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After A Year Of Waiting, St. Clair Is Back In The Game
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/31/2012 11:55:01 PM

Pregame warm-ups had been concluded and the national anthem and introduction of the starting lineups would be happening shortly. St. Clair head football coach Chris Harvey checked the scoreboard clock at Brooklyn Center High School to see how much time was left before his Cyclones would face the West Lutheran Warriors on Friday in the first game of the football season. The clock was ticking down, with seven minutes showing.

“Seven minutes is too long to wait,” Harvey said as he paced the sideline. “Let’s get this going.”

No team has waited longer for the 2012 season than St. Clair. A year ago, in the final week before the season opener, a tough decision was made at the school southeast of Mankato. The roster was short, size was a concern and the numbers simply didn’t add up. So the Cyclones forfeited their 2011 varsity season and played only junior varsity games.

Friday, therefore, was huge. The last time the Cyclones had played a varsity football game was Oct. 26, 2011; a 34-28 overtime loss to Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton in a Nine-Man Section 2 playoff opener.

After all that time, through a lost season, St. Clair -- now playing 11-man football -- returned with a thunderous effort Friday, defeating West Lutheran 67-6. The game was played at Brooklyn Center because West Lutheran – the home team – does not have a field.

“It’s nice to be back playing varsity football,” Harvey said after the game. “It was really hard on the kids last year. To their credit they never quit working hard. For them, it’s great to be back out here.”

Friday’s roster listed 37 players, including 11 juniors and 13 ninth-graders. Those numbers are much improved from a year ago. When the decision was made to skip a varsity season, the immediate response was not surprising.

“I think there was some initial shock, people thinking, ‘We used to always do it, why make a change?’ ” said St. Clair athletic director Brad O’Donnell. “But I think people started to understand. We still had homecoming, all the things we normally would, just with a different age level. Last year we had two seniors, one that was out for football for the first time. It was hard to continue to go with the same trend of losing kids year after year. We wanted what was in the best interest of the kids and the best interest of the program for the long term.”

At this point, everyone is happy to look to the future. After all, that’s about the only option the St. Clair football players have had for the past year. They spent tons of time in the weight room, many players went to a team camp in Iowa over the summer, they convinced boys who were on the bubble to join the squad. The result is a bigger, more enthusiastic roster.

“The kids have responded well,” O’Donnell said. “They’re changing the culture a little bit. It’s a steppingstone. It’s good to see them out. Sometimes kids will talk about coming out but won’t actually do it. They’ve had great practices, getting ready for this week.”

Once they were back on a varsity field, the Cyclones wasted no time. Senior Miklo Miller returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown and added two more running touchdowns before the first quarter had ended. St. Clair led 19-0 at that point, 40-0 at halftime and 53-0 after three periods. The fourth quarter, played under running time, went quickly.

“(Last season) wasn’t much fun because you were going against other people that weren’t as good as they were supposed to be,” Miller said.

Quarterback Blake Flowers, another senior, called last season a disappointment, but Friday’s experience was the perfect way to return.

“It was awesome starting off the season like this. It was a good win,” Flowers said. “We were expecting to win, but maybe not by that much.”

Harvey was gracious towards West Lutheran, which will play a mix of 11-man and Nine-Man games this season.

“Our hats are off to West Lutheran,” he said. “They’re a Nine-Man team playing us in 11-man. These games are tough, even on the winning side. Hats off to them for playing hard for four quarters.”

The Cyclones know things will get tougher, especially in the Gopher Valley A Conference. Next week they will play a conference home game against Minnesota Valley Lutheran, which beat Redwood Valley 22-20 Friday and is 1-1 this season.

But regardless of what the rest of the season may hold, the key emotion in Friday’s postgame glow was pure joy at simply being back in the game.

The waiting is over.

--To see more photos from the St. Clair-West Lutheran game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 21
*Miles John has driven: 862
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

History Is Made By St. Cloud Christian Volleyball Team
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/30/2012 11:38:13 AM

CAMBRIDGE -- Nervous? Nope. Excited? Absolutely. That’s how Toria Gillson, a senior at St. Cloud Christian School, described Tuesday night’s historic volleyball match.

Not only was it the varsity season opener for the Warriors, it was the first varsity volleyball competition in school history. And that made it very, very special.

“I don’t really get nervous, I get excited,” Toria said afterwards. “And I was really excited.”

The first varsity match also was the first varsity defeat, but the 3-1 loss to Cambridge Christian at the Armed Forces Reserve Community Center in Cambridge was historic nonetheless. St. Cloud Christian is a tiny school, with K-12 students -- including a high school enrollment of 60-some kids -- learning together in a former St. Cloud elementary building.

“We’ve got a bunch of excited kids who want to be athletes and we try to find places for them,” said athletic director Paul Hastings. In most cases, places for St. Cloud Christian athletes are found through cooperative agreements with St. Cloud’s other, larger high schools: Apollo, Tech and Cathedral.

St. Cloud Christian’s first true “home” team was track and field, with the first varsity squad competing in 2007. Cross-country followed in 2009. The school’s most successful current athlete is McKenzie Holt, who placed fourth in last year’s Class 1A state cross-country meet, then last spring was second in the 3,200 meters and third in the 1,600 at the 1A state track meet. Holt is a junior this year.

The school’s volleyball program, which began in 2005, has been built on a steady diet of junior varsity and C squad competition.

“In the last couple years we felt we’ve been competitive against the JV and C teams we’ve been playing, and other coaches have said, ‘Hey, you’re ready for varsity,’ ” Hastings said.

On Tuesday in Cambridge, St. Cloud Christian had 10 enthusiastic varsity players dressed in purple uniforms, black calf-length socks and black shoes. The first game against Cambridge Christian was tied 20-20 before the home team pulled away for a 25-21 win. Cambridge Christian won the second game 25-23, St. Cloud Christian captured the third game 25-17 and the third game went to Cambridge 25-17.

The Warriors’ first varsity match lasted a little more than 90 minutes and was followed by nothing but smiles.

“I think the nerves kind of got to them a little bit,” said coach Karla Hultgren. “They were really excited about having the opportunity to play a varsity game and being in the game most of the time. I was really happy about that.”

When I asked Karla to compare this year’s team with what she saw when the program began in 2005, she smiled and said, “It’s a night and day difference. We had girls who hardly knew the game of volleyball. And now we have kids who play Junior Olympic volleyball, kids who have come through the ranks, and it’s really become a family. That’s what’s really cool.”

A major piece of becoming a varsity program was joining a conference. The Warriors are a member of the Christian Athletic League, whose other members are spread around the state and beyond. They include Cambridge Christian, Christian Life in Farmington, Faith Christian in Rochester, Mountain Lake Christian, Immanuel Lutheran in Mankato, Good Shepherd Academy in River Falls, Wis., and several schools in the Twin Cities.

The Warriors will play their next five volleyball matches on the road before the next historic step: their first home match. Since their school has a very small gym (“We’d be running into the walls all day,” Gillson said), the Warriors will play their home matches at St. Cloud Cathedral. The first one will be against Hope Christian School of St. Paul on Sept. 24.

“Thank goodness that Cathedral is so gracious to open their school to us,” Hultgren said.

Laura Knoblauch, a St. Cloud Christian senior, would have been overjoyed had the team won Tuesday. But she was happy nonetheless.

“I think we did really well,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud. Honestly, I feel better that we played really, really well in this game. I feel better about that than if we had won and it had been easy. We really stepped up and we did a good job.”

Knoblauch, who has been part of the volleyball program throughout her high school career, talked about the change in the last four years.

“It’s really different. We’ve improved so much. It’s such a blessing. I don’t have any words to describe it. We’ve improved so much and come so far. It’s so cool.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 19
*Miles John has driven: 800
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

New Award Will Honor Athletes Of The Week
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/29/2012 11:20:26 AM

In partnership with Old Dutch and WCCO-AM 830, the MSHSL is proud to announce the Old Dutch High School Athlete of the Week award. Under this program, Minnesota high school athletes will be honored every week for their contributions as athletes, students and community members.

The athletes will be recognized on WCCO-AM 830 every Tuesday evening during the “Sports To The Max” show with Mike Max and every Wednesday morning during “The WCCO Morning News With Dave Lee.”

Old Dutch is the sponsor of the award. In addition to being honored on WCCO-AM 830, recipients also will receive a plaque to commemorate their achievements and be honored online by the MSHSL and WCCO-AM 830.

The first award winner will be announced on WCCO-AM 830 on Sept. 4-5. Athletes can be nominated by sending an email to MSHSL media specialist John Millea at jmillea@mshsl.org

Nominations should include the following …
--Student’s name, school and grade.
--Athletic accomplishments during the past week. Please offer detailed statistics.
--Information about the student’s academics and/or community involvement.
--If possible, include a phone number where the student can be reached (student’s cell phone is best) and a school photo of the student (the type of photo used in school yearbooks or graduation photos).

Veteran Journalist Brian Jerzak Joins The John’s Journal Team
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/27/2012 1:37:40 PM

With the start of a new year of high school activities, we’re happy to announce the addition of a new member of the John’s Journal staff.

Brian Jerzak is a veteran reporter who will add his high school sports expertise to John’s Journal. Brian has been covering high school athletics in Minnesota for more than 10 years.

He has written about wrestling for The Guillotine publication and website for a decade, including coverage of the state wrestling tournament. For several years Brian worked as the main football writer and also covered basketball for MinnesotaPreps.com, a branch of Rivals.com. He has written about basketball, hockey and wrestling for the Minneapolis Star Tribune Hub websites, has covered the National Football League for GridironExperts.com, contributed college and high school wrestling stories for Intermat.com and college hockey stories for Collegehockeynews.com.

Brian is a native of Milaca, Minn., and a graduate of Saint Cloud State University. He lives in Apple Valley with his wife and two sons.

From Nine-Man to Class 6A, The Football Season Is Underway
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/25/2012 8:25:20 PM

I can summarize my Zero Week football experience in several ways…

--The gastronomical tally was one bratwurst, one hot dog, one hamburger and three Diet Cokes.

--Mileage? I drove 396 round-trip miles to Underwood for a Friday night nine-man game between the Wheaton/Herman-Norcross Warriors and Underwood Rockets, followed by a short 54-mile round-tripper to Hopkins on Saturday afternoon to watch the Class 6A Royals host the Episcopal Knights of Houston, Texas.

--Competitively, I saw 68 points scored along with turnovers, penalties, dropped passes and magnificent plays.

--Weather? Friday evening was picture-perfect in Underwood, with a nice breeze blowing across Otter Tail County. The conditions at Hopkins were a little on the damp side, with showers playing stick-and-move during the game.

What I will remember most, however, are a coach’s pregame words on Friday and the postgame statement of another coach on Saturday. They offer auditory bookends to a football weekend and shed a bright light on what our world of high school activities is all about.

Wheaton/Herman-Norcross coach Tony Thiel, whose team played in the Prep Bowl last season, has only two starters back this year. But every season is a new journey.

“They want to get back there (to the Metrodome),” Thiel told me before the Warriors met Underwood. “We’re not living on the laurels of last year’s team, we want to make our own identity.”

Things worked out pretty well for the Warriors, who beat Underwood 26-8.

The other bookend came after Hopkins defeated Episcopal 20-14 in a game that came down to the final play. The Royals led 14-0 at halftime before Episcopal scored twice in the third quarter to force a 14-14 tie. Hopkins quarterback J.T. DenHartog scrambled for a 41-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the game ended with Episcopal completing a long pass to the 3-yard line.

As Hopkins coach (and quarterback’s dad) John DenHartog talked to his euphoric players, he said this: “High school football is about making great memories. And after the season you’ll have a great memory.”

These two games were played in two distinct settings – one in a small town and one in a large suburb – but the essence was the same. After months of lifting weights, training and weeks of workouts, it was time to play for real.

THE FIELD IN UNDERWOOD is a lush carpet of nature’s green grass, with a row of small trees behind each end zone. The school grounds back up the home sideline, with a parking lot and a gravel road behind the visitor’s side. As the Underwood Rockets took the field for warm-ups – and whenever they made a great play – fans sitting in their cars honked the horns. That is a glorious signature sound of American small-town football.

Underwood principal and athletic director John Hamann said a handful of cars were parked in prime spots at 7:30 Friday morning. “People are absolutely crazy,” he said with a smile.

The Zero Week game in Underwood provided a prime scouting opportunity for teams who will face the Rockets and Warriors later this season. Only five other games were played within Minnesota’s borders on Friday, so nine-man coaches were thick in Underwood – carrying clipboards and notebooks, jotting down jersey numbers, diagramming plays and gathering gridiron intel.

Visiting fans are at a distinct disadvantage in Underwood, especially early in the season, because they are forced to squint into the bright sun as they watch the early action. By the time the sun said goodnight, the scene was enough to make a small-town native weep: young boys flipping footballs and chasing each other behind the grownup fans, who were standing along a single wire fenceline on both sidelines … two little girls sitting with their backpacks and candy, one stride behind the goal line … four older girls laying on blankets next to the scoreboard, which carries the logos of the local Lions club, a bank, a gas station and other supporters of the Rockets.

At halftime, with his team holding a 14-8 lead thanks to a short touchdown pass from Jake Rinke to Carter Thiel with one second on the clock, coach Thiel told his players, “What happens if they don’t score in the second half? We win.”

The prediction came true. Wheaton/Herman-Norcross did all the scoring in the last two quarters, leaned on impressive defensive footspeed and got the win.

“For the first time out I am very pleased,” Thiel told me at game’s end. “Underwood’s a quality football team, they’re going to win a lot of games. I’m very happy with the way we played.”

A PARKING LOT AT Hopkins was designated as “Handicapped and VIP Parking.” I snuck into that lot but made the rookie mistake of not bringing along a jacket or umbrella. Whenever rain began to fall, I scurried from the field to the press box. It was dry most of the time, but the 6A crowd at Hopkins was smaller than the nine-man crowd at Underwood the night before.

Episcopal is a private, coed school with about 300 male students. Due to conference changes (much like Hopkins and the other four Lake Conference teams), Episcopal was looking for a game to fill its schedule. Knights coach Steve Leisz is a 1984 Minnetonka graduate, and the parents of six Episcopal football players are Twin Cities natives.

The Knights flew in on Friday and had a walk-through on the artificial turf at Hopkins in the afternoon. Their postgame plans Saturday included a cruise on Lake Minnetonka, although the gloomy weather – and the last-minute loss – could have combined to dampen the mood just a but.

A group of Episcopal cheerleaders also made the trip, bringing along a pair of Texas flags. This was a rare sight: Lone Star flags flying over a Minnesota football field. The Texans also brought some star-studded athletes, including senior quarterback Austin Robinson (who saw several passes flutter off the fingers of receivers) and sophomore running back Tyreik Gray, whose cutting, leaping, 67-yard run to tie the score 14-14 was the play of the day … until young DenHartog’s second touchdown all but clinched the victory for the home team.

“We were just pumped to be able to play a team from Texas,” J.T. DenHartog said. “Everyone talks about how great Texas football is, and we came out with the mindset that we wanted to prove everyone wrong and not play for just Hopkins but play for every team in Minnesota. To prove that Minnesota is just as good, and now even better, than Texas football.”

J.T.'s father talked about the Royals hanging together when they could have folded, and how the experience will pay dividends down the road.

“At times we played really well and at times we showed that we’re pretty young and in the first game of the season we made a lot of errors, too,” the coach said. “But our effort was certainly there and I liked the way our team didn’t point fingers and didn’t get down when things didn’t go well. I liked how they stuck together and supported each other. It’s a fun group to work with and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun this year.

“I think it shows if you do things right and support each other as teammates and work hard and try hard, good things happen. We tell the kids that message and they got to live it out a little today.”

Hard work in the offseason. Lessons learned on the practice field. And gratification now that the games are for real.

It’s going to be a great year.

--To see photos and a video from the weekend's football games, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 17
*Miles John has driven: 718
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

Football Season Has Arrived … I’ll See You At Underwood And Hopkins
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/23/2012 10:01:48 PM

The football season kicks off with eight Zero Week games on Friday and two on Saturday. I’m starting the season in grand style Friday, driving to Underwood to watch the Rockets play host to Wheaton/Herman-Norcross in a big Nine-Man matchup.

These are two teams with strong traditions. Underwood reached the Metrodome two years ago before losing to Cromwell in the state semifinals and Wheaton/Herman-Norcross played in the Prep Bowl last season, falling to Edgerton-Ellsworth 36-28.

Sixty-miles separate Wheaton and Underwood, and I’ll be making a 334-mile round trip for the game, heading there in the afternoon and returning to the Twin Cities afterwards. I’ll sleep fast and be at Hopkins on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game between the Royals and Houston (Texas) Episcopal.

I’ll combine the two games into a story that should be posted here Saturday evening, and photos from each game will magically appear on the MSHSL Facebook page. I’ll also be offering Twitter updates from both ballgames.

Here's the schedule (with last season’s records) ...

Friday, all games at 7 p.m.
Holy Angels (8-2) at Edina (5-5)
St. Paul Humboldt (0-8) at Columbia Heights (0-9)
Mesabi East (2-6) at Eveleth-Gilbert (0-9)
Minnetonka (8-3) at Arrowhead (Hartland, Wis.) (8-2)
Lewiston-Altura (5-5) at Cochrane-Fountain City, Wis.
Bertha-Hewitt (2-7) at Hancock (1-8)
Minnesota Valley Lutheran (4-6) at United South Central (1-8)
Wheaton/Herman-Norcross (12-2) at Underwood (7-3)

Houston (Texas) Episcopal (7-3) at Hopkins (3-6), 1 p.m.
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (3-5) at Pipestone (0-9), 7 p.m.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 13
*Miles John has driven: 268
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

Lakeville’s Ringeisen: 100 Seasons And Going Strong
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/22/2012 2:41:30 PM

Rick Ringeisen has not been coaching for a century but he is in his 100th season as a high school coach. Think about that, because it’s a remarkable feat: Ringeisen, 56, has coached three sports for 33 years, and this fall marks the beginning of his 34th year and 100th season, all in his hometown of Lakeville. Remarkable.

Every fall, Ringeisen coaches girls swimming. Every winter it’s boys swimming. And every spring he coaches throwers on the girls and boys track teams. First at Lakeville High and now at Lakeville South, the seasons change but Ringeisen doesn’t. As former Lakeville head track coach and current Lakeville North athletic director Bob Ertl said of Ringeisen, “He’s a guy who comes to work as excited today as he did 25 years ago. You can see that spark in his eye; ‘Let’s get after it, let’s help kids.’

“He goes three seasons every year, back to back to back, and he never loses energy, never loses steam, to help kids. He’s always helping, always giving back to kids, tirelessly.”

Ringeisen was once one of those kids. His father died when Rick was 4 years old, and as he grew, his coaches became his role models. “My coaches took really good care of me,” he said. “They were my inspiration in life.”

At Lakeville High School Ringeisen participated in baseball, track, football and swimming before graduating in 1974. He was a swimmer at Winona State, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1979 and was hired back in Lakeville as a social studies and history teacher as well as a coach. He could have joined the family trucking business but he said teaching and coaching “was my true passion in life. I came from a time and a place where people wanted to make the world a better place. Delivering boxes wasn’t going to do that. I wanted to have an impact on lives, the way my teachers and coaches did for me.”

He has a passion for Lakeville and the kids – like him – who grow up there. “Lakeville is a great place to grow up and it gets better every day,” he said. “We put kids first.”

And a lot of the kids he has coached have finished in first place. In the swimming pool, Ringeisen has coached two boys teams to True Team state championships and two boys teams to MSHSL state titles. He has coached 260 girls and 312 boys who qualified for state meets, and Lakeville athletes have won state titles in every swimming and diving event. During the track season, Ringeisen has coached discus throwers and shot putters to 63 state meet appearances, and five of them have won a total of 11 state championships.

Hailey Campbell, a 2010 Lakeville South graduate who now swims at Brigham Young University and competed in this year’s U.S. Olympic trials, was a state runner-up in the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle and anchored a 200-yard freestyle relay team that set a state record in 2008 (they share the record with Stillwater). Campbell said Ringeisen had a tremendous impact on her.

“When I first came in I sat down and told him my goals, like ‘I want to be a champion’ and ‘I want to be recruited by a lot of colleges.’One thing he did was he worked with me a lot and he made sure my head was in the right spot. He was a really great motivator for me; he always made sure I was motivated and ready to go.”

POOL SPACE AND TIME are limited in Lakeville so the teams from South and North practice together under the direction of Ringeisen and North head coach Dan Schneider. When Lakeville had one high school, Ringeisen was the head girls coach and Schneider was the head boys coach, with each of them working as assistant for the other. When South opened in 2005, Ringeisen became the head coach of both swim teams there and Schneider did the same as Lakeville High became Lakeville North.

“I don’t think there are many places that would have high school swimming workouts at the same time in the same pool,” Schneider said. “It’s tight and there are a lot of bodies in there, but we’re making the best of what we have.”

Ringeisen and his wife Joyce (a nurse) have been married for 34 years. Their son Alex is in medical school and their daughter Rachel is training to become a physical therapist. Family and community are vitally important to Ringeisen, who stresses to his athletes that sports translate to life.

“The sports we play and the things we coach are important,” he said. “But the life lessons are much more important. You compete with people, not against people. You learn to collaborate. You learn to ask for help and help others. We tell our kids they must conduct themselves with class and integrity, that they’re representing their family, their school and their team.”

Every practice includes a quote of the day and discussions that extend beyond sports. During one recent practice, the quote of the day was written on a white board on the pool deck at Kenwood Trail Middle School: “Teammates are forever!”

“We have a teaching session every day. We don’t just practice,” Ringeisen said. “I always tell kids practice is the place we get to go to every day. We check our bags and leave our baggage at the door. Teammates are forever. It’s the camaraderie, it’s what you accomplish together.”

Lakeville South athletic director Neil Strader said Ringeisen always cares about details and the people he works with.

“I’ve never been around a guy who cares more to do all the details the right way,” Strader said. “He’s so diligent in doing things the right way and asking me time and time again, ‘Do we have anything else to cover? Is there anything else we should talk about?’

“As a younger athletic director, those of us in the profession need someone to confide in, someone who’s been there. Ringer’s been a wealth of knowledge for me and a calming presence. He’s the first guy to talk to and he always has great advice. He’s a good friend to go to.”

Ringeisen, who has coached two generations of some Lakeville families, is always gratified when former athletes get in touch with him.

“I love to get an email from an athlete who wants you to know the affect you had on them,” he said. “They want you to meet their kids or introduce you to the person they’re engaged to. Those are the moments that touch your heart.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 13
*Miles John has driven: 268
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

Remembering The Legendary Bob Laufenburger
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/20/2012 10:48:42 AM

If you didn’t know Bob Laufenburger, it’s a safe bet that Bob officiated during one (or dozens or hundreds) of the athletic contests you have attended over the years. Bob, who passed away last week at 67 after battling cancer, was a legendary figure in Minnesota amateur sports, including MSHSL sports. Bob’s funeral was held Saturday in Redwood Falls.

The Redwood Falls resident was a registered MSHSL official for nearly four decades. He officiated MSHSL football, baseball, softball and volleyball, and served as an assignor and charter clinician for the Redwood Officials Association. Bob served as a rules clinician for softball during the 1990s before being promoted to head rules clinician for baseball and softball in 1998. He officiated in the state football tournament and softball tournament before becoming supervisor of officials at the state baseball and softball tournaments during the 1990s.

“In southwest Minnesota , there are not too many gyms or fields where Bob hasn’t been,” said MSHSL associate director Kevin Merkle, who served as a pallbearer. “And he had such a sense of humor. He was a storyteller.”

Fred Bloedow, a softball, baseball and volleyball official who worked with Bob for 32 years, said, “Bob was always a professional as far as the rules go. There wasn’t anything that he didn’t know. You always felt more comfortable when you were working with Bob. However, he was there to mentor as well. He would tell you not what you did wrong, but what you should do to improve.

“Not only was he a great official and assigner, Bob was a great person. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for you or any young kid. He always tried to recruit young officials, and that’s what he was all about; making sure the teams you worked for, you were able to give them your best. That’s what Bob was all about.”

Bob is survived by his wife Carolyn of Redwood Falls; sons Ryan (Sarah) Laufenburger and Rhett (Kimberly) Laufenburger all of Sun City, Arizona; daughters Tammy (Mark) Almich of Buffalo Lake and Kirsten (Larry) Krier of Inver Grove Heights; grandchildren Alex, Zach, Claire, Casey, Carly, Asher, Kevin, Michael and Parker; sister Lea Ann (Gary) Berau of Waconia; brother Dennis (Ruth) Laufenburger of Chanhassen; brother-in-law Norm (Ginny) Simondet of Mound; and sister-in-law Mary Simondet of Glencoe.

Here is further information about Bob …

Robert “Bob” Laufenburger of Redwood Falls died Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at his home. Funeral services will be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 18, 2012 from Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Redwood Falls with burial to follow in the Redwood Falls Cemetery.

Arrangements are with Nelson-Martin Funeral Service of Redwood Falls. E-mail condolences may be sent via www.nelsonmartinfuneralservice.com.

Robert Dale Laufenburger, the son of Arthur Robert and Marge (Haugen) Laufenburger, was born January 2, 1945 in Minneapolis. Bob was raised in Waconia where he received his elementary and high school education. He attended Hamline University, Bemidji State, and Mankato State College, graduating with Bachelor of Science degrees in Physical Education and “Park & Rec.” He entered the United States Navy in 1969 and was stationed in San Diego, California with Com Nav Air Pac. Bob received a commendation from the Admiral of the Pacific Fleet and was honorably discharged in 1972.

He married Carolyn Simondet on March 24, 1992 in Las Vegas, Nevada and they have resided in Redwood Falls since. He was previously married to Patricia Martino; that marriage ended in divorce.

In 1973 Bob began his administrative career with the Redwood Falls school district and city as the first Community Education/Recreation Director. The “lighted school” concept was in its infancy with the premise that schools need not be locked up at night. Thus began many programs which Bob established and are still in effect today. Along with the usual adult offerings, he instigated and oversaw Early Childhood/Family Education, SAC, (School Age childcare), the GED program, supervised the mural painting in downtown Redwood Falls, and was highly involved in the building of the Community Center and the Intergenerational Center. He was highly respected throughout the state and at National conventions was sought out for advice because of Minnesota’s advanced Community Ed system.

Bob supervised the Redwood Falls school and city programs by himself with a part time assistant secretary; then, after 20 years, the city took over the rec program with a staff of five. Bob continued on with Community Ed with added responsibilities such as school rentals, building supervision and school bus training. He served on the Board of the Minnesota Community Education in l994, l996-98. After retirement he became sexton of the Redwood Falls Cemetery and worked recently for the U. S. Dept. of Commerce as a field representative in the Census Bureau.

Bob was an athlete in high school, playing all sports, but went to college with scholarships in football. He played at Hamline, Rochester Community College, and Bemidji State. He began his officiating career 40 years ago while in college in Mankato. The name Bob Laufenburger was synonymous with softball in Minnesota for more than three decades, leading to Bob’s induction into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame in 2004. He began his umpiring career 40 years ago and officiated at countless district state and regional tournaments, seven national tournaments and several NCAA regional tournaments. Bob was a positive influence on the development of hundreds of umpires throught the state through the positions he held as MSF District Two Umpire-in-Chief, State Men’s Fastpitch Umpire-in-Chief, Head Clinician and Rules Interpreter for the Minnesota State High School League and a member of the National Federation of High Schools baseball rules committee. His teaching, mentoring and evaluation of officials greatly increased participation and helped raise the standards of amateur sports officiating.

He also has officiated football for 39 years, volleyball and basketball; he was honored by the Minnesota State H.S. Baseball Coaches Association, in 2010, with the Angelo Giuliani Award.

Bob has been described by Kevin Merkle of the Minnesota State H. S. League as the face of Minnesota Baseball/Softball. Sadly he was unable to supervise officials this spring for the MSHSL State Softball and Baseball tournaments and Championship games at Target Field as his cancer became very aggressive and health deteriorated, even though he had the scheduling completed and ready to go.

His wife often said, “See the world, marry an umpire,” as most of their travels were to ball fields. For many years she accompanied him and met a diverse group of officials from all over the country who remain friends with great respect for Bob. He was not boastful or took himself too seriously but was dead serious about “the game” and practiced and taught it. One of his strong attributes was his ability to remind players they are playing a game and to keep things in perspective. He usually accomplished this with his disarming sense of humor. Bob was a member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and often accompanied his wife to St. Cornelia’s Episcopal Church where she is the church musician.

Bob was happiest when with his children and grandchildren and proud of their accomplishments big and small, whether it was an Eagle Scout award, football game, dance recital, soccer game, or first trip to the grown up potty. Each accomplishment received equal praise. Bob’s thoughts were never far away from his daughter, Greta, who also had a valiant five-year fight with cancer.

He was preceded in death by his parents; and his daughter, Greta, in 1991.

He will be sadly missed by his family and beloved wife, Carolyn.

Everything Is New And Exciting For The Titans Of Tri-City United
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/13/2012 7:47:12 PM

Monday was Day One of fall sports practices in Minnesota, with workouts beginning at schools from border to border. Day One is always a big day, but nowhere was it bigger this year than for the Titans of Tri-City United.

If you have never heard of Tri-City United, that’s understandable. It’s a brand new school, a consolidation of Montgomery-Lonsdale and Le Center. The school district is located between the Twin Cities and Mankato, and Day One was filled with new things: New nickname, new school colors, new logo (a powerful image of a hand gripping a lightning bolt), new teammates and an entirely new identity. There are no more Le Center Wildcats or Montgomery-Lonsdale Redbirds. Everybody is a Titan.

“It’s a brand new school so everything’s different,” said senior football player Ryan Iverson. “It’s exciting, it’s a new atmosphere.”

Classmate and teammate Austin Buss agreed, saying, “ I really feel like what we start this year is going to be the standard for the future. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

The cornerstone of the new district is a spectacular new high school. An elementary school in Montgomery was replaced with a state-of-the-art building for high school students; it’s a beautiful, open, light-filled building that is packed with technology and is being rushed to completion for the first day of classes on Sept. 4.

“I think it’s great,” Iverson said. “The school we were in here in Montgomery was a 1936 building, it was old, it was run-down, no air conditioning. And this is state of the art.”

FALL TEAMS KICKED OFF the season Monday with introductions and instructions. Le Center and Montgomery-Lonsdale had cooperative teams in girls basketball, wrestling and all spring sports during the 2011-12 school year, so many of the athletes were already familiar with their teammates.

“The first day is really about trying to get a routine established, getting to know the kids, getting the kinks out, that kind of stuff,” said cross-country coach Brian Fogal. “Le Center never had cross-country so we haven’t gotten many kids from Le Center. But the new setup, with where everything’s located, the logistics, that’s the hardest thing right now.”

Fall sports at Tri-City United are football, volleyball, girls tennis and girls and boys cross-country. The Titans will compete in the Minnesota River Conference.

The football team held a morning workout Monday at the old high school in Montgomery (which is being converted into an elementary/middle school), with the day’s second practice to be held in Le Center. The cross-country team drilled at the new high school, the tennis players were on courts in Le Center and the volleyball team practiced at the old high school in Montgomery.

The trio of communities – marked by peaceful, tree-lined streets and manicured lawns and surrounded by rolling farmland – form a line that runs southwest from Lonsdale (population 3,692), where it’s less than 12 miles to Montgomery (2,950) and a similar distance from Montgomery to Le Center (2,495). The new high school is expected to have a 2012-13 enrollment of around 550 students.

Titans activities director Greg Feddema said voters in the Montgomery-Lonsdale district had previously approved the construction of the new high school before a vote to consolidate the two districts was held. That took place in June 2011. Voters in all three communities approved the merger, even though it meant Le Center would no longer have a high school.

“It’s a challenge for any small town to lose their high school,” Feddema said. “I really do think our superintendent, Matt Helgerson, and our administrative team has communicated very well and been very honest with everyone about what to expect, what this construction project was going to be all about and what we wanted to do in regards to athletics and things like that.

“I think last Thursday, when we had an open house, opened some eyes for the public. The high school is very nice, the facility is state of the art, and that will help. Our next challenge is to, just like every school district, try and improve test scores and make sure that the academic rigor is there. Those things aren’t quite as tangible as the physical building, but obviously more important.”

MONDAY’S PRACTICES WERE well-planned by veteran coaches. “The first day, we just try to get everybody on the same page, teach the drills and later on we’ll know what we’re doing and they can jump into the drills,” said football coach Ken Helland, who coached in Le Center for 12 years and is a 33-year veteran. “The first day is the first day; we just kind of have to get through it. We get to know the kids a little bit more and teach them what we want done so later in the week we can get into the drills a lot faster.”

Girls tennis coach Phil Murray (the school does not have a boys tennis team) has taught and coached in Le Center for 25 years. Of the merger he said, “The kids are great with it, it’s the adults who struggle. And teachers struggle because for a lot of them there’s a change. The kids have really been good and I don’t expect that they’ll ever be anything but good. They’re a lot more resilient than we think they are.”

Volleyball coach Becky Madison, who has been on the Montgomery-Lonsdale volleyball staff for five years and is beginning her fourth year as head coach, helped mold the future by having players from both schools play Junior Olympic and summer volleyball together. That’s now paying off as the Titans open practice.

“I feel like a lot of them have kind of found their niche and they’ve made new friends,” Madison said. “It’s fun to see them interact with each other and give different girls a hard time. They’re starting to really forge friendships.”

Some athletes admit to being a little nervous about new classmates and new routines, but there is also a strong sense of excitement for what the future holds.

“I think we’re going to have a lot of new traditions,” said senior tennis player Beth Steinborn. “This is our only year going there, and we’re going to start a whole bunch of traditions.”

Junior volleyball player Alyshia Angileno said, “It’s really weird seeing how things are now, from being here last year. It’s so different than everything last year, but it’s a good different.”

It certainly is.

--To see a photo gallery from Tri-City United, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 3
*Miles John has driven: 247
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

Getting A Preseason Football Fix At Hopkins And Minnetonka
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/9/2012 11:41:07 PM

Seventeen high school football teams in Minnesota have gotten a head start by beginning practice this week in anticipation of playing Zero Week games Aug. 24 or 25. Those teams come in all sizes, from the smallest (Hancock, with a high school enrollment of 56 students) to Minnetonka (2,750).

This is only the first week of practice for those 17 teams, with everyone else beginning workouts next Monday. There are many more questions than answers for every football team at this point, but by the time Minnetonka and Hopkins meet in an Oct. 17 Lake Conference game that will end the regular season, most questions will have been answered.

I visited both of those teams during practice Thursday, which was their first day in full pads after three mandated days of conditioning drills. This is head coach Dave Nelson’s 11th season at Minnetonka (which won the Class 5A state title in 2004), and Nelson (pictured) has molded the Skippers into one of the top programs in the state; they have finished 8-3 in two of the past three seasons. Hopkins was 3-6 last year, after having won eight, seven and seven games in the previous three seasons. Hopkins coach John DenHartog is in his eighth season with the Royals.

As expected, optimism reigns for both teams. Hopkins senior wide receiver/free safety Zac Merie told me, “I think we’re going to have a pretty good season. Last year wasn’t our best season, but our senior class is really strong. We had a lot of junior starters last year and we’re expecting big things.”

The words of Minnetonka senior defensive end Mike Redmond were similar: “I think we’ll be better than last year. The coaches said we have a lot of talent in this group and they’re saying this could be the best team they’ve seen since 2004, even better than 2004.”

Baseball fans know that name … Mike Redmond was a catcher for the Twins from 2004 to 2009. But Minnetonka’s Mike Redmond wasn’t the only familiar name I ran across Thursday. During practice at Hopkins, I interviewed a football player named Jared Allen. But this wasn’t THAT Jared Allen.

The Jared Allen most fans know is the defensive end who plays for the Vikings. This Jared Allen is a senior linebacker for the Hopkins Royals. I said to him, “Hey! You’re supposed to be in Mankato!” He graciously laughed at my joke … which he probably heard for about the 900th time.

Hopkins and Minnetonka are on the Zero Week plan because they have scheduling problems. They are in the Lake Conference along with Wayzata, Eden Prairie and Edina. That’s only five teams, which means those schools need to find four non-conference opponents each year. Minnetonka will open the season at Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wis. (located between Milwaukee and Madison) and Hopkins will play at Milwaukee’s Alexander Hamilton on Sept. 14. Hopkins will open the season with an Aug. 25 home game against Episcopal of Houston, Texas.

A big change this season is the addition of a new division; Class 6A consists of the largest 32 schools in the state. But that does nothing to solve the problems of filling schedules.

“It’s fine, it’s a neat deal,” DenHartog (pictured) said of being in 6A. “One of my biggest concerns is always the schedule part of it. It doesn’t improve our schedule. I’d love for that to come up. This year we go to Milwaukee and that costs some money that we’d rather spend on shoulder pads and helmets. We got lucky with Episcopal from Houston coming up. I’d love to see us come up with something where we could get a full schedule.”

One suggestion for filling schedules – which is a problem around the state for schools of all sizes – is having teams play their section opponents during the regular season. Nelson favors that approach.

“It might ultimately come down to section football, where our section is our conference,” he said. “If this thing doesn’t get fixed, down the road I think that’s what’s going to happen.

“Our league is a really good league, but with only five teams it doesn’t seem like a league. I was always a conference proponent but I would just as soon go to sections. I know a lot of guys like their league and they have history and tradition, but to me it makes sense. I think that’s where we’ll be headed if something doesn’t change.”

Other tidbits from Thursday’s football visits …

--Hopkins’ Merie (left in this photo, with Allen on the right) on the opposition: “The Lake Conference is always good. I’d say our biggest competitor is going to be Minnetonka. Eden Prairie and Wayzata are not as strong, we’re stronger. Minnetonka is definitely going to be the toughest game.”

--DenHartog, assessing his team: “We’re not real big but I think we’ll continue to be very athletic. I think we’ve got a lot of tough-minded kids here. Our leadership group is a bunch of tough kids. I think we’ll come out and be a little more hard-nosed than we’ve been in the past. We’ll spread it around and try to use our speed, get our guys in open spaces. That’s our game. If I had my wish I’d rather be a power football running team, but that’s just not what we’re blessed with. We are blessed with a lot of speed and athletic ability and it’s fun to see them run around.”

--Minnetonka senior safety/receiver Malcolm Moore suffered a broken foot in a passing league six weeks ago. Nelson said he doesn’t expect Moore to be available for the season opener. “We hope to get good news soon. He works in the pool and today he got on a bike for the first time. We just hope it heals right and he doesn’t come back and be limping again a week later.”

--Minnetonka senior guard Jack Bixler on Zero Week practices: “It’s pretty much the same thing. We’re coming, working hard, trying to get ready the best we can. It’s just a week earlier, it’s no different in our minds.”

--Minnetonka’s Redmond on the Skippers’ top rivals: “I think it’s a tie between Eden Prairie and Wayzata. Last year we lost to Eden Prairie in the section championship. That was no fun. So I feel like there’s a bigger target for us to take them out this year. They’re ranked 20th in the nation, which is cool, but they haven’t proved anything yet. Everyone’s even.”

--First freebie of the season: A member of the Minnetonka staff smiled and handed me a nice cold can of Diet Coke. It tasted great.

--See photo galleries from Hopkins and Minnetonka on the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 2
*Miles John has driven: 171
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

Help Me Make My Plans For Monday's Big Day
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/8/2012 8:55:50 PM

As we get closer to Monday and the start of fall practices around the state, I am working on a coverage plan for the first day of workouts.

This statement has been posted on the MSHSL Facebook page ...

"The MSHSL's John Millea will choose one school to report from on Monday, the first day of practice for fall sports teams. He will spend much of the day at that school, watching workouts, interviewing coaches and athletes, shooting photos/video and producing a full report for John's Journal and this Facebook page. Does anyone have any suggestions on a school for him to visit????"

I am always open to suggestions, so jump on Facebook and, uh, tell me where to go.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 0
*Miles John has driven: 108
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

Welcome to 2012-13 … It’s Time To Begin Anew
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/5/2012 8:40:24 PM

In most schools around our state, Aug. 13 is the day when a new year of activities will begin. That’s because Aug. 13 is the day when practices can start for fall sports. But for 17 football teams, the new year begins a week early … on Aug. 6.

Those 17 teams will play Zero Week games on either Aug. 24 or Aug 25. The rest of Minnesota’s football teams will begin their season – practice and games – one week later. Zero Week was instituted last year in order to assist teams that have problems filling an eight-game regular-season schedule.

Next Monday, practice fields, courts and pools all over our state will be buzzing with activity. By then, soccer, cross-country, girls’ tennis, girls’ swimming and diving, girls’ volleyball and football teams will all be in full swing.

I’m starting to map out my plans for preseason stories, and I’m always happy to get feedback and ideas. If you’ve got a great story brewing in your school, your conference or your area, drop me an email.

It’s time for the fun to begin!

*Schools/teams John has visited: 0
*Miles John has driven: 108
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

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