mom and dad, Ginger and John, who were in attendance along with Carrie’s husband Charlie and their daughter Ruby. She thanked her high school coaches, her teammates, the people of Dawson and others.

She smiled and said, “I love that I represent Minnesota.”

Carrie mentioned each of the other 11 inductees by name, offering insight into their careers as athletes, coaches, officials, administrators and performing arts teachers.

“They are living examples of passion,” she said. “Passion for their gifts, passion for their teams, passion for their communities, passion to deliver, passion for life.”

As she talked about her days growing up in Dawson, she said, “I can shut my eyes and go back like it was yesterday.”

Tollefson won five MSHSL cross-country championships at Dawson-Boyd High School from 1990 to 1994, including the first as an eighth-grader. She also won eight individual track and field titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, and she set a state record in the 3,200 in 1994 with a time of 10:30.28. Tollefson’s 13 individual titles in cross-country and track are the most ever in Minnesota and her five consecutive cross-country championships is a national record that has never been matched.

She won five NCAA titles at Villanova, was a 10-time All-American and the 1998 NCAA Indoor Track Athlete of the Year. Tollefson was a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team and participated in the 1,500 meters in Athens, Greece.

Tollefson is the 14th Minnesotan inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame. The others are John Mayasich (1986), Janet Karvonen (1987), Bronko Nagurski (1989), Willard Ikola (1992), Jerry Seeman (1992), Paul Giel (1998), Kevin McHale (2000), Dorothy McIntyre (2003), Terry Steinbach (2007), Barbara Seng (2008), Billy Bye (2009), Bob McDonald (2014) and Eugene “Lefty” Wright (2016).

--To see video and photos from the Hall of Fame ceremony, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Tollefson To Be Inducted Into National High School Hall of Fame 6/29/2018
CHICAGO – Carrie Tollefson, one of the top cross-country and track athletes in Minnesota history, will be among 12 people inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame on Monday during ceremonies at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile. The event will cap the 99th annual summer meeting of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Other inductees include former University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne and Dick Fosbury, who revolutionized the high jump as a high school athlete in Oregon.

Tollefson won five Minnesota State High School League state cross-country championships at Dawson-Boyd High School from 1990 to 1994, including the first as an eighth-grader. She also won eight individual track and field titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, and she set a state record in the 3,200 in 1994 with a time of 10:30.28. Tollefson’s 13 individual titles in cross-country and track are the most ever in Minnesota.

Tollefson’s dominance continued at Villanova University, where she won five individual NCAA titles – the indoor and outdoor 3K, the outdoor 5K and two cross-country titles – and helped her team to the 1999 NCAA team championship. She was a 10-time All-American and the 1998 NCAA Indoor Track Athlete of the Year. Tollefson made the 2004 U.S. Olympic team and participated in the 1,500 meters in Athens, Greece.

Since her competitive days concluded, Tollefson has conducted distance running camps and served as a motivational speaker and clinic presenter, and she hosts a weekly online show on running and fitness entitled “C Tolle Run.”

Tollefson will become the 14th Minnesotan inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame. The others are:

John Mayasich (1986)
Janet Karvonen (1987)
Bronko Nagurski (1989)
Willard Ikola (1992)
Jerry Seeman (1992)
Paul Giel (1998)
Kevin McHale (2000)
Dorothy McIntyre (2003)
Terry Steinbach (2007)
Barbara Seng (2008)
Billy Bye (2009)
Bob McDonald (2014)
Lefty Wright (2016)

Osborne was a three-sport standout (football, basketball, track and field) at Hastings (Nebraska) High School in the early 1950s before becoming one of the most successful coaches in college football history. Fosbury developed the upside-down, back-layout leap known as the Fosbury Flop at Medford (Oregon) High School and later perfected it by winning the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Another former high school athlete chosen for the 2018 class is Nicole Powell, one of Arizona’s top all-time girls basketball players during her days at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix who later excelled at Stanford University and in the WNBA.

Five outstanding coaches were selected for the 2018 class, including Miller Bugliari, the all-time leader nationally in boys soccer coaching victories with a 850-116-75 record in 58 years at The Pingry School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and Dorothy Gaters, the Illinois state leader with 1,106 career victories in 42 years as girls basketball coach at John Marshall High School in Chicago who won her ninth Illinois High School Association state title last season.

Other coaches who will be honored this year are Buddy Anderson, the winningest football coach in Alabama history with 329 victories in 40 years at Vestavia Hills High School; Jeff Meister, girls and boys swimming coach at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, who has led his teams to a combined 34 Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championships; and Bill O’Neil, who retired last year after winning almost 1,300 games as the boys ice hockey, girls soccer and girls softball coach at Essex High School in Essex Junction, Vermont.

The other three members of the 2018 class are Roger Barr, who retired in 2015 after a 43-year career in high school officiating in Iowa, including the final 13 years as director of officials for the Iowa High School Athletic Association; Dick Neal, who retired in 2013 after a 34-year career as executive director of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association; and Bill Zurkey, who retired in 2012 after an outstanding 35-year career as a choral director in three Ohio schools, including the final 25 years at Avon Lake High School.

The National High School Hall of Fame was started in 1982 by the NFHS to honor high school athletes, coaches, contest officials, administrators, performing arts coaches/directors and others for their extraordinary achievements and accomplishments in high school sports and performing arts programs. This year’s class increases the number of individuals in the Hall of Fame to 470.

The 12 individuals were chosen after a two-level selection process involving a screening committee composed of active high school state association administrators, coaches and officials, and a final selection committee composed of coaches, former athletes, state association officials, media representatives and educational leaders.

Nominations were made through NFHS member associations.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Maggie Ewen: From Minnesota To A National Championship 6/25/2018
On a spring day in 2013, I sat down in a classroom to interview an athlete who was nearing the end of an illustrious high school career. Maggie Ewen was a senior at St. Francis who a few weeks later would capture her fourth big-school state championship in the shot put and her third title in the discus.

The resulting story began with these words …

At least one more inch. That’s all Maggie Ewen thinks about when she steps into the discus or shot put circle. The St. Francis High School senior is not focused on state records or national records or her college career or the Olympics. Just one more inch. That’s it.

“For me, throwing is not about winning the meet, it’s about doing better than I’ve ever done,” she said. “I just want to do better than I did before, even if it’s an inch.”

On Sunday afternoon at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa, Maggie and I held another interview session. A lot has changed since that day five years ago, but a lot hasn’t. After making her debut as a professional athlete by winning the shot put at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships, she echoed the words she spoke as a high school senior.

“The goal always is to just throw farther,” she said. “If that gets me a title, if that gets me a record, that’s just kind of bonus on top of everything. I’m really just here to try and throw farther.”

From St. Francis, Ewen went to Arizona State University. Adding the hammer throw to her discus and shot put repertoire, she won seven Pac-12 Conference titles and four NCAA championships while setting two NCAA records. She turned pro after this spring’s NCAA championships (and graduating with a degree in exercise and wellness) and signed a sponsorship deal with Nike. She opened the USATF meet by finishing second in the women’s discus on Thursday. Then came two days of waiting and preparing for Sunday’s

Her pro shot put debut was quite a scene. Her cheering section included parents Bruce and Kristi Ewen, aunts and uncles, high school throwing coach Mark Hanson, and even one of her elementary teachers. Kristi yelled, “Go Maggie!” as her daughter stepped into the circle.

There was plenty of drama involved. Maggie’s opening throw of 58 feet, 10 1/4 inches put her in fourth place after the first of six rounds. She threw 62-7 ¾ in the second round and fouled in the third. At that point the leading throw was 63-1 ¼ by Jessica Ramsey and Ewen’s 62-7 ¾ put her in second place.

Her fourth throw was 60-11 and then came the big one. Maggie’s penultimate attempt flew 63 feet, 3 ½ inches, the best throw of the day at that point. Her celebration was muted, little more than a couple of clenched fists at waist level.

“It was far but I didn’t know how far,” she said later. “I was happy but I still needed to wait and see what it would do for me.”

Ewen threw 61-5 ¾ on her last attempt, and then came the waiting game as the other throwers took their final shots. Ramsey had the last throw of the competition and one more chance to overtake Ewen. Ramsey whirled in the circle, the ball sailed high out of her hand … and she stepped over the toe board for a foul.

The St. Francis contingent exploded in cheers and hugs as Maggie’s national championship was clinched.

This was quite an accomplishment for a young woman who has always been known for her work ethic and calm demeanor. She comes from an athletic family. Bruce was a thrower at Illinois State who participated at the 1988 Olympic trials in the hammer. Kristi played volleyball at Columbia Heights and Ohio State. Maggie’s older sister Alicia played volleyball at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. Alicia also was a track and field athlete and Maggie played volleyball in high school.

“When Maggie was a sixth-grader she watched her sister throw and she was writing down all the distances,” Hanson told me for that 2013 story.

“One of the fondest memories I have is when she was an eighth-grader at state; she was practicing and she went through at least 40 dry runs without a discus in her hand all by herself. To see that drive in her, that young, was amazing.”

That drive to succeed has taken Maggie to great heights. Her Minnesota state records in the shot put (54-8 ½) and discus (175-9) still stand, and her next competition will be the Athletics World Cup in London in mid-July.

As a professional athlete who for the first time in her life isn’t competing as a member of a team, Maggie said she felt very few nerves at the USATF championships.

“Honestly, I felt super relaxed,” she said. “Just being able to represent myself pretty much, not have to worry about a whole team that I need to represent and support, just to go out there and have fun. It was really low stress, a lot of good energy, and that’s how I like to compete.”

Maggie’s Twitter profile page includes these three notations…

“Arizona State … Track and field … Minnesota Pride”

Well done.

Other Minnesotans At USATF Championships

Three Minnesotans competed in the men’s 10,000 meters, with Hopkins grad Reed Fischer finishing fourth on the same track where he competed as an athlete at Drake. Winona alum Garrett Heath was fifth and White Bear Lake grad Joel Reichow placed 12th in the field of 23.

Fridley High School and Gophers graduate Harun Abda advanced through the first round in the men’s 800 meters but did not finish high enough in the semifinal round to qualify for the finals.

In the men’s 1,500 meters, Minneapolis South and University of Minnesota alum Hassan Mead did not advance past the prelims. Another former Gopher, Stillwater graduate Ben Blankenship, was entered in the 1,500 but withdrew before the prelims. Both Mead and Blankenship ran the 1,500 at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Mead also ran the 5,000 meters at the USTFA meet, as did Hopkins and University of Colorado runner Joe Klecker. Mead finished third and Klecker was ninth in a field of 21 runners.

In the men’s steeplechase, Mounds Park Academy and University of Michigan graduate Mason Ferlic ran in the prelims but did not advance to the finals.

Molli Detloff, an Elk River High School alum who this spring finished her career at the University of North Dakota, finished 10th in the hammer. Rosemount High School grad and current North Dakota State athlete Payton Otterdahl placed 15th in the shot put.

Two Minnesota natives competed in the heptathlon. Willmar and University of North Dakota alum Rose Jackson placed 13th and Shaina Burns of Lakeville South and Texas A&M finished 14th.

In the men’s long jump, Staples-Motley alum Brian Huber, the NCAA Division III national champion for Minnesota State Moorhead this spring, placed 15th.

Several University of Minnesota track athletes who did not attend high school in Minnesota also competed in Des Moines. Among them was Emma Spagnola, who did not advance past the semifinals in the women’s 400-meter hurdles. Another Gopher, Madeline Strandemo, a Fargo, N.D, native, competed in the women’s steeplechase but did not advance to the final round. Former Gopher Sean Donnelly, a native of Ohio, finished third in the men’s hammer.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Vaulting From Mounds View To Finland6/20/2018
One of the most dominant high school athletes in Minnesota, who has been previously profiled on John’s Journal, made a splash on the national scene over the weekend and is now headed to an international competition.

Julia Fixsen, who will be a senior at Mounds View High School in the fall, has had quite a spring in the pole vault. She broke the girls state record in an early-season indoor meet with a distance of 13 feet, 9 inches and then topped that mark with a height of 13-9 ¼ earlier this month in winning the Class 2A state title for the second year in a row.

Julia competed Sunday at the USA Track & Field Junior Outdoor Championships in Bloomington, Indiana, and she once again extended her state record by clearing 13-11 1/4 while placing second. The athletes who finished first and third were collegians from Virginia Tech and Michigan State who are two years older than Julia.

Her high finish earned her a spot on the U.S. team that will compete at the world junior championships July 10-15 in Tampere, Finland (the event is officially known as the International Association of Athletics Federation World U20 Championships).

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn