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An "Amazing Experience" At U.S. Bank Stadium
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/31/2016 11:04:05 AM

How outstanding was the first day of high school sports at U.S. Bank Stadium? Well, here is a statement from a soccer player whose team got beat Monday morning…

“This was probably the most amazing experience of my life so far. Just walking in through the tunnel to start it off was so amazing.”

Amazing indeed. Andover’s Alexander Gutenberg said those words after the Huskies lost to Stillwater 6-1 in the first game of the day, a Class 2A boys semifinal.

Kohei Adams, who scored three goals for the top-seeded Ponies, said, “I thought it was great. The atmosphere, I liked it a lot.”

After Wayzata defeated Edina in the other 2A boys semifinal, there were more raves about the stadium.

“I thought it was crazy,” said the Trojans’ Eric Aadelan, who had never been in the arena before Monday. “When I walked out on the field I just took a couple of minutes, looking around and taking it all in.”

Wayzata goalkeeper Collin Kubinski added, “It’s an amazing venue. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”

After the Class 1A boys semifinal when Northfield defeated Mankato West 3-0, West senior Jake Makela, the 1A Mr. Soccer this season, said, “It’s amazing, coming up here. You walk through that tunnel and you see the field and your jaw drops.”


Stillwater 6, Andover 1

Andover’s Hector Coronado made history by scoring the first high school goal inside the new stadium eight minutes into the game, but it was all Stillwater after. The top-seeded Ponies (21-0) needed only 16 seconds to answer after Coronado’s goal, with Patrick Allan scoring. Kohei Adams scored three times for Stillwater and Colman Farrington and Miguel Caravais had the other goals.

Wayzata 2, Edina 0
The Trojans defeated the Hornets for the third time this season, and the score in all three games was 2-0. Erik Aadalen scored in the 55th minute and Maclane King made it 2-0 six minutes later.


Northfield 3, Mankato West 0
Northfield held the top-seeded Scarlets to only one shot on goal, while Matteo Lombardo scored twice for the Raiders. Thomas Gallagher had the other goal for fourth-seeded Northfield.

St. Thomas Academy 1, Blake 0
William Mayleben’s goal on a header in the first half, coupled with a stout defense, led the Cadets into Thursday’s title game against Northfield. Game time is scheduled for 10 a.m. at U.S. Bank Stadium.


Benilde-St. Margaret’s 3, Hill-Murray 2

Vivian Shinall scored twice and Claire Van Derh Heide scored the game-winner with 2:31 remaining in the second half.

Mankato West 3, Dover-Eyota 0
McKenna Buisman’s first-half was all the Scarlets needed in advancing to Thursday’s title game against Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Shelby Lund added an insurance goal in the second half, followed by another goal on a penalty kick.


2A boys/ Stillwater 6, Andover 1
2A boys/ Wayzata 2, Edina 0
1A boys/ Northfield 3, Mankato West 0
1A boys/ St. Thomas Academy 1, Blake 0
1A girls/ Benilde-St. Margaret’s 3, Hill-Murray 2
1A girls/ Mankato West 3, Dover-Eyota 0

Noon: 2A girls/ Andover vs. Centennial
2 p.m.: 2A girls/ Rosemount vs. Minneapolis Washburn

8 a.m.: 1A boys/ Mankato West vs. Blake
10 a.m.: 1A girls/ Hill-Murray vs. Dover-Eyota
4 p.m.: 2A boys/ Andover vs. Edina

8 a.m.: 2A girls

10 a.m.: 1A boys/ Northfield vs. St. Thomas Academy
12:30 p.m.: 1A girls/ Benilde-St. Margaret’s vs. Mankato West
3 p.m.: 2A boys/ Stillwater vs. Wayzata
5:30 p.m.: 2A girls

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 164
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,492
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

State Soccer Game Schedule
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/30/2016 4:56:04 PM

Monday will mark history with the first day of high school sporting events inside U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. The MSHSL girls and boys state soccer tournament semifinal, third-place and championship games will begin Monday and culminate Thursday. (Halloween note: masks cannot be worn at the tournament.)

Tickets cost $12 for adults and $8 for students, and one ticket is good for an entire day's schedule of games. Tickets are sold at the stadium, but you can beat the lines by ordering online at www.mshsl.org/tickets

Here is the schedule for all three days...

8 a.m.: 2A boys/ #1 seed Stillwater vs. #4 seed Andover
10 a.m.: 2A boys/ #2 seed Wayzata vs. #3 seed Edina
Noon: 1A boys/ #1 seed Mankato West vs. #5 seed Northfield
2 p.m.: 1A boys/ #2 seed Blake vs. #3 seed St. Thomas Academy
4 p.m.: 1A girls/ #1 seed Benilde-St. Margaret’s vs. #4 seed Hill-Murray
6 p.m.: 1A girls/ Dover-Eyota vs. #3 seed Mankato West

Noon: 2A girls/ Andover vs. #5 seed Centennial
2 p.m.: 2A girls/ #2 seed Rosemount vs. #3 seed Minneapolis Washburn

10 a.m.: 1A girls
4 p.m.: 2A boys


8 a.m.: 2A girls
10 a.m.: 1A boys
12:30 p.m.: 1A girls
3 p.m.: 2A boys
5:30 p.m.: 2A girls

Familiar Names Fall In Football Playoffs
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/29/2016 10:39:38 PM

Football section semifinal games were held Saturday around the state, and the results included defeats for a pair of two-time defending state champions.

In Class 1A, Minneota lost to Wabasso 30-20 in Section 5. Minneota, which won the last two 1A state titles, also saw its 36-game winning streak end. The Vikings had not lost since falling to Chatfield in the 2013 Prep Bowl; their 36-game streak was the second-longest current streak in the state (Grand Meadow extended its streak to 46 straight on Saturday in Nine-Man football).

In Class 4A, Big Lake kicked a field goal as time expired to defeat Becker 29-26 in the Section 6 semifinals. Becker had won the last two state titles in 4A.

Blood, Sweat And Diabetes: Staples-Motley’s Izabella Edin
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/28/2016 6:55:44 PM

Izabella Edin is a fighter, and there is no doubt about that fact. Watching her during changeovers on the tennis court, you may be reminded of a prize fighter being treated by handlers between rounds.

At the Class 1A girls state tournament Friday, Izabella finished fourth among singles players. She played two matches Thursday and two more on Friday, closing the tournament with a 6-7 (1-7), 6-2, 6-2 loss to sophomore Katie Mulvey from Trinity School at River Ridge in the third-place match.

The senior from Staples-Motley was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes nearly two years ago. One key to dealing with diabetes is maintaining steady blood sugar counts, which is a big challenge for Edin.

The Staples-Motley coaches – head coach Kayla Janson and assistant Katie Edin (Izabella’s cousin) – rarely talk about tennis with her during changeovers. The discussion usually starts with something like this: “How do you feel?”

During the third-place match, there were times when both coaches were rubbing IcyHot cream on Izabella’s arms and legs as she battled cramps. An athletic trainer worked on her right arm – the arm that swings the racket – during changeovers.

After Friday’s awards ceremony, I asked Izabella how she was feeling.

“I’m super sore,” she said. “I feel like I’m going to cramp up any second if I move the wrong way. There’s a lot of IcyHot on my body.”

Izabella constantly checks her blood sugar during matches and carries an assortment of drinks and food items, all in an effort to maintain her blood sugar level. With Type I diabetes the pancreas does not produce insulin, which the body uses to deliver glucose from the bloodstream into the body’s cells and provide energy. If not managed properly, diabetes can be life-threatening.

During Friday’s tournament play, Izabella checked her blood sugar around 300 times, pricking a finger, placing a drop of blood on a test strip and inserting the test strip into a glucose monitor.

“I checked my blood sugar on every changeover,” she said. “I went through at least three bottles of strips today and there are a hundred strips in a bottle.”

She carried a bottle of Mountain Dew or strawberry soda with her on the court, placing it at the back wall and taking drinks when possible. Juice boxes and Rice Krispie bars are also normal supplies.

After the third-place match, I asked Izabella to talk me through it and how she felt along the way. Here are some highlights…

--After warming up, her blood sugar was very low (69). “Everything got really heavy in my limbs,” she said. After the first three games she drank some strawberry pop and Mountain Dew. “I was pretty out of it,” she said.

--The next check showed her blood sugar was 112 before dropping again to 80 (a normal count is between 90 and 140). She drank a lot of Mountain Dew but “I still felt really heavy and couldn’t really move well. … I was wanting to throw up from so much carbonation in me.”

--“My legs started cramping. I went for a forehand and my right calf, I couldn’t put any weight on it.” She won the first-set tebreaker 7-1, “which was a miracle. I couldn’t walk or move or anything. Every ball I got to I kind of teed off on. I had to finish the point before (Katie) could touch the ball.”

Later in the match her right hand began to cramp up. She took a 10-minute break to eat some pretzels and visit the restroom.

“It’s hard,” Katie Edin said. “I’m a counselor so I deal with high-stress situations. There’s always that concern, ‘How is she doing?’ But we stay calm. We reassure her that she will be OK.”

Kayla said, “We always check with her on changeovers, see where her numbers are.”

Opponents who are unaware of Izabella’s condition can be confused when they see her during changeovers.

“I don’t think they notice unless I take a medical timeout,” she said. “They’re looking to play tennis and I’m making sure I don’t pass out. They look at me and I’m physically fine. I get a lot of, ‘She looks fine, what’s wrong her?’ ”

Dealing with diabetes is a minute-by-minute concern.

“It’s never out of my mind,” Izabella said. “There’s not one second that it’s not a constant battle. I’ve gotten to the point where physically I can feel it, because I hit so often and do off-court training a lot. If I’m doing planks, for instance, I can feel my blood sugar (change). The feeling is running up and down my arms. My coaches will say, ‘You’ve got to go check because your blood sugar is high.’ It’s pretty obvious.

“If I run across the court and don’t get to a ball like usual, they’ll say, ‘Go drink some Mountain Dew, eat a Rice Krispie bar, check your blood sugar.’ ”

She remembers the date she was diagnosed (November 25, 2014). Her weight had fallen to 95 pounds and something was clearly wrong. It was a thunderbolt.

“It was really bad the first year, especially when you can still remember what it was like to eat without having to worry about anything,” Izabella said.

She didn’t play high school tennis last season, taking the time to train and rest. That was a great decision, she said.

“It was probably the most I improved in my whole tennis career. And it was probably the least stressful my diabetes has ever been. I wasn’t sitting on a court and checking my blood sugar 100 times. There was a lot less stress. I don’t regret taking that year off. I needed a break.”

While saying “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” she and her teammates have found ways to have fun despite her condition.

When some of them first saw Izabella checking her blood sugar, they said, “I want to do that.” They also try to guess what her blood sugar count is when she’s taking a reading.

“They’ll guess during matches: ‘120, 130, 85.’ They were really good about it, really supportive about it,” Izabella said.

“One thing diabetes has taught me is that life is way more than just tennis,” she said. “I don’t play tennis, I play life on the tennis court.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 150
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,287
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

A Big Day And Big Week For Tennis And Soccer
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/27/2016 11:18:41 PM

Friday is a big day for high school tennis. The season will end with the final contests of the girls state tournament and state champs being crowned in singles and doubles.

Four players are seeded in the singles brackets in both Class 1A and 2A. In 1A, all four seeds advanced to Friday’s 8 a.m. semifinals. The matchups will be top-seeded Libby Rickeman of Blake vs. fourth-seeded Katie Mulvey of Trinity School at River Ridge, and second-seeded Izabella Edin of Staples Motley vs. third-seeded Arlina Shen of Blake. The winners of those matches will meet in the state finals at 11:30.

In Class 2A singles, the semifinal matchups are top-seeded Sophia Reddy of Edina vs. third-seeded Meagan Brown of Elk River, and second-seeded Isabella Lambert of Minnetonka vs. unseeded Zoe Klass-Warch of St. Paul Central. Klass-Warch defeated fourth-seeded Natalie Lorentz of St. Louis Park in Thursday’s quarterfinals.

The time schedules for 2A singles is the same as 1A. Class 2A matches are held at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center and Class 1A competition at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in south Minneapolis.

The state soccer quarterfinals for girls and boys were completed Thursday evening, finalizing the matchups for next week’s action at U.S. Bank Stadium. State semifinals will be held Monday and Tuesday, with the four state championship games on Thursday (see brackets at the top of this page for tennis and soccer details).

State Soccer Tournament Recap/Thursday’s Games

Class 1A girls at St. Cloud State

--Benilde-St. Margaret’s 6, St. Cloud Apollo 0/ Vivian Shinall had four goals for the Red Knights.

--Hill-Murray 1, Waconia 0/ Katherine Schindler’s goal early in the second half propelled the Pioneers to Monday’s state semifinal vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Class 2A girls at Chisago Lakes
--Andover 2, East Ridge 0/ Alli Jenkins broke a scoreless tie midway through the second half and Rebecka Musungu scored with 8:37 left as the unseeded Huskies beat the top-seeded Raptors.

--Centennial 2, Lakeville North 1 (shootout)/ After a 1-1 tie through two 10-minute overtimes, the Cougars won the shootout by a 3-1 score. They will meet Andover at noon Tuesday in the state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Old Sweatshirt, 19-Year Streak Both Come To An End
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/26/2016 8:29:39 PM

Steve Paulsen dug through some drawers on Tuesday evening, looking for an item of clothing that he wears only one day a year. It’s an old green sweatshirt.

“I found it last night about 9 o’clock,” he said Wednesday during the Class 2A girls state tennis tournament at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center. Paulsen is the coach at Edina High School, and Wednesday marked the 20th year in a row that he wore the sweatshirt on the second day of team competition.

It was part custom, part good-luck charm. Edina’s streak of 19 consecutive team state championships ended Wednesday when the top-seeded Hornets lost to fifth-seeded Mahtomedi 4-3 in the semifinals. Edina finished the tournament with a victory, defeating second-seeded St. Cloud Tech 4-3 in the third-place match. Mahtomedi took home the championship with a 5-2 victory over Eagan.

None of the Hornets were alive when the streak began in 1997. The 19-year streak is the nation’s all-time record for girls tennis; Edina also holds the No. 2 spot on the national list with a streak of 15 consecutive titles from 1978 to 1992. The Hornets own 34 state titles, second nationally to Punahou, Hawaii, with 42.

“Every match out there, whether we win or lose – and it sounds cliché – but we go out there, try to lay it on the line and be prepared both mentally and physically,” Paulsen said. “And then accept the outcome, as hard as that is sometimes. And it’s obviously hard.”

Edina has a young lineup, with two seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and three ninth-graders competing against Mahtomedi. The Hornets got wins from Sophie Reddy at No. 1 singles, Nicole Copeland at No. 2 singles and Isabelle Ouyang and Sophie Slattery at No. 1 doubles. Mahtomedi’s semifinal winners were Maggie Riermann at No. 3 singles, Anna Stutz at No. 4 singles, Emily Fraser and Lauren Splett at No. 2 doubles and Alexi Harrod and Sarah Hoffman at No. 3 doubles.

“They were obviously disappointed,” Paulsen said. “That’s a lot of pressure. But we always preach, ‘Lay it on the line and see what happens.’ And they did.

“We’ve got three ninth-graders and a couple 10th-graders. Hopefully we can start another streak next year.”

That very well could happen. But the sweatshirt? It has been retired.

Girls State Tennis Tournament

Class 2A

Championship/ Mahtomedi 5, Eagan 2
Third place/ Edina 4, St. Cloud Tech 3
Fifth place/ Prior Lake 6, Duluth East 1

Class 1A
Championship/ Blake 6, Rochester Lourdes 1
Third place/ Virginia 4, Foley 3
Fifth place/ Holy Family 4, Roseau 3

State Soccer Tournament Recap/Wednesday’s Games

Class 2A girls quarterfinals at Farmington

--Rosemount 2, Minnetonka 1 (OT)
--Minneapolis Washburn 2, St. Michael-Albertville 1

Class 1A boys quarterfinals at St. Cloud State
--Mankato West 2, Bemidji 1 (shootout)
--Northfield 2, Willmar 1 (shootout)

Class 1A boys quarterfinals at Chisago Lakes
--Blake 3, Duluth Denfeld 1
--St. Thomas Academy 5, St. Paul Como Park 0

Class 2A boys quarterfinals at Benilde-St. Margaret’s
--Andover 2, Moorhead 0
--Stillwater 6, Mounds View 1

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 146
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,107
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Edina's 19-Year Girls Tennis Title Run Ends
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/26/2016 10:56:04 AM

One of the nation's longest streaks of state tournaments championship ended Wednesday morning at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center.

Edina won the Class 2A girls state tennis team title in 1997 and did the same thing year after year. Nineteen years passed before the Hornets came up short, and that happened Wednesday in the state semifinals. Fifth-seeded Mahtomedi, which had defeated fourth-seeded Prior Lake 5-2 in Tuesday's quarterfinals, defeated Edina 4-3.

The last non-Edina team to win the 2A title was the Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars in 1996.

I Tweeted the result like this: "STUNNER: Edina's 19-year reign of girls state tennis titles has ended. Mahtomedi beats the Hornets in Class 2A team semifinals."

Reaction on Twitter included...

--"Oh My G! #zephyrs"

--"Wow. As a Jaguar who could only shrug playing against Edina's lineup and dominance, that's a LONG reign. Congrats, Mahtomedi! #gojags"

As the Mahtomedi team celebrated, top-seeded St. Cloud Tech and third-seeded Eagan began play in the second semifinal. The championship match will be played at 4 p.m. today.

Edina's 19 girls team tennis state titles in a row is a national high school record. In second place? Edina: 15 (1978-92).

Edina owns a total of 33 girls state tennis team titles. That's second in the nation behind Punahou, Hawaii, with 42.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

State Soccer Recap/Tuesday’s Games
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/26/2016 4:54:48 AM

Class 2A boys quarterfinals at Benilde-St. Margaret’s
--Wayzata 5, Owatonna 0/ Maclane King scored two goals for the second-seeded Trojans, with Alex Bracken, Stuart Sain and Erik Williams each scoring once.

--Edina 3, Burnsville 0/ Matt Lindberg had two goals for the third-seeded Hornets, who will meet Wayzata in the semifinals on Monday at 10 a.m. at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Class 1A girls quarterfinal at Farmington
--Dover-Eyota 4, St. Paul Academy 1/ Ashley Olson scored twice to help the unseeded Eagles defeat the second-seeded Spartans.

--Mankato West 7, North Branch 1/ Shelby Lund had three goals and McKenna Buisman two as the third-seeded Scarlets defeated the Vikings. Mankato West amd Dover-Eyota will meet in the semifinals Monday at 6 p.m. at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Football Rankings: Class 6A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/25/2016 6:03:23 PM

1. Totino-Grace (8) 8-0 80 1
2. Eden Prairie 7-1 72 3
3. Rosemount 7-1 64 5
4. Lakeville North 7-1 51 2
5. Maple Grove 6-2 47 7
6. Blaine 6-2 35 8
7. East Ridge 6-2 25 4
8. Minnetonka 6-2 24 10
9. Burnsville 6-2 23 9
10. Cretin-Derham Hall 6-2 11 6
• Others receiving votes: Mounds View 8

Football Rankings: Class 5A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/25/2016 6:03:00 PM

1. Elk River (8) 8-0 97 1
2. Mankato West (2) 8-0 87 2
3. Spring Lake Park 8-0 84 3
4. Mahtomedi 8-0 70 4
5. Chanhassen 8-0 55 5
6. St. Cloud Tech 8-0 51 8
7. St. Michael-Albertville 7-1 39 9
8. Alexandria 7-1 22 6
9. SMB-Wolfpack 8-0 21 10
10. Cooper 7-1 18 7
• Others receiving votes: Rogers 3, Park of Cottage Grove 2, Owatonna 1

Football Rankings: Class 4A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/25/2016 6:02:40 PM

1. South St. Paul (7) 8-0 96 1
2. Hutchinson (2) 8-0 91 2
3. Marshall (1) 8-0 75 3
4. Fergus Falls 8-0 68 5
5. Mound-Westonka 8-0 57 6
6. Winona 7-1 40 4
7. (tie) Waseca 7-1 36 7
7. (tie) Becker 6-2 36 8
9. Zimmerman 7-1 23 10
10. Detroit Lakes 7-1 21 9
• Others receiving votes: Fridley 6, Stewartville 1

Football Rankings: Class 3A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/25/2016 6:02:19 PM

1. St. Croix Lutheran (8) 8-0 89 1
2. Jackson Co. Central (1) 8-0 81 2
3. Rochester Lourdes 8-0 73 3
4. Pierz 7-1 60 4
5. Dilworth-G-F 7-1 54 6
6. Proctor 7-1 40 7
7. Aitkin 7-1 36 9
8. Fairmont 6-2 28 5
9. Providence Academy 6-2 19 8
10. Belle Plaine 6-2 9• 10
• Others receiving votes: Morris/Chokio-Alberta 5, Greenway/N-K 1

Football Rankings: Class 2A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/25/2016 5:59:44 PM

1. Caledonia (8) 8-0 80 1
2. Barnesville 8-0 72 2
3. Pillager 8-0 62 3
4. Eden Valley-Watkins 7-1 56 4
5. Redwood Valley 7-1 46 8
6. Kenyon-Wanamingo 7-1 34 T9
7. Maple River 6-2 29 T9
8. (tie) NR-H-E-G 6-2 13 6
8. (tie) Eveleth-Gilbert 6-2) 13 5
10. (tie) Zumbrota-Maz 6-2 10 NR
10. (tie) Ottertail Central 6-2) 10 NR
• Others receiving votes: Royalton 8, Lewiston-Altura 2, Hawley 2, Bagley 2, Lakeview 1

Football Rankings: Class 1A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/25/2016 5:58:22 PM

1. Minneota (7) 8-0 70 1
2. Minneapolis North 8-0 62 2
3. BOLD 8-0 57 3
4. Hinckley-Finlayson 8-0 48 5
5. Fillmore Central 7-1 39 6
6. Mahnomen 7-1 31 7
7. Wabasso 7-1 22 8
8. Mayer Lutheran 7-1 20 9
9. Rushford-Peterson 7-1 17 4
10. Upsala1Swanville 7-1 11 10
• Others receiving votes: Goodhue 6, Polk County West 2

Football Rankings: Nine-Man
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/25/2016 5:58:04 PM

1. Grand Meadow (7) 8-0 70 1
2. Cleveland 8-0 59 3
3. Waubun 8-0 56 4
4. Nevis 8-0 46 6
5. Spring Grove 7-1 44 2
6. Ely 8-0 34 7
7. Verndale 8-0 27 8
8. Cromwell 8-0 22 9
9. Edgerton-Ellsworth 7-1 15 5
10. Wheaton/H-N 8-0 5• NR
• Others receiving votes: Stephen-Argyle 4, North Woods 2

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.

Football Rankings: Class 2A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/18/2016 7:58:15 PM

1. Caledonia (9) (7-0) 90 1
2. Barnesville (7-0) 81 2
3. Pillager (7-0) 69 3
4. Eden Valley-Watkins (6-1) 63 5
5. Eveleth-Gilbert (6-1) 41 10
6. New Richland-HEG (6-1) 36 9
7. Hawley (5-2) 33 8
8. Redwood Valley (6-1) 28 4
9. Kenyon-Wanamingo (6-1) 13 NR
(tie) Maple River (5-2) 13 6
Others receiving votes: Lakeview 10, Osakis 5, Zumbrota-Mazeppa 5, Ottertail Central 5, Royalton 3.

Football Rankings: Class 3A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/18/2016 7:57:57 PM

1. St. Croix Lutheran (8) (7-0) 89 1
2. Jackson County Central (1) (7-0) 76 2
3. Rochester Lourdes (7-0) 73 3
4. Pierz (6-1) 56 4
5. Fairmont (6-1) 50 7
6. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (6-1) 45 5
7. Proctor (6-1) 35 T8
8. Providence Academy (6-1) 28 10
9. Aitkin (6-1) 18 NR
10. Belle Plaine (6-1) 12 NR
Others receiving votes: Albany 8, Morris Area-Chokio-Alberta 5.

Football Rankings: Class 4A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/18/2016 7:57:41 PM

1. South St. Paul (8) (7-0) 95 1
2. Hutchinson (7-0) 87 2
3. Marshall (2) (7-0) 84 3
4. Winona (7-0) 67 4
5. Fergus Falls (7-0) 57 6
6. Mound-Westonka (7-0) 55 5
7. Waseca (6-1) 27 8
8. Becker (5-2) 25 7
9. Detroit Lakes (6-1) 15 10
10. Zimmerman (6-1) 11 NR
Others receiving votes: Benilde-St. Margaret's 8, Stewartville 8, Fridley 5, Hermantown 5, Cloquet 1.

Football Rankings: Class 5A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/18/2016 7:57:24 PM

1. Elk River (7) (7-0) 78 1
2. Mankato West (1) (7-0) 71 2
3. Spring Lake Park (7-0) 61 3
4. Mahtomedi (7-0) 52 4
5. Chanhassen (7-0) 51 5
6. Alexandria (7-0) 38 7
7. Robbinsdale Cooper (7-0) 37 6
8. St. Cloud Tech (7-0) 26 8
9. St. Michael-Albertville (6-1) 15 9
10. SMB-Wolfpack (7-0) 7 10
Others receiving votes: Waconia 3, Monticello 1.

Football Rankings: Class 6A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/18/2016 7:57:06 PM

1. Totino-Grace (6) (7-0) 60 1
2. Lakeville North (7-0) 53 2
3. Eden Prairie (7-0) 49 3
4. East Ridge (6-1) 41 4
5. Rosemount (6-1) 34 7
6. Cretin-Derham Hall (6-1) 32 6
7. Maple Grove (5-2) 25 8
8. Blaine (5-2) 15 9
9. Burnsville (5-2) 9 5
10. Minnetonka (5-2) 7 NR
Others receiving votes: Champlin Park 4, Mounds View 1.

From International Falls to Brooklyn Center: A Friday To Remember
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/16/2016 4:10:47 PM


A football spectator – in this case an adult of the male variety – was kindly requesting via high-volume, full-throated screamage that a football official go to Google to check a rule in the midst of a game. The officials working Friday’s contest at Brooklyn Center High School didn’t pull out a smart phone and do so, but they got the call correct.

The situation: Brooklyn Center’s offense had been flagged for delay of game late in the fourth quarter. Before the next snap, the clock was running. This was incorrect. The officials gathered, discussed and sent word to the clock operator to put 1:57 on the clock instead of the 1:33 that was displayed.

This was a pivotal, high-pressure spot for both teams. The Broncos of International Falls were fully aware that the 300-mile drive home (reversing the journey they had made earlier in the day with a 7:30 a.m. departure) would seem much shorter if they could somehow pull out their first victory of the season.

The Centaurs of Brooklyn Center, hoping to end a two-game losing streak and improve their record to 3-4 with a Homecoming win, were in front 26-24 in these final two minutes of one of the most intriguing matchups of 2016. The margin was thanks to a two-point conversion run by fleet-footed, strong-armed Centaurs quarterback Dayvia Gbor; his dash to the end zone in the third quarter was the only successful conversion in an eight-touchdown game that was not on either team’s schedule initially.

If you Google the words “Minnesota teams that dropped varsity football 2016” you may find references to St. Paul Humboldt and Duluth Marshall. Because those two schools did so, Brooklyn Centaur and International Falls each had a Week 7 blank spot on their schedules. After a few phone calls and emails, Friday’s game was set.

International Falls is, of course, way way up there where you can spit out your gum and watch it land in Canada. Brooklyn Center, if you didn’t know, is a first-ring suburb perched on the northwest shoulder of Minneapolis. Earlier in the week, Brooklyn Center activities director Nate Gautsch asked the Centaurs if any of them knew where International Falls was. “I got a lot of blank looks,” he said.

After Friday’s game, I asked a group of Broncos if they knew anything about Brooklyn Center before this week. “No, not really,” said senior quarterback Tyler Coffield. “We knew it was in the Cities, I guess.”

Once the scoreboard clock was corrected, the Broncos stopped the Centaurs on fourth down. International Falls took over with 61 seconds and 68 yards standing between them and victory. Their challenge was finding a way to move downfield briskly, score and win the game. This was not an easy thing for an offense that had not scored in the three previous weeks, but their four-touchdown production in Friday’s game was something to lean on. Were they confident?

“Absolutely,” senior lineman Kjell Fogelberg said after the final whistle. “A minute in a football game is a long time and we used all that time with nothing but positive attitude and confidence, which helped with our drive.”

The Broncos are built on a ground attack, not downfield missiles. Coffield – whose breakaway ability was seen on an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter – was sacked on first down during the final drive and ran for 14 yards on the next snap. A pass to Simon Palm gained 11 but a holding penalty brought it back. A throw to Armandio Barrios put the ball on the Centaurs’ 38 with 26 seconds left, all timeouts extinguished and the clock running.

After another sack, Coffield spiked the ball with 4.5 seconds to go. There was not much drama in the final play of the night, which began with an all-out stampede by the Brooklyn Center defensive line, continued with a fumble and a scramble for the ball, and ended with the night’s final whistle.

The Broncos and their supporters were downcast at being 0-7. The Centaurs and their fans were thrilled to see their losing streak end.

“They didn’t drive six hours down here for nothing,” Brooklyn Center coach Anthony Satchel said. “I told our team it was another dogfight. We were in dogfights the past two weeks and we finally got one.”

Football can be a game of inches, to be sure. Had the Broncos made a two-point conversion, the outcome may have been different. Had they made two of those, they may be 1-6.

Broncos senior running back Nick Hedtke, who scored on three short touchdown runs, said, “We played one heck of a game. A few mistakes is what really killed us.”

“We absolutely had chances,” said International Falls coach Tony Casareto. “I’m proud of the kids and how they played tonight. We hadn’t scored in three games; we moved the ball well and I thought we moved the ball with power. The kids maintained some blocks to the second level. I’m pleased with that. It was a great experience and a great day.”

The great experience and great day included an off-the-field memory that will be a lasting one. The Broncos arrived at Brooklyn Center in time to attend the Centaurs’ Homecoming pepfest. And they were treated right: A large sign in the gym read “Welcome, International Falls.”

The pepfest opened with a thunderous cheer for the Broncos from the Brooklyn Center students who filled every seat in the gym. Among the activities was a tug-of-war, with boys from the two football teams joining together to defeat the coaches from both teams. High fives all around.

After the football game, 30 pizzas were delivered for the Broncos to devour on the long bus ride home. The boys from way way up north would get some sleep and return to the practice field at 4 p.m. Saturday in preparation for Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Crosby-Ironton.

“We can take a lot of positive things out of this,” Casareto said.

Fogelberg agreed with his coach. “We couldn’t finish it but we didn’t give up,” Kjell said. “That was the big thing.”

It sure was. And there’s no need to Google that.

--To see a photo gallery from the pepfest and the game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 110
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 3,676
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Photo Gallery: Dig Pink Night In Randolph
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/14/2016 10:37:33 AM

Thursday evening was designated as the annual Dig Pink fundraiser at Randolph High School, where the Rockets hosted Glenville-Emmons in volleyball. In the previous five years, Randolph's Dig Pink efforts have resulted in more than $28,000, which ranks second in the nation among high schools.

Thursday's effort was a huge success, with more than $16,000 raised to fight cancer.

To see a photo gallery from the event, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

Football Rankings: Class 6A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/12/2016 7:28:39 PM

School Total Points Prv
1. Totino-Grace (5) (6-0) 59 1
2. Lakeville North (1) (6-0) 55 2
3. Eden Prairie (5-1) 48 3
4. East Ridge (5-1) 42 5
5. Burnsville (5-1) 34 T7
6. Cretin-Derham Hall (5-1) 29 9
7. Rosemount (5-1) 23 4
8. Maple Grove (4-2) 15 NR
9. Blaine (4-2) 12 10
10. Champlin Park (4-2) 8 6
Others receiving votes: Minnetonka 4, Mounds View 1.

Football Rankings: Class 5A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/12/2016 7:28:16 PM

School Total Points Prv
1. Elk River (5) (6-0) 76 1
2. Mankato West (2) (6-0) 69 2
3. Spring Lake Park (1) (6-0) 68 3
4. Mahtomedi (6-0) 53 4
5. Chanhassen (6-0) 49 5
6. Robbinsdale Cooper (6-0) 32 8
7. Alexandria (6-0) 31 6
8. St. Cloud Tech (6-0) 28 9
9. St. Michael-Albertville (5-1) 20 7
10. SMB-Wolfpack (6-0) 8 10
Others receiving votes: Waconia 3, Park (Cottage Grove) 2, Monticello 1.

Football Rankings: Class 4A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/12/2016 7:27:51 PM

School Total Points Prv
1. South St. Paul (6) (6-0) 85 1
2. Hutchinson (2) (6-0) 82 2
3. Marshall (1) (6-0) 75 3
4. Winona (6-0) 56 5
5. Mound-Westonka (6-0) 54 4
6. Fergus Falls (6-0) 47 6
7. Becker (4-2) 26 7
8. Waseca (5-1) 25 9
9. Benilde-St. Margaret's (5-1) 16 NR
10. Detroit Lakes (5-1) 8 NR
Others receiving votes: Fridley 6, Zimmerman 6, Hermantown 5, Stewartville 4.

Football Rankings: Class 3A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/12/2016 7:27:33 PM

School Total Points Prv
1. St. Croix Lutheran (6) (6-0) 69 1
2. Jackson County Central (1) (6-0) 62 2
3. Rochester Lourdes (6-0) 57 3
4. Pierz (5-1) 40 5
5. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (5-1) 35 6
6. Morris Area-Chokio-Alberta (6-0) 33 7
7. Fairmont (5-1) 26 9
8. Proctor (5-1) 20 8
(tie) Litchfield (5-1) 20 4
10. Providence Academy (5-1) 14 10
Others receiving votes: Belle Plaine 6, Greenway-Nashwauk-Keewatin 2, Aitkin 1.

Football Rankings: Class 2A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/12/2016 7:27:14 PM

School Total Points Prv
1. Caledonia (6) (6-0) 60 1
2. Barnesville (6-0) 54 2
3. Pillager (6-0) 46 T3
4. Redwood Valley (6-0) 43 T3
5. Eden Valley-Watkins (5-1) 37 5
6. Maple River (5-1) 30 6
7. Zumbrota-Mazeppa (5-1) 19 9
8. Hawley (4-2) 12 8
9. New Richland-HEG (5-1) 9 NR
10. Eveleth-Gilbert (5-1) 8 NR
Others receiving votes: Lakeview 5, Kenyon-Wanamingo 3, Royalton 3, Spectrum 1.

Football Rankings: Class 1A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/12/2016 7:26:56 PM

School Total Points Prv
1. Minneota (6) (6-0) 60 1
2. Minneapolis North (6-0) 52 T2
3. BOLD (6-0) 48 T2
4. Rushford-Peterson (6-0) 39 4
5. Hinckley-Finlayson (6-0) 36 5
6. Fillmore Central (5-1) 27 6
7. Pine River-Backus (6-0) 22 9
8. Wabasso (5-1) 12 10
9. Mahnomen (5-1) 9 NR
10. Goodhue (5-1) 8 NR
Others receiving votes: Mayer Lutheran 6, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley 5, Upsala-Swanville 4, Dawson-Boyd 2.

Football Rankings: Nine-Man
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/12/2016 7:26:22 PM

School Total Points Prv
1. Grand Meadow (4) (6-0) 49 T1
2. Spring Grove (1) (6-0) 45 T1
3. Cleveland (6-0) 39 4
4. Waubun (6-0) 37 3
5. Edgerton Ellsworth (6-0) 29 5
6. Nevis (6-0) 24 6
7. Ely (6-0) 16 7
8. Verndale (6-0) 15 8
9. Cromwell (6-0) 8 9
10. North Woods (6-0) 5 10
Others receiving votes: Stephen-Argyle 4, Kittson County Central 3, Cook-Orr 1.

Minnesota Football Showcase Announced
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/11/2016 10:00:34 PM

The Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Football Coaches Association (MFCA) are proud to announce the first Minnesota Football Showcase. Set to take place at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 3, 2016, the new partnership features an entire day of celebrating football throughout the state of Minnesota. The event will culminate in the 44th annual All-Star Football Game featuring outstanding senior football players from around the state (Tickets are now available with all proceeds going directly to the MFCA and the Tackle Cancer Campaign).

Kicking off at 3 p.m., the Showcase Game will be the 55th overall in Minnesota high school football history. The game will feature the North All-Stars vs. the South All-Stars and will be broadcast locally on KMSP FOX 9. Jeff Ferguson of Totino-Grace (North) and Mike Grant of Eden Prairie (South) will serve as the game’s head coaches. The two have a combined 49 years of head coaching experience and a total record of 467 wins and 88 losses.

“This is new and exciting ground for our Minnesota All-Star Football Game,” said Ferguson. “To have the Vikings partnership, to move the game one week after the season, to enable our Division I prospects to participate, and to play the game in U.S. Bank Stadium all make this a premier event. I am honored to serve as a coach.”

“It is an honor to coach in the All-Star Football Game,” said Grant. “Having the best high school players who have come through our great youth football programs playing in the best football venue makes for a true celebration of football across our state. This should become an annual event that brings our Minnesota football community together in an unprecedented way.”

In addition to the game, the event will feature the following:

• Youth Football Clinics
o 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. – Grades K-5
o 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. – Grades 6-9
o Registration for each clinic will be limited to the first 200 participants and will include a free event admission. To register please visit www.vikings.com/showcase
• Minnesota High School Marching Bands Performances, Cheer Teams and Dance Teams
• Autograph Sessions with Vikings Legends
• Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders and Skol Line Performance

“The Vikings have long been partners with the MFCA and we are thrilled to further that partnership through the establishment of the Minnesota Football Showcase,” said Vikings Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development Lester Bagley. “The event is an exciting opportunity for high school players, coaches and fans of football throughout Minnesota, and hosting it in U.S. Bank Stadium is a natural fit as it combines Minnesota’s best athletes with the state’s best venue.”

“We are proud of this game and its rich history,” said MFCA Executive Director Ron Stolski, the head coach at Brainerd High School. “The MFCA could not be more thankful to have the Minnesota Vikings as partners, to bring the event to a state-of-the-art facility and to continue promoting the sport of football in our state.”

About the All-Star Game...
The Minnesota Football Coaches Association is proud of this game and its history. The first All-Star Football Game was played in 1945, and the game has been an annual event since 1974. The game was played in a North vs. South format from 1945 through 1960 and from 1974 to 1979, a Metro vs. Outstate format from 1980 to 2010 and back to a North vs. South format in 2011 (to present).

Through the years, more than 4,200 players and 475 coaches have participated in this game. A total of 89 players from the All-Star Football Game have gone on to play or coach in the National Football League, including current Minnesota Vikings player Adam Thielen (2008 All-Star alumnus from Detroit Lakes).


A Northfield Tradition: Lace For The Cure
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/10/2016 2:40:14 PM

NORTHFIELD – Six years ago, tragedy struck at Northfield High School when the mother of a member of the girls soccer team died as a result of breast cancer. Teammates pitched in immediately to show support. The first effort was simple: ask athletes on all Raiders teams to wear pink shoelaces.

“That’s how they started, and it’s really grown from there,” said Raiders junior soccer player Bri Forster. “We do all sorts of events during the season to raise money.”

The biggest event of the soccer season is the annual Lace for the Cure game. The 2016 version took place Thursday night when the Raiders hosted Red Wing in a boys-girls doubleheader. Pink was everywhere, from balloons in the bleachers to Lace for the Cure t-shirts to shoelaces on the soccer players.

“I feel like it’s very important. I feel honored to be a part of it,” said junior soccer player Maddi Goldsworthy; she and Forster are the Raiders’ 2016 Lace for the Cure captains. That’s right, captains. Lace for the Cure is so important to the Northfield girls soccer team that two players each year are chosen as captains to spearhead the fundraising and support efforts.

“They get to run the show,” said Raiders girls soccer coach Troy Cohrs. “They do what worked last year and they bring in new ideas. It’s become a real memorable tradition for us.”

Northfield is among many schools in Minnesota that have embraced the MSHSL’s Why We Play program. Why We Play stresses that the purpose of education-based athletics is not to win, but to help athletes become better people, learn to work together, enjoy the experience of being on a team and take positive lessons into adulthood.

The Raiders’ Lace for the Cure efforts are a perfect example of Why We Play. The athletes, coaches and families put great effort into Lace for the Cure as a way to help others. After six years of Lace for the Cure events, Northfield has raised approximately $50,000 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which since 1982 has funded more than $889 million in research, more than $1.95 billion in medical care, community and provider education, and psychosocial support, serving millions in more than 60 countries.

“It’s been a blessing and I love the idea that we are contributing and yet paving the way for more years to come, more people to help lead,” Maddi said.

The Northfield girls soccer team takes a trip to Duluth before every season starts. It’s a time for important team bonding. Lace for the Cure was born during that trip six years ago.

“A lot of people know exactly why we started this,” Maddi said. “And they tell other people who don’t really know how important it is to the players and the older players who were affected.”

On Thursday night, there were countless ways for people to contribute. T-shirts were sold, items were on display for a silent action, raffle tickets were sold for a chance to win prizes. Fans were given the opportunity to throw tennis balls onto the soccer field at halftime, with prizes going to those who came closest to the center of a pink breast cancer ribbon that had been painted on the turf.

The event took place during Homecoming week in Northfield, and as Bri said, “We get the whole school completely decked out in pink. People on the Homecoming court walk around school with donation buckets. It’s awesome.”

Indeed it is.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 104
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 3,386
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Volleyball Rankings: Class 1A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/9/2016 11:37:16 PM

1. Bethlehem Academy (14) - 224
2. Mayer Lutheran (1) - 196
3. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (1) - 194
4. Heritage Christian - 176
5. Caledonia - 154
5. Minneota - 154
7. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown - 132
8. Mabel-Canton - 106
9. Kittson County - 97
10. Hayfield - 85
Others Receiving Votes: Underwood - 14, Verndale - 6

Volleyball Rankings: Class 2A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/9/2016 11:36:54 PM

1. Kenyon-Wanamingo (14) - 210
2. Maple Lake - 196
3. Rocori - 172
4. Belle Plaine - 165
5. Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta - 157
6. Kasson-Mantorville - 116
7. Stewartville - 112
8. Hill-Murray - 110
9. Concordia Academy - 100
10. SW Christian - 44
Others Receiving Votes: Sauk Centre - 35, Jackson County Central - 32, Roseau - 15, Academy of Holy Angels - 6

Volleyball Rankings: Class 3A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/9/2016 11:36:20 PM

1. Eagan (17) - 255
2. Lakeville South - 223
3. Hopkins - 221
4. Champlin Park - 212
5. Prior Lake - 178
6. Wayzata - 171
7. Shakopee - 132
8. North St. Paul - 120
9. Lakeville North - 78
10. Cretin-Derham Hall - 46
Others Receiving Votes: Roseville - 36, Bloomington Jefferson - 27, Waconia - 22, Osseo - 18, Rochester Century - 16, Northfield - 16, Blaine - 7, East Ridge - 7

Champions On The Run For Edina Girls Cross-Country
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/6/2016 10:03:33 AM

In late September 2015, the Edina High School girls cross-country team finished second in the top high school race at the Roy Griak Invitational, hosted by the University of Minnesota. The winning team from Naperville North in Illinois had a team score of 77 and the Hornets were next at 142.

Yes, that’s a 65-point gap. But placing so high among 49 of the top teams from across the country was a big step for the Hornets. And it vaulted them to history a few weeks later when they won their school’s first state cross-country championship.

Edina owns more MSHSL state titles in all sports than any other school and it isn’t close. The Hornets finished the 2015-16 school year with 125 state championships, followed by Blake with 64, Apple Valley with 60 and Stillwater with 59.

In girls sports alone, Edina owns a state-best 67 state titles. The cross-country team rolled to the Class 2A championship last November at St. Olaf College in Northfield. The Hornets’ team score of 68 topped second-place Marshall’s 76.

And here’s the kicker: The Hornets had exactly zero seniors among the seven athletes who ran at state last year. The crew consisted of two freshmen, one sophomore and four juniors. And here’s the double kicker: The top returning runner in Class 1A transferred to Edina this fall.

The Hornets have not been defeated in an MSHSL event since the 2015 Griak, including a 43-point victory over second-place Mountain View, Idaho, in this year’s Griak. And yes, they are absolutely the undisputed team to beat in 2016.

The newcomer is Morgan Richter, now a freshman. She placed second at state in 1A last year behind Winona Cotter seventh-grader Grace Ping, who moved to Utah over the summer. Richter was the Hornets’ No. 2 runner (placing 14th) at the Griak this season behind senior Amanda Mosborg, who placed seventh. The other runners were freshman Sadie Schreiner (17th), sophomore Maria Rickman (25th), senior Anna Hage (50th), senior Hannah Mitchell (56th) and senior Tate Sweeney (70th) in a field of 448 individuals.

“It’s just really cool to be up on that stage, you have the trophy with Roy Griak’s picture on it,” said Edina coach Matt Gabrielson. “And it’s not outlined in silver, it’s outlined in gold. It was a really big deal for us.”

The Hornets continued their winning ways at Tuesday’s 28th annual Victoria Lions Invitational in Chaska, with Richter finishing second behind Farmington eighth-grader Anna Fenske. Mosborg was fourth, Rickman eighth, Schreiner ninth and junior Emily Kompelien 16th for a dominating team score of 39 (Hage was 17th and Mitchell 36th). Second-place Eden Prairie had a team score of 102.

After claiming last year’s state championship and the Griak title this year, the Hornets know that focusing on the too-distant future – such as the 2016 state meet – may not bode well for success.

“In some ways it’s too easy to think too far in advance,” Sweeney said. “That’s why one of the things we like to focus on is making sure we are in the moment and on the day of the race we’re thinking of the race we’re at. If we’re focusing only on the state meet, then we won’t give our all the rest of the season. It’s a process. You have to start from day one and build up. That’s what we’re doing.”

Leadership from the team’s seniors – what Gabrielson called “great leadership” -- is an important part of the story this season.

“There are six or seven seniors who have been here for five or six years and four of them are captains,” he said. “They’re all leaders in different ways. Tate is a vocal leader. Amanda leads by example, she’s quiet. Hannah is the statistics geek and keeps us informed of what’s going on. Brynn (Liabraaten) is sort of, ‘Let’s get down to business, here’s what we’re going to do.’ It’s nice to have that mix.”

Is there pressure on the Hornets? No question. They recognize it and almost relish it.

“I think there is for sure pressure and we know there’s a target on our backs,” Mosborg said. “But we’re trying to not get comfortable and always know that there are people who can be a threat to us. We try to race every day like we don’t expect to win or like we don’t have an advantage.”

Sweeney said, “I think the idea of pressure can scare some teams but for our team, when we went into the season, one of the goals we pointed out right away was we want to be state champion again. So I think this whole season has been about pushing ourselves in every race.

“We try to treat every race like it could be the state championship and work hard every race. So far it’s been pretty good for us. The pressure will always be there and we’ve always had girls who have been in the top part of every race. We’ve always had to deal with pressure but I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job so far.”

In Class 2A girls rankings by the state cross-country coaches association, Edina is No. 1 ahead of No. 2 Willmar and No. 3 Wayzata. Individually, Mosborg is ranked No. 2 behind Minneapolis Washburn sophomore Emily Covert, Richter is No. 4, Schreiner is No. 6, Rickman is No. 9 and Kompelien received honorable mention notice.

Gabrielson said the athletes didn’t all perform as well as they could have on Tuesday, and that was part of the post-race discussion.

“We learned a lot from today,” he said. “I think some of the girls let the rankings and things get to them a little bit today. We talked about that afterwards and I think we learned something from that. That’s not what we’re focused on. We’re getting focused on getting the best out of ourselves every day. And we didn’t do that today because we were so focused on the external.

“I think the team is on the cusp of greatness and I think they know that. And I think they recognize that we need to focus more on what we’re here to do rather than what other people are expecting us to do.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 102
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 2,822
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Football Rankings: Nine-Man
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/5/2016 8:21:46 PM

School Total Points
1. Grand Meadow (5) (5-0) 60
Spring Grove (1) (5-0) 60
3. Waubun (1) (5-0) 56
4. Cleveland (5-0) 48
5. Edgerton-Ellsworth (5-0) 37
6. Nevis (5-0) 34
7. Ely (5-0) 33
8. Verndale (6-0) 27
9. Cromwell (4-0) 19
10. North Woods (5-0) 5
Others receiving votes: Mountain Iron-Buhl-2, Stephen-Argyle-2, Kittson County Central-1, Wheaton-Herman-Norcross-1

Football Rankings: Class 1A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/5/2016 8:21:25 PM

School Total Points
1. Minneota (7) (5-0) 79
2. BOLD (1) (5-0) 65
Minneapolis North (5-0) 65
4. Rushford-Peterson (5-0) 54
5. Hinckley-Finlayson (5-0) 48
6. Fillmore Central (4-1) 22
7. Dawson-Boyd (4-1) 21
8. Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (5-0) 20
9. Pine River-Backus (5-0) 19
10. Wabasso (4-1) 14
Others receiving votes: Mahnomen 12, Goodhue-11, Mayer Lutheran-6, Upsala-Swanville-3, Blooming Prairie-1

Football Rankings: Class 2A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/5/2016 8:21:04 PM

School Total Points
1. Caledonia (6) (6-0) 60
2. Barnesville (5-0) 54
3. Pillager (5-0) 42
Redwood Valley (5-0) 42
5. Eden Valley-Watkins (4-1) 34
6. Maple River (4-1) 26
7. Royalton (5-0) 23
8. Hawley (4-1) 21
9. Zumbrota-Mazeppa (4-1) 11
10. St. Agnes (4-1) 8
Others receiving votes: New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva-5, Eveleth-Gilbert-3, Lakeville-1

Football Rankings: Class 3A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/5/2016 8:20:43 PM

School Total Points
1. St. Croix Lutheran (6) (5-0) 69
2. Jackson County Central (1) (5-0) 59
3. Rochester Lourdes (5-0) 58
4. Litchfield (5-0) 48
5. Pierz (4-1) 29
6. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (4-1) 25
7. Morris Area-Chokio-Alberta (5-0) 21
8. Proctor (4-1) 20
9. Fairmont (4-1) 19
10. Providence Acadmy (4-1) 11
Others receiving votes: Greenway-Nashwauk-Keewatin-7, Perham-7, Minneapolis Henry-7, Belle Plaine-4, Melrose-1

Football Rankings: Class 4A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/5/2016 8:19:59 PM

School Total Points
1. South St. Paul (6) (5-0) 77
2. Hutchinson (1) (5-0) 73
3. Marshall (1) (5-0) 66
4. Mound-Westonka (5-0) 46
5. Winona (5-0) 45
6. Fergus Falls (5-0) 44
7. Becker (3-2) 22
8. Fridley (4-1) 15
9. Waseca (4-1) 13
10. Cloquet (4-1) 10
Others receiving votes: Benilde-St. Margaret's 8, Detroit Lakes-6, Hermantown-5, Zimmerman 5, Stewartville-5

Football Rankings: Class 5A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/5/2016 8:19:29 PM

School Total Points
1. Elk River (4) (5-0) 66
2. Mankato West (2) (5-0) 62
3. Spring Lake Park (1) (5-0) 58
4. Mahtomedi (5-0) 47
5. Chanhassen (5-0) 42
6. Alexandria (5-0) 31
7. St. Michael-Albertville (4-1) 23
8. Robbinsdale Cooper (5-0) 22
9. St. Cloud Tech (5-0) 14
10. SMB-Wolfpack (5-0) 10
Others receiving votes: Rogers-5, Apple Valley-57

Football Rankings: Class 6A
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/5/2016 8:19:06 PM

School Total Points
1. Totino-Grace (4) (5-0) 49
2. Lakeville North (1) (5-0) 45
3. Eden Prairie (4-1) 39
4. Rosemount (5-0) 35
5. East Ridge (4-1) 32
6. Champlin Park (4-1) 20
7. Burnsville (4-1) 15
Minnetonka (4-1) 15
9. Cretin-Derham Hall (4-1) 13
10. Blaine (3-2) 7
Others receiving votes: Mounds View-13, Prior Lake-1, Maple Grove-1

In Grand Meadow, Nine-Man Football Is Grand
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/3/2016 10:57:05 PM

GRAND MEADOW – When this little town was established during the Civil War era, it took its name from the picturesque prairie landscape of southeast Minnesota. Nowadays, the grandest meadow in Grand Meadow is a field of thick green grass on the eastern edge of town, 120 yards long and 40 yards wide, the home of the best little football team in Minnesota.

The Grand Meadow Superlarks have won the last three nine-man football state championships. They own the longest current winning streak in the state regardless of class, with Friday’s 80-34 victory over West Lutheran extending their run to 41 games. Their last defeat came in October 2013.

Friday’s victory capped Homecoming week, which was filled with the usual array of fun festivities that included themed dress-up days in the K-12 school, float building, an afternoon parade and introduction of Homecoming royalty at halftime of the football game. An unofficial tradition took place very late Thursday evening/early Friday morning when some merry pranksters TP’d the home of head coach Gary Sloan.

His dog, hearing the shenanigans, woke the coach. Sloan flipped on an exterior light “and I saw about a dozen of them out there,” he said with a smile Friday afternoon. “That didn’t even faze them.”

It’s hard not to have fun during autumn in Grand Meadow. Everyone takes great pride in the success of the Superlarks, filling a small set of bleachers and lining up along the fence that circles the field. The town itself is crowded all the time these days, with a growing school enrollment fueled by parents who work in nearby Rochester and Austin and want to raise their kids in a quiet town with a quality school.

The school building is unique: Five windowless monolithic domes that encompass classrooms, cafeteria, auditorium, gymnasium, computer lab and offices. The structure opened in 2002 and is being expanded this fall with the addition of larger gym, locker rooms, workout facilities and four classrooms. Geothermal energy powers the school via 26 miles of pipe under the practice fields a few steps away.

Grand Meadow’s current high school enrollment is 95 students. When the Superlarks won their first-ever state football title in 2013 the senior class consisted of 17 students; a year later that number was 18 and last year it was 29. The district's average current class size is in the upper 30s.

Many nine-man football schools struggle with numbers and some form cooperative teams with other schools in order to keep football alive. The opposite is taking place in Grand Meadow, where growth may push the Superlarks into 11-man football at some point.

“We won’t get to that 11-man number in the next four to five years but we’re getting close,” said Sloan (pictured during a pregame meeting).

Game nights in Grand Meadow include a few special amenities. Seats in a couch located behind an end zone are raffled off; an auction was held at halftime Friday with the game ball selling for $1,200. The press box is a roomy three-story building that seats coaches, video cameras, scoreboard operator and announcer on the top level, while the second story houses four “luxury suites” that also bring in funds.

The long winning streak means every team wants to play its absolute best against the Superlarks, and West Lutheran – the school is in Plymouth, two hours from Grand Meadow – did just that. The Warriors (enrollment 145) and quarterback Ben Beise had 311 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Grand Meadow is a running team, with senior Christopher Bain carrying nine times for 217 yards and three scores and junior Zach Myhre running eight times for 130 yards and one TD.

“I feel like there’s pressure in every game,” Myhre said. “And I know we’re going to get every team’s best effort, no matter who they are, the No. 2-ranked team or the worst team. We’re going to get their best effort.”

Senior Connor King said, “Pressure is obviously there. There’s not much we can do about it other than just play our best and go into every game the same.”

There is a friendly in-house rivalry between graduating classes. Two years ago the senior football players had a career record of 47-6 and last year’s class went 53-3. This year’s seniors have lost only once in 43 games since their freshman season.

“They’re all trying to beat the class in front of them. It’s a friendly competition. These guys are buddies but there’s a lot of bragging rights,” said Sloan, a native of Ellendale who also is a special education teacher, activities director, transportation director and Title IX coordinator for the school district. This is his 24th year as the head football coach.

Grand Meadow’s first trip to the state football playoffs was in 1986, but the Superlarks have a long, rich history. Bill Severin Sr. was the coach in the 1950s and 1960s; in 1965 the team set a then-state record with 47 straight wins. Severin was named Minnesota’s first coach of the year in 1965 and was inducted into the Minnesota High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1989.

The current Superlarks are 5-0 going into Friday’s game at LeRoy-Ostrander (2-3). Grand Meadow fans can be forgiven for looking ahead to the final regular-season game against Spring Grove, which is also unbeaten in 2015 and is routinely the Superlarks’ biggest rival in the Section 1 playoffs.

Grand Meadow’s streak was in serious jeopardy in last year’s regular-season finale, a 21-20 nail-biter at Spring Grove. In six postseason games that followed, the Superlarks won by an average margin of 24 points; the closest game was a 14-point victory over Underwood in the Prep Bowl.

The Superlarks’ average score this fall is 65-17. They are rushing for 391 yards per game, with Bain averaging 131 yards and Myrhe 93 for a team with starters that go to the bench as soon as the second quarter.

All this success hinges on many factors, of course, but none are more important than coaching. Sloan has only four assistant coaches, and all of them – Aaron Myhre, Deke Stejskal, Anthony Stejskal and Josh Bain – played for him.

“Our coaching staff does a really good job and the players buy in and work hard in the offseason,” King said. “It’s like a band of brothers here. We all get along with each other and we work well together.”

Zach Myhre added, “Obviously there are a lot of kids who get in the weight room in the offseason and work their butts off, but I think it comes down to our coaching staff implementing our game plan and then us successfully playing with it.”

--To see a photo gallery from Grand Meadow, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 72
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 2,667
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Day Jon Gruden Came To Minnesota High School Football
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/1/2016 10:13:04 PM

If you have watched Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football or other programs on ESPN, you know he is passionate about football. The former college and NFL coach has made an impact on the game in many ways, but not all of them are played out in his role as an analyst under the bright lights of prime-time television.

In a rather quiet and private affair on Saturday afternoon at the Vikings’ headquarters in Eden Prairie, Gruden made an impact on players and coaches from four Minnesota high school football teams. They will remember it as long as they live.

Teams from Red Lake, Eden Valley-Watkins, Minneapolis North and St. Paul Como Park were invited to attend a special event headlined by Gruden, who coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in 2003. Gruden talked to the teams en masse, ran them through drills, shared a meal with them and delivered gifts to each team. He also complied with every autograph request and posed for a photo with every person who asked.

Gruden and ESPN, in partnership with Dick’s Sporting Goods, hold similar events in every city the Saturday before Monday Night Football games (the Vikings host the New York Giants on Monday night). Each Minnesota team received a $2,000 donation along with new footballs, tackling dummies, blocking pads and t-shirts. The head coaches received gift cards.

In years of writing about high school sports, I have never met anyone who displayed more passion than Gruden. He has taken on the mantle of supporting football and all youth sports because of what they teach.

“I think the lessons that you learn from football are lessons you can’t get anywhere else,” he told me after the two-hour event ended. “Teamwork, sportsmanship, your work ethic, the discipline, accountability, mental toughness, all those things. Things that a lot of people don’t think are important anymore, but they’re wrong.”

Gruden began the session by gathering all four teams (“take a knee”) at midfield on the Vikings’ indoor practice field. The players wore their jerseys: Red for Red Lake, blue for Eden Valley-Watkins, black for Como Park and gray for North. He talked about determination, effort and communication, but first he stressed the importance of a proper handshake.

He had one of the players stand up and shake hands with him, saying “C’mon! I wanna see a good handshake!” Then he had all the players shake hands with players from other teams as they introduced themselves.

He had the four starting quarterbacks stand up and bark out a cadence. Middle linebackers did the same thing, calling defensive signals. As one of the quarterbacks displayed a deep, loud cadence, Gruden shouted, “That’s a great voice there!”

“You’ve got to communicate, and I’m not talking about Twitter, texting and that Snapchat thing,” he told the boys.

He told the players to appreciate every practice, every game and every memory.

“The best times of my life, 53 years, was playing this game,” he said.

Gruden grew up in Sandusky, Ohio. In college at Dayton he was a backup quarterback. His college coaching career took him to Tennessee, Southeast Missouri State, University of Pacific and University of Pittsburgh. He was an NFL assistant in San Francisco, Green Bay and Philadelphia before becoming head coach in Oakland in 1998. He replaced Tony Dungy as head coach in Tampa Bay in 2002.

After he was fired by Tampa Bay in 2010, Gruden helped coach his son’s high school football team in Tampa. He also created an organization called the Fired Football Coaches Association, “dedicated to giving back to the game of football, with a specific emphasis on high school athletic programs.”

“When I got fired we formed this FFCA. The only job I really had was coaching my son’s high school football team,” Gruden told me. “And I realized then that the coaches don’t get paid anything, they don’t have a budget, and everybody complains about everything. And in a lot of places kids have to pay to play football.

“Dick’s Sporting Goods teamed up and they have a program where they’re trying to save youth sports. There are people who are trying to diminish them; no more recess, no more games, no more football, no more anything. And I’m not just talking about football. I’m talking about women’s sports, all kinds of youth sports.”

Gruden smiled when I asked him about his memories of playing high school football.

“I still remember the games. I can remember putting on my pads. I remember pregame meals. I can remember what I did after the games. The great wins, the tough losses, the lessons I learned, the friends I made, the places I got to see. And my coaches and the lessons they taught. And I don’t know where we’d be without those, you know?”

Gruden hands out “Gruden Grinder” awards during NFL games, and Saturday he awarded Gruden Grinder t-shirts to selected players from each high school, based on things like work ethic, grades, and other school activities in which the players are involved. An ESPN camera crew filmed Saturday’s event and excerpts will be televised during Monday night Giants-Vikings game.

Before the four Minnesota teams headed for home, they posed for team photos with Gruden and a ceremonial $2,000 check in front of a Dick’s Sporting Goods bus that carried a simple message in giant letters: “Sports Matter.”

“As long as I’m alive we’re going to try and create some awareness that it’s a problem.” Gruden said of the challenges facing youth sports. “I want my kids and their kids and their kids to have a chance to play the games I got to play. Because there’s no way I am where I am without sports.”

--To see photos from the event, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 72
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 2,667
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

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