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The Best Of John’s Journal No. 1: Hope For Henry
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/28/2017 11:05:02 AM

The countdown is complete and here is my favorite John’s Journal story from the 2016-17 school year. The story, posted on Feb. 8, is about a young boy named Henry who is the grandson of Annandale High School boys basketball coach Skip Dolan. As detailed below, Henry was born with heart defects and he and his family faced many daunting obstacles.

This story is my favorite because it combines so many great aspects of high school activities: Competition, community support, taking care of each other, working toward goals that extend beyond winning.

At the time the story was posted, Henry was nine months old and had never left the hospital. The postscript to the story is all positive, as you can see by going to “Hope for Henry Charles” on Facebook.

There were a total of 364 posts on John’s Journal between the first day of practice for fall sports in 2016 through the end of spring state tournaments in 2017. Here is the No. 1 story …

A Special Night In Annandale: Hope For Henry

ANNANDALE – Two comments overheard during a grand Tuesday evening of basketball in a packed gymnasium do a pretty good job of telling the story.

Quote No. 1: “This is just a game. There’s a little kid fighting for his life.”

Quote No. 2: “Those were two dang good teams going at it.”

Both quotes are accurate. These were just games, with the girls and boys basketball teams from Hopkins heading to Annandale for a varsity doubleheader. The overall focus was on a little boy who is in the minds and hearts and prayers of everyone who attended.

Henry Dolan is the grandson of Annandale boys basketball coach Skip Dolan. Henry was born with heart defects and given a two percent chance to survive for a week after birth. That was nine months ago. Henry, who has undergone a heart transplant, remains hospitalized and hopes are high for his long-term health. But the road will be long for Henry, his parents, Sam and Mollie Dolan, and his two big sisters. (Skip is pictured here with the Hopkins girls team.)

There were signs on the gym walls proclaiming it a “Night of Hope.” Hope For Henry t-shirts, hats and bracelets were sold. The teams wore Hope For Henry shirts during warmups.

The girls game was, well, one-sided. The Hopkins girls are the top-ranked team in Class 4A and ran their record to 22-0 with a 79-35 victory over the Class 2A Cardinals. The boys game was not like that at all. Here were the mighty Hopkins Royals, longtime power in Class 4A and currently ranked No. 6 in that class with a pregame record of 14-5, and the Annandale Cardinals, unranked in Class 2A and holding a record of 15-3.

Between warmups and tipoff of the boys game, Skip Dolan and Cardinals senior guard Connor Magrum each spoke to the crowd.

Magrum and his teammates have made Henry part of the team. He is an honorary Cardinal, with a number 13 jersey dedicated to him (that’s the number Henry’s dad wore). The players all wear Hope For Henry wristbands, which they hang on a makeshift wooden tree during games. The Hopkins players did something special, too, writing personal notes to the Dolans and hanging them on the tree before warmups.

“Tonight we would like to draw attention to a special little boy who has been in our hearts since long before the season began,” Connor said. He stressed the importance of organ donation, saying, “One way we can all be heroes in our community and beyond is by considering becoming an organ donor.”

Coach Dolan thanked the Hopkins teams for coming to Annandale, and thanked all the people behind Tuesday’s events. It was clear that Skip and his family have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.

“We are truly, truly thankful to this community, to this student body, to this school district,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder of a community and what you’ve done.”

The longest ovation of the night came when Skip introduced Sam and Mollie, who were in the stands while grandma was with Henry for a few hours.

“Imagine being told that there’s a two percent chance at birth that your child will live the first week,” Skip said. He ended his comments with this: “Let’s play basketball!”

And oh did they play basketball. The Royals shot the lights out early and led 29-11 midway through the first half. The Cardinals began finding the range and were only behind by five at halftime, 45-40.

The halftime entertainment included a free throw contest. The hopefuls paid a dollar for the chance to sink a shot and win a two-liter jug of pop. The 50-50 raffle winner also was announced. The pot was north of a thousand dollars and the winner would take home more than $500. But, as expected, the holder of the lucky ticket simply said, “keep it all” and the money went toward Henry’s care. Huge round of applause.

The boys from Annandale did not waver in the second half. The score was 50-50 with 14 minutes to go and the atmosphere was electric. After that? Bedlam.

A three-point play by Trent Pepper and a three-point field goal by Jarod Wilken gave Annandale a 61-57 lead with 8:56 left. The crowd was screaming and that never changed. Joe Hedstrom, Hopkins’ 6-foot-11 junior center, powered to the hoop to give the Royals a two-point edge and Wilken tied it with a layup. There were missed shots and turnovers in the final minutes, and the verdict was finally sealed with Hopkins senior Ishmael El-Amin making two free throws to give the Royals a 72-71 win that they will long remember.

The postgame scene was just as special. There were handshakes and hugs, “thanks for coming” and “wow, what a game!” Skip Dolan posed for photos with Hopkins players and coaches, big smiles on every face. It was truly a night to remember.

Someday, Henry will hear all about it.

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Best Of John’s Journal No. 2: Westbrook-Walnut Grove’s Kate Jorgenson
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/26/2017 2:04:08 PM

The No. 2 and No. 3 stories on my list of favorites from the 2016-17 school year are similar. No. 3 was Shan Donovan, who was born without a left arm but thrives as a high school student and athlete. Today I unveil No. 2. Kate Jorgenson, who will be a sophomore when school resumes, has taken tragedy and turned it into inspiration.

Here is Kate’s story, which was originally posted on May 9…

Nothing Stops Westbrook-Walnut Grove’s Kate Jorgenson

WALNUT GROVE – Carter Ross, who teaches sixth grade and coaches football and girls and boys golf at Westbrook-Walnut Grove, offered brief instructions before the golfers practiced one day last week.

“We have to dial in at 150 (yards),” he told the 13 boys and seven girls assembled not on a golf course but on a grassy field behind the elementary school. “Focus on the bump and run for conference and sections in Worthington. No matter how much rain they get, the greens will be as hard as a rock.

“You’re going to have bad shots but you have to recover.”

One of the Chargers golfers epitomizes that philosophy: When something bad happens, you recover, you bounce back, you accept the challenge, you thrive.

Kate Jorgenson probably wasn’t thinking along those exact lines as she worked through the hour-long practice, hitting short irons, then mid-range irons, long irons and finishing with her driver. With each swing, she rotated her right arm in a smooth arc.

Her left arm was not a factor because the ninth-grader does not have a full left arm. Nearly three years ago, Kate was driving an ATV loaded with rocks from the family farm when it rolled over on her left arm. Doctors tried to save the arm before it was amputated above the elbow.

Kate may blush if you call her a miracle. All she wants to do is go to school, participate in her favorite sports (basketball, volleyball, golf, swimming), spend time with her family and friends and be a normal kid.

As Kate waited to be released from the hospital, she told herself, “This isn’t the end of the world. I’ll still be able to play sports, I’ll still be a friend to all my friends.” Yes, she was going to be the same Kate.

“Kate’s just the kind of girl that you want to be friends with,” said her classmate and golf teammate Halle Steen. “She’s fun, she’s nice, she’s good to be around.”

Before practice on this day, Halle helped Kate put her long hair in a ponytail. Other than a few similar small tasks, Kate is self-sufficient. Just ask her mom, Nikki.

“From the beginning, she would get upset with me because I would try to lay out things so it would be easiest for her,” said Nikki, a fifth-grade teacher. “And she would get mad at me: ‘Mom, if I need help I’ll ask.’ And she does. I try not to say too much because she’ll say, ‘Don’t you think I can do that?’ ”

Kate was on the track team as a seventh- and eighth-grader. She’s giving golf a whirl this spring because it’s something new and a sport she can take part in for a lifetime. She wore a long-sleeved t-shirt at this practice, the empty left sleeve billowing as she struck balls. She has a prosthetic arm but it isn’t equipped to grip and swing a golf club.

“It’s actually quite amazing,” Ross said. “She’s done really well at it. It’s an attitude thing.”

Kate’s attitude since the accident has been everything. She hasn’t shied away from strangers, even little kids who look at her and ask, “Where’s your arm?”

“People are usually very accepting and very surprised by what I can do,” she said.

This day’s golf practice was typical for a Wednesday. Men’s league play takes over the Chargers’ home course, Rolling Hills in Westbrook, on Wednesdays so the team hits balls behind the grade school. There’s a grove of pine trees on the left side and a gravel road on the right. Five-gallon buckets of balls are taken out of storage in a bus barn, balls are dumped on the grass and the empty buckets are placed downrange as targets. When a school bus rolls up, headed for the barn, golfers yell “bus!” and no missiles are fired until the coast is clear.
Here, just like everywhere else, Kate is no different than anyone else. At times she is serious, at times she laughs with her friends. Just like any other day. A school dance was held over the weekend, and Kate was Kate; dressed up but with nothing covering her shortened left arm.

“She just owns it,” said Nikki, whose husband Jim manages the family farm. Their son Jack is a senior who also is on the golf team, plays football and stays very busy.

People in the community and well beyond came together after Kate’s accident. Multiple fundraisers were held, including sales of orange t-shirts (Kate’s favorite color) that carried the slogan “Kate’s Kourage.”

Kate has become a role model who inspires others with her tenacity and attitude. She also has been inspired by people in similar roles, including former University of Florida basketball player Zach Hodskins, whose left arm is similar to Kate’s. They met at a summer camp for young people with limb differences; the camp was sponsored by the non-profit NubAbility Athletics Foundation.

At one of those gatherings, Kate met another camper who was becoming a lifeguard. Always an avid swimmer, Kate returned to the pool after her accident. This spring, she will begin taking instruction in becoming a certified lifeguard.

“She doesn’t ever really hold back,” said Nikki. “She says, ‘I think I can do this. Is it OK if I try?’

“We’re very proud of her. It’s pretty amazing. She’s got quite a story to tell.”

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Best Of John’s Journal No. 3: Onamia’s Shan Donovan
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/23/2017 7:48:34 PM

We have arrived at the final three stories on my Top 10 list from 2016-17, and No 3 is very special. The story, posted on May 22, is a profile of one of the most amazing people I know. Shan Donovan was born in China without a left arm, and today he is a three-sport athlete and multi-dimensional high school student in a small Minnesota town. The word “inspirational” doesn’t even begin to describe Shan...

One Arm? That’s No Problem For Onamia’s Amazing Shan Donovan

ONAMIA – Shan Donovan was standing near the right-field foul line, playing catch with a teammate before the Onamia High School varsity baseball team hosted Pine City. After a couple of tosses, Shan (his name is pronounced “Shawn”) shouted, “Get a little closer. My arm’s not warmed up yet.”

As the boys got loose, Shan did what he does every day on the ballfield. He caught the ball in the glove on his right hand, flipped the glove off, grabbed the ball in mid-air with his bare hand and tossed it before leaning down to pick up the glove and re-start the process.

The fact that Shan does not have a left arm is no impediment for the Panthers’ sophomore starting catcher. He also plays football and basketball, sings in the school choir and acts in school plays. He is proficient with several musical instruments, including the tuba, trumpet and piano. And he does it all with one arm.

“If you tell him he can’t do it, he’s going to find a way to do it,” said Jason Runyan, Onamia’s head coach for baseball and boys basketball. “He lives the high school life. He’s involved in everything.”

Shan doesn’t know anything different. Born in China without a left arm, he was five years old when he was adopted by Cathy Donovan, a physican in Onamia.

Shortly after arriving in this small town a few miles south of Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota, Shan began getting involved in sports. First came karate and then taekwondo, followed by almost every other activity he could get his hand on.

“He just wants to be involved in everything and that’s how he got into sports,” said Cathy. When asked if Shan is so heavily involved in sports and other activites that he overextends himself, she laughed and said, “No. I get overextended, he doesn’t.”

Playing baseball presents specific challenges to Shan. He uses his teeth to tighten the Velcro strap on his batting glove. But like putting on shin guards and a chest protector, it’s second nature. Crouching behind home plate, he shakes off his mitt, flashes signals to the pitcher, puts the glove back on, catches the pitch and with one shake of his hand the glove flies off, he grabs the ball and throws it back to the mound. When a baserunner attempts to steal, Shan is lightning quick in getting the ball into his throwing hand and firing.

He is a switch-hitter who bats from the right side of the plate when the bases are empty; with runners on he moves to the left side and is likely to put down a bunt, using his speed to dash to first base.

“He has more power from the right side and he’s a lethal bunter from the left side,” Runyan said. “We ask a lot of him, in bunting situations especially. He’s very fast. He just works hard, that’s all there is to it.”

Runyan, who is in his first year at Onamia, admits he thought Shan was kidding when, shortly after Jason arrived in town, Shan told him, “I play catcher.”

“I thought it was a joke, honestly. I did. It wasn’t a joke, obviously. I put him back there at catcher and right away he was good, blocking every ball. What amazed me the most I guess was when the first kid stole, I didn’t know how it was going to go down. I’d seen a little in practice, but it was an instant flip of the glove and he throws.”

To perfect his catching/throwing motion, Shan watched online videos of people who had lost limbs but played baseball or softball anyway, many of them veterans.

“It’s one of those sports that’s pretty complicated because most everybody sees it as a two-arm sport,” he said. “You definitely have to use two arms; catch with one and throw with the other.”

Shan has been fitted with a prosthetic arm. He doesn’t use it, calling it “annoying.” His desire to try new things is a testament to his positive attitude.

“I don’t find really anything challenging, unless there’s absolutely ones where you definitely need two arms to do,” he said. “Most (amusement park) rides, they tell me I can’t ride them because you need to hold on with two hands. But that’s not really a problem. The one I really have an issue with is making friendship bracelets. I’m not a big fan of it and I don’t do it much.”

When his school schedule included a pottery class, he wasn’t thrilled about attempting to create pottery with one hand. In the end, though, he enjoyed the class and discovered he was a talented potter.

Playing mostly junior varsity basketball last winter, Shan didn’t do a lot of scoring but Runyan called him one of the leaders on the JV and the best defensive player. Shan’s basketball practice were sometimes limited because he had to rush off to other activities.

Runyan said, “There were three of four practices where he would come up and say, ‘Hey coach, I’ve got to go practice for the musical’ or ‘I’ve got to go practice with the jazz band.’ I thought, ‘You’re doing it all. You’re livin’ it, man.’ ”

While Shan realizes he is an inspiring figure, he doesn’t outwardly try to portray himself that way. He’s just a high school kid doing what busy high school kids do.

“I go to a camp where a lot of people look up to me,” he said. “I inspire people without realizing that I’m inspiring them. I’m not really trying to do that.”

His mom recalled when Shan helped a group of elementary students work on basketball skills. The kids, most of them righthanded, were less than excited about trying to shoot with their left hand.

“One or two of them were complaining, so Shan gave them a pep talk,” Cathy said.

Shan’s grandparents, George and Shirley Donovan, watched the Onamia-Pine City game in lawn chairs along with their daughter Cathy and the family dog, Flash. (Everybody, including Flash, nibbled on peanuts.)

Shirley talked about seeing a magazine photo of an amputee climbing Mount Everest and asking Shan, “Did you see this?”

To which Shan’s mom quickly interjected, “Don’t give him any ideas.”

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Best Of John’s Journal No. 4: Moorhead Speech Team
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/20/2017 12:09:19 AM

I attend the state speech tournament every year. For the 2017 state tournament I focused on one team throughout the day. I chose Moorhead High School for a couple reasons: The Spuds are routinely one of the strongest speech teams in the state and their coach is nationally known. The decision resulted in this story from April 22…

State Speech: A Day In The Life Of The Spuds

“Kaden, how do you feel?”

“You feeling good, Maryn?”

Rebecca Meyer-Larson was checking on her team a few minutes before Friday’s Class 2A state speech competition began at Apple Valley High School. The Moorhead coach knew the hay was in the barn after months of hard work, and she also knew the final day of the season held high expectations.

There are 13 categories in speech, ranging from Creative Expression to Extemporaneous Speaking to Storytelling to Original Oratory. Last year Moorhead went home with a state championship in one category (Izzy Larson and Devon Solwold in Duo Interpretation) and won enough second- through eighth-place medals to share the 2016 team championship with Eagan.

A few days before Friday’s event, Meyer-Larson talked to me about speech and what makes it different from other MSHSL activities.

“It’s not like wrestling, it’s not about getting a pin, it’s not about getting faster,” she said. “It’s so subjective. All you can control is how much you can control; sleep, preparations.”

This is Meyer-Larson’s 25th year as the Spuds coach. (She is on the right in this photo.) In her first year, the team consisted of five students. This year there are 74; 28 of them qualified for state via the Section 8 tournament.

“We always start with, ‘Who do you want to be later in life? What kind of person do you want to become?’ ” she said. “I’m biased of course, but I think this activity is the best at preparing these kids for the future. I’m amazed by their intelligence, their drive, their desire to do good and be good.”

As the Spuds knew, there were no guarantees Friday. Izzy Larson (the coach’s daughter) and Solwold were back to defend their Duo Interpretation title. That category has been a Spud specialty, with Matthew Wisenden and Jordan Hartjen winning state in 2014. Could Izzy and Devon make it three Moorhead Duo Interp titles in four years?

State speech is a torrent of cross-current performance streams. Classrooms are the competition sites, with speakers, judges, room managers, coaches and fans studying maps of the school to find the room and speaker(s) they want to see. In the first three rounds, six speakers are in each room and their lineups change during those rounds so different judges can see them.

Following the first three rounds, the top eight in each category advance to the championship round, with each category viewed by five judges.

In Extemporaneous Speaking, Moorhead’s Bridget McManamon’s first-round presentation centered on President Trump’s relationship with American workers and labor unions. As she made her points while discussing things like NAFTA and jobs in the coal industry, Bridget quoted articles from The Economist, Politico and other sources.

Evyn Judisch -- competing in Creative Expression with a highly entertaining presentation that he authored (titled “Greetings Mr. Ducksworth”) -- sat at a classroom desk waiting for the room manager to start the round. All the speakers dress in business attire; males in dark suits and females in skirts and jackets. Evyn (pictured), with slicked-back hair and large eyeglasses, owned the room as he voiced three characters and physically “became” them. He had seemed small as he sat at the desk but was larger than life during his performance.

In a nearby classroom a few minutes later, Moorhead’s Kaden Moszer was the opposite of teammate Evyn during his Serious Interpretation of Prose speech: “I’m Not a Serial Killer” by Dan Wells. While Evyn made Room 219C laugh, Room 211 was buried in absolute silence as Kaden glared, glowered, muttered, screamed and raised an invisible knife (no props are used).

“By the end of the season they’ve been giving these speeches for a while,” Meyer-Larson said. “It’s fresh every weekend, but we always tell them you walk up to the front of the room and they ought to see in you that you love your words, you love this activity, love your team and represent the activity and your school.”

After three rounds, lists of those who qualified for the championship round were posted on TV monitors throughout the bright, spacious school.

The results, as it turned out, were very good for the Spuds: 16 of them advanced to the final round. That meant 16 medals would be traveling home to Moorhead

The results were announced, with MSHSL speech rules clinician Cliff Janke at the podium. One by one, the eight finalists in each category came to the stage and stood in a line as winners of the eight medals were revealed, from eighth to first.

It quickly became clear that this was going to be Moorhead’s day. Storytelling state champion: “From Moorhead, McKensie Bedore.” Informative Speaking state champion: “From Moorhead, Sarah Schulz.” Serious Interpretation of Prose state champion: “From Moorhead, Noel Kangas.”

The first three categories to be announced resulted in three champs from Moorhead. Meyer-Larson sat in the bleachers with the team, standing, applauding and seeming breathless at times.

The Spuds’ Carolyn Solberg won gold in Great Speeches and teammate Maryn Cella placed third. In Serious Interpretation of Drama, Luke Seidel was second and Kenan Stoltenow was sixth. In Humorous Interpretation, Ariana Grollman finished as a state runner-up and Sophia Klindt was fourth.

The closers came through, too. Izzy and Devon were awarded their second consecutive state championship in Duo Interpretation and teammates Abby Dahlberg and Skyler Klostriech were fifth. Then came the team scores: Moorhead 84 points, Apple Valley 62, and Eagan and Lakeville North sharing third place with 34 points.

For the jubilant Spuds, this had become a day of Non-Extemporaneous Peaking.

“It was definitely kind of a trial to get through it,” Devon said of winning another title with Izzy. “I was really, really eager this year, even more than last year, to just be here. You of course want to do it again but you’ve got to swallow whatever happens. The fact that it went down this way is phenomenal.”

“The reason why these kids are so good is because Minnesota is so good,” said Meyer-Larson. “And that’s because of the Minnesota State High School League, the way they treat these kids. They treat them like rock stars. If you ask any kid here, they believe what they’re doing is every bit as important as what happened at state hockey or state wrestling. Because it is. The high school league does a brilliant job of making these kids feel special.”

After photos, hugs and even a few tears, the day – a remarkable day for the kids who were 250 miles from home -- had ended.

“It’s just so fun,” Izzy said. “One thing my mom says the most is that it’s not about the trophies and how well you do; it’s about the heart and how much passion you have for your speech and your team and sticking together and having an awesome time. And that’s we did. Sometimes it works out.”

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Best Of John’s Journal No. 5: Grand Meadow Superlarks
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/17/2017 5:00:21 AM

We have reached the Top 5 stories from 2016-17, and No. 5 comes from a small town that has become synonymous with success in nine-man football. I visited Grand Meadow -- which ended the 2016 season with its fourth consecutive state championship -- for a regular-season game on a brilliant Friday evening in October.

Here’s the story, which was posted on Oct. 3…

In Grand Meadow, Nine-Man Football Is Grand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Best Of John’s Journal No. 6: Homecoming In Montevideo
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/14/2017 7:48:02 AM

This story, which is No. 6 on the Top 10 list of my favorite stories from the 2016-17 school year, came out of a picture-perfect autumn day in Montevideo. It was more than a five-hour round-trip drive for me on that Friday, and it was well worth every mile. Homecoming is always a big event in schools all over Minnesota, and the happenings in Montevideo shine a great light on all the fun, positive things that are possible.

Here’s the story that was posted on Sept. 26 …

Montevideo: Where Homecoming Is King

MONTEVIDEO – Let’s start this essay with the final act of wonderfulness I witnessed during Homecoming Day in Montevideo, home of the Thunder Hawks and some of the nicest people you will ever come across. Friday was big, filled with special events. However, the final moment for me was not a big thing but a little thing, a little thing that exemplifies what makes high school activities so special.

The Thunder Hawks football team had just lost the Homecoming game to Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City. The visiting Falcons led 3-0 at halftime in a game dominated by defense, ACGC’s Jeremy Nelson ran for two short touchdowns in the second half and the Falcons won 24-0.

As the boys of Montevideo left the field to exit the stadium and make the short hike across 17th Street to their school, they walked through a tunnel of humanity. Parents, grandparents, family, friends, little kids and old timers, their fans slapped them on their big shoulder pads, patted the top of their helmets, said “Good game” and “Good job” and wished them luck next week.

I was standing with Montevideo activities director Bob Grey, watching this all take place. I said to Bob what came to mind after spending the day in town: “Bob, these kids are so lucky to grow up here.”

Montevideo is the county seat of Chippewa County, pretty much equidistant between the Twin Cities and Sioux Falls, S.D.; two and a half hours due west of the Twin Cities and two and a half hours northeast of Sioux Falls. It is home to 5,300-some proud souls and has a sister city in Montevideo, Uruguay; a statue of José Artigas, the father of Uruguayan independence, stands proudly in downtown Montevideo, Minnesota.

I see a lot of great things everywhere I go in Minnesota. This trip to Montevideo was a day-long affair, though, making it a very enjoyable deep dive. There was a pep rally featuring a live cow, a wonderful small-town Homecoming parade, free hot dogs before the football game, and a lovely autumn evening to cap it off.

The afternoon pep rally was for everybody, and I mean everybody. Every kid who attends public school in Montevideo crammed into the high school gym, a feat that involved bus rides and other high-wire logistics in herding tiny little tots, classroom by classroom, to their proper seating locations. When all were in place, 1,450 humans – plus teachers and staff – were soon on their feet screaming and clapping for the Thunder Hawk teams.

Football, volleyball, cross-country, girls swimming, girls tennis teams; all were highlighted under the direction of Kyle Goslee, who teaches physical education and coaches softball when he isn’t masterfully ceremony-ing pep rallies with all the screaming gusto of a combination drill sergeant and professional wrestler. (Here’s a brief excerpt from Kyle’s repertoire: “WOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!”)

The cheerleaders scripted many of the activities, including a round-the-gym flurry of cheers from each class, all 13 of ‘em. The kindergarteners kicked it off, following the cheerleaders’ chants and finishing with a very high-pitched “We are the Class of 2029!” And so it went right up to the seniors in the Class of 2017. There were sleeping-bag races, blindfolds and other tomfoolery, and much anticipation for Sammy the cow.

Sammy is not much of a cow, really. She was small enough to be carried into the gym in the arms of a young man and little Sammy stood still while a selectee squatted down and gave her a smooch on the snout. Sammy was returned to her home on the range at that point, and the tarp that had been placed on the gym floor came away unscathed.

The parade. Oh my, the parade. Those little kids sat on the curbs along 17th Street – also known as Thunder Hawk Drive – and waited until it was time to spring into action and scramble for pieces of candy as if they were hundred-dollar bills. The parade was led by the Montevideo Volunteer Fire Department’s largest firetruck, a slow-rolling mastodon of a thing carrying several humans on top … although they were so high in the air it was hard to be specific about details.

There were pickup trucks carrying Homecoming royalty, flatbed trailers carrying teams and clubs, a cute contingent on foot representing Montevideo Elementary School, the great Thunder Hawk marching band, and a float featuring a giant inflatable Minnesota Viking and a large fake can of soup bearing the label “Cream of Falcon Soup” (the ACGC Falcons disrupted that prediction).

As the parade ended, folks lined up for freshly grilled, free hot dogs. Before long the Thunder Hawks and Falcons were on the football field, preparing for the ballgame. Montevideo head coach David Vik took a swig of Diet Squirt, placing the can on the track behind the bench as kickoff came.

For much of the evening, the punters – ACGC’s Adam Johnson and Montevideo’s Reece Kuhlmann – were the busiest guys in town. Another leg specialist, Frederick Hansen, kicked a 24-yard field goal for the Falcons late in the first quarter. The offensive dam didn’t exactly bust after that; the next scoring came midway through the third quarter.

The band members, still in uniform, sat in the stands and entertained everyone in grand style, just as they had done several hours earlier at the pep rally and again during the parade. High school students chatted and cheered, adults handed over cash to little kids bent on attacking the concession stand, the coaches coached and the players played.

The football uniforms displayed some mud by game’s end and the hometown Thunder Hawks came out on the short end of the scoreboard. But as the boys walked off the field, they were met by all those other people who live in their town.

All those lucky people.

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Best Of John’s Journal No. 7: Coaches, Competitors And Friends
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/12/2017 12:31:55 PM

The countdown of my Top 10 favorite John’s Journal stories from 2016-17 continues with No. 7, a tale of close friends who have been boys basketball coaching colleagues for decades. I spent time with Steve Philion of Red Lake County and Vern Johnson of Win-E-Mac when their teams met at Win-E-Mac in Erskine.

I always enjoy spending time with people who have devoted their lives to teaching and coaching, and I never come away from these encounters without having learned something. Steve and Vern have had a positive impact on countless numbers of students and athletes, and they clearly enjoy each other’s company.

Here’s the story that was posted on Jan. 25 …

Career Coaches, Hall of Fame Members, Longtime Friends

ERSKINE – Steve Philion and Vern Johnson have known each other for about 40 years. Now in their 60s, the men are high school boys basketball coaches who have seen a lot, learned a lot and taught countless numbers of students and athletes.

Philion is the coach at Red Lake County and Johnson is at Win-E-Mac. When their teams met on a frigid January evening here at Win-E-Mac, it was part homecoming, part family reunion, part elbow in the ribs.

“I tease Steve every time I see him,” said Johnson with a smile. “I tell him, ‘You can’t quit. I don’t want to be the only old guy.’ ”

While their junior varsity teams were on the court, Johnson and his son/assistant coach Bret saw Philion in a hallway. In a voice loud enough for his longtime coaching counterpart to hear, Vern said to Bret, “Look! There’s an old coach over there.”

All jokes aside, Johnson and Philion are among the top coaches in Minnesota history. Both are members of the Minnesota High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame; Johnson was inducted in 2013 and Philion in 2016.

Their successes, however, extend far beyond the basketball court. Philion is retired from a career teaching high school math and Johnson is a retired elementary teacher who currently is working as a long-term elementary substitute teacher at Red Lake Falls (the Red Lake County boys basketball team is a cooperative team with students from Red Lake Falls and Red Lake County Central).

Philion, a graduate of Red Lake Falls High School and Bemidji State, began his coaching career in 1975 as coach of the boys and girls basketball teams at Gonvick-Trail (which became Clearbrook-Gonvick). In 1998 he returned to his hometown to coach the Red Lake Falls boys. He also is a longtime official, working football, baseball, softball and volleyball on the high school and college level for more than four decades, and works as an MSHSL Rules Clinician. (Pictured are Johnson, left, and Philion, right.)

Johnson, a graduate of Erskine High School and the University of North Dakota, began his coaching career as an assistant at Erskine in the 1970s and became the head coach at Grygla-Gatzke in 1980, where he remained for 33 years (also coaching football) until retiring in 2013. A year later, he returned to coaching when he was hired at Win-E-Mac to replace a young coach who moved to Colorado.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would coach again,” Vern said. “I was satisfied. I took a year off with the intention to take a lot more years off. But the kids keep you young. It is refreshing.”

Memories can be foggy, but Philion and Johnson recollect that they first crossed paths playing softball when they were in their 20s.

“Vern’s a pretty passionate guy,” Philion said. “He’s into the game and he’s pretty lively on the sideline. They always play good defense and they always have good fundamentals; typically he’s had pretty decent teams over the years. Small schools usually have ups and downs but he’s had more ups than downs.”

Johnson said, “Oh, we’ve battled against each other. We still compete and we’re still friends.”

The Win-E-Mac Patriots defeated Red Lake County 64-42 in their first meeting earlier this month; they will meet again at Red Lake County in the regular-season finale on Feb. 27.

Like Johnson, Philion has a son (Kevin) who serves an assistant coach. Kevin also drives the team bus.

“This is his fourth year with me,” Steve said. “It’s pretty special. It’s fun having him there, he’s very sharp.”

Bret Johnson has been coaching with his father for three years, and Vern calls their relationship “kind of a special bond.”

“The other night I know he wasn’t real happy with me, and he thought I should have made a change earlier. Later I said, ‘Are you mad at me?’ He said, ‘Yup. You should have gotten out of that zone earlier.’

“You don’t always get to spend a lot of time with your kids. I have a feeling I won’t be the best coach in the family. He’ll be a lot better than I am.”

Both coaches are taking it a year at a time, enjoying the days with their teams and the competition with friends.

“I hate playing his teams,” Johnson said of Philion. “They just work hard and they’re fundamentally sound. It doesn’t matter how much talent they have or don’t have. You better be ready or you’re going to be taught a lesson.”

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Best Of John's Journal No. 8: 600 Miles Of Football
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/11/2017 12:10:14 PM

One of my favorite memories of the 2016-17 school year came from a football game at Brooklyn Center High School. This was an interesting Homecoming matchup because the opponent was from International Falls, a 600-mile round-trip to Brooklyn Center and back. As I wrote, “International Falls is, of course, way way up there where you can spit out your gum and watch it land in Canada.”

Here you go: No. 8 on the John’s Journal Top 10 from 2016-17…

From International Falls to Brooklyn Center: A Friday To Remember


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Honoring A Coaching Legend In Wabasso
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/9/2017 6:19:59 PM

WABASSO – We interrupt the countdown of the Top 10 John’s Journal stories from 2016-17 for a very good reason: To honor a special man from a special place.

A gathering was held here Saturday night to celebrate the 49-year career of Wabasso High School wrestling coach Gary Hindt. He announced his retirement in April and the community – along with others from far and wide – got together at the Wabasso Community Center in what was called “Roast, Boast and a Toast to Gary Hindt.” It was a spectacularly fun time. (In this photo, Hindt, left, greets friends.)

Gary started the Wabasso Rabbits wrestling program when he was hired as a young teacher right out of college in 1968. In recent years Wabasso and Red Rock Central formed a cooperative team known as the Wabasso/Red Rock Central Bobcats. Hindt’s record of 807-214-6 puts him second on Minnesota’s career victory list. He coached six individual state champions and was inducted into the state wrestling coaches Hall of Fame in 1994.

But what he really accomplished had very little to do with winning and losing. One of his well-known quotes is this: “Wins, losses, I don't care ... It's all about the kids and how they turn out in life.”

Throughout the evening, one thought came to my mind: Never underestimate the impact of a coach or a teacher. I think about my own high school coaches and teachers, and all the coaches and teachers that I have the fortune to spend time with in my job. Gary Hindt is the epitome of his profession; he offered encouragement to his athletes, he knew how to motivate them but he never made winning the most important factor.

He was a basketball player in his hometown of Fulda, but he switched to the school’s new wrestling team when he was in 11th grade. “I thought it sure beats getting slivers on my butt, being about the 10th guy on the basketball team,” he told me when I wrote a profile of him in 2013.

Hindt also coached football at Wabasso for many years but gave that up when his daughter Heather was playing college volleyball at Southwest State in Marshall and his daughter Erika was in high school. (“I got to watch my girls grow up,” he said.) Hindt and his wife Jenni have been married for 47 years.

Erika, Heather and Jenni were the masterminds behind Saturday’s gathering. Erika contacted me in April to tell me what they were planning and offering an invitation. I don’t know how many people were on hand Saturday, but the Community Center is a big place and it was standing-room only. And here’s something amazing: Gary had no idea about the gathering until his family convinced him to go with them to the Community Center for some mysterious reason on Saturday. That was one great big secret to keep.

As people poured in, Gary greeted every one of them with a handshake, a hug, a smile … and in many cases all three.

A pre-arranged lineup of people went to a podium and microphone at the front of the room to talk about the coach. Some were former wrestlers, including Ron Rasmussen, a co-captain on Hindt’s first two teams in the 1960s, and Dan Zimmer, the Rabbits’ first state champion in 1976. Zimmer’s family moved from Wabasso to Litchfield before his senior year, so the Hindts took him into their home for the school year. He called it “the best year of my life.”

Johnny Frank, a state champ in 2000 who went on to become a teacher and a coach (currently in Faribault), said, “He made you feel special. I wanted to be Gary Hindt.” He smiled, looked with appreciation at his coach and said, “I wanted to be you.”

Hindt is the youngest of 14 kids. His brothers and sisters, their spouses, kids and others came from all over the country. Zimmer, who lives in Georgia, said there was no way he was going to miss it.

Coaches whose teams tangled with the Rabbits were asked to stand and well more than a dozen did. Female student managers, wives and sisters of wrestlers were asked to stand and half the people in the room stood. Men and boys who wrestled for Hindt were asked to stand and the place went nuts with cheers and applause for them and their hero/coach.

Late in the evening, all those wrestlers posed for a photograph with their coach. The Community Center wasn’t big enough to get them all in one photo, so they went outside.

“You coached for 49 years,” Zimmer said to Hindt. “That’s one heck of a big team.”

That’s one big, proud, very lucky team.

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Best Of John's Journal No. 9: Roseau Girls Basketball
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/6/2017 1:46:20 PM

The countdown continues through my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from the 2016-17 school year. This story, which was posted on Jan. 10, is No. 9 ...

Roseau: Where Girls Basketball Stands Tall

ROSEAU – Yes, of course, hockey is big in this little town near the Canadian border. Roseau boys hockey teams have gone to the state tournament a record 34 times and own seven titles, while the Rams girls have skated at state four times.

This winter, however, the hottest team in town wears sneakers instead of skates. These are the glory days for girls basketball in Roseau; the Rams have been to state in Class 2A the last two years, placing fourth in 2015 and third last season. They are currently ranked No. 1 in 2A and ran their record to 12-0 with an 86-61 home victory Monday night over Thief River Falls, which played at state in Class 3A the last two seasons.

The Rams wear warmup shirts that have the word “UNITED” on the back. They hustle, they dive for loose balls, shoot threes, drive to the hoop and use in-your-face, quick-handed defense to spark fast breaks. In other words, they play basketball the right way, the entertaining way. They have a deep bench and lots of experience in big games on big courts.

In other words, they would very much like to finally win their school’s first basketball state championship. And this could be the year.

“They have so many weapons, including girls coming off the bench,” said Thief River Falls coach Jeff Loe. “They have that outside-inside, that balance that teams love to have, and they’re so athletic and aggressive. This is probably the best team they’ve had.”

The marquee players for the Rams are the Borowicz sisters. Kiley is a senior, Kacie is a sophomore and Katie is an eighth-grader. Kiley and Kacie have played at state twice and Katie made her debut on the big stage last year (pictured, left to right, are Kacie, Katie and Kiley). Roseau coach Kelsey Didrikson calls the trio “the horses for us.” But the Borowicz sisters (their name is pronounced “BRAH-vitch”) are complete and utter team players.

“We’re deep and the supporting cast is strong and knows their roles so well,” Didrikson said. “I don’t have to put pressure on (the sisters). We don’t run a single thing for any of them. There are plays that work because we have them, and if the game is on the line everybody knows they’ll probably have the ball in their hands.

“They make their teammates better and their teammates make them better. They all own their roles and execute their roles so well.”

The Borowicz sisters do know how to skate, thank you very much. But they have been hoop-heads for life. Their mom, Tracy, is a former head coach of the Rams girls basketball team and their dad, David, is heavily involved in the game. There are a couple of Borowicz brothers, too: Jake is 10, Jordan is 8 and they also know how the basketball bounces.

Kiley Borowicz leads the Rams with a 26.4-point scoring average. Kacie is next at 18.8, followed by 6-foot-2 senior Victoria Johnson at 12.2, senior Ivy Braaten at 10 and junior Mya Hough at six points per game. Kiley Borowicz and Johnson are the top rebounders, averaging eight boards per game.

The Borowicz sisters get much of the acclaim, but they know how valuable their teammates are.

“It’s more than just us,” Kacie said, to which Kiley added, “Vic really does a lot, Katie (Hulst), Ivy, Morgan (Groenhoff), Mya, one of them will have double figures in a game. This year people are more confident. Our juniors are way more confident to shoot and drive.”

The Rams are undefeated despite dealing with some injuries. They have outscored their opponents by an average score of 81-58. Their narrowest victory came against Barnesville by a score of 74-68 in a holiday tournament. Roseau and Barnesville (11-2) may end up as the top two teams in the Section 8 postseason playoffs.

Among the big regular-season contests remaining on the Rams’ schedule is a Feb. 3 game in Roseau against Mountain Iron-Buhl, which is currently 11-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class 1A. Facing motivated competition is part of the formula for Roseau.

“In every game we have to play harder than we should have to because everyone brings their best game,” Katie Borowicz said.

Kiley said, “You just can’t think you’re the best. I know we are probably the best team but I never think that. I get nervous before every game, I don’t get cocky.”

The Rams were certainly not cocky in Monday’s game against Thief River Falls. They came out flying fast and working hard, running the court and taking control in leading 52-21 at halftime. At game’s end, Kiley Borowicz had 34 points, Braaten had 14 and Kacie Borowicz 13, while Tiahna Nicholson led the Prowlers with 20 and Alexa Rogalla scored 17.

“I thought the first half was probably our best half, or one of our est halves, of basketball all season,” Didrikson said. “They played solid. It was a really good start for us, doing the little things we’re always talking about; playing better defense, ball movement. Our goal was 20 assists tonight and we had 13 at halftime, and I know they were excited about that. It’s fun to see them own that and understand how important ball movement is. They made some beautiful passes.”

Like most of their teammates the Borowicz sisters are involved in multiple sports, playing volleyball in the fall and participating in track during the spring. Kiley and Kacie have been members of relay teams that have qualified for the state championship meet, with Kiley laughing and saying, “That made me more nervous than (state) basketball, especially since track isn’t my best sport.”

After losing in the state basketball semifinals the last two years, the Rams are aiming higher this year. The first goal is to get to state, and if that happens they won’t be satisfied with another spot in the third-place game.

“It would be really upsetting,” said Kiley Borowicz. “Since elementary school everyone has been saying, ‘You guys will go to state when you’re seniors, this is your year.’ The third-place game is good I guess but not what we know we can do.”

“People in school and around town expect a lot from us,” Katie said.

Their coach agreed, laughing when asked if there was pressure on the team.

“It’s not wanting to let anybody down,” Didrikson said. “In a small town this is not just about our coaching staff and the girls on the varsity. It’s something the community is excited about and looking forward to.

“Going to state is special. It is a privilege and an honor. We wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on an opportunity they’ve been working so long for.”

Postscript: The Rams went to win the 2017 state championship

The Best Of John's Journal No. 10: JCC Twitter Barrages
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 7/4/2017 7:50:21 PM

It's time to begin the countdown of my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from the 2016-17 school year. I posted five Honorable Mention stories last week, and today we dive into the Top 10.

Here is No. 10, which was originally posted on April 20...

Jackson County Central Tradition: The Twitter Barrage

Several members of the Jackson County Central track and field team were sitting around a backyard fire one evening after a track meet, doing what teenagers do. They talked, they laughed, they shared moments from that day’s competition. But they also kept an eye on their cell phones, because they knew something good was coming on Twitter.

It’s known as a “Twitter barrage” and it’s the work of their coach, Rafe York. Following each competition, after everyone has returned home and York is looking through the results, he begins issuing Tweets that are a mixture of results, jokes and entertaining observations. Some samples …

Kailey Koep discovered that if she sprints on the runway, she'll jump farther in the long jump. Who'd a thunk?

Matt Strom threw the shot 37' 7.5, which I believe is one foot farther than the average flight of a North Korean missile.

“It’s so fun,” said sophomore track team member Hailey Handevidt. “My mom was in Rochester and she texted me because she wanted to know when the Twitter barrage was coming out.”

Huskies junior Molly Boyum said, “They’re funny. Everybody waits for them to get done. We all want to see what he has to say about us and what sarcastic comments he has.”

The account can be found at @JCCTandF on Twitter. Several hundred people follow the account.

York, who teaches English, also is the head coach of the Huskies girls and boys cross-country teams (and yes, he posts Twitter barrages after cross-country competitions, too) and an assistant boys basketball coach. He has been the Jackson County Central track coach for seven years.

Clayton Cavness made his varsity debut and learned a valuable lesson. Distance runners shouldn't eat like throwers.

In the second heat of the girls' 300 Hurdles Zoe Pohlman left a face-shaped dent in the track... but she popped up, finished the race, and placed 9th...the scrapes all over her body are going to burn in the shower.

“When I took over I thought we needed a way to get results out,” York said. “Twitter was the way to go. At first it was just basic results and I guess my personality started coming through.

“I figure track is a hard enough sell. If I can make it look a little more fun by goofing off a little and having fun, maybe it will get more kids out.”

We didn't run a girls' 4x200 or 4x800. The blame should be placed squarely on Annika's tonsils.

Easton Bahr placed 5th in the 100. He also learned that if the gun is fired a second time, it means stop because there was a false start.

Clearly, York isn’t afraid to give his athletes an elbow in the ribs via Twitter. They know him – and his sense of humor – well and they look forward to seeing their name in the latest barrage.

“Sometimes we’ll say stuff that is kind of dumb or funny or just like weird, and he’ll put it in his barrage and make fun of us,” Boyum said. “And then we’re like, ‘OK, now the whole world knows about that.’ ”

Handevidt said, “He likes to Tweet a lot, and they’re always funny to read. And it won’t just be about the track meet. It’ll be about something that happens on the bus and we’ll just laugh about it.”

York said one of the benefits of being in a small town is that he knows the kids and their parents.

“It works as long as the kids and the parents are going to appreciate the joke,” he said.

He ends every barrage with the same message: I love Track season. That’s a statement heard frequently around the Huskies in the spring.
“I’ve been saying that in practice for years,” York said. “I was a head coach in Colorado and one day in practice I just sort of blurted it out. When we’re out practicing in the rain, I’ll yell. 'I love track season!’ ” (Pictured here is York with Hailey Handevidt, Molly Boyum and Jessica Christoffer.)

If you're a junior and you're still reading tonight's barrage, GO TO BED! You have the ACT tomorrow.

Did I mention @jamiek1980 brought cookies from the Lakefield Bakery to celebrate Kailey's birthday? I only ate three.

“I think it’s really great,” junior Jessica Christoffer said of the coach’s post-meet social-media habit. “I always stay up super late just to hear what York has to say. It’s also great to see what he has to say about the other people that I may have missed in the meet.

“If our 4x4 does really good, we’ll say, ‘York, our 4x4 needs a Twitter barrage. Say something about the starter, and then second, third and fourth!’ ”

Reaction to the Twitter barrages comes not only from athletes and their parents.

“It’s kind of crazy,” York said. “I’ll come into school the next day and people will ask me about it; ‘Hey, what did that one mean?’ I like seeing the reactions. Sometimes I get distracted seeing who’s liking and who’s re-Tweeting.”

Hailey lists The Shawshank Redemption, Saving Private Ryan, and Avatar amoung her favorite movies. None of them would make my Top 5. I used the British spelling of "among" intentionally there.

Sophie Johnson, Hailey Handevidt, Zoe Pohlman, Regional Manager Kaitlin Feroni, and I talked Prom, movies, and music on the way home.

The Huskies’ next track meet will be Monday in St. Peter.

A new barrage will follow.

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