John's Journal
From Edgerton 1960 To Hancock 2019, Special Moments Abound11/30/2019
If you know the history of Minnesota high school sports, you know about little Edgerton's 1960 state basketball champions. A fellow who played on that team 59 years ago sat down next to me in the press box at U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday morning and said, "John, I might have a story for you."

Dean Verdoes is well-known as a member of Edgerton's starting five, and he went on to a distinguished career as an educator. He is retired now but volunteers at many MSHSL events. His Prep Bowl duty was working as a band host, which takes us to the story he recommended.

He told me about the band from Hancock, which he helped direct to their seats before the Owls played Mountain Lake Area in the Nine-Man state championship game. He told me that band director Jeanine Rupp was a very nice young person, and that several Hancock alums had arrived to play with the band. Jeanine confirmed this when we chatted during the game.

Hancock's high school enrollment is 198, and 67 of those kids participate in band. That includes 16 football players. Jeanine, 24, said she reached out to alumni musicians.

"With 16 of those football players out there (on the field) we needed some help to fill out sections where we're a little bit low," she said.

Jeanine and I sat in the second row near one of the end zones, chatting for a few minutes before the second half of the championship game resumed. It was one of many unseen but important off-the-field moments during the Prep Bowl weekend.

One of my favorite places at the stadium is the postgame interview room, the same one used by the Vikings. After each game, coaches from both teams meet with the media. They talk about Xs and Os, for sure, but they also talk about their roles as coaches.

Caledonia coach Carl Fruechte was especially poignant after the Warriors captured their fifth consecutive Class 2A title. One of his players, a young man named Isaiah, had been ejected late in the game and the coach was asked about a private discussion he had with Isaiah afterwards.

"I think that's why you coach," he said. "If you just coach for football, I think you're wrong. We want to make a difference in their lives. And Isaiah is a great kid. He's a great, great kid. Sometimes I think as a society we're almost too hard on these guys. We are so proud of Isaiah. He's gone through a lot in his life. All his brothers will stick up with him, stick up for him. He's going to be a great human being and we're going to be really proud. And I think that connection has led to the success that we've had. Again, I don't think kids play the sport just to play. They want more out of the sport than just to win a football game or a basketball game, they want that relationship, they want to know that somebody's got their back, somebody they can trust in when the going gets tough."

Similar sentiments, going far beyond football and sports, were expressed by other coaches.

"They're great football players but better kids, and that's what makes it a lot of fun," said Chad Gimbel, whose Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms won the Class 1A championship in their first Prep Bowl appearance. "You come to practice every day, and it was hard yesterday when I talked about this being the last time we're going to practice. We've never had that before, where you know it's the last time that you're going to get together and be able to practice as a team. I got a little emotional, and it's hard because you really care about these kids and love these kids as your own."

James Herberg was promoted from assistant to head coach at Rocori prior to last season. The Spartans went 2-8 in 2018 before rolling to the Class 4A state title Friday with a 22-21 overtime win over SMB. That gave Herberg a career record of 13-10.

"This is an incredible group of guys. I just wish I really could put it into words," Hedberg said after the game. "I'm incredibly blessed to be their head football coach, but these guys truly play for each other. They want to be around each other. And it's just been an absolute pleasure. I'm so grateful for these guys. And it's not just on the field, it's off the field and their personal lives, as well. But if you're going to do something, you're going to make sure that you go all in, and you're going to go above and beyond what's asked of you, and credit to these guys for following that model. They're going to be incredible men after they leave Rocori High School."

Mountain Lake Area played in the Prep Bowl a year ago, falling to Spring Grove 40-18. The Wolverines were ranked No. 1 in Nine-Man throughout the 2019 season and had never trailed on the scoreboard until Saturday, when Hancock led 14-0 in the first half.

"We talked about it all season long, that sometimes we may not come out very strong and sometimes we may get behind but you have to face adversity and come out, play hard," Wolverines coach Tim Kirk said after his team rallied to top the Owls 22-14.

"When the whiteboard is full of junk, and orange markers, blue markers, gray markers, black markers, it looks like garbage on the whiteboard," he said. "But you clean it off and it's pure, as white as snow. And that's what we've been doing. I got a little nervous when we were down 14-0 because it was just bad; we did some good things but it was just costly turnovers and whatever else happened, but it shows the grit in these guys.

"What I really noticed today is when we were down 14-0 I think I said something about, 'Hey, this is awesome. Let's see what we've got.' And a few of them looked at me like I was crazy but a few looked up and knew, 'Let's see what we're made of.' And we showed it today."

One of the most uplifting stories of the 2019 football season was how the Dassel-Cokato Chargers kept Jacob MacDonald as part of the team. He died two years ago and his classmates are now seniors. The Chargers kept Jacob's No. 34 jersey with them at every game, including Saturday's Class 3A Prep Bowl contest against Pierz.

In a back-and-forth game that went down to the final moments, Pierz came away with a 28-27 victory. In the handshake line, Pierz coach Dan Saehr put an arm around Dassel-Cokato senior quarterback Sanders Asplin.

"I told him he was a tremendous football player, and I also said that I knew he and the rest of the team and the community were playing for a tremendous, tremendous cause, Jacob McDonald. That's a heck of a story and on their end they're hoping for the fairytale ending. That?s a very classy team over there and you respect those kids for how they play the game and how they go about it. He was nothing but a class act, as well as many of the other kids, and it's really cool when you can see a high school football game do that."

Yes indeed. That's the essence of high school sports and activities. Teamwork, service to teammates and others, everyone pulling together and giving it their all while respecting the opponent and the game.

It was that way when Dean Verdoes was playing basketball in 1960 and it's that way as Jeanine Rupp directs a band in 2019.

PREP BOWL XXXVIII
At U.S. Bank Stadium

Friday, November 29
Class 1A: Blooming Prairie 41, BOLD 15
Class 2A: Caledonia 26, Minneapolis North 0
Class 4A: Rocori 22, SMB 21 (overtime)
Class 6A: Wayzata 35, Champlin Park 20

Saturday, November 30
Nine-Man: Mountain Lake Area 22, Hancock 14
Class 3A: Pierz 28, Dassel-Cokato 27
Class 5A: Chaska 10, St. Thomas Academy 7

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea? wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Jackson County Central Football And A Viral Video11/25/2019
On a peaceful November Monday in Jackson County there was some measure of disappointment that the Jackson County Central Huskies would not be playing at the Prep Bowl later in the week. But those feelings were tempered by an immeasurable amount of pride in knowing what the world thought of the boys on the football team from the little southwest Minnesota town near the Iowa border.

In a tiny gym inside Pleasantview Elementary in Lakefield, 12 miles from Jackson, four of those boys were teaching. The senior team captains -- Nathaniel Post, Bradley Buhl Jr., Rudy Voss and Jack Brinkman – spent the day with fifth- and sixth-graders, playing games and talking about what's important. They emphasized words like respect, character, hard work. And love.

"The three things that I want you guys to take with you are things that I live by, that we all live by," Voss said to the kids sitting on the gym floor. "The first one is love. Love each other, respect each other, form a bond with each other. The second one is work hard. Work hard in anything you guys do, whether it's sports, the classroom, group projects, work hard. And the third one is respect. Respect each other, respect your teachers, respect your parents. Holding the door for someone, saying please and thank you, that's the kind of people we want you guys to be.”

If Rudy's name sounds familiar, it's probably because you’ve seen a viral video from the Nov. 16 Class 3A state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. After the Huskies lost a heartbreaking 20-14 decision to Pierz in a game between unbeaten teams, Voss, Buhl and coach Tom Schuller spoke to the media in the Vikings’ postgame interview room.

The video is emotional and stirring. Rudy, through tears, talked about football being a blessing in his life, the bond among the 21 seniors, how wins and losses don’t define them. At one point, Rudy is unable to speak and Bradley takes over, putting a hand on his teammate’s back and talking about how at the start of the season each player was asked to do their job and trust each other.

At that point, no one knew the impact their words would have. Two days later, A.J. Feldman of Lakeland News in Brainerd and Bemidji (who was covering Pierz) Tweeted a video clip of Rudy and Bradley that lasted 2 minutes, 12 seconds. And that video went off like a rocket.

It was re-Tweeted by NFL Hall of Famers, posted on a social media platform called TikTok by the NFL, went viral on the MSHSL Facebook page and just about everywhere else. It’s safe to say that millions have seen it and countless numbers of young athletes have been inspired by it. People as far away as Australia and Ireland have liked it on Twitter, and Voss and Buhl have received private social media messages from Scotland and many other locations.

“I can't tell you how many DMs (direct messages) I've had and Brad's had,” Rudy said after the school day ended. “Just kids that have reached out to us and said, ‘You're an inspiration, you make me want to work harder’ and things like that. That’s probably the best thing. It’s awesome. It’s just crazy how worldwide it is.”

The background of the video includes a Vikings logo, and at least one viewer thought the two players were local NFLers.

“One of our favorite comments was a guy saying, ‘Can you believe these grown men, professionals, are crying. This is their job,’ ” Voss said, laughing.

As the video went wild, JCC activities director Shelly Hotzler came up with the idea of having the captains share their message with younger students. On Tuesday they spent the day in a similar fashion with middle schoolers.

At the elementary school Monday, Brinkman asked the younger kids if they had seen the video. Of course they had.

“Yeah, these guys are like famous now,” he said. “Isn’t that cool? So these two showed really good character. They went into that press conference and they talked. They were asked questions like, ‘What does football mean to you? What does your team mean to you?’ And these two came up with the best answers you could have asked for, and that's why they're famous. They said that it wasn't about the games that meant the most, it was being with the teammates, being with the coaches, the lifting, the bus rides, all that.

“Events are going to happen, sometimes bad things happen. It's how you respond, which is the biggest part, and they responded really well. Which is why something like 10 million people have seen the video. It’s how you respond. So if something bad happens in your life, respond well. Be kind.”

Schuller, who teaches special education, admits he isn’t well-versed in social media. But he knows about the character of students at his school and players on his team.

“You could have had eight to 10 guys who would have sounded like that,” he said. “That's the really crazy thing about it. I mean, we have a lot of very articulate kids that would have had the same thoughts. That's a special group, there's no doubt.”

Brinkman agreed, saying “Truly, I think what they said was perfect and if you asked any of the other seniors they would have had a similar response. I think our coaches have instilled that in us.”

Schuller said he was proud of his players, because they gave it everything they had against Pierz. Jackson County Central led 14-0 after the first quarter and was in front until Pierz took the lead on a 48-yard touchdown pass with 1:19 left in the fourth quarter.

“One of our big things is we tell the guys if you do your best, that's got to be good enough,” Schuller said. “You have to make sure that kids trust you, that when they put it out there, it is good enough. And what they put out there that day was. And that's the first thing I said to the Pierz kids; we congratulated them and said it was everything we had, and they said that was everything they had, too.

“And we said ‘Good luck.’ I don't know if I'll watch the championship game (Pierz will meet Dassel-Cokato for the state title on Saturday) because that was a tough loss but we have a lot of respect for the Pierz team and their players. I don't think there was a cross word said out there between the players or coaches and officials and it was kind of what we're trying for in athletics.”

Still, it was a tough loss to take. And seeing the video remains difficult for some.

“That video is still hard to watch for all of us,” Post said. “I watched it the first time with my mom next to me and she couldn't finish watching it. But it just kind of explains the brotherhood we have going on here.”

Voss said, “I couldn’t even remember what I said. After I left the room I had a little idea but I had so many emotions. You could have asked me a couple hours later and I really couldn't remember what I even said.”

There’s no need to remember the details now. The world knows.

--See the video on the MSHSL Facebook page along with photos from Monday.

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

Dakota United, South Washington County Are Adapted Soccer Champs11/23/2019
When the adapted soccer teams from Dakota United and St. Paul Humboldt advanced to Saturday's Physically Impaired (PI) championship game at Stillwater High School, there were no surprises. The same teams met a year ago for the title, with Humboldt winning a narrow 5-4 decision. They met again three previous times this season, with Dakota United winning two of those matchups.

That trend continued in the gold-medal game, with Dakota United topping Humboldt 5-2. Sophomore forward Samuel Gerten scored all five of United’s goals, while freshman wing Donte Willis and sophomore defender Liban Farah scored for Humboldt.

"We had a great weekend, all the players did a phenomenal job,” said Dakota United Coach Lorrie Buecksler. “You know your top players need to play well but really our whole team needed to play well to get through all the way to a championship. And every single one of our players was ‘on’ this weekend in every game they played, and that was crucial.

“That was key to actually taking this tournament because Humboldt is amazing. They're a great team. We knew they were extremely tough. But honestly, our players needed to be ‘on’ and they were. They look for who's open, they do exactly what I say most of the time, but it was the fact that every kid I put out from the bench took off and put it all out on the court. They knew what to do and they were able to do it really well.”

In the Cognitively Impaired (CI) Division, South Washington County defeated Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee 3-1 in the championship game. Tyler Tinucci scored twice for South Washington County and Brian Barcelon had one goal. Nathan Castaneda scored for Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee.

Adapted soccer state tournament

PI Division Results

Fifth-place game
Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka 11, Anoka-Hennepin 3
Third-place game
Rochester 3, Minneapolis South 1
Championship
Dakota United 5, St. Paul Humboldt 2

CI Division Results
Fifth-place game
Dakota United 3, St. Cloud Area 0
Third-place game
South Suburban 5, Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville 3
Championship
South Washington County 3, Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee 1

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Dakota United, South Washington County Are Adapted Soccer Champs11/23/2019
When the adapted soccer teams from Dakota United and St. Paul Humboldt advanced to Saturday's Physically Impaired (PI) championship game at Stillwater High School, there were no surprises. The same teams met a year ago for the title, with Humboldt winning a narrow 5-4 decision. They met again three previous times this season, with Dakota United winning two of those matchups.

That trend continued in the gold-medal game, with Dakota United topping Humboldt 5-2. Sophomore forward Samuel Gerten scored all five of United’s goals, while freshman wing Donte Willis and sophomore defender Liban Farah scored for Humboldt.

"We had a great weekend, all the players did a phenomenal job,” said Dakota United Coach Lorrie Buecksler. “You know your top players need to play well but really our whole team needed to play well to get through all the way to a championship. And every single one of our players was ‘on’ this weekend in every game they played, and that was crucial.

“That was key to actually taking this tournament because Humboldt is amazing. They're a great team. We knew they were extremely tough. But honestly, our players needed to be ‘on’ and they were. They look for who's open, they do exactly what I say most of the time, but it was the fact that every kid I put out from the bench took off and put it all out on the court. They knew what to do and they were able to do it really well.”

In the Cognitively Impaired (CI) Division, South Washington County defeated Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee 3-1 in the championship game. Tyler Tinucci scored twice for South Washington County and Brian Barcelon had one goal. Nathan Castaneda scored for Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee.

Adapted soccer state tournament

PI Division Results

Fifth-place game
Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka 11, Anoka-Hennepin 3
Third-place game
Rochester 3, Minneapolis South 1
Championship
Dakota United 5, St. Paul Humboldt 2

CI Division Results
Fifth-place game
Dakota United 3, St. Cloud Area 0
Third-place game
South Suburban 5, Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville 3
Championship
South Washington County 3, Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee 1

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Everybody Wins When Perspective Is Proper 11/16/2019
Gratefulness. Appreciation. Pride.

Win or lose, those were prominent themes during three big days of high school football at U.S. Bank Stadium. The state semifinals, 14 games in all from Thursday morning to late Saturday night, are always an amalgam of tiny schools from tiny towns and great big schools from great big towns and everything in between.

It's no surprise that the winners were thrilled and the losing teams were disappointed. But if someone eavesdropping on Saturday's postgame interview sessions had been confused about who won or who lost, it would have been understandable.

One coach ended a lengthy opening statement with these words: "I'm going to walk out of here and go talk to my kids with my head high because they deserve it."

That was Browerville-Eagle Valley's Wayne "Ribsy" Petermeier. His Tigers lost to BOLD 56-7 in Class 1A but he seemed for all the world like a coach whose team had just won. And they had … maybe not on the scoreboard but in more important ways.

“I couldn't be prouder of a group of kids,” Petermeier said. “At the beginning of the year we weren't even supposed to be in the top four in our district. You know, they were talking about a whole bunch of other teams and 'watch out for this team’ and ‘watch out for that team’ and not once was our name in any of those thoughts. And we just kept getting better and better and better. We had a group of seniors that didn't play a whole lot last year and they stepped up and they just played outstanding. I couldn't be prouder of a group of kids that gave everything they had.

“At the beginning of this year our mantra was to be committed. Be committed to the team, be committed to yourself, be committed to the guy next to you and be committed in school. And they took that to heart. Every one of our kids got better in the classroom. Every one of them got better on the football field.”

A few hours later, a winning coach was nearly brought to tears when asked about the team’s clinching of a long-dreamed-of Prep Bowl berth. The coach was Chad Gimbel of Blooming Prairie, which defeated Ada-Borup 41-0 and will meet BOLD in the state championship game on Nov. 29.

This is the fourth time an Awesome Blossoms team coached by Gimbel has been to the state playoffs, but this will be their first appearance in the Prep Bowl. Gimbel stopped to gather himself when talking about the significance of that achievement.

“I've been doing this for 23 years and this is our fourth time so it’s a big breakthrough with this group of guys, and that's awesome,” he said. “It’s a great group of senior leaders and stuff but, you know, as a coach and player that’s been through it for so many years, to finally break through and get that opportunity; that's a huge step for us and for our program, and for our kids. I'm super happy that they get to experience this, because I haven't gotten to this point in 23 years so hopefully they take the message that this is quite a step and not everybody gets to do this.”

Before Gimbel became coach, Blooming Prairie also went to the state playoffs three times in the 1970s and once in the 1980s. The current Blossoms are aware of what came before them.

“This isn't just our accomplishment,” said senior Jarrett Larson. “This is for all the great football players before us that have carried on the Blossom way, taught us tradition, taught us how to play Blossom football the right way.”

Dassel-Cokato plays with a purpose

The Chargers of Dassel-Cokato, who defeated Annandale 24-14 in Saturday’s Class 3A semifinals, know about loss. And that knowledge has nothing to do with football.

Two years ago Jacob McDonald, a multi-sport athlete, died from a freak peanut allergy incident. His classmates are now seniors and they have his No. 34 jersey with them on the bus, in the locker room and on the bench.

“He was a terrific leader,” said senior Sanders Asplin. “That's why he's our honorary captain this year. He’s been an inspiration for all of us to play our hardest, because you never know what could happen.”

Chargers coach Ryan Weinandt said his team has learned lessons about facing adversity.

“We have been in these (close) games before, and these guys have shown a ton of resiliency,” he said. “This group went through a lot and showed a ton of resiliency. We've kind of seen the worst and we know losing a football game isn't that. We've learned that no matter what happens, we're going to stick together and we're going to fight, and they’ve got to believe.”

Girls state swimming and diving

--Visitation won the Class 1A girls swimming and diving state title Saturday at the University of Minnesota Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center. The Blazers scored 318 points, followed by Hutchinson with 250 and a tie for third between Delano and Sauk Centre at 145. New 1A state meet records: 50 freestyle, Grace Hanson, Hutchinson, 22.79 (tied previous record); 100 backstroke, Emma Kern, Delano, 54.95; 400 freestyle relay, Hutchinson, 3:26.4.

--In Class 2A, Edina won the team state title with 344 points, followed by Minnetonka at 305, Eden Prairie at 205 and Wayzata at 189.

Football State Semifinals At U.S. Bank Stadium

THURSDAY
9-MAN/ Hancock 65, Mountain Iron-Buhl 32
2A/ Minneapolis North 55, Paynesville 32
4A/ SMB 22, Hutchinson 16
6A/ Champlin Park 31, Lakeville North 21

FRIDAY
9-MAN/ Mountain Lake Area 45, Win-E-Mac 6
2A/ Caledonia 43, Barnesville 12
5A/ Chaska 34, Coon Rapids 14
4A/ Rocori 48, Winona 24
6A/ Wayzata 28, Lakeville South 14

SATURDAY
1A/ BOLD 56, Browerville-Eagle Valley 7
1A/ Blooming Prairie 41, Ada-Borup 0
3A/ Dassel-Cokato 24, Annandale 14
3A/ Pierz 20, Jackson County Central 14
5A/ St. Thomas Academy 53, Elk River 16

PREP BOWL XXXVIII
At U.S. Bank Stadium


Friday, November 29
10 a.m. Class 1A: BOLD vs. Blooming Prairie
1 p.m. Class 2A: Minneapolis North vs. Caledonia
4 p.m. Class 4A: SMB vs. Rocori
7 p.m. Class 6A: Champlin Park vs. Wayzata

Saturday, November 30
10 a.m. Nine-Man: Hancock vs. Mountain Lake Area
1 p.m. Class 3A: Dassel-Cokato vs. Pierz
4 p.m. Class 5A: Chaska vs. St. Thomas Academy

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