John's Journal
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
No. 3 from 2017-18: Female Football Official Kelly Banyai7/15/2018
We have reached No. 3 on the list of my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from 2017-18. This one is pretty special because it's about a pretty special person. Kelly Banyai is a rarity: a female football official. She's also dedicated, committed and talented. In fact, she's an inspiration. This story was originally posted on Sept. 21.

Football Official Kelly Banyai: ‘I Like Being Part Of A Team Again’

A few high school football players in Minnesota have been a little surprised in recent weeks after addressing an official as “sir” and then quickly realizing their mistake. Kelly Banyai has heard that honorific several times on the field, but it doesn’t bother her one little bit.

“They’ll call me ‘sir’ and then they apologize and I’m like, ‘That’s OK. No big deal.’ It doesn’t matter to me,” said Banyai, who is one of a small number of females among 1,433 football officials registered with the MSHSL and is believed to be the only woman working varsity games in 2017.

Banyai, 39, is the mother of two children ages 10 and nine; her husband Matt is a St. Paul firefighter. They live in Prior Lake, where Kelly played high school basketball before continuing her basketball career at St. Mary’s University in Winona. She is in her second year as an MSHSL football official and her first year working varsity games. She is a back judge, positioned behind the defense.

“You learn from everybody,” she said. ‘I like being part of a team again. It’s really fun, it’s a good hobby. I can’t scrapbook, I’m not artsy, I hate shopping. I wish I would have done it when I was in my 20s and got an earlier start. I’m telling my kids, ‘You’re going to be a referee.’ It teaches you so much about handling situations.”

She began thinking about officiating when her son began playing youth football. She was explaining some of the rules to him when she realized, “I always watch and love football but never played or coached. I had a desire to be somewhat involved.”

She went to the MSHSL website and filled out a form for people interested in officiating. She soon received a phone call from Tom Wollan, an experienced official with the Suburban Officials Association. Young MSHSL officials are paired with veterans, and Wollan became Banyai’s mentor.

“Tom called me and he was so welcoming,” she said. “I didn’t want to do any other sports. The plays are really quick, you keep moving, the parents aren’t right on top of you. I’ve enjoyed it so much. Everyone in the Suburban Association has been so helpful.”

Wollan was the referee (informally known as the white cap) and Banyai was the back judge for last Friday’s Chaska-Chanhassen game. She was filling in for Gordy Hanson, a regular member of Wollan’s crew who was off to officiate a college game. Banyai is not part of a regular officiating crew but fills in for absent officials this season.

“Gordy is about as good an official as there is in the state of Minnesota,” said Wollan, a 16-year official who has worked in three state tournaments and one Prep Bowl. “We wanted to get the best possible sub we could for our crew. It became an opportunity for someone who was not as experienced. Kelly took to it pretty nicely. This year we said, ‘Why don’t we have her on our games when Gordy is gone.’ Will she be on a full-time crew next year? Probably.

“I think she’s got good aptitude, and she certainly has a good attitude for it. You like people around you who say, ‘Tell me what to do to be better.’ I’ve known her since before the 2016 season and I would have no hesitation in taking her on our crew full-time if for some reason there was on opening.”

Like a football player, Banyai has tried to gain as much experience as possible in order to improve her skills. She began her career last season by working lower-level games and flag football.

“I’ve tried to get as many snaps as I could,” she said. “I tell the crews, ‘There are so many things I’m horrible at.’ ”

She works in medical sales for Integra LifeSciences. She laughed when talking about officiating and sales: “In reffing you need a thick skin, and being in sales it has to be the thickest.”

Banyai has worked some big rivalry games this season. A week before the Chaska-Chanhassen game she was on the field when Mankato East and Mankato West squared off. She said she’s so focused on her job that she rarely notices the fans.

“I don’t hear the crowd until I try to hear the crowd,” she said.

Banyai spends time each week watching video of the teams she will see on Friday night. “That’s a good way to train, especially for the back judge,” she said. “ ‘Where are my keys, what am I looking for?’ ”

She’s thrilled that she became an official and encourages others to do the same.

“More people need to sign up to be refs,” she said. “It’s a needed position. We have so much sports for youth in Minnesota and we need to be supportive of all parts of it.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
No. 4 from 2017-18: A Major Car Accident, But The Umpire Still Did Her Job7/14/2018
As we continue counting down my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from the 2017-18 school year, here is No. 4. It's an astounding tale of a dedicated official who refused to let a serious car accident stop her from getting to a game. It was originally posted on May 21.

A Major Car Accident, But The Umpire Still Did Her Job

M.J. Wagenson was in such a hurry to get from one softball game to another that she was still wearing her chest protector and shin guards while driving. After working behind the plate at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III tournament in Rochester, the veteran umpire was driving 13 miles to a high school game in Stewartville last Thursday. And everything was going fine until another driver pulled out in front of her.

The result? Two vehicles that were total losses, but amazingly no injuries other than very minor burns on Wagenson’s hands from the air-bag deployment.

“With all the miles we put on as officials, I’m just thankful everybody was OK,” said Wagenson, a Pine Island resident who began working as an MSHSL softball and basketball official in 1986. She has worked many state tournaments in both sports and in 2016 she became the first female official at the boys state basketball tournament (where she also worked in 2017 and 2018). And after 32 years as a basketball and softball official, she has registered as a football official for the 2018-19 season.

Wagenson and Marshall Behrens had each umpired three junior college games in Rochester before driving separately to the game in Stewartville; it’s a testament to the shortage of officials in Minnesota that they were scheduled for four games in one day.

As they departed for Stewartville, Behrens was driving a few minutes ahead of Wagenson. After he arrived at the field, she called and said she had been in a car accident.

He told her, “ ‘Oh, that’s funny.’ But then I could tell in her voice it was real. I said, ‘Are you OK? Do you need me to come get you?’ ”

The wreck happened on the north end of Stewartville. The other driver pulled out from a convenience store, right into Wagenson’s path. She had a split second to turn her wheel before the left front of her 2011 Honda CRV struck the other vehicle in the left rear.

“The gentleman was exiting the Kwik Trip, turning left to go north,” she said. “I was southbound on the divided highway there. I was in the left lane, there was a pickup in the right lane, the guy tried to scoot in front of the pickup and didn’t see me.”

Behrens, who was planning to work the bases, asked a parent to tell the coaches from Hayfield and Stewartville that the game would start a little late. He began changing into his home-plate gear.

“The coaches were great,” he said. “All they cared about was M.J.”

At this point, Wagenson was standing on the side of the highway. Passersby had stopped and someone called 911 while she called Behrens.

Wagenson teaches sport management at Rochester Community and Technical College. One of the two tow-truck drivers who arrived was one of her former students, and she climbed aboard the truck for a ride to the softball game.

“I said, ‘Could one of you give me a ride to the field?’ ” Already wearing her chest protector and shin guards, she grabbed her mask, field shoes, wallet and phone from the now-wrecked car. After the game in Stewartville ended, she called to arrange for a rental car, Behrens gave her a ride to pick it up, then she went to the tow yard and emptied everything else out of her car.

Her Honda, which had around 38,000 miles when she bought it in 2013, finished its driving days with 185,000 miles on the odometer.

Wagenson said she feels very grateful to be able to walk away from such a serious accident.

“My family’s lost a few family members and some close friends in the last year,” she said. “Standing on the side of the road, I was thanking all my angels. My sister texted me later and said, ‘I hope you thanked them all.’

“One of my friends said, ‘You went to the game?’ Missing the game never crossed my mind. I thought, ‘Marshall’s down there working the game and I’ve got to get there.’ ”

As the the game in Stewartville began with Behrens working solo, he never doubted that Wagenson would appear. And she did.

“In the bottom of the third inning, she strolled up like nothing had happened,” he said. “She got a nice ovation from everybody.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn