John's Journal
Class 2A Volleyball Rankings8/6/2019
The preseason Class 2A volleyball rankings, provided by the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association.

Class 2A
1. Stewartville
2. North Branch
3. Concordia Academy
4. Belle Plaine
5. Marshall
6. Kasson-Mantorville
7. Sauk Centre
8. Pequot Lakes
9. SW Christian
10. Watertown-Mayer
Class 1A Volleyball Rankings8/6/2019
The preseason Class 1A volleyball rankings, provided by the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association.

Class 1A
1. Kenyon-Wanamingo
2. Medford
3. Mayer-Lutheran
4. Minneota
5. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown
6. Mable-Canton
7. Ada-Borup
8. Caledonia
9. Carlton
10. Henning
Getting An Early Start On 2019-20 Football Season8/6/2019
The first official day of practices for fall sports is less than a week away, with things kicking off on Monday, August 12. That's the day when girls tennis, girls and boys soccer, girls and boys cross-country, volleyball, girls swimming and diving, and football team workouts begin. Practices for adapted soccer will begin on September 2.

Two football teams, however, are already in the midst of practice this week. The teams from Rush City and Mesabi East will play a Zero Week game to open the season on August 23, one week earlier than the rest of the state's football openers.

Zero Week is an option for teams that have issues filling their regular-season schedules. It's been available for several years, and this is the first year that only two teams had to go to the Zero Week option. Because they start the season one week early, Rush City and Mesabi East will have a bye week later in the season.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
The Best of John's Journal: No. 1/ Henning’s State Champions Will Gather Again For Jacob7/24/2019
Before a recent Minnesota Twins game at Target Field, the boys basketball team from Henning High School was honored. The Hornets made history in March by winning the Class 1A state championship in one of the most memorable postseason runs in Minnesota high school history. The Twins had a special gift for Angie Quam, whose late son Jacob was the inspiration for the Hornets; the Twins presented her with a jersey that had "Quam" and Jacob's number, 33, on the back. The story of Jacob and the Hornets is my favorite piece from the 2018-19 school year, and the reasons are obvious. The story was originally posted on April 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
The Best of John's Journal: No. 2/ Spartans For Life: Lessons Learned On The Football Field7/22/2019
Story No. 2 on the list of my 10 favorite John's Journal entries from 2018-19 is something I will never forget. As I wrote when this story was originally posted on October 27, "what transpired Saturday afternoon after a football game was unlike anything I've ever seen." It was a true testament to "team" and what that word really means.

WATERVILLE -- Spending time on the sideline at sporting events – and on the field of play after contests come to an end -- you see and hear different things. Some are fantastic, some are troubling. I witnessed something Saturday that was extremely inspirational and says a lot about what high school activities can mean to our kids and communities.

Before I go into details on what took place Saturday, we need some important perspective, because everything isn’t always peaches and cream at high school games. This fall I saw two things that made me sick to my stomach: 1) An adult, upset with the officials, yelled something so vile I won’t repeat it here; 2) In the final seconds of a soccer game, two opposing players got tangled up in pursuit of the ball. As they went down to the turf, one of them wrapped the other in a headlock and pulled it tight, then punched the other kid in the stomach. He got up as the final horn blew on his team’s victory, looked at the person he had just punched and waved "bye-bye.” It was despicable.

I don’t know how those things can be stopped, but what transpired Saturday afternoon after a football game was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The setting was the football field in Waterville, home of the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Buccaneers. They hosted the Spartans of St. Clair/Mankato Loyola in a Class 2A Section 2 semifinal playoff game.

Both teams came in with 8-1 records, but this was expected to be a tough lift for the Spartans. The kids from St. Clair and Mankato Loyola almost didn’t get to play football at all this season. Neither school had enough available boys to field a team, so they formed a cooperative team for the first time.

Had each school fielded a team, they both would have been assigned to Class 1A. But the coop system means the two schools had to use their combined enrollment, and that number bumped them up into Class 2A for the postseason. During the regular season, six of the Spartans’ eight opponents were 1A teams.

Waterville-Elysian-Morristown opened the season with a four-point loss to Redwood Valley and hasn’t been beaten since. Saturday’s result was a 35-13 victory over St. Clair/Mankato Loyola, moving the Buccaneers into next Friday’s section championship game against New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva.

W-E-M is an impressive team. Grant McBroom ran for a touchdown and threw to Tanner Ranslow for two scores. The Buccaneers defense made things tough for the Spartans, but the visiting team had some highlights. The biggest came on the Spartans’ third possession, when senior Noah Schruin sprinted 97 yards for a touchdown to forge a 7-7 tie. That pushed Noah past 3,000 career yards.

And to think … he and his teammates almost didn’t have a season at all.

After the game ended at 4:08 p.m., the teams shook hands; players, coaches, managers, cheerleaders in a long, snaking line across the middle of the field. The coaches from St. Clair/Mankato Loyola congratulated the kids and coaches from W-E-M, saying, “Good luck,” “Keep winning, boys” and “Keep it going.”

The Spartans then walked slowly to the north end zone, where they kneeled as head coach Dustin Bosshart spoke to them. Before practice began in August, some of the now-teammates didn’t know each other. And here they were, at the end of the season, brothers, kneeling, some of them in tears and all of them emotional that the end had come.

Bosshart, who is the principal at St. Clair and represents the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals on the MSHSL board of directors, talked to the boys about togetherness, memories, pride and the future.

He thanked them for working so hard and giving everything they had to the team. He talked about the bonds they had formed not only with each other but with their coaches, who come from both schools.

“The coaches who coached you will be there for you for the rest of your lives,” Bosshart said.

“You will remember the lifetime memories you created,” he said as sniffles were heard. “You did it the right way.

“You are a great group and you will accomplish incredible things in your life. Spartan family for life, that’s what you guys are.”

Think about that. Spartans for life. For sports in which the schools don’t have cooperative teams, kids from St. Clair are Cyclones and Mankato Loyola teams are the Crusaders. But during football season, everyone is a Spartan.

With the coach’s remarks complete, the players broke it down for the final time. The boys stood, gathered in a tight bunch, raised their hands together in the middle and said, “One, two three! Brothers!”

Bosshart walked to his wife Cheryl and gave her a kiss. The players’ families and friends stood 20 or so yards away, waiting for the team’s private moment to end. And then another incredible thing happened: It didn’t end.

The players remained together, some hugging, some finding one or more of the coaches to say thank you and share an embrace. Coaches patted boys on the helmet, returned the thank you and told them they loved them. The boys then gathered together once more – not wanting the moment to end -- each of them kneeling, for a few private words. Helmets removed and heads bowed, they prayed.

And then, only then, did the boys begin reuniting with their families. A strapping teenager hugged his grandpa and wept on his shoulder. Moms, dads, friends offered congratulations and condolences on the end of a great season.

“We’ve talked about it all year,” Bosshart said quietly, standing in the end zone. “This is about more than football.”

Good job, Spartans. Well done.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.