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Early-Season Baseball, Softball Stars Stand Out
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/29/2019

A baseball hitter from Litchfield, a pitcher from Wadena-Deer Creek and a softball pitcher from Browerville/Eagle Valley are making headlines as the MSHSL spring seasons begin to heat up with April turning to May.

Litchfield senior Owen Boerema (pictured) had two hits in a recent 10-2 victory over Kimball, which gave him a state-record streak with hits in 34 consecutive games. The previous record had stood for 36 years; 33 games by Deer River's Tim Gullickson.

On the mound, Wadena-Deer Creek senior Justin Dykhoff opened the season by throwing three no-hitters in his first four starts. Through those four games Justin allowed only one hit and zero runs in 24 1/3 innings, while also picking up one save as the Wolverines got off to a 7-0 start.

And in softball, Browerville/Eagle Valley sophomore pitcher Marissa Callahan had a no-hitter, a one-hitter and a two-hitter with 29 total strikeouts in three wins last week. She hasn't given up a run in 24 innings.

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



Class 1A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/29/2019

1. Randolph
2. New York Mills
3. Sleepy Eye Saint Mary's
4. Cherry
5. NCE/UH Titans
6. New Ulm Cathedral
7. Badger/GB-MR
8. Edgerton/SW MN Christian
9. Hayfield
10. Kimball Area
Others receiving votes: Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, Carlton, Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale Raiders, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Brandon-Evansville, Sebeka, Browerville, Cleveland, Wabasha-Kellogg, Red Lake Falls.



Class 2A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/29/2019

1. Maple Lake
2. Rochester Lourdes
3. Pipestone Area
4. Cotter/Hope Lutheran
5. Zumbrota-Mazeppa
6. Park Rapids Area
7. Chatfield
7. Norwood-Young America
9. Thief River Falls
9. Annandale
9. Le Sueur-Henderson
Others receiving votes: Esko, St. Peter, St. Cloud Cathedral, Moose Lake/Willow River, Sauk Centre, St. Agnes, Virginia.



Class 3A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/29/2019

1. Mankato West
2. Faribault
3. Northfield
4. Chisago Lakes
5. Winona
6. Rocori
7. Hill-Murray
8. Benilde-St. Margaret's
9. Waconia
9. Mahtomedi
Others receiving votes: Mankato East, Cloquet, Rogers, North Branch, New Ulm, Delano, Mound Westonka, Detroit Lakes, Alexandria, Becker.



Class 4A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/29/2019

1. Park
1. Forest Lake
3. Maple Grove
4. Lakeville North
5. Chanhassen
6. Shakopee
7. Centennial
7. Farmington
9. Stillwater
9. East Ridge
Others receiving votes: Elk River, Eastview, Rosemount, New Prague, Champlin Park, North, Rogers, Woodbury.



Class 2A Boys Tennis Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/29/2019

CLASS 2A
TEAMS
1 Edina
2 Mounds View
3 Blake
4 Eastview
5 Wayzata
6 Orono
7 Lakeville South
8 Eagan
9 Rochester Mayo
10 Rochester Century

INDIVIDUALS
1 Maxim Zagrebelny 12, Eagan
2 Gavin Young 10, Eastview
3 Varun Iyer 12, Rochester Century
4 Bjorn Swenson 9, Mounds View
5 Joe Mairs 11, Blake
6 Sujit Chepuri 10, Blake
7 John Kasner 12, Orono
8 Oskar Jansson 8, Edina
9 Hunter Roseth 12, Lakeville South
10 Caleb Fridinger 11, East Ridge



Class 1A Boys Tennis Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/29/2019

CLASS 1A
TEAMS
1 Mounds Park Academy
2 St. Paul Academy
3 Breck
4 Rochester Lourdes
5 Thief River Falls
6 Hibbing
7 St. James
8 Virginia
9 Pine City
10 Foley

INDIVIDUALS
1 Parker Law 12, Mounds Park
2 Logan Couillard 12, Minneapolis Edison
3 Arjun Goswitz 12, Minnehaha Academy
4 Clayton Haberman 10, Breck
5 Mitch Medvec 12, Lake City
6 Jerry Yang 12, Cotter
7 Justin Prochnow 10, Mounds Park
8 Ishan Nadkarni 10, Breck
9 Pavao Veldic 11, Rochester Lourdes
10 Carter Anderson 12, Hibbing
10 Cole Gillespie 12, Thief River Falls



Addendum To Previous Story: A New State Record
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/27/2019

Hopkins senior track star Joe Fahnbulleh experienced a low point followed by a very high point at Friday's Hamline Elite Meet. His day began with a first-place finish in one of two preliminary races in the 100 meters, but disaster struck in the finals of the 100 about an hour later.

Fahnbulleh, who, as noted in the previous John's Journal story, holds the state record in the 200 meters and anchored the Royals’ 4x200 relay team to a state title and state record last spring, was disqualified in the 100 finals after two false starts. It was only the second time, and first time in two years, that he has been DQ’d from a starting line.

Later Friday evening, Fahnbulleh used the 100 for motivation in the 4x100 relay. He anchored teammates Ty Bennett, Jaylen Champion and George Jackson (pictured) not only to an Elite Meet championship, but to a state-record time of 41.35 seconds. The previous mark was 41.52, set by the Eagan quartet of Josh Brown, Dallas Krech, Troy Brown and Sam Zenner at the 2015 state championships on the same Hamline University track.

"That fired us up. That fired me up because it was on me," Fahnbulleh said of the DQ. “I had to get redemption, I had to make up for that race. I got it back, obviously.”

Seeing a 4x100 team run that fast this early in the season, on a chilly night, was astounding. And it would not be surprising to see the Royals set an even faster state record as the season continues and the weather improves. The season will culminate with the state championships at Hamline June 7-8; prelims in the 4x100 will be held on June 7 and the final on June 8.

"We've worked too hard to not run what we ran today,” Fahnbulleh said. “Nobody knows what we could run at state. At state, June 8, it will be something special.”

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



Minnesota Track's Record-Setting Florida-Georgia Line
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/24/2019

Julia Fixsen and Joe Fahnbulleh had not met before I introduced them to each other at Tuesday's Hopkins True Team Invitational track and field meet. But everyone who follows high school track in Minnesota knows who they are.

Fixsen, a senior at Mounds View, has held the state record in the girls pole vault since her first meet as a junior. Fahnbulleh, a senior at Hopkins, owns the state record in the boys 200 meters and was a member of the Royals' 4x200 relay team that set a state record last spring.

Their paths will cross during their college careers. Fixsen has signed with Georgia and Fahnbulleh with Florida, two powerhouse track and field programs in the Southeastern Conference. Georgia was the NCAA women's outdoor runner-up in 2017 and 2018, while the Florida men's team has finished first or second in the NCAA outdoor championships nine times in the last 10 years.

Fahnbulleh and Fixsen will headline Friday's 14th annual Hamline Elite Meet, a gathering of the top performers in each event this spring. The meet will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Klas Field, the same facility that has hosted the MSHSL state championships since 2006 (this year's state meet will be held June 7-8). Tickets for the Hamline Elite Meet are $10 for adults and $5 for students.

Fixsen and Fahnbulleh are team captains, a role they relish.

"I'm a leader and I love bringing the team together," Fixsen said. "I love being that enabler; I have more influence with the girls, I'm able to connect with the girls."

Fixsen's current state record in the pole vault is 13 feet, 11 1/4 inches, which she cleared at the 2018 USA Track & Field Junior Nationals in Bloomington, Indiana. She placed second in that event as the only high school athlete among collegians in the top five. That finish secured a spot for her at the IAAF World Under-20 championships in Finland last summer, where she finished seventh behind vaulters from Czechoslovakia, Sweden, France, New Zealand and China.

Fahnbulleh's state record in the 200 also came in a summer meet, the USA Track & Field Hershey National Junior Olympics in Greensboro, N.C. He ran 20.69 seconds in winning the national title, eclipsing the state record of 20.92 set in 2004 by Jon Boyd of Mankato East (the national record is 20.13). In the 4x200, he anchored Hopkins to a state-record time of 1:26.37 in winning the Class 2A state title last year. The other members of the team were Jaylen Champion, King Allah and Sam Leervig; Allah has graduated but Champion and Leervig are seniors this spring.

Fahnbulleh's 20.69 in the 200 was a cannon blast. His previous best was 20.84 in the prelims at the national meet, after winning at state with a time of 21.35.

"I did not expect to run that time. No one did," Joe admitted this week. His world quickly changed, with a deluge of contacts from big-time colleges. One of those coaches was nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, who coaches sprinters at the University of Houston.

"I was like, whoa," said Fahnbulleh. "Off of one time, one race, so many doors opened. It was like, this is crazy."

Fixsen's rise has been more gradual, beginning with a ninth-place finish at the state meet in 2015, clearing 10 feet, 6 inches. In 2016 she placed second at 13-0, she won her first state championship in 2017 at 11-6 and repeated last spring at 13-9 1/4.

Her first goal this spring is to clear 14 feet, and she would like to hit 14-6 by the time her high school career ends. The national high school record is 14-4 and only five female pole vaulters have ever cleared 14 feet.

"There are no limits to pole vault," she said. "I can always go higher."

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



Sam and Butch: A Selfie Tradition
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/22/2019

State tournaments are full of traditions, and one student-athlete has created a special, personal tradition. When Sam Rengo, currently a senior at Esko High School, qualified for the state track meet in his eighth-grade year (2015), he took a "selfie" with who he called “program guy.” That guy is Butch Tysk, who sells programs and souvenirs at state tourneys, and is well-known to attendees.

When Sam took that first selfie with Butch, a tradition was born. Sam and Butch posed for another photo at state track when Sam was a ninth-grader, at the state basketball tournament in 2017, the state cross-country meet, and on and on. In all, Sam has nine photos with Butch.

Sam's mother, Sandy, wrote to the MSHSL: “All together he has nine Program Guy selfies, the most recent from this year's state basketball tournament where Sam was on the Esko team in addition to attending for the Triple A award. With senior track season remaining, hopefully he can add to his collection with one last state track meet and finish his career with 10 state tournaments and 10 Program Guy selfies.

“I don't know what made Sam take that first selfie, but it's been fun to follow the progress. At each state tournament we wait for the family text with the latest picture. I've never met the Program Guy, and I'm pretty sure Sam hasn't officially introduced himself. He's a good sport, though, for taking all these pictures with Sam.”

--See all nine photos of Sam and Butch on the MSHSL Facebook page.



Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton: Small School, Big Facilities
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/18/2019

JANESVILLE -- In late August of 2017, a back-to-school open house was held at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton. A focal point at the southern Minnesota school was a new stadium and softball field, all cloaked in artificial turf.

During the open house, superintendent Bill Adams asked a member of the Bulldogs football team what he thought of the new facilities. The young man replied, "It's way awesome and we don't deserve it. We’re in Janesville, Minnesota, and we don’t deserve this."

Adams told him, “Don’t ever think that way. Your zip code doesn’t determine what you deserve.”

The population of Janesville is 2,259. Waldorf has 227 souls and Pemberton comes in with 240. The current high school enrollment at J-W-P is 191 students. And the zip codes mean zip.

One day earlier this week, as outdoor spring sports schedules all over the state were being postponed and cancelled after recent snow, the softball field in Janesville was a busy place. And the J-W-P team was nowhere to be seen; teams from New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Medford were playing.

The contest had been scheduled as a home game for NRHEG but the Panthers’ field was unplayable. Same thing in Medford. NRHEG activities director Dan Stork called his counterpart at J-W-P, Ryan Luedtke, and asked if the field was available. A few hours later the game was underway, with NRHEG paying a rental fee of 125 dollars.

“We try to have as many people use it as possible,” Luedtke said. “Right now it’s being used every day.”

NRHEG softball coach Wendy Schultz said, “First we thought we were playing at our place, then maybe we were going to Medford, then this transpired. We love it.”

During the softball game, J-W-P track and field athletes were working out on the all-weather track in the stadium, where everything is first-rate; lights, bleachers, press box, scoreboard, concession/restroom building. The previous cinder track had become an eyesore, and the Bulldogs are now happily hosting track meets again after years of road-only competition.

The previous facilities, which dated from the early 1970s, were built in what was described as a somewhat swampy area. Drainage issues sometimes meant standing water.

“It served it’s time, but it was time” for an upgrade, Adams said. “It turned out really nice.”

That is an understatement. Three years ago no one was using the term “Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton University,” but that’s what some hometown students like to say. Last spring, when the Bulldogs hosted a track meet for the first time in years, visiting students from neighboring small schools were overheard expressing jealousy. And new jaws drop every time new visitors arrive.

The cost of the facilities was estimated at $4.2 million and the final price tag was $3.9 million, financed by a combination of general-fund dollars, state bonds and funding from a 2011 tax levy.

“Our school board was very intentional in building a fund balance to start a savings account for an athletic complex,” said Adams, a Janesville native who has been superintendent there since 2012 and will assume the same duties at New London-Spicer this summer.

That fund held around $1.5 million when planning for the project began, Adams said. In the end, “There was actually a decrease to taxpayers.”

J-W-P isn’t the smallest school district in Minnesota with turf. Mountain Iron-Buhl (enrollment 126) put in a turf field last fall when a new school opened. Others include Triton (290) and Esko (346).

There were naysayers as J-W-P’s new facilities were discussed, planned and completed.

“That part’s been really interesting,” Adams said. “We had people up front really excited about it and people not excited at all. Some of those people have seen how much the complex is being used and they understand now why it was a good decision. There still are a few people who are not very excited.”

The softball field is being used by high school and college teams, and coaches from nearby Minnesota State Mankato have inquired about holding football and soccer practices in the stadium. The Waseca High School marching band has made the stadium a regular summer rehearsal spot.

“It’s just so nice to be able to come out and play,” said NRHEG’s Schultz.

Lights may be the next addition to the softball field, which would further add to the amount of time that physical education classes, home teams, visiting teams, youth groups and others could use and rent the facilities.

Adams has been contacted by administrators in other school districts who are considering similar projects. He’s glad to offer advice and answer questions.

Nobody asks about the zip code.

--See a photo gallery on the MSHSL Facebook Page.

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



Making Debate And Speech History In Hawley
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/15/2019

During the MSHSL debate state championships in January at the University of Minnesota, almost all the entrants were from large schools. There are four categories in debate and the 2019 state champions came from Eagan, Minneapolis Washburn, Lakeville South ... and Hawley.

Hawley's champion was junior Kelso Anderson in Congressional Debate. The other Congressional state qualifiers came from Eagan, Chanhassen, Eastview, Apple Valley, Andover, Maple Grove, Moorhead, Champlin Park and East Ridge. Those schools have enrollments ranging from 1,514 to 2,415 students. Hawley's enrollment in grades nine through 12 is 276.

"That was maybe a little bit of a shock to the debate world," Hawley activities director Brett Schmidt said. "Not many schools this size participate in debate, especially not at that level."

Debate is a single-class activity and speech has two classes, so there probably weren't quite as many raised eyebrows on Friday when Hawley's Anderson won a state title in Extemporaneous Speaking in the Class 1A state speech tournament at Wayzata High School. But ...

"I was surprised at both, actually," said Anderson (pictured). "There was some pretty tough competition at both of them."

Kelso has had some unique experiences at state debate and speech. As a sophomore competing at state debate for the first time, he became ill after the first round and could not continue. Last week, his trip to the Twin Cities for state speech was somewhat of a wild ride.

While Anderson was in Brainerd competing at a Knowledge Bowl competition (which isn't an MSHSL activity), Schmidt loaded the speech team into a brand-new school van for the trip south. They made it to the Twin Cities but the van was not running properly. While the van was being repaired, Schmidt rented a Chevrolet Suburban to drive through bad weather, meet Anderson in Motley and get back to the metro. It all worked out, but not without some excitement.

"I got to Monticello fine, and then it was a whole different world," Schmidt said of the conditions. "Very, very icy and snowing; the visibility was good but the roads were not very good."

Anderson admits to being asleep for most of the trip.

"The past two weeks have been pretty busy," he said. "I was in D.C., then Knowledge Bowl and preparing for state speech."

He's getting some down time now, with no major competitions until a National Speech & Debate Association event in Dallas in June. If all goes well, Anderson and Hawley senior Derrek Christensen, who won a state championship Friday in Serious Interpretation of Prose, will be there. (In order to to make the trip possible, a Go Fund Me page has been set up, called "Send Derrek and Kelso to Speech Nationals.")

Christensen, who like Anderson has been in speech since seventh grade, was Hawley's Homecoming king last fall.

"I'm really going to miss our seniors on the team," said Nuggets debate and speech coach Kim Jeral. "They're in everything. Our whole fine arts department is super involved."

Hawley has a strong speech tradition, with around 35 participants each year. Along with Anderson and Christensen, other Hawley students who qualified for state speech this year were Torsten Haugen, Alex Diaz, Anna Kronbeck, Hannah Christensen and Ian Kronbeck.

"It is an individual activity but it's really a community, we have a close-knit speech team," Anderson said. "We all like each other, we get along."

The debate program at Hawley is smaller, with Congressional the only category in which the Nuggets compete.

"That's a hard sell for my kids because they're in so many different things," said Jeral. "We didn't go to very many meets this year. They're in every activity."

Anderson is Hawley's first medalist at the state debate tournament.

"Ideally if we had been offered all the debate categories I would have wanted to be in Lincoln-Douglas," he said. "I just wanted to be part of the debate team. I was involved in the category of original oratory when I first joined speech, then I found extemp speaking and I've grown into it. With extemp I like dealing with the international issues. I like learning about these issues that I speak about."

Kelso, who also participates in cross-country in the fall, has a current class schedule that includes physical education, chemistry, Advanced Placement psychology, online college history, English and Spanish. He would like to work in the field of international relations, possibly becoming a diplomat.

If his first name sounds familiar, it's because he was named after one of the characters on "That 70s Show."

"Whenever somebody meets me, that's usually one of the first questions," he said.

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



Henning’s State Champions Will Gather Again For Jacob
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/10/2019

HENNING – On Saturday, three weeks to the day after winning their school's first state championship, members of the Henning Hornets boys basketball team will go to the gym and play. And laugh. And remember their friend and teammate Jacob Quam.

Saturday will mark the second anniversary of Jacob's death. Early in the morning on April 13, 2017, Jacob was driving six miles from his home in Vining to Henning for a before-school weightlifting session when the driver of a semitrailer heading in the opposite direction crossed the center line and collided with Jacob's vehicle.

Later that morning, the Henning students were informed of Jacob's death as they gathered in the gym. Four days after that, his funeral was held in the gym. He would have been a senior this year.

After the boys play basketball Saturday, they will go to Jacob’s grave a mile away at St. Paul’s Cemetery. Jacob’s mom, Angela Quam, will meet them there and they will celebrate Jacob with fireworks.

"We’ll do five grand finales," Angela said. "All the boys will be there, then they’re going to somebody’s cabin for a sleepover. Hopefully that’s a tradition they’ll be able to carry on."

The Hornets were the story of this year’s basketball tournament, coming to state for the first time since 1966 as a team that few outside of Otter Tail County knew much about. Their dedication to Jacob -- evidenced by his No. 33 jersey being on the bench for every game since his death – made the Hornets an easy team to cheer for.

Coach Randy Misegades is still receiving emails from strangers offering congratulations and wanting to order state championship apparel.

“Some of them had never heard of Henning before the tournament,” he said, sitting with the team’s four seniors Tuesday afternoon.

The Class 1A state championship trophy and net from Target Center are on display in the school office. Memories of Jacob are everywhere in the community of 800 people. Signs in the windows of businesses say “6 on 5” … a slogan about Jacob’s memory serving as a sixth man on the court. His 33 is a common sight. His locker, a few steps from the gym, bears a nameplate with his name and number; his basketball shoes are still inside, with his combination lock in place. A chain-link fence on the school grounds carries the message “6 on 5. Hornet Pride.”

A plaque in the school, with a photo of Jacob, says, “There are some people in life that make you laugh a little louder, smile a little bigger and live just a little bit better.” Jacob’s jersey, along with his gold medals from the Section 6 and state tournaments, hangs in assistant coach Mark Oscarson’s classroom.

Angela Quam calls herself “a lucky woman” because of how Jacob, her only child, is being remembered.

“It’s meant the world to me,” she said. “I was worried that people would forget about him. That was my big concern. And now he’s a part of history. I knew these boys were out there playing their hearts out for themselves and for Jacob. And for me.”

The players not only dedicated two seasons to Jacob, they also dedicated themselves to improving their skills in his memory.

“That summer after (Jacob’s death) we had basketball at 6 in morning,” said senior Dylan Trana. “I know I wasn’t excited to wake up before 6 but he would have been there, too, if he could.”

Fellow senior Adam Lange said, “It definitely united us all. It made us better friends.”

Trana added, “We wouldn’t have been nearly as close. It’s pretty much like we’re all brothers.”

Basketball is the only boys sport in which Henning still fields a stand-alone team. The others are cooperative teams with kids from Battle Lake and Underwood; those teams are known as the Ottertail Central Bulldogs.

“We hope we can hang on because you can look out there and see how much pride there is in the orange and black,” said Misegades, who is a special ed teacher and Henning’s athletic director. “We want to hang onto it.”

Senior basketball players Trana, Lange, Sam Fisher and Jack Bjorklund hope their state championship helps the program remain Henning-only forever.

Lange said, “It’s like we’re all a big family here. Once you add other schools it doesn’t mean as much.”

Henning has long been a basketball town; photos of the 1965 and 1966 state tournament teams hang in the gym lobby as a testament to history and tradition. Neal Oscarson played on those teams and later became the head coach of the Hornets. Misegades played for Neal, and now Neal’s son Mark is Misegades’ assistant.

“It’s really important,” Trana said of the town’s basketball tradition.

In Misegades’ first season as head coach, 14 years ago, the team won one game. Two years ago the Hornets finished 7-20 and last season they went 19-9. This season they finished 31-1, losing to Parkers Prairie in overtime in the regular-season finale but defeating the Panthers by two in the section title game.

“I’ve got to be honest; you go through those first years and think, ‘Is this worth it?,’ ” said Misegades, whose career record is 184-183. “Obviously this is pretty special, but you learn a lot when you get your brains beat in.”

The players and coaches still receive congratulations on a daily basis. They recall with amazement the giant crowds wearing Hornets orange and black at the state tournament.

“A number of people thanked me for creating an all-school reunion at Target Center,” the coach said with a smile. “I told these guys that for the rest of their life they’re state champions. We talked a lot about the journey, and the destination was pretty special, too.”

Like the players and coaches, Angela Quam continues to hear from people who offer support, along with memories of Jacob and what a special young man he was.

“It’s remarkable, I don’t even have words for it,” she said.

“As horrible as it was, I am blessed. I’m thankful for everyone and everything that people have done for me. The basketball team is always going to have a special place in my heart. Always.”

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



Making Beautiful Music: Tyra Wiles And The Austin Band
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 4/3/2019

Tyra Wiles is not always very verbal but she loves music. The senior at Austin High School has Down syndrome, which doesn't stop her from performing as a percussionist in the Packers band program. And if you saw the 160-member pep band play at the girls state basketball tournament last month – like I did -- you might have seen Tyra playing a snare drum.

I found it intriguing as well as inspiring.

"She loves to play, and there's nothing better than being on the bus and going with the other kids," said Tyra's mom, Linda Gibeau.

When Tyra started middle school, Linda asked about having her be part of the middle school band program. "I said, 'I don't care if you give her foam sticks and a foam drum, I want her in the band.' "

Watching Tyra play with the band is a real treat. Her skills have improved to the point that she can perform the national anthem perfectly. But hanging out with the other band kids and being part of the group is the best part.

"I never played a musical instrument and was never in sports," said Linda, who works as a substitute teacher in Austin, her hometown. "I live vicariously through my kid. I work the same hours as she's in school, and if the band is heading to a game in the morning I cancel my job and go. I'm the only substitute teacher at every game and I’ve got a (school employee) badge so we go for free. Wrestling, girls or boys basketball, volleyball, track meets, everything, I go."

Tyra is also a six-year member (and a captain) of the Packers adapted bowling team, which has competed at state. When a pepfest was held for the bowlers last year, Tyra entered the gym with the pep band, then put down her drum and joined the bowlers. Her mother had helped her write a speech, which went like this: “I’m Tyra Wiles, I like bowling. Go Packers!”

Another highlight of Tyra’s high school career was going to the prom with Derek Olmschenk, a 6-foot-6 hockey player who was with the Austin Bruins junior team after graduating from Cretin-Derham Hall and is now playing at the University of St. Thomas.

Band is Tyra’s only mainstream class, and Austin band director Christoph Dundas said her impact has been bigger than most people realize.

“It’s good for both Tyra and for the other students,” said Dundas, who is the parent of an elementary special needs student. “For Tyra it’s a chance to experience something that a lot of students with special needs never get to experience just because of the way life happens. And it’s good for the other students, too, because they get to experience a class with somebody they don’t see in other classes.

“Band is multi-grade, multi-age, and Austin is a big enough school that a lot of kids really don’t see kids from other grades other than in music classes. She’s impacted students three years older than she is and students who are three years younger. Tyra’s impacted seven different grades of students.”

Brad Mariska, currently a band director at Farmington High School, used to teach in Austin. In his final year there, he worked with Tyra when she was in ninth grade.

“She was involved in middle school band and had a great band director, Nino Tarara. I met with him when Tyra was in eighth grade,” Mariska said. “We asked, ‘How can we make this work at the high school level?’ We kind of brainstormed and we wanted to help her be involved as much as possible.

“It was great. She was able to be a part of the band. She comes to concert band every day, she plays in concerts. We had weekly band lessons when she and I would work one on one.”

During the 2018 football season, Dundas received an email from a member of an opposing team. The player, also a band student at his school, had noticed Tyra in the band during a game in Austin and wrote to Dundas to tell him how neat it was to see Tyra in the band.

“So Tyra even reaches students from other schools,” Dundas said.

This is Tyra’s last year as a member of the band, although she will continue attending school in a job-training program for up to three years. She will graduate with her class in June; Linda admits to shedding a few tears when she wrote a check to pay for Tyra’s cap and gown.

“She’s a cool kid,” said Mariska. “That’s why we teach. That’s why we do this.”

Dundas said, “In the grand scheme of things Tyra may not realize her impact. There can be everyday experiences that people take for granted. And she gets to take that for granted, too.”

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



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