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Mankato West Soccer: Celebration, Exhilaration And Grief
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/23/2016 6:46:43 PM

This has been a hectic few days at the Makela household in Mankato. Soccer reigns for the family: Crissy Makela is in her 21st year as the only girls head coach Mankato West has ever had, and Scarlets senior Jake Makela is the leading boys scorer in the state. On Sunday, Jake was named Minnesota’s Mr. Soccer in Class 1A.

A few days earlier, on a postcard Thursday evening in New Prague, both Scarlets teams won Section 2 championship games to qualify for this week’s state tournament. The girls beat Northfield 2-0 and the boys defeated Worthington 4-3 in overtime, with Jake Makela (pictured) scoring three goals including the game-winner on a penalty kick.

“It’s almost a sense of disbelief,” Crissy said Thursday. “It takes so much to get to the state tournament, to be one of the last eight teams.”

The third-seeded Mankato West girls (17-2) will open the state tourney Tuesday against unseeded North Branch (11-7-2) in Farmington. The top-seeded Scarlets boys (17-2) will face unseeded Bemidji (18-2) at St. Cloud State on Wednesday. The winning teams in the state quarterfinals will advance to the semifinals (along with championship and third-place games) at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Jake’s overtime goal Thursday night was the first time he has won a game with a penalty kick in overtime. That was one of several reasons he was thrilled with the day’s results.

“Just the fact that both our girls and boys programs are going to be in the state tournament, and with my mom being the girls coach, it’s a great time in the Makela household,” he said.

Things changed early Saturday morning, when Crissy’s father passed away in hospice care. Mark Bouljon, 70, died after a long battle with liver cancer.

“We’ve been preparing for this for six months,” Crissy said. “At the same time, he always said not to make a big fuss. We’ve done what we’ve needed to do for the past six weeks to take care of things.” (Crissy is pictured on the far right in the back row.)

The soccer calendar meant the Makela family, along with all state tournament teams and candidates for Class 1A and 2A Mr. and Ms. Soccer, gathered at RiverCentre in St. Paul on Sunday for the state tourney banquet.

“It’s been really exciting and really chaotic,” Crissy said. “There has been a lot of texting and a lot of emailing. It’s been great. It’s really terrific and exciting for the teams and players and parents.”

The Scarlets girls previously went to state in 2009 and 2013. The boys have made five previous trips, the last in 2014. They both advanced to state in 2009.

“It’ll be great, it’ll be a fun time,” Scarlets boys coach Leonard Woelfel said of the dual trip to state.

Both Mankato West teams learned a hard lesson one year ago. Both were top-seeded in the section and were knocked out in the first round. The girls lost to Albert Lea and the boys fell to Mankato East.

“These girls have really been working since then, with that in their minds this whole time; ‘We’ve got to get that back,’ ” Crissy Makela said. “They’ve really put in a lot of time and effort. They started last summer and we’ve spent a lot of time in the weight room. The girls have really put in their time.”

The girls team opened the 2016 season with losses to Wayzata and St. Peter and have not lost since. Their 17-game winning streak includes 11 shutouts; only three teams have scored more than one goal against West in that span.

The West boys lost to Austin and Orono during the regular season and bring an 11-game winning streak to the state tournament. Jake Makela has been an offensive weapon for years, and his 38 goals lead the state this season. A fifth-year varsity veteran, he is only the third player in Minnesota boys history to score 100 career goals.

A big key to Jake’s success is what Woelfel called “his own personal drive.”

“He drives to succeed. He embraces the challenge of a couple guys (defending him). And he’s just got so much speed. If he can get around you with that speed; he knocks it off to the side once or twice and he’s gone.”

After Sunday’s banquet and Jake’s award as the top Class 1A boys soccer player in the state, the Makelas – Crissy and husband Rick, Jake, freshman Tyler and fifth-grader Aubrey -- returned home. The girls team will hold their final practice in preparation for state on Monday and the boys will have two days to prepare for their opening game at state.

It’s surely an odd mix of celebration and exhilaration in regards to soccer and grief at losing a father, father-in-law and grandfather. A memorial service for Mark Bouljon will be held Nov. 4 … one day after the state championship games.

“He wanted us to live our lives,” Crissy said. “And we have tried to do that.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 122
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 3,929
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/20/2016 11:04:25 PM

John’s Top Five Concession Items
1. Buffalo football/ bison burgers
2. Grand Meadow football/ pork burgers
3. New Prague section soccer/ wild rice soup
4. Stillwater soccer/ hot dogs
5. Montevideo football/ ice cream

Officially Speaking, These Guys Are Real Veterans
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/20/2016 10:58:43 PM

In the autumn of 1974, three young men began an adventure together. Their adventure included whistles, striped shirts and a game they loved: Football.

In the autumn of 2016, Scott Forbes, Bob Lebens and Tom Tucker are wrapping up their adventure. After 42 years, they may be the longest-serving trifecta of football officials in Minnesota history.

All three are well into their 60s. Forbes retired after the 2015 season and Lebens and Tucker will do the same when their postseason duties are finished this fall. The numbers are astounding – 126 seasons between the three (plus they all worked lower-level games for a few years before joining together) -- but here’s one way to put their longevity into perspective: They officiated a game involving a first-year head coach named Mike Grant at Forest Lake in 1981, and they officiated a game for that same Mike Grant at Eden Prairie in 2015.

Tucker got the earliest start of the three, becoming a registered MSHSL official when he was 18 years old and a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“I wanted to play football but I was too small,” he said. “Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you officiate?’ ” And away he went, working games in the Duluth area for four years before moving to the Twin Cities.

In the early days Forbes, Lebens and Tucker were a three-man officiating crew, which was the norm. Over the years a fourth, and then a fifth, official was added (college and NFL games have seven officials).

They have worked games involving some of the great players in Minnesota high school history, including future NFL players Larry Fitzgerald Jr. of Holy Angels, James Laurinaitis of Wayzata and Darrell Thompson of Rochester John Marshall. Thompson is now the longtime radio analyst for University of Minnesota football games.

“I’ve told Darrell we officiated his games,” Tucker said. “They couldn’t find pads big enough for his thighs and they had to ask the Vikings for help. We’ve been really fortunate. Players like that just stand out. We’ve seen some really great ones.”

Through all the years and all the games in all manner of weather conditions, many of the best memories for Forbes, Lebens and Tucker came off the field. They spend time together that includes social gatherings and travel.

“We’ve taken vacations and traveled together,” Forbes said. “We’ve always had an end-of-season party, and those are almost highlights of the season. The biggest, best memories are off the field, being together with them more so than on the field.

“I feel like we always had a very good crew. The schedule we had, the longevity. I feel good about what we did and how we did it. After a few years I don’t think we ever got into a situation that we couldn’t handle.”

Lebens, who retired a few years ago as an elementary teacher and high school basketball, track and baseball coach in Burnsville, said his favorite memories always include the relationships.

“The camaraderie, the fall evenings, the people you meet, the coaches you enjoy seeing and getting to know,” he said. “It’s the friendships over the years, going back to the same communities. As you get older and everybody else stays the same age, you meet friends and their sons and daughters, you meet people in the crowd you know or went to college with. I was in education all my life, so I ran into lots of people who said, ‘Hey, you were my teacher!’ ”

Forbes and Tucker are both retired from careers in sales. Forbes was as consistent in his “real” job as with officiating, spending 43 years with Ferguson Enterprises, a wholesale supplier of commercial and residential plumbing supplies. He started that job in 1973, his rookie year as an official.

“I was very lucky,” he said. “There were good people in both places.”

Tucker said working as an official was a good complement to his sales career.

“It helped me professionally. You need to keep your composure in sales, too.”

As they retire, the three officials wonder about the future of the game they love so much. New officials are always needed in all sports, but it can take a special kind of person to wear the stripes and give up their personal and family time for middling pay and abuse from spectators.

“You hear it all the time about shortages,” Tucker said. “This year we had guys gone for business trips or whatever and you have fill-ins. You have to ask, ‘Who’s been assigned? How many varsity games have you done?’ It is an issue. The only way to get better is by doing games. The coaches demand perfection. It’s hard but it’s the only way you can grow.”

When the three began their careers, most officials were teachers. Those days are long gone.

“Now there’s not a lot of teachers any more who do that.” Lebens said. “Trying to find officials in other vocations is really necessary. We had a substitute last year who was some sort of medical scientist at 3M. Those are the kinds of guys we need to get in, and we need to get college students interested.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a problem. Young people don’t like to listen to somebody yelling at them. Getting some experience at lower-level games is important. Officials associations are trying to do a good job, recruiting and finding mentors. There are a lot of good things going on to try to get people to officiate.”

Forbes said, “I think the biggest thing people don’t realize is how much time and effort officials put into it. There are meetings, rule study, we watch film. And the time it takes to travel to games. I don’t think the general public appreciates all that.”

All that time and effort and travel over more than four decades will soon end for Lebens and Tucker as they join Forbes in “official” retirement.

“If you get in with a good bunch of guys,” Lebens said, “it makes it really enjoyable.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 122
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 3,929
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Football Rankings: Nine-Man
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/18/2016 7:58:54 PM

1. Grand Meadow (6) (7-0) 78 1
2. Spring Grove (1) (7-0) 71 2
3. Waubun (1) (7-0) 61 4
4. Cleveland (7-0) 56 3
5. Edgerton-Ellsworth (7-0) 41 5
6. Nevis (7-0) 39 6
7. Ely (7-0) 34 7
8. Verndale (7-0) 27 8
9. Cromwell (7-0) 19 9
10.North Woods (7-0) 9 10
Others receiving votes: Stephen-Argyle 5.

Football Rankings: Class 1A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/18/2016 7:58:31 PM

1. Minneota (7) (7-0) 78 1
2. Minneapolis North (7-0) 70 2
3. BOLD (1) (7-0) 66 3
4. Rushford-Peterson (7-0) 51 4
5. Hinckley-Finlayson (7-0) 38 5
6. Fillmore Central (6-1) 37 6
7. Mahnomen (6-1) 28 9
8. Wabasso (6-1) 25 8 9.MayerLutheran (6-1) 22 NR
10.Upsala-Swanville (6-1) 9 NR
Others receiving votes: Polk County West 6, Blooming Prairie 6, Adrian 2, Goodhue 1, Pine River-Backus 1.

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