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The Importance Of Educators, Past And Future
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/30/2018 3:12:56 PM

Kelsi Olson, a young band teacher at Brainerd High School, was standing on the stage in the performing arts center at Rosemount High School, where a large alumni concert band was assembled. Kelsi was talking about the reason for the gathering: a man named Steve Olsen was being honored as he retired after a lengthy career as a music educator.

Two days earlier a quieter but no less important gathering was held at Burnsville High School, where graduating seniors who plan to become teachers were honored at a signing ceremony in the school’s career center.

The events provided valuable bookends on the importance of educators by saying “thank you” to someone closing out a wonderful career and “welcome” to 14 young people embarking on a similar path.

In the old days of newspapers there was a joke about people who were responsible for compiling each day’s lists of deaths and births. The process was lovingly known as “shipping and receiving.” Time, of course, marches on, and it was inspiring to be in attendance at the Rosemount and Burnsville events. And on a personal note, there was a family interest in each gathering because my daughter Allison, a teacher at Burnsville, helped plan the future educator signing ceremony there, and she and her two older brothers were band kids under the tutelage of Steve Olsen.

The Burnsville event was brief, lasting no more than 20 minutes. Our daughter and her colleague Dave McDevitt spoke before the students signed letters of intent.

“It’s been a joy to get young people interested in this amazing field of changing lives,” McDevitt said. Ms. Millea added, “Do not lose the spark you have right now. You’re here right now because you are excited about teaching. That’s what we love. You are committing to a brighter future for everyone. You are dedicated to improving lives. … You are literal superheroes for making the choice to teach. If you want to make the world a better place, start with education.”

Steve Olsen, like so many educators in our state and beyond, always made the world a much better place. His 37-year teaching career began at Rosemount in 1981, took him to Bloomington Kennedy and then Eden Prairie before he returned to Rosemount in 1998. He taught elementary music, which he loved, during the last four years of his career.

My wife and I attended every concert in which our kids participated, as well as countless marching band performances at football games, parades and competitions. Those were special days; we think of them often and we miss them.

Steve – whom just about everyone calls “Mr. Olsen” – always went the extra mile. As Mother’s Day rolled around each year, during rehearsals he would ask his students to use their cell phones to call their moms, who would then listen to their children’s band play a song dedicated to them. How sweet is that?

The band assembled for the celebration at Rosemount consisted of former band students under Steve from both Eden Prairie and Rosemount. There was some gray hair and a few bald heads, along with fuller heads of hair on more recent graduates. Steve’s family had sent out the word (and the music) and the group got in a rehearsal before the event began. The musicians included Steve’s wife Natalie (a band teacher in Farmington), their daughter Kaylee and her husband Brad.

Between songs, different individuals stood at the microphone to speak about Steve and how important he has been to them.

The words of Kelsi Olson, a 2011 Rosemount graduate, were especially poignant. She began by saying, “I’m not sure I could adequately describe in words the impact Mr. Olsen has had on my life or the lives of his students in general, because it extends far beyond the many things he taught us.”

She talked about being a high school senior and telling Steve she was thinking of becoming a music educator.

“Instead of simply giving me advice about all the directions that I could possibly take, Mr. Olsen invited me to work as a student aide during his first-hour ninth-grade band,” she said. “I was able to see some of the behind-the-scenes work that Mr. Olsen did as a band director, which would have been helpful enough for a high school senior looking at this as a career. But like he did in so many aspects of his teaching, Mr. Olsen went above and beyond and invited me to lead the band for a rehearsal cycle on a piece and then conduct them at their concert. This was hands-down the best possible real-world experience I could have gotten at that point in my life. It ignited something in me that made me realize that this was a direction I was meant to take.

“I don’t think there’s an adequate enough way to say thank you besides doing everything I possibly can to pass on what I learned from you to my own students. I think I can speak for a lot of us on stage that we didn’t quite realize how lucky we were to have Mr. Olsen (pictured in the pink tie) as our band director while we were in school. It wasn’t until after we left that we could truly appreciate one of the biggest reasons why Mr. Olsen was a great teacher; the fact that he made extraordinary experiences the norm for us. He would always tell us that what we did, our work ethic, our dedication, our level of performance, was not normal because it was done at such a high level. But the thing was, we didn’t believe him. To us, these things were totally normal. Mr. Olsen instilled in us a desire to pursue greatness, to commit to what we were doing with everything we had, and to never settle for mediocrity.

“Looking back at it now from a different perspective, he was right. Our work ethic and level of dedication was definitely not normal. But because we had Mr. Olsen as a teacher, what was truly extraordinary became our normal. I believe this is one of the marks of a great teacher, and I believe I can speak for all of your former students when I say that we are so appreciative of this. As a band teacher myself, I understand that what we hope for our students is that they leave our classes not only as better musicians, but as better human beings.”

The alumni band performed the Eden Prairie and Rosemount school songs as people in the auditorium stood and clapped along. Before the final song of the night, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa, Steve spoke briefly. He talked about knowing in fifth grade that he wanted to be a band teacher, about being paid $14,000 a year as a rookie teacher, about his goal of helping students love music.

He gave thanks for all the students, colleagues, administrators and families he has known over all these years.

“I feel very grateful, very blessed,” he said. “I’m so thrilled to have had this wonderful career.”

One more personal note: Our middle child, who lives in Phoenix, was frustrated that he wasn’t able to attend the ceremony and join the band at Rosemount. But he had a good excuse. He’s a music educator, just like Mr. Olsen, and he was teaching that day.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Won 800: New Ulm Cathedral Coach Reaches Big Milestone
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/27/2018 5:02:06 PM

NORTH MANKATO – Saturday was special for Bob Mertz. There were cupcakes, balloons and congratulations here at Caswell Park after the New Ulm Cathedral softball team won two playoff games in a quest to reach the state tournament, which will be played at Caswell June 7-8.

The balloons included a big silver “8” and a big silver “0” and another big silver “0” … in recognition of Mertz’s 800th career victory, more than any other softball coach in Minnesota. The cupcakes were covered in yellow frosting, with red frosting used to create stitches across the top of each one. They resembled real softballs and they were delicious.

Mertz, a Cathedral graduate and retired math teacher, was all smiles. He posed for photos with his wife Linda as well as with the Greyhounds. He told the players, “Let’s do this again on Thursday!”

He was referring to the postgame celebration. With victories over Cleveland and Sleepy Eye on Saturday in the Class 1A Section 2 tournament, the sixth-ranked Greyhounds (18-2) advanced to the section championship round. They will play again on Thursday against the winner of the loser’s bracket, which will be decided Tuesday among Sleepy Eye, Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s and Cleveland.

“I’m so fortunate,” said Mertz, who has been the head coach at Cathedral since 1979. His 39-year record of 800-139 translates to an astounding .851 winning percentage and an average of more than 20 victories per season.

The Greyhounds have won seven state championships, beginning with a threepeat in 1993, 1994 and 1995. The others came in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014.

“They’re all real special, they really are,” Mertz said of the milestone wins during his career. “The year we won a state championship for the third time in a row, in 1995, that was our 300th one and it happened at the end of the state tournament. That was really special.”

Mertz thought he might retire from coaching when he ended his teaching career a few years back, but he just couldn’t walk away. Beginning last season, he made 2007 Cathedral grad (and former softball player) Jamie Portner his co-head coach.

“I finally figured it out and started inviting former players of mine to help coach,” he said. “So for the last 16 years I’ve always had assistant coaches who were former players. It really makes it so much easier, the kids identify with them.”

Portner, who joined the coaching staff in 2012, said, “I don’t know if there’s anybody in the state of Minnesota who knows more about softball than Bob Mertz. And he’s just kind of a comfort; if you ask him to do something that you’re not comfortable with he’ll go out and do it. It’s kind of a confidence thing, too. If you’ve got him on your side you’ve got a good chance of winning. He’s such a creative thinker. It’s nice to have him on our side instead of playing against him.”

Mertz was not an athlete in high school, and he was somewhat hesitant when he was asked to become an assistant softball coach at Cathedral in the 1970s. He filled that role for three years before taking over as head coach.

“I’m a real novice,” he said. “I was a little worried about coaching when they asked me. But the smartest thing I did was say yes. I’ve never gotten to a point where I said, ‘I’ve had enough.’ I’ve always wanted to come back.”

Bob and Linda spend winters in Arizona, and this year they planned their return to Minnesota for April 1. “I was thinking I’d miss all the practices in the gym,” Bob said. “Then we had another three weeks of practices in the gym, so I didn’t miss anything.”

Mertz's presence during games is strong. During Saturday’s game against Sleepy Eye, he made one trip to the pitchers circle to speak with the infielders. He calls pitches, something senior catcher Rose Hazuka appreciates.

“He is so intelligent, it is absolutely amazing,” said Rose, the fourth daughter in her family to play softball for Mertz. “He knows the game of softball like the back of his hand and he can call pitches left and right and it’ll be spot on.”

Senior infielder Jenna Helget said, “He knows what he’s talking about and all of us have improved as softball players. We really appreciate all he does and all the time he puts in.”

The coach has no plans to retire. Once he does make that decision, he will probably make it very, very clear. That wasn’t the case after the 2016 season, when Linda took him at his word.

“I make goofy statements sometimes,” Mertz said. “My wife heard me say, ‘I’m going to retire.’ ”

That triggered surreptitious contact with all of his former players who could be reached, followed by a surprise retirement party. He was thrilled to see so many of his players, including four members of the first team he coached. But he actually was not planning to retire. He told Linda, “You can’t take me seriously when I say these things.”

Portner said Mertz often talks of someday stepping down, but the players keep him coming back.

“He always talks about it, and then he finds a group of girls that he wants to see through. He said 2007 was going to be his last year, then 2009. He just finds more players to be excited about and it carries him through.”

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

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Cristo Rey Jesuit Students Make A Robot … And History
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/24/2018 7:46:28 PM

The robotics team from Cristo Rey Jesuit High School does not have a fancy banner to hang in the pit area where teams tweak their robots, and the team also doesn’t have a big flag to be waved, as is the custom, before rounds of competition begin. But the Los Clasicos have something else: a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

Cristo Rey Jesuit is a small Catholic school in Minneapolis. The school’s accomplishments are many, including this: since the school was founded eight years ago, every graduating senior has been accepted to college.

Cristo Rey’s robotics program is in its fifth year, and the team has taken big leaps since Schuyler Troy became the main advisor three years ago. At that point the team was barely a blip on the robotics screen. Their rise was topped by a 21st-place finish among 36 teams at the recent MSHSL FIRST Robotics state championships at the University of Minnesota’s 3A Arena at Mariucci.

It was the first appearance for any team from Cristo Rey at a state tournament. Sophomore Kya Phillips became the school’s first individual state champion when she won the Class 1A 400 meters at last year’s state track and field meet. Jericho Sims, a 2017 graduate, started 11 games and played in all 34 games as a freshman on the University of Texas men’s basketball team.

And now, the robotics team has made history.

“I thought today was pretty amazing because I didn’t think we would get to where we were,” said junior Alexis Constantino Lopez. “My expectations? Honestly, I set them kind of low because I thought these teams are pretty much better than us. I’m happy where we finished.”

Troy teaches Advanced Placement computer science principals and physics at Cristo Rey Jesuit, where the student population is 84 percent Latino/Hispanic and 11 percent African-American/African immigrant. He graduated from high school in 2004 in Fayetteville, Tennessee, where he was a member of his school’s robotics team.

“I had a lot of really good experiences with robotics in high school,” he said. “When I got to (Cristo Rey) and heard we had robotics I was excited and offered to help. That kind of morphed into taking leadership with the team. Two years ago was my first year with the group and it was kind of a rough go; the team was still young and I had not been involved with FIRST Robotics since I was in high school. And when you’re a student you don’t necessarily see how the sausage is made, with all the logistical things behind the scenes.”

In Troy’s first year the team finished near the bottom in a regional competition. Everyone was disappointed, but it was part of a growth process. Last season provided what Troy called a big leap.

“I had a better idea of what I was doing, the volunteers had a better idea of what we needed to do,” he said. “We finished the robot on time, which is always a nice accomplishment. We came to the regional and finished 27th out of 60 teams, I believe. For us, coming off the previous year that was a huge leap. It made the kids feel good, it made it really good for recruiting because we could say in school, ‘Hey, look at the improvement we’re making.’ ”

This season was strong from the start, with the team completing its robot early and having time for testing and modifications. As an added bonus, many of the current team members are in their third year with the program.

“We have a really solid group of juniors who have been with us since they were freshmen,” Troy said. “We’ve developed a really strong relationship and the nice thing about them having that experience of finishing last and then climbing forward is that they’re really, really incredibly humble about how good they can be.”

When the team competed at a regional this year, hoping to advance to state, they were confident but not cocky. Part of their philosophy was to have fun, do the best they could and walk away feeling good about it.

“And we won, a lot. We kept winning matches,” Troy said. “We kept looking at our number go up and up and up in the ranks.

“It was such a huge leap forward. Thinking back to two years ago, it was such a great experience, it was really moving for me. It was a really fun experience for me to get to see them have the kind of fun that I had when I was in robotics. It’s always fun anyway, but it’s more fun when you’re winning.”

After the MSHSL tournament ended, the Los Clasicos gathered for team photos. Everyone smiled as they received congratulations from members of other teams.

“It’s been exciting, a cool experience,” said junior Consuelo Contreras. “It’s my first year in robotics and it’s the first year we came to the championships, so it was kind of interesting and cool and unique.”

Alan Flores, one of the third-year team members, said, “Me and Alex (Lopez) came to robotics in our freshman year. Right off the bat we started off pretty low, getting the lowest ranking in our first year. The second year we did a little better, made more progress, we climbed up like 10 more ranks. This year we came up to like seventh place in the rankings. The way we progressed and the way we learned from those past years really led us to show more leadership towards the new people, and it helped us a lot to improve and learn. To us, it just feels amazing to be here and see how much we’ve grown.”

During the state tournament, Cristo Rey Jesuit activities director Rob Carpentier was inundated with texts and emails from staff members and students seeking updates on the team’s progress. The team’s success has raised its profile,

“Now I’m thinking about how do I buy a trailer for this team? How do I make the accoutrements and aesthetics look like the rest of the teams that are here,” Carpentier said, talking about things like a team banner and flag. “I don’t ever want them to feel like they’re doing without. They’re a great bunch of kids.”

Upwards of 40 Cristo Rey students took part in the robotics program this year, and that number is sure to rise in the future.

“It’s inspirational,” said junior Henry Perez. “We don’t give up. At the very beginning we don’t always get it perfect, but we take the things we learn and we grow from it.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

A Major Car Accident, But The Umpire Still Did Her Job
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/21/2018 1:42:04 PM

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

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

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

Wagenson and Marshall Behrens had each umpired three junior college games in Rochester before driving separately to the game in Stewartville; it’s a testament to the shortage of officials in Minnesota that they were scheduled for four games in one day. (Wagenson's vehicle is the top one in this photo, with the other car on the bottom.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

After 62 Years, Edina's Art Downey Is Ready For Retirement
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/18/2018 5:17:18 PM

One of the great gentlemen of high school activities, Edina boys swim coach Art Downey, has announced that he has retired after coaching there for 62 years. Yes, that is correct: 62 years. Art is the only head coach in Edina boys swimming history and his teams won 10 state titles. I wrote a profile of Art during the 2015-16 season, and it is re-posted here. Congratulations to Mr. Downey!

In the 1940s, a little squirt of a kid growing up in St. Paul developed a reputation as a pretty good swimmer. The boy did most of his swimming in lakes, and he could really move in the water. He wasn’t the most talented kid in St. Paul, but he wasn’t lacking in athletic skills. The kid’s life centered around sports and he played whatever sport was in season.

When he got to high school at St. Paul Central, some of his buddies suggested he go out for the swim team. And so he did.

That’s where the story begins. Where will it end? That’s a question for the ages, because that little kid who could really move in the water in the 1940s is still really moving as 2015 turns the corner into 2016. His name is Art Downey and he is in his 60th season as the only boys head swimming and diving coach Edina High School has ever had.

It’s quite a story.

“Everybody my age has been doing something for 60 years,” Downey said. “I’ve just happened to do it all in one spot.”

That’s true. In that one spot, his teams have won conference and state championships, and he has coached dozens of individual and relay state champions as well as more than 30 All-America swimmers. But 60 years? How is that even possible?

Downey doesn’t talk about his age, but Edina assistant coach Scott Johnson said it’s not much of mathematical challenge to figure it out. The Edina job was Art’s first position after college and two years in the Army, so …

“He’s been here since 1956, he’s been coaching for 60 years, so you can kind of estimate his age,” said Johnson, who is only the third assistant Downey has had in those six decades.

“Art’s a classic,” Johnson said. “Everybody in the swimming world knows Art. He’s in just about every Hall of Fame imaginable, he’s won just about every award imaginable in our state and at the national level.”

Downey was inducted into the Minnesota Swimming Hall of Fame in 1991, the Edina High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999, the MSHSL Hall of Fame in 2000, the University of Minnesota Aquatics Hall of Fame in 2006 and the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011.

For some perspective on his longevity, consider some other coaching giants in Minnesota high school sports: Bob McDonald coached boys basketball in Chisholm for 59 years before retiring in 2014. Ron Stolski continues to coach football in Brainerd; next season will be his 55th. Also in Brainerd, Lowell Scearcy has coached baseball for 46 years.

Downey earned his first varsity letter as a swimmer at the University of Minnesota in 1953. While in college he pondered what to do with his life. His love of sports made the decision to go into teaching and coaching pretty simple.

After graduating from college, Downey spent two years in the military as the Korean War was winding down. He never left U.S. soil and even spent one summer playing baseball in the Army. He was hired at Edina in the 1956-57 school year to teach physical education and start a boys swimming team.

He retired from teaching in 1990 – that was a quarter of a century ago – and never gave a thought to retiring from coaching. He’s not in it for success, unless you count the success of helping young men grow.

Ask Downey about his career highlights, and it’s pretty clear that he simply doesn’t think along those lines.

“That would be tough,” he said. “My favorite team is always the one I’m coaching. That’s always true. The best part of my job is being with those kids every day. It’s the highlight of my day to spend a couple hours with them.

“I like to think accomplishments were never why I was in it. It was an opportunity to be a positive influence. That’s why I do it. People don’t usually think about it, but when two teams have a contest, three things can happen: one of the two teams can win or there’s a tie. I try to contribute to kids’ lives in either case.”

Before the Hornets’ season began with a Lake Conference meet at Edina last week, Downey took the microphone to address the crowd and the swimmers. He paid tribute to Elmer Luke, who began coaching the swim team at Hopkins the same year Downey began his career at Edina. Luke had died a few days earlier; Downey recounted some of Elmer’s accomplishments (“He was a true pioneer and a very good friend to many of us”) and asked the crowd to take part in a moment of silence.

The swim meet then began with the public-address announcer saying: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Art Downey Aquatic Center.”

Yes, the Edina pool is named after the coach. The facility was christened when it opened in 2006.

“That’s a terrific honor, that’s for sure,” Downey said. “I feel humbled by it.”

Edina activities director Troy Stein knows about long-serving coaches. Stein played high school basketball at Rocori under Bob Brink, who was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame this year. Brink coached for 50 years, the last 42 at Rocori before retiring in 2012.

“One thing that’s impressed me is Art is truly a guy who is constantly wanting to learn more about the sport, learn more about coaching, learn more about kids, learn more about what’s the best way to do things,” Stein said. “He is open to new technologies and it’s so impressive to get to know him and his passion to learn and grow.

“When we have our head coaches meetings, it’s fun to tap Art whenever we can to listen to his perspective on things that have happened in the past or things he’s seen. When Art speaks, coaches listen, because he has great, valuable insight to share.”

Downey remains busy with coaching, participating in coaching clinics and conventions, and assisting the swimming world however he can.

His first wife, Joanne, died 11 years ago. He remarried seven years ago, and he and his wife Carol have a flock of grandchildren. “They’re both wonderful ladies,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed in many, many ways.”

Downey’s four children all live in the metro area, and the grandkids enjoy hanging out at “Grandpa’s pool.”

Little has changed for Downey over these 60 years. When he was hired in 1956 he wore black eyeglasses and he still wears them today. He wears a polo shirt, shorts, white socks and white shoes at the pool, carrying a stopwatch and clipboard.

Downey indeed seems timeless. But he can tell that time marches on because his former swimmers and students are aging even if he isn’t. Members of his early teams are in their 70s now, and many of them went on to care for their coach as doctors, eye doctors, pharmacists, etc.

And what do you know? Some of them have retired.

“I’m starting to lose these people because of retirement,” Art said with a chuckle. “Doctors, eye doctors, you name it, they’re all because I either coached them or had them in class. It’s kind of a bummer when they retire. I think, ‘You can’t do this to me. What’s wrong with you?’ ”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

It’s A New Day For Baseball In Spring Grove
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:56:10 AM

SPRING GROVE – Tuesday provided a delightful setting for baseball here in this southeastern Minnesota village. The unbeaten Rockets from Randolph High School took the long bus ride to meet the once-beaten Spring Grove Lions in a Southeast Conference doubleheader. To say Randolph is in the “southeast” is a bit of a stretch; the town is 40 miles southeast of downtown Minneapolis and 118 miles northwest of Spring Grove.

Because of the toll taken on spring sports by our extended winter, MSHSL baseball and softball teams have the option of playing two five-inning games in a doubleheader. That was the setup here Tuesday, and the two games were quite snappy. The opener lasted 53 minutes and the second game took 73 minutes. These were two talented teams, committing only three total errors and coaches making only three visits to the mound in the 10 innings of play.

The event was small town to the core. When Spring Grove’s Alex Folz hit a sharp single on the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning of Game 1, a car horn honked in appreciation. The sun was bright, the grass was green and pork chops and pork burgers were sizzling on a grill manned by baseball parents Phil Griffin and Butch Sanness.

“It’s been a perfect year after the rough weather,” said Randolph coach Chris Stanton. “The weather’s been nice since then.”

Randolph came out on top of both games by scores of 4-1 and 8-4. That was a bit of a downer for the hometown fans who cheered from metal bleachers, lawn chairs and front seats of automobiles. One of the Lions’ biggest longtime fans wasn’t in attendance, at least not literally. But Pauleen Bratland was almost surely paying attention, even though she passed away in January after 85 years of pure Spring Grove spirit.

Her hometown was everything to Pauleen. She graduated from the high school (current 9-12 enrollment: 101) in 1950, she and husband Vernon operated the local A&W in the 1960s and 1970s, and Pauleen and another longtime Lions backer, Karen Langlie, were named Spring Grove Fans of the Year by the athletic booster club. Pauleen was 79 years old at the time of that high honor.

Pauleen’s wonderful obituary included this passage: “Pauleen was also so happy when high school baseball finally came back to Spring Grove and couldn’t figure out why it ever left.”

From 2010 until 2015 Spring Grove was in a cooperative baseball arrangement with nearby Caledonia. There is no shortage of hometown pride in places like Spring Grove, however. Baseball coach Chris Strinmoen (Spring Grove's Male Athlete of the Year as a senior in 1996) worked hard at getting a summer youth baseball program on a strong footing, and folks began improving the ballfield. A direct appeal to baseball alumni quickly brought in more than $7,000. A grant from the Twins Community Fund followed, as did lots of fundraising events, donated labor, discounted materials and more cash, including sizable support from the City of Spring Grove. The infield dirt was removed and replaced, roomy new dugouts were built, and a 50-year-old concession stand was replaced by a modern new building that includes handicap-accessible bathrooms, a concession stand and a second-level viewing platform.

A project that would have carried a retail price tag of more than $300,000 was done at a cost of little more than $100,000. Improvements will continue, thanks to continuing support from local contractors and local labor.

Mention the ballpark to anybody in town and you’ll be met with an immediate smile.

“It’s brought people out, it’s brought kids out to participate because they’re not embarrassed playing here,” said baseball coach Chris Strinmoen, a 1996 Spring Grove graduate. “What we had before was pretty rough. The community’s really excited about what we’ve got and the players obviously enjoy it, too.”

Followers of prep sports in our state remember the Spring Grove football team from last fall. The Lions won the school’s first-ever state championship, going wire to wire, finishing 14-0 and bringing home the nine-man football title from U.S. Bank Stadium. That kind of success has rubbed off on everybody, including the boys of spring.

“It gives your guys, your school, confidence that you can compete at the best level,” Strinmoen said. “Going into the baseball season, we’re a young program, and they just have a bit more of a swagger this year.”

Now in their third season as a stand-alone baseball program, the Lions have made great strides. They finished 7-11 in the first year and 8-10 last season. The number of errors has been cut in half since year one and the team batting average has risen by 40 points.

“We’re seeing the fruits now of these young guys kind of struggling through it a little bit,” the coach said. “Now they’re a little more comfortable.”

They weren’t quite comfortable enough to beat Randolph. The Rockets have a deep baseball tradition, going back to long before a future member of the Minnesota Twins named Caleb Thielbar was a senior in 2005. The Rockets of 2018 can swing the bat and crush the ball, as evidenced by a five-hit, six-run third inning in Tuesday’s second game.

The Lions never quit, though, and that was a lesson that was partially learned through years of football disappointment. Grand Meadow dominated nine-man football for years, winning every state title from 2012 to 2016 and usually ending Spring Grove’s season in the Section 1 playoffs. The tide turned last fall.

“We knew we were one of the best teams in the state but no one knew about us because of Grand Meadow every year. It was nice to put our name out there,” said senior football/basketball/baseball player Adin Solum, among 15 of the 17 baseball players who were on the football and/or basketball teams.

Alex Folz, who quarterbacked the football team, said, “I think in football we had a lot of ‘never quit’ and ‘always keep going.’ I think that transfers to baseball. If we get down a little bit we know we can always come back. We know we have it in us.”

As the baseball regular season winds down and the postseason looms, the Lions are ready to make a run. There is a sense of “do it now” for the three seniors on the roster; Solum, Austin Patterson and Sam Sanness. And there is a sense of “do it here” at their top-tier home field.

“With the new ballpark, it shows what a small community like ours can do and how much confidence they have in us,” Folz said. “If they didn’t have confidence in us they wouldn’t have given us this nice ballpark. And all the people who helped put it together, it was just amazing.”

Yes, folks in Spring Grove are happy and proud of what has been accomplished. Almost everyone pitched in however they could, including super fan Pauleen Bratland.

How happy was she that baseball had returned to the town she loved so much? After Pauleen’s death, a generous donation from her estate was made to the ballpark fund.

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

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Class 1A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:50:59 AM

Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(2) NCE/UH Titans* (S8)-(57)
2.(1) New York Mills (S6)-(56)
3.(2) Sleepy Eye Saint Mary's (S2)-(52)
4.(4) Kimball Area (S4)-(29)
4.(5) New Ulm Cathedral (S2)-(29)
6.(6) Pine River-Backus (S5)-(27)
7.(9) Edgerton/SW MN Christian* (S3)-(26)
7.(7) Badger/GB-MR* (S8)-(26)
9.(13) Carlton (S7)-(17)
10.(10) Randolph (S4)-(16)
Others receiving votes: Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (S3)-(15), Wabasha-Kellogg (S1)-(11),West Central Area (S6)-(9), Hayfield (S1)-(7), Cherry (S7)-(6), Silver Bay (Wm. Kelley) (S7)-(4), Brandon-Evansville (S6)-(3)

Class 2A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:50:40 AM

Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(1) Maple Lake (S5)-(60)
2.(3) Pipestone Area (S3)-(49)
3.(4) Rochester Lourdes (S1)-(45)
4.(2) Zumbrota-Mazeppa (S1)-(41)
5.(6) Chatfield (S1)-(38)
6.(9) Thief River Falls (S8)-(32)
7.(5) Park Rapids Area (S8)-(25)
8.(7) Esko (S7)-(24)
9.(7) St. Peter (S2)-(18)
10.(NR) Cotter/Hope Lutheran* (S1)-(17)
Others receiving votes: Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta* (S3)-(11), Hawley (S8)-(7),Jordan (S2)-(6), Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (S3)-(5), Annandale (S6)-(4), Rockford (S5)-(4), St. Agnes (S4)-(3), Norwood-Young America (S5)-(1)

Class 3A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:49:50 AM

Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(1) Faribault (S2)-(58)
2.(2) North Branch (S7)-(56)
3.(3) Mankato West (S2)-(43)
4.(5) Winona (S1)-(40)
4.(6) Hill-Murray (S6)-(40)
6.(4) Waconia (S2)-(33)
7.(7) Mankato East (S2)-(27)
7.(8) Rocori (S5)-(27)
9.(9) Chisago Lakes (S7)-(21)
10.(10) Delano (S6)-(20)
Others receiving votes: Northfield (S1)-(8), New Ulm (S2)-(6),Hermantown (S7)-(3), Totino-Grace (S4)-(2), Academy of Holy Angels (S3)-(2), Bemidji (S8)-(2), Detroit Lakes (S8)-(1), Willmar (S5)-(1)

Class 4A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:49:28 AM

Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(1) Prior Lake (S2)-(71)
2.(3) Forest Lake (S7)-(63)
3.(2) Buffalo (S8)-(60)
4.(4) Park (S3)-(58)
5.(4) Chanhassen (S2)-(39)
5.(6) New Prague (S1)-(39)
7.(7) Eastview (S3)-(34)
8.(8) Maple Grove (S5)-(29)
9.(10) Coon Rapids (S7)-(16)
9.(13) Elk River (S8)-(16)
Others receiving votes: North (S4)-(15), Farmington (S1)-(7),Anoka (S7)-(7), Minnetonka (S2)-(5), Centennial (S5)-(5), Shakopee (S2)-(4)

Class 3A Girls Golf Team Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:48:53 AM

1 Lakeville North AAA 323.00
2 Chanhassen AAA 328.60
3 Wayzata AAA 331.10
4 Buffalo AAA 335.75
5 Alexandria AAA 344.90
6 Woodbury AAA 346.80
7 Eden Prairie AAA 352.20
8 Northfield AAA 354.80
9 Shakopee High School AAA 355.50
10 Rosemount AAA 357.00

Class 2A Girls Golf Team Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:48:31 AM

1 Detroit Lakes AA 325.40
2 Minnewaska Area AA 335.80
3 Red Wing AA 338.00
4 Marshall AA 340.20
5 Visitation AA 349.00
6 Osakis AA 359.50
7 Jordan AA 364.50
8 Fairmont Area AA 368.00
9 St Croix Lutheran AA 392.00

Class 1A Girls Golf Team Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:48:10 AM

1 Lac qui Parle Valley A 335.20
2 BOLD A 352.10
3 Park Christian A 360.80
4 Fillmore Central A 365.00
5 Belgrade Brooten Elrosa A 366.20
6 Springfield A 368.50
7 Legacy Christian Academy A 375.60
8 Murray County Central A 413.25

Class 3A Boys Golf Team Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:47:43 AM

1 Chaska AAA 292.4
2 Waconia AAA 294
3 St Thomas Academy AAA 295.8
4 Stillwater AAA 296.5
5 Brainerd AAA 303.9
6 Elk River AAA 305.3
7 Wayzata AAA 307

Class 2A Boys Golf Team Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:47:22 AM

1 Detroit Lakes AA 302.7
2 Stewartville High School AA 321
3 Melrose Area AA 321.3
4 Rochester Lourdes AA 322.1
5 Blue Earth Area AA 323.5
6 Saint Peter AA 323.7
7 Hawley AA 326
8 Fairmont Area AA 340.3
9 Byron AA 346

Class 1A Boys Golf Team Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:46:50 AM

1 Sleepy Eye United A 325.7
2 Lac qui Parle Valley A 343.8

Class 3A Girls Golf Individual Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:46:05 AM

Rank Name School Grade Class Avg.
1 Isabella McCauley Simley 8 AAA 72.50
2 Megan Welch Lakeville North 12 AAA 73.20
3 Molly Stevens Northfield 11 AAA 75.60
4 Camille Kuznik Orono 9 AAA 75.70
5 Kathryn Van Arragon Blaine 7 AAA 77.40
6 Aayushi Sarkar Woodbury 10 AAA 77.50
7 Madi Hicks Chanhassen 8 AAA 77.80
8 Megan Munneke Champlin Park 12 AAA 78.15
9 Courtney Wedin Chanhassen 10 AAA 78.20
10 Hanna Morin Buffalo 12 AAA 80.10

Class 2A Girls Golf Individual Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:45:45 AM

Rank Name School Grade Class Avg.
1 Sophia Yoemans Red Wing 11 AA 71.00
2 Leah Herzog Red Wing 11 AA 72.50
3 Alayna Eldred Osakis 12 AA 72.85
4 Maddie Herzog Detroit Lakes 12 AA 74.60
5 Jaycee Rhodes Visitation 10 AA 77.10
6 Shelby Busker Detroit Lakes 10 AA 78.40
7 Ava Wallerich Lake City 10 AA 79.20
8 Kolbey Bormann Perham 12 AA 79.50
9 Bergen Senf Fairmont Area 10 AA 79.50
10 Anna Cihak Detroit Lakes 10 AA 79.60

Class 1A Girls Golf Individual Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:45:24 AM

Rank Name School Grade Class Avg.
1 Sophie Gray Legacy Christian Acade 12 A 78.00
2 Emily Doeden Park Christian 11 A 78.30
3 Rachel Halvorson Lac qui Parle Valley 10 A 78.80
4 Ashley Trongard BOLD 10 A 83.40
5 Makayla Snow BOLD 10 A 83.50
6 Nicole Olson North Woods 10 A 83.50
7 Abby Stender Lac qui Parle Valley 12 A 84.00
8 Abby Hamman Murray County C 10 A 84.00
9 Grace Miller Fillmore Central 12 A 84.30
10 Jacqueline Gossen Belgrade Brooten Elrosa 10 A 84.30

Class 3A Boys Golf Individual Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:44:51 AM

Rank Name School Grade Class Avg.
1 Tristan Nelko Wayzata 12 AAA 68.5
2 Lincoln Johnson Chaska 12 AAA 69.3
3 Carson Haley Mankato East 11 AAA 70.8
4 Muzzy Donohue St Thomas Academy 11 AAA 71
5 Cole Jahnke Stillwater 12 AAA 72
5 Connor Glynn Waconia 11 AAA 72.3
7 Brock Winter Stillwater 11 AAA 72.3
8 Nick Dittrich Hastings 12 AAA 72.4
9 Jack Johnson Chaska 10 AAA 72.6
10 Brady Arnett St Thomas Academy 11 AAA 72.8

Class 2A Boys Golf Individual Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:44:29 AM

Rank Name School Grade Class Avg.
1 Wyatt Blomseth Detroit Lakes 12 AA 71
2 Hunter Fjerstad Byron 12 AA 71.9
3 Luke Alexander Rochester Lourdes 11 AA 73.2
4 Nick Lechtenberg Stewartville 10 AA 74
5 Carter Doose Saint Peter 11 AA 74.3
6 Ben Unruh Detroit Lakes 12 AA 75
Ryan Paskey Detroit Lakes 12 AA 75
Gordon Skaar Greenway-Nashwauk-Ke 10 AA 75
9 John Brang Melrose Area 12 AA 76.4
10 Bryce Wainio Virginia 11 AA 76.6

Class 1A Boys Golf Individual Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:44:10 AM

Rank Name School Grade Class Avg.
1 Tyler Groves Murray County Central 12 A 74.8
2 Tate Olson North Woods 12 A 76.9
3 Harrison Patzer Lac qui Parle Valley 11 A 78.6
4 Kurt Lambert Heritage Christian Academy 11 A 79.2
5 Mavrick Winkelmann Springfield 9 A 79.4
6 Jaycee Clark Mahnomen/Waubun 11 A 80
7 Mason Kretsch Springfield 10 A 81.2
8 Jack Pierson Murray County Central 11 A 82.3
9 Simon Broadwater Kingsland 12 A 83.8
10 Henry Roth Lac qui Parle Valley 10 A 84.6

A Day To Honor Future Teachers In Maple Lake
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/11/2018 11:20:13 AM

MAPLE LAKE – The ceremony, held before the start of the school day Thursday, was brief, lasting little more than five minutes. The impact, however, runs long and deep.

Seven college-bound seniors from Maple Lake High School were honored for their decisions to become teachers, and the short event in the school commons was very special. Similar to ceremonies for students who sign letters of intent to become college athletes, Thursday’s gathering was a mixture of minor pomp and major circumstances.

One year ago I wrote about Norwalk High School in Iowa, where superintendent D.T. Magee came up with the idea of honoring future educators and teacher Johanna MacKenzie planned their first signing ceremony. This year the idea is catching on in Minnesota. The Maple Lake ceremony was believed to be the first in our state; a similar event will be held next week at Burnsville High School.

The planners in Maple Lake, led by Spanish teacher and student council adviser Kim Fynboh, followed the Norwalk plan. The seniors (two of whom were unable to attend) sat next to each other at a long table, with placards noting their name, their college and their area of study. Also at each spot was a “letter of intent” for them to sign. The letter read in part: “I declare a desire to teach and make an impact upon our future generations.”

Math teacher Casey Pack and social studies teacher Steve Kosloski made brief remarks before the students signed their letters.

“It’s exciting to recognize these individuals as future teachers,” Pack said. “The education field is a rewarding profession. Choosing a future as a teacher means you choose to impact students every day. Deciding to major in the education field requires being a special individual; like surgeons who are skilled with their hands, teachers have the skills to mold students and inspire them. These future educators have all the skills to become the next generation of great teachers.

“Most adults can name a teacher, from their own time as a student, who influenced them. It is rewarding as a teacher and as a staff to think we might have been an influence on these students choosing to become education majors. Congratulations to these individuals on deciding to impact students for years to come.”

Kosloski talked about the impact teachers make on their students.

“Each year provides the opportunity to make a positive impact on this community’s most important asset, its kids. Teaching is much more than delivering content and testing kids on what they have learned. Providing quality academic instruction is vital to this position, but if students don’t feel valued they will not learn. Each kid is unique in their drive and aspirations, but all kids need someone in their corner who believes in them.

“Kids who come from supportive family structures rely on teachers to continue to guide them toward their goals. Students coming from uncertainty on the home front look to educators for far more. Being an ally to these young people is in my opinion the most important aspect in the field of education. Getting to know kids and what makes them tick goes a long way in getting them to buy into the idea that learning is important. Taking the time to show that you care about these kids stokes the fire to help them on their educational journey. I am honored to be here, talking to my future colleagues.”

The students -- Quinn Youngs, Mollie Scheiber, Cole Trager, Megan Wassermann, Kyle Scherber, Miles Brown and Zachary Eder – will attend St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State Mankato, Augsburg and Martin Luther College. Their parents, grandparents and fellow students applauded as they signed their letters. They posed for photos and smiled on their special, well-deserved day.

After learning about the event in Iowa last spring, Fynboh and other teachers in Maple Lake put their heads together.

“A couple of teachers and I were talking and we said, ‘Maybe we should try that next year during Teacher Appreciation Week,’ ” Fynhoh said. “So after spring break we got everything organized and figured out who is going into teaching.”

It was hard to know who wore the biggest smiles Thursday morning, the future educators or the veteran educators.

“Oh, there’s a lot of pride. It’s awesome,” Fynboh said. “You don’t go into teaching for the money. It’s for the kids.”

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

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Class 4A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/11/2018 11:13:28 AM

Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(1) Prior Lake (S2)-(107)
2.(2) Buffalo (S8)-(87)
3.(3) Forest Lake (S7)-(86)
4.(4) Park (S3)-(77)
4.(4) Chanhassen (S2)-(77)
6.(8) New Prague (S1)-(38)
7.(7) Eastview (S3)-(37)
8.(6) Maple Grove (S5)-(33)
9.(9) Farmington (S1)-(28)
10.(11) Coon Rapids (S7)-(24)
Others receiving votes: North (S4)-(17), Minnetonka (S2)-(17),Elk River (S8)-(15), Anoka (S7)-(11), Rogers (S5)-(9), Stillwater Area (S4)-(8), Rosemount (S3)-(8), Burnsville (S2)-(7), Eagan (S3)-(7), Centennial (S5)-(6), Champlin Park (S5)-(2), Bloomington Jefferson (S2)-(1)

Class 3A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/11/2018 11:13:02 AM

Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(4) Faribault (S2)-(63)
2.(2) North Branch (S7)-(58)
3.(5) Mankato West (S2)-(55)
4.(2) Waconia (S2)-(54)
5.(1) Winona (S1)-(40)
6.(9) Hill-Murray (S6)-(37)
7.(6) Mankato East (S2)-(29)
8.(7) Rocori (S5)-(28)
9.(NR) Chisago Lakes (S7)-(27)
10.(10) Delano (S6)-(18)
Others receiving votes: Northfield (S1)-(15), Hermantown (S7)-(14),Totino-Grace (S4)-(7), Academy of Holy Angels (S3)-(6), Visitation (S3)-(6), Benilde-St. Margaret's School (S6)-(5), New Ulm (S2)-(4), Cloquet (S7)-(1), Detroit Lakes (S8)-(1)

Class 2A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/11/2018 11:12:28 AM

Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(1) Maple Lake (S5)-(47)
2.(2) Zumbrota-Mazeppa (S1)-(45)
3.(3) Pipestone Area (S3)-(40)
4.(5) Rochester Lourdes (S1)-(32)
5.(4) Park Rapids Area (S8)-(28)
6.(8) Chatfield (S1)-(25)
7.(6) St. Peter (S2)-(22)
7.(7) Esko (S7)-(22)
9.(12) Thief River Falls (S8)-(11)
9.(11) Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (S3)-(11)
Others receiving votes: Annandale (S6)-(9), Rockford (S5)-(8),Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta* (S3)-(6), Jordan (S2)-(6), Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (S8)-(5), Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (S3)-(3), St. Agnes (S4)-(3)

Class 1A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/11/2018 11:12:02 AM

Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(1) New York Mills (S6)-(66)
2.(2) Sleepy Eye Saint Mary's (S2)-(61)
2.(2) NCE/UH Titans* (S8)-(61)
4.(5) Kimball Area (S4)-(47)
5.(15) New Ulm Cathedral (S2)-(43)
6.(4) Pine River-Backus (S5)-(36)
7.(7) Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (S3)-(28)
7.(13) Badger/GB-MR* (S8)-(28)
9.(5) Edgerton/SW MN Christian* (S3)-(27)
10.(11) Randolph (S4)-(19)
Others receiving votes: Wabasha-Kellogg (S1)-(15), Cherry (S7)-(13),Carlton (S7)-(9), West Central Area (S6)-(7), Cleveland (S2)-(5), Brandon-Evansville (S6)-(3)

For Melrose And Sauk Centre It’s More Than A Game
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/9/2018 7:30:44 PM

SAUK CENTRE – The V Foundation for Cancer Research is based in Cary, North Carolina. It was named for Jim Valvano, the college basketball coach and broadcaster who died of cancer in 1993 at age 47. More than 1,300 miles separate Cary and Sauk Centre, but the V Foundation and its mission to conquer cancer were the focus of a softball game played here Tuesday in central Minnesota.

Each year since 2014, Sauk Centre has hosted Melrose in a softball game billed as a Strike Out Cancer fundraiser for the V Foundation. The latest version, which ended in a 3-2 victory for Melrose, was filled with pregame pomp and in-game excitement.

In the winter prior to the 2014 season, two losses struck hard in Sauk Centre. Just days apart, Mainstreeters softball coach T.J. Schmiesing’s mother, Aloise, died of lung cancer and player Emily Winters' mother, Susan, died from pancreatic cancer. The annual Strike Out Cancer game was soon a reality. Players on both teams sell multi-colored rubber bracelets bearing the words “Strike Out Cancer” … the fundraising total reached $10,000 this year.

“It means a lot to me,” Schmiesing said. “The girls do an excellent job in selling the wrist bands, it’s such a great thing these girls do and the school does for us to put this on, for a great research foundation like the V Foundation. Every dollar is spent for cancer research. It’s definitely something the girls are proud of every year and take a lot of pride in.”

One of the dominant colors Tuesday was, not surprisingly, pink. Players on both teams wore pink stripes on their cheeks, with the Mainstreeters adding a streak of black. The Sauk Centre players also wore bright pink socks.

Pregame was impressive, since the event also was Mom’s Night for the Mainstreeters. All the junior-varsity and varsity players and their mothers were introduced, and they stood along the first-base line while the Melrose Dutchmen stood on the third-base line. Then came two things that were simply magical.

First, Marty Saletti, a talented musician from Melrose, stood between home plate and the pitching circle, knocking out a phenomenal version of the Star Spangled Banner on his saxophone. And then Helen Miller walked out on the field.

Helen is a 1954 Sauk Centre graduate and lifelong Mainstreeters backer. She attended school before girls sports were available, but she has always been a familiar face at sporting and school events of all kinds. After being diagnosed with colon cancer, she has undergone several surgeries and chemo treatments over the last year.

When the time came, Helen sent a nice underhand toss to home plate, where Kenzie Schmiesing made a clean catch. Kenzie, Emily Gapinski and Kailyn Seidel jogged out to the circle and embraced Helen in a big group hug.

The game was well-played, with Sauk Centre leading 2-0 through six innings. The Dutchmen scored their three in the top of the seventh to get the win, and then came the handshake line and the familiar refrain of “good game … good game … good game.”

Like all spring sports, softball is in a pickle after the extended winter. Teams are playing rescheduled games at a frantic pace. Sauk Centre is playing seven games this week alone; They had finished 15 games by Tuesday but had held only three outdoor practices. Melrose had played six games the previous week and five the week before that. Tuesday’s weather was a bit chilly, with some fans watching from underneath blankets, but rain stayed away.

“It’s always a super-friendly, tight competition between us and Sauk Centre,” said Melrose coach Kristie Ekstrom.

The most important thing, however, was the experience as well as the end result: thousands of dollars for cancer research.

“It is important for them,” Ekstrom said of the players. “They love being part of this and being able to support this.”

That message was heard all the way across the country in Cary, North Carolina.

Good game indeed.

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

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Bloomington Jefferson Lacrosse Coach Nearing A Milestone
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/6/2018 8:02:32 PM

Boys lacrosse is a relatively new high school sport in Minnesota, so it’s probably fitting that one of the longest-serving coaches in the game came to it relatively late.

Scott Cater, the coach at Bloomington Jefferson, is one victory short of a state-best 200 for his career. He started coaching lacrosse at Breck in 1997, when it was a club sport, began the Jefferson program in 1998 and has remained with the Jaguars ever since. Boys lacrosse became an MSHSL sport in 2007 and Cater is one of eight boys coaches who have been coaching since that inaugural season.

The 1991 graduate of Coon Rapids High School grew up as a hockey player. In college at Minnesota-Duluth, Cater was an intramural hockey goaltender but changed games when some lacrosse-playing friends needed a goalie.

“They said, ‘You play hockey goalie, you should try lacrosse goalie.’ That was a really good launching point for me,” he said.

Cater’s goal of becoming a teacher and coach were fulfilled after college, although his original dream of coaching hockey was replaced by a career coaching lacrosse. He’s been teaching math at Jefferson for 23 years and coaching lacrosse for 22 years, or half his life.

“I love lacrosse because it brings together so many aspects of offense, the sets of basketball, the positioning and pacing of hockey, the field style of soccer. It really pulls in different types of athletes, as well,” he said. “It’s fast-paced. In hockey and soccer you can get low-scoring games, but in lacrosse you can get 10 goals per team and the fans really get excited.”

Jefferson will meet Bloomington Kennedy on Tuesday and Minneapolis on Friday. Cater’s players are anxious to achieve career victory No. 200 for their coach.

“We’re trying to get him to 200,” said senior Davis Bach. “I hope we can pull out a really good win for that 200th, because I know that’s extremely special.”

Before the game became an MSHSL sport, Bloomington Jefferson won Minnesota Boys Scholastic Lacrosse Association state titles in 2000 and 2003. The Jaguars were the MSHSL state runner-up in 2015, falling to White Bear Lake 12-8 in the championship game.

There are currently 80 boys lacrosse teams in the state and 83 girls teams. MSHSL approval of girls lacrosse came in 2001 and the boys game gained the same stamp in 2006. The MSHSL’s 48-member Representative Assembly had voted down sanctioning boys lacrosse in 2003 (by two votes) and again in 2005 (by five votes).

When the same question was brought up in 2006, the measure passed by an overwhelming voice vote, thanks in no small part to a petition with 10,000 signatures and an ambitious email campaign. At the time of that 2006 vote, there were 23 girls varsity lacrosse teams and 54 boys clubs teams.

Cater strongly backed the efforts to make boys lacrosse an MSHSL activity, and he fondly remembers taking his team to the 2006 Representative Assembly gathering in a hotel ballroom. The players wore their jerseys, as did other teams.

“That was something I won’t forget,” he said. “The whole idea was to get this played at the high school level, sanctioned at the high school level, with state tournaments and really getting opportunities for more kids to be doing something. We know if kids take part in activities they make better decisions. That was some of the real motivation to try to push it through. Kids were working hard, and getting it sanctioned really helped it take off.”

Having coached for 22 years, Cater is well aware of the game’s improvement as well as the advances in technology that make everything simpler.

“In the early days it was flyers and handouts,” he said. “You could get the entire league schedule on one piece of paper. Now it’s a full program with offseason training, dome time leading into the season, and we take a team trip to Arizona before the season starts.”

The Jaguars have regular “food and film” sessions, as well as activities like team yoga and weight training.

“The kids can watch film on their phones a few hours after the game, so they can be getting better,” Cater said. “That wasn’t even an option when I started coaching. I would post a flyer in the hallway, asking who wants to sign up for lacrosse? And if the schedule changed, I’d post a map to the new site. It’s pretty mind-blowing, thinking about the changes from the late 1990s.”

Something that hasn’t changed at all is dealing with people.

“I’m in the people business,” Cater said. “That’s why I’m here. It’s the parents, it’s the growth of our booster club. We had an event last weekend, we called it the Parent Fun Raiser. It generated $10,000 for our two teams, the boys and the girls. So we have this committed parent group, we have this strong youth organization in Bloomington.

“Then I think about the players that have been with me through the 20-plus years of doing this, and the coaches on our staff. I’m not having this conversation with you without the parents, the coaches and the players that I’ve worked with. You think about all the families that have been through here. That’s the rich tradition piece that gives me chills to be talking about.”

When Jefferson hosts Minneapolis on Friday, a halftime ceremony will be held to honor the Jaguars’ 2003 MBSLA title team.

“I’ve been trading text messages with the guys from that team,” Cater said. “It’s the 15-year anniversary for those guys, and they’re saying, ‘Hey coach, I’m old and washed up.’ And I tell them, ‘All you have to do is walk out at halftime to shake a hand.’ ”

Those players will always appreciate their coach, and the current Jaguars know how fortunate they are.

“I’ve had the honor of being coached by Scott Cater for four years of high school,” said senior Princeton Oppong. “To be honest, I’ve learned a lot. I’m glad I didn’t take it for granted. Cates, he really knows what he’s doing. He knows the game like the back of his hand. It’s really a huge advantage to be able to have a coach like that. He gives energy to the boys, he always gets us fired up to be ready to go.”

When Cater achieves victory No. 200, there will be a celebration.

“He deserves it,” Oppong said. “He definitely deserves it.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Class 1A Boys Tennis Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/6/2018 7:56:31 PM

1 Rochester Lourdes
2 St. Paul Academy
3 St. Peter
4 Breck
5 Virginia
6 Pine City
7 Litchfield
8 Mound Westonka
9 Mounds Park Academy
10 St. James

1 Parker Law, Mounds Park
2 Drew Elofson, St. Peter
3 Nathan Sebotka, St. Paul Academy
4 Jake Seitz, Virginia
5 Kevin Turlington, Rochester Lourdes
6 Logan Couillard, Minneapolis Edison
7 Eric Chestolowski, Rochester Lourdes
8 Clayton Haberman, Breck
9 Max Soll, SPA
10 Victor Nelson, Mound Westonka

Class 2A Boys Tennis Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/6/2018 7:56:00 PM

1 Mounds View
2 Blake
3 Edina
4 Rochester Century
5 Orono
6 Wayzata
7 Rochester Mayo
8 Lakeville South
9 Minnetonka
tie 10 East Ridge
tie 10 Minneapolis Washburn

1 Sebastian Vile, Rochester Mayo
2 Maxim Zagrebelny, Eagan
3 Jack Barker, Blake
4 Nick Aney, Rochester Century
5 Gavin Young, Eastview
6 Conner Olsen, Orono
7 Petro Alex, Mounds View
8 Bjorn Swenson, Mounds View
9 Joe Mairs, Blake
10 Varun Iyer, Rochester Century

Class 1A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/4/2018 11:04:25 AM

Rank. School (Section) -(Points)
1. New York Mills (S6)-(59)
2. Sleepy Eye Saint Mary's (S2)-(47)
2. NCE/UH Titans* (S8)-(47)
4. Pine River-Backus (S5)-(39)
5. Kimball Area (S4)-(34)
5. Edgerton/SW MN Christian* (S3)-(34)
7. Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (S3)-(32)
8. Wabasha-Kellogg (S1)-(15)
9. Carlton (S7)-(14)
9. Cleveland (S2)-(14)
Others receiving votes: Randolph (S4)-(12), Waterville-Elysian-Morristown (S1)-(12),Badger/GB-MR* (S8)-(11), Cherry (S7)-(7), New Ulm Cathedral (S2)-(6), West Central Area (S6)-(6), Frazee (S6)-(1)

Class 2A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/4/2018 11:04:02 AM

Rank. School (Section) -(Points)
1. Maple Lake (S5)-(44)
2. Zumbrota-Mazeppa (S1)-(42)
3. Pipestone Area (S3)-(38)
4. Park Rapids Area (S8)-(27)
5. Rochester Lourdes (S1)-(21)
6. St. Peter (S2)-(20)
7. Esko (S7)-(19)
8. Chatfield (S1)-(16)
8. Rockford (S5)-(16)
10. Annandale (S6)-(14)
Others receiving votes: Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (S3)-(11), Thief River Falls (S8)-(8),Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta* (S3)-(8), Jordan (S2)-(8), Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (S8)-(7), Pierz (S6)-(7), Rush City (S7)-(2), St. Agnes (S4)-(2), Fairmont (S2)-(2)

Class 3A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/4/2018 11:03:37 AM

Rank. School (Section) -(Points)
1. Winona (S1)-(45)
2. Waconia (S2)-(36)
2. North Branch (S7)-(36)
4. Faribault (S2)-(35)
5. Mankato West (S2)-(29)
6. Mankato East (S2)-(22)
7. Hermantown (S7)-(20)
7. Rocori (S5)-(20)
9. Hill-Murray (S6)-(19)
10. Totino-Grace (S4)-(17)
10. Northfield (S1)-(17)
10. Chisago Lakes (S7)-(17)
Others receiving votes:Academy of Holy Angels (S3)-(13), Cloquet (S7)-(13), Visitation (S3)-(12), Benilde-St. Margaret's School (S6)-(10), Detroit Lakes (S8)-(9), Delano (S6)-(7), New Ulm (S2)-(7), Orono (S6)-(4), Becker (S5)-(2)

Class 4A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/4/2018 11:03:11 AM

Rank. School (Section) -(Points)
1. Prior Lake (S2)-(70)
2. Buffalo (S8)-(64)
3. Forest Lake (S7)-(63)
4. Park (S3)-(48)
5. Chanhassen (S2)-(44)
6. Maple Grove (S5)-(33)
7. Eastview (S3)-(31)
8. New Prague (S1)-(23)
9. Farmington (S1)-(22)
10. Stillwater Area (S4)-(16)
Others receiving votes: Coon Rapids (S7)-(15), Burnsville (S2)-(12),Centennial (S5)-(4), Lakeville South (S1)-(3), North (S4)-(3), Eagan (S3)-(3), Blaine (S7)-(3), Minnetonka (S2)-(3), Anoka (S7)-(2), Bloomington Jefferson (S2)-(2), East Ridge (S3)-(2), Edina (S6)-(1), Brainerd (S8)-(1)

Pole Vault High: Mounds View Duo Leads The Way
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/1/2018 3:45:00 PM

During the boys and girls pole vault competitions at last week’s Hamline Elite Meet, there was no surprise in the fact that the top finishers hail from the same high school. As the bar was raised higher and higher and competitors fell by the wayside, junior Julia Fixsen and senior Calvin Ciganik – both wearing the uniform of the Mounds View Mustangs – rose to the top.

That is not a new thing. Fixsen and Ciganik are the best of the best in Minnesota high school pole vaulting, hailing from one of the sport’s traditional track and field powers. The Mustangs have separate coaching staffs for the girls and boys teams, and the pole vaulters have separate pits for workouts and meets at Mustang Stadium.

“The environment of pole vault, the community, that’s the most attractive thing,” Fixsen said. “You don’t want to do sports just to be good, I want to have fun with it.”

Fixsen and Ciganik each own one state championship and one runner-up finish. Fixsen also is the newly-minted holder of the girls state record while Ciganik is hoping to break the boys record before the season ends. To say they aim high is an understatement.

Fixsen set the state record on March 31 during an indoor meet at the University of Minnesota. She cleared 13 feet, 9 inches, topping the previous record of 13-7¼ set by Rochester Century’s Andrianna Jacobs in 2015.

The boys state record of 16-1¼ was set by Blake’s Grant Krieger in 2013. Ciganik cleared 16 feet at a non-high school competition in February; his best during the MSHSL season is 15-8 last week at the Elite Meet. Fixsen cleared 13-2 to win the girls event. Both had margins of 16 inches over the Elite Meet runners-ups.

They both came to pole vaulting after focusing on other sports. Fixsen was a high-level youth gymnast, while Ciganik focused on wrestling as a kid and played football through his junior season. Both began pole vaulting in eighth grade.

Ciganik cleared 8 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault as an eighth-grader, and he was hooked right away. “I just fell in love with it,” he said.

Ciganek and Fixsen combine for five trips to the state meet. Fixsen won the Class 2A championship as a sophomore last season, clearing 11 feet, 6 inches. As a freshman she cleared 13 feet at state and placed second behind senior and four-time champion Jacobs. Fixsen first went to state as an eighth-grader, finishing ninth. Ciganik was the 2A boys champ as a sophomore two years ago and was the state runner-up last year.

Fixsen is looking to top 14 feet this spring and Ciganik would like to clear 16-plus and set a state record. But for both of them, how hard they work is more important than how high they fly.

“There are a lot of things in the pole vault that you can work on,” said Fixsen, “including run, jump, takeoff, swing and turn, and a lot more even within that.”

Ciganik said, “Last year I set goals for 16-plus and that’s kind of gotten me nowhere. I don’t really want to chase numbers this year, I just want to be the best version of myself and the numbers will follow. I want to continue the tradition of Mounds View pole vault, those are my goals.”

Training in gymnastics and wrestling has been valuable for both athletes. Matt Fleigle, who coaches Fixsen and Mounds View’s other female pole vaulters, said, “Sports like gymnastics give that kinesthetic awareness of where you are in space, and having that built up before high school made the transition to pole vaulting so much easier for her.”

Fixsen is 5 feet, 10 inches tall and Ciganik stands 6-2. Both combine speed, strength and quickness to sail high and twist their bodies over the bar.
“I was a gymnast originally so I liked going upside down,” Julia said. “I liked flipping and defying gravity. The first day, it was familiar to me because of the gymnastics skills and my background.”

Fixsen cleared 13-6 in her first meet this spring, an indoor competition at Bethel University. When she went 13-9 to set the state record, there was plenty of excitement but no one was too surprised.

“I’m expecting to jump at least 14 feet this year,” she said. “It’s just another big step in the right direction, a baby step to where I want to be this year.

“Visualization is key for me, seeing myself go over the bar. And talking positively to myself and to others around me. I want to be talking and thinking positively. That’s simple and it’s very beneficial.”

As a junior, Fixsen is thinking about college but has made no decisions. Ciganik will be a pole vaulter at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs next season. He cleared 16 feet there in February and felt right at home.

“Their pole vaulting is just unbelievable out there,” he said. “And I looked into the benefits, from finances to after you graduate you have a job, no debt. I can’t wait.”

Five weeks remain in the Minnesota high school season, which will end with the state championships June 8-9 at Hamline. Between now and then, the gravity-defying Mounds View duo will keep aiming high.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

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