John's Journal
Winning Is Important But It Is Not What We Focus On4/11/2016
An insightful note from a Minnesota high school coach was posted on that team’s Facebook page this weekend. It offers reminders of what high school sports is all about, and I’m happy to share it on John’s Journal…

Dear Streaks Softball Players, Fans, and Parents

This past weekend has been one of reflection for me, as head of this softball program. My thoughts have run the gamut of directions, first with our program and what we do to the general state of youth sports today. There is much talk today of the "industry" of youth sports. The money generated, the travel, the specialization of the athlete. As my thoughts raced through all aspects of this issue, I kept coming back to what we do in this program, what we offer in this program, and what we value in this program.

First off, let me say that winning is important. It is important for the team to see collective success. It is important for the athlete to see successes and build confidence. It is important for our program to have success to keep the program strong. BUT....Winning is not what we do. It is not what we focus on. We focus on team. We focus on development. We focus on each individuals’ meaning within the team. We focus on the memories we create together. THAT IS WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT!

As a baseball player growing up in this area, I dreamed of playing major league baseball. I was fortunate enough to have caring coaches and great teammates who helped each other succeed and most of us played at the collegiate level of some sort. As I think of it right now, I believe seven of us played college baseball somewhere. We didn't do it through specializing. We didn't do it through paying thousands of dollars and travel all over the country to play the "best competition," and we didn't do it for exposure. We did it by being a team. By collectively improving together. And we share so many great common memories from it.
As a coach today, I am compelled to try to recreate this experience with our players. At the end of their career, the number of medals, trophies, and honors should matter less than the great times they had with teammates. THAT IS WHAT ATHLETICS IS ABOUT! Especially team athletics.

As the head of this program, I want to reassure you of what we are doing with these great young athletes that we get to work with each week. We stress team, goals, hard work, respect, loyalty and commitment to each other, and the concept of family. We want each of these players to realize success, in their own way. We want each of these players to have balance in their lives. That includes time for family, time for friends, time for faith and time for themselves. Too many athletes today are out of balance, and we will not be a part of the problem, we will continue to be a part of the solution.

Myself and the coaches in this program care about these athletes and will continue to keep the best interests of each of them in our minds and hearts. Our commitment to these great young women is strong and will continue to be so. This program has been in existence for 20 years and each year we get stronger in our values and what we believe in. Along the way we have seen increasing success, but what I am most proud of as a head coach is how we approach the sport and athlete. They are not pawns, dollar signs, or wins. They are great young ladies who we are fortunate to coach for a short time period in their lives. Thank you for your continued support of our program!

John Stigman
Head Coach, Osakis Silverstreak Softball
After ‘Devastating’ Ballpark Fire, Waseca Looks To Rebuild 4/7/2016
WASECA – Clinton “Tink” Larson was standing behind the grandstand at Tink Larson Field here Thursday afternoon. To be more precise, he was standing behind the charred ruins of the wooden grandstand, which was engulfed by fire Wednesday night.

Since sunrise people had been slowly driving past the historic ballpark, which was built as a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s. The fire not only destroyed the grandstand but also turned everything stored under the bleachers into ashes: uniforms, baseballs, all manner of mementos, even the equipment Larson has used to mow the grass and groom the field for decades.

Having just completed an interview with a Twin Cities TV station, Larson, 74, was chatting with me when a pickup pulled up to the curb. The driver leaned over toward the open passenger-side window and had this conversation with Tink…

Driver: “Do you need field equipment? Or a scraper, whatever? To get a game going next week? Let me know, I’ll open the door and you can have it. Whatever you need. Just holler if you need anything.”

Tink: “Thanks, big fella.”

Driver: “This just stinks.”

Tink: “It sure does.”

Driver: “Life’s not fair, my boy.”

Tink: “First Sharon and now this.”

Driver: “You take care of yourself.”

Sharon was Tink’s wife, who died suddenly two years ago. And it’s not a stretch to equate the loss of Tink’s spouse with the loss of his ballpark, where Sharon was a fixture in the concession stand for 44 years and where the Larsons’ children and grandchildren spent countless hours.

Tink looked over the charred wreckage and said, “I had about four sets of jerseys in there, baseballs in there. I had spikes and gloves and everything else in there. You don’t expect it’s going to burn down.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation. A company has been hired to demolish what’s left of the grandstand and haul away the remains; that could happen in the next day or two. Then a temporary backstop fence will be rigged up so the Waseca High School Bluejays can get back to playing on their home field.

The Bluejays were scheduled to open the season Friday at home against Mankato East. That game was moved to Mankato, and a Monday home game with Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton also has been changed to a road game.

“It definitely is devastating,” said Waseca athletic director Joe Hedervare. “With all the history and all the effort Tink put into the facility, it was a beautiful place to play baseball.”

Tink Larson Field and Tink Larson himself are both icons. The graduate of Kasson-Mantorville High School and Minnesota State Mankato was hired as a teacher and baseball coach in Waseca in 1967. During his career with high school, American Legion, VFW and town-team baseball, Larson coached in more than 4,500 games. He’s now a volunteer assistant coach at nearby Minnesota State Mankato.

Larson is a member of 11 Halls of Fame, including the MSHSL and the American Baseball Coaches Association. The Waseca ballpark was named in his honor in 1994.

Tink lives across the street from the ballpark; many foul balls have flown over the third-base fence and landed in his front yard. He was home Wednesday night when the fire broke out.

“My nephew said, ‘Is there something going on at the ballpark? Is there a fire over at the grandstand?’ I looked out the window, and jeepers.”

The ballpark is owned by the City of Waseca, so insurance is expected to cover a portion of the expenses in rebuilding the grandstand. Once temporary fencing is installed behind home plate, a rebuilding project will be put together.

“We’ll have to come up with a permanent plan as to what we’re going to do as far as rebuilding and all that,” Tink said. “That will be a big project.”

Some things simply can’t be replaced, such as several rows of seats that came from Met Stadium, the Twins’ original home in Bloomington.

“The history will be gone and all the memories of all the guys who played here over the years, that will all be gone,” Larson said. “There aren’t many grandstands that have two clubhouses and a locker room and a concession stand and two storage areas. This is a big building.”

The Minnesota State Mankato baseball team will play four games this weekend at University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. That’s a one-way bus ride of nearly eight hours, which Larson said should give him time to start replying to all the emails and text messages he has received in the wake of the fire.

“It’s amazing, all the support that’s coming in,” he said. “Tons of people have said, ‘Let us know how we can help.’ ”

Hedervare said, “It hurts right now. But there’s not a single person in our community who doesn’t believe Tink Larson Field will be back better than ever.”

When Tink walked across the street from his house to the ballfield Thursday morning, one of the local residents was there waiting for him; he had been there since 6:30 a.m.

“He said, ‘You wouldn’t believe the number of cars that were driving by,’ ” Tink said with a quiet chuckle. “The fire chief said, ‘If we would have charged five dollars for every car that drove by, we could rebuild this thing.’ ”

--An account has been set up at Roundbank in Waseca for donations to help rebuild Tink Larson Field. Donations can be sent to Roundbank, 200 2nd St NE, Waseca, MN 56093

--To see photos from Tink Larson Field, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 604
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 9,315
Lessons From Winona: Why We Play, What We Learn4/4/2016
Spring sports are upon us as the weather warms and playing fields become green. But I want to go back a bit to something that took place during the girls state basketball tournament. It’s important stuff, offering important lessons.

What I witnessed centers on the team from Winona. The Winhawks played in the state tournament for the first time since 2003 and played in their first state championship game, where they lost to Holy Angels 51-43 for the Class 3A title. The last time a basketball team from Winona played in a state championship game was 1914, so this was history that was 102 years in the making.

My favorite moments came immediately after the Winhawks played, at Mariucci Arena and Williams Arena. Following handshakes between the teams, the Winona players gathered in front of their fans and band, wrapped their arms around each other and swayed back and forth as the band played a song titled “Varsity” (the alma mater of the University of Wisconsin).

That scene says something about a special connection between the athletes, their fellow students, families and fans from the community. The Winhawks’ basketball season epitomized that connection.

“It was just magical,” Winona coach Tim Gleason said to me during a Sunday afternoon telephone chat, two weeks after the tournament ended. “Even now, around town people come up and say hi and offer congratulations on such a great run by the girls. It was so neat to see so many people come together. And I really feel music is so important. We’re always going to need music, we’re always going to need athletics, because they bring people together. That was so much fun to be a part of.

“Winona is no different than any other town in Minnesota or anywhere else in the nation. There are so many things that people look at that divide us. And it’s so much fun to be part of something that brings people together. I told the girls that they were part of something bigger than basketball, and they should always remember that.”

After their loss in the championship game, Gleason and his players were as sad as you might expect. But the Winhawks also were proud. In the locker room, Gleason told me, senior and leading scorer Hallee Hoeppner talked to her teammates about how proud she was, saying she wasn’t going to let one loss cloud how she felt about what they had learned and accomplished together.

Hallee said the same thing in the postgame news conference: “I just had such a fun time playing with these girls. I told them in the locker room not to be hard on themselves. I have so many memories on and off the court and they have become my best friends. Even if we didn’t get a state title, I’m so happy to have been a part of this team.”

This takes us to Why We Play, an MSHSL initiative that is used to assist coaches in creating the best possible experiences for their athletes and themselves. Why We Play is based largely on a book by Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL player and longtime high school football coach. His book is “InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives.”

All high school coaches in Minnesota have access to Why We Play training. I can summarize Why We Play with this: Teams and athletes strive to be successful and win, but the true purpose of high school athletics is education. Winning is a goal, but education is the purpose.

Why We Play training talks about two types of coaching: transactional and transformational. Transactional coaches view winning as the bottom line. All practices, drills, strategies and techniques are geared toward that result. The means to achieve the win, however necessary, are secondary to winning.

For transformational coaches, however, individual consideration is given to developing athletes as a whole, while understanding that the team is only as strong as its weakest member.

Winona’s Gleason has gone through Why We Play training and has heard Ehrmann speak. After the state title game, he talked about what he has learned.

“(This season has) been full of memories,” he said. “The State High School League has done a lot of work on transformational coaching, the Joe Ehrmann-type mindset. This season with these ladies has typified that and it has probably been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.

“Whatever happens in these kinds of events, and this goes back to the transformational things, these are things that change lives. I hope it changed their lives because it changed mine.”

Winona athletic director Casey Indra is in his second year in that job. He has been instrumental in bringing Why We Play training to his school’s coaches. That process began by informing local school board members about Why We Play and what Indra hoped it would bring to Winona.

“I said at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, if we were going to go in front of our school board and show our plan, we weren’t just going to say that and be done with it,” Indra said. “And I made the comment at the welcome home for our basketball team that (the state tournament) was a perfect Why We Play moment.”

As part of the Why We Play curriculum, coaches are asked to create their own individual purpose statements. Here is Gleason’s: “With the cornerstones of empathy and love, collaboratively, I will provide opportunities for young men and women to pursue excellence in all that they do.”

Tim also is Winona’s head coach for boys and girls track, so he impacts a lot of students as a coach. He is a band teacher, too, adding to that number and his impact.

He has been the Winhawks’ head girls basketball coach for 10 years, and he was an assistant for 11 years before that. His father, Jerry Gleason, a Winona graduate who also was a band teacher, passed away during the basketball season.

Tim said Why We Play training has been instrumental in how he coaches.

“It caused me to think about things more intentionally. Friends help you get through so many things. It’s probably something that I revisited in the last month or so of the season, with trials in my personal life. There were many days and many times I had to lean on the people I coach with and also on the team to get through the day and keep me in a position where I was helping them as much as they were helping me.”

Nine school buses filled with band members and other students traveled from Winona to Minneapolis for the state tournament. Winhawks fans displayed great sportsmanship and cheered their team until the final whistle.

“They came out in full force and I felt our kids cheered with respect to the other team,” Indra said. “They held true to what we believe in. I told them I wasn’t going to remember the score of the game, but I will remember everyone who put together this run. It was the community.”

Gleason said, “To see the MSHSL go to those kinds of training for their coaches, and to kind of see it lived out ... it was not only transformational for the girls but also for me.”

Well done, Winhawks.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 604
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 9,195
State: It Never Gets Old, And It’s Always Special 3/19/2016
State tournaments are special. That’s no secret, certainly. They come along every year in every sport and it may be easy to take them for granted just a bit. I hope that never happens to me or you.

I was reminded again of how awesome our tournaments are while sitting courtside at Williams Arena on Saturday. It was Championship Saturday for girls basketball, with big crowds and talented teams giving it everything they had. In the midst of all this, I had an exchange of online messages with a young friend of mine.

His name is Colin Nelson. He’s a senior and an Honor Roll student at New Ulm Cathedral High School. Colin and I have known each for a while now; he keeps me updated on what’s happening in the New Ulm area and we check in with each other online on a regular basis.

Colin isn’t an athlete but he’s a team manager, a scorekeeper, loves sports and does a lot of things to stay involved. He’s always upbeat and he often sends positive messages to his friends on Twitter. I like that young man a lot.

That’s how Colin and I chatted Saturday, via Twitter. This was our exchange…

Colin: “You're doing an impressive job covering these games. You have a dream job!”

Me: “Thanks Colin. I'm having fun!”

Colin: “5 years as a student manager and didn't make it to the state tournament once... It must be an electric experience.”

Me: “It's pretty cool. Never gets old.”

I cannot be more honest in making that statement. It never gets old. To hear a band strike up the school song as the fans clap along (which is happening as I write this … the teams from Winona and Holy Angels have just taken the court for the Class 3A championship game), well, how can you beat that?

Which brings us to some postgame comments made after the championship games. It’s easy for winning players and coaches to talk after these affairs; when you come out on the short end of the stick, well, it’s not so simple to sit in front of reporters and talk about it.

However, some of the most memorable postgame words came from those on the losing end Saturday.

Maranatha Christian senior guard Alaina Jarnot has played in the last five Class 1A state tournaments; her sister Jaclyn is a sophomore on the team. Alaina will play Division I basketball at Monmouth University in New Jersey. The Mustangs lost in the state championship game last year and this year, which one might think would be a bitter pill for a graduating senior. Not Alaina.

”I’m so blessed to play here,” she said. “I’ve had an amazing coach. My sister, I’m going to miss playing with her so much and all my other teammates. I’ve been to the state tournament since eighth grade. I’m just so happy to be part of this program.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Winona senior Hallee Hoeppner, who led the Winhawks in scoring this season and had a team-high 15 points in the Winhawks’ 51-43 loss to Holy Angels in the 3A title game.

“I’m just really proud to be a part of this team,” Hallee said after fighting back tears (of gratitude, not sadness). “I just had such a fun time playing with these girls. I told them in the locker room not to be hard on themselves. I have so many memories on and off the court and they have become my best friends. Even if we didn’t get a state title, I’m so happy to have been a part of this team.”

And then there was Mike Dreier, coach at New London-Spicer. Mike is as legendary as they come; in 38 years with the Wildcats, he is Minnesota girls basketball’s all-time leader in victories (863) and trips to state (16). His teams have played in eight state championship games, winning titles in 1997 and 2002.

On Saturday, unseeded New London-Spicer lost to a powerful top-seeded team from Plainview-Elgin-Millville 72-42 in the Class 2A championship game. And coach Dreier couldn’t have been more positive afterwards.

“It wasn’t the way we’d like it to end, but what a dream to be where we are,” he said. “We finished third in our conference and it was really a treat to get here. It was a great tournament for us, a great year. I am totally upbeat about what we did.”

Dreier also spoke very highly of Plainview-Elgin-Millville.

“Teams like that usually win state tournaments,” he said. “They’re tough, a well-coached team, good athletes and good size. They were the real deal, the total package and I salute them.”

That is true sportsmanship and total class. Let’s never take those things for granted, either.

CLASS 1A: GOODHUE 89, MARANATHA CHRISTIAN 64

The top-seeded Wildcats won their first state championship in six trips to the tournament. They were the state runner-up in 2010. Maddy Miller led Goodhue with 28 points and 11 rebounds, and Sydney Lodermeier had 24 and 12. Third-seeded Maranatha was led by Alaina Jarnot and Elise Moore with 18 points each,

CLASS 2A: PLAINVIEW-ELGIN-MILLVILLE 72, NEW LONDON-SPICER 42

The top-seeded Bulldogs captured their first title since Plainview merged with Elgin-Millville in 2006. (Elgin-Millville won the 2005 championship). P-E-M was led by Emmaline Polsin with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Sarah Hart had 13 points. Megan Thorson scored 13 for New London-Spicer.

CLASS 3A/ HOLY ANGELS 51, WINONA 43

The fifth-seeded Stars overcame 30-percent shooting to defeat the second-seeded Winhawks. Holy Angels won the game at the free throw line, making 20 of 26 attempts to Winona’s 2 of 4. Laura Bagwell-Katalinich led the Stars with 25 points and 16 rebounds. Hallee Hoeppner scored 15 for the Winhawks.

CLASS 4A/ MINNETONKA 61, HOPKINS 52

The third-seeded Skippers won their first state championship, leading 34-26 at halftime and never trailing in the second half. Top-seeded Hopkins was aiming for its sixth title since 2006. Lizzie Odegard led Minnetonka with 17 points and 23 rebounds, followed by Courtney Fredrickson with 13 points and Chrissy Carr with 10. Ashley Bates led Hopkins with 28 points and Nia Hollie had 18.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--A total of 49 fouls were called in the Goodhue-Maranatha Christian game, 28 on Maranatha. Asked about the officiating, Mustangs coach Chris Buerman said, “I don’t ever believe an official is going to determine the game. At your best you’re going to be 50 percent right. I know if I did the job I would be probably 25 percent right. I complain to officials and then I go back and watch the tape and see that they were usually right.”

--After Sauk Centre lost to New London-Spicer 49-46 in Friday night’s semifinals, two sisters embraced in an emotional hug in a hallway at Williams Arena. Sauk Centre sophomore Kelsey Peschel was wrapped up in the arms of big sister Kali, a senior captain at the University of Iowa who helped the Mainstreeters reach three state tournaments.

--As noted previously in John’s Journal, the Goodhue band and many other students missed Friday’s and Saturday’s games at state because they were in Florida on a school trip. The band from Plainview-Elgin-Millville filled in admirably, playing the Goodhue school song as the Wildcats won the 1A title. That's what you call teamwork.

THIRD-PLACE GAMES

1A/ Mountain Iron-Buhl 65, Wheaton/Herman-Norcross 37
2A/ Roseau 94, Sauk Centre 82
3A/ Thief River Falls 56, Becker 42
4A/ Eagan 53, White Bear Lake 48

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 596
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 9,020

What A Crazy Game: Maranatha Christian Wins In The End 3/18/2016
“It was like the most crazy.”

That statement right there, out of the mouth of Maranatha Christian Academy senior guard Alaina Jarnot, is a very apt description of what transpired at Williams Arena on Friday afternoon.

The third-seeded Mustangs defied the odds and somehow, some way, came out on the top end of a 75-74 overtime decision against Mountain-Iron-Buhl. With three seconds to play in overtime, it looked for all the world like second-seeded Mountain Iron-Buhl would win the game and advance to Saturday’s Class 1A state championship game against top-seeded Goodhue.

But … stuff happens.

Four starters fouled out, two from each team. The score was tied 10 times. The Mountain Iron-Buhl Rangers held a nine-point lead with 6:29 to play in the second half, but after that everything got tossed in a dryer and tumbled around until the outcome was decided.

“It was crazy but I’m so happy we won this game,” said Jarnot, who made eight field goals (half of them from three-point range) in scoring a game-high 21 points.

The crazy train really slipped off the tracks at the end of overtime. The Rangers, trailing by two, were working the ball around the perimeter, looking to make something happen as the clock ticked under 10 seconds. Ninth-grader Allie Negen put up a three-point attempt and was fouled by Maranatha sophomore Jayzryn Thompson. Uh oh.

That foul gave Negen three free throws and she hit them all, putting Mountain Iron-Buhl ahead 74-73. Game over, right?

Wrong. The crazy continued on the other end of the court. After a Ranger foul, Maranatha’s Kylie Post stood at the line with three seconds left in overtime. And she missed ‘em both. And then came the Crazy with a Capital C. Thompson, fresh off the foul that gave the Rangers three free throws and the lead, stood tall.

Jayzryn, who is all of 5 feet, 8 inches and was the third and last player off the bench for the Mustangs, wiggled between the Rangers, grabbed the rebound and returned it skyward.

Basket. Horn. Game over. Pandemonium.

“Incredibly, this is the type of emotion we’ve been playing with for about a month now,” said Maranatha coach Chris Buerman, whose team will take a 26-6 record into the title game with Goodhue (29-4).

Chelsea Mason led Mountain Iron-Buhl with 17 points before fouling out with 35 seconds left in overtime. She wears No. 14 and the Mustangs – especially Jarnot -- will not soon forget her.

“It was really tiring,” Jarnot said. “Fourteen is an amazing player. She can knock down any shots. She’s so phenomenal, she made me really tired.”

Mountain Iron-Buhl had won at Maranatha Christian (in Brooklyn Park) 69-53 in mid-December. Facts like that, of course, go out the window in the state tournament.

“These girls gave it their all,” Rangers coach Jeff Buffetta said. “It was an emotional game with a lot of energy. They did everything we could ask of them. The game came down to somebody making the last play, and they had the last play and we didn’t.”

One year ago, Maranatha Christian lost to Ada-Borup 82-65 in the Class 1A state championship game. The Mustangs have not forgotten about that result, especially the way Ada-Borup piled on the points.

“To reverse last year we’ve got to play some defense,” Buerman said. “We packed it. We’re going to play some defense.”

GOODHUE 74, WHEATON/HERMAN-NORCROSS 35

The Wildcats took the game to running time for the second time in as many games in the tournament. In the quarterfinals, Goodhue beat East Grand Forks Sacred Heart 77-46. Against Wheaton/Herman-Norcross, Maddy Miller scored 24 points for Goodhue and Sydney Lodermeier had 18. Jordan Stafford led the Warriors with 12 points.

CLASS 2A STATE SEMIFINALS

PLAINVIEW-ELGIN-MILLVILLE 87, ROSEAU 78

The top-seeded Bulldogs advanced to Saturday’s title game by holding off the fourth-seeded Rams. Chloe Holtz led P-E-M with 20 points, Sarah Hart had 14 and Emmaline Polson 12. Roseau was led by the Borowicz sisters, who combined for 62 points: junior Kiley had 35, ninth-grader Kacie had 23 and seventh-grader Katie had four.

NEW LONDON-SPICER 49, SAUK CENTRE 46

The unseeded Wildcats (25-6) overcame a three-point halftime deficit and will play in their first state championship game since 2002. Shea Oman scored the winning points with 4.5 seconds to play when she drove the lane, hit the layup, was fouled and made the free throw to make it 49-46. She finished with 10 points and teammates Megan Thorson and Kabrie Weber each had 12. Maesyn Thiesen scored 20 for second-seeded Sauk Centre (30-2).

SATURDAY’S STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES

1A/ Goodhue vs. Maranatha Christian, noon
2A/ Plainview-Elgin-Millville vs. New London-Spicer, 2 p.m.
3A/ Holy Angels vs. Winona, 6 p.m.
4A/ Hopkins vs. Minnetonka, 8 p.m.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 596
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,968