John's Journal
Krissy Wendell, Tori Holt To Co-Host New Prep Sports TV Show8/18/2014
Here is a press release announcing an exciting new weekly prep sports TV show that will air Saturday nights at 11 on KSTC Channel 45, the television partner of the MSHSL...

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA – School Space Media announces today that they have agreed to partner with Hubbard Broadcasting to air MN Prep Spotlight on 45TV (KSTC). MN Prep Spotlight will be co-hosted by two-time Olympic hockey player Krissy Wendell, and returning for his second year will be host Tori Holt. Prep Spotlight is a half-hour show containing human-interest features and highlights/scores on all parts of Minnesota high school athletics.

“I am really excited to join the show,” said Wendell, a pioneer in girls sports in Minnesota. “I have always talked about how passionate I am regarding high school athletics and I am very eager to get started this coming fall.”

The coverage will begin with the first show airing on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 at 11 p.m. on 45TV. Prep Spotlight will continue to air in that time slot throughout the fall, winter and springs sports season, covering all MSHSL athletics. The program also will be available on the internet at www.schoolspacemedia.tv.

“Adding Krissy to our team demonstrates our commitment to providing knowledgeable and insightful analysis into prep sports in Minnesota,” said School Space Media president Brian Nicohlson. “Her experience as a prep athlete, a two-time Olympian and lifelong athlete helps Prep Spotlight share stories of interesting and exceptional young athletes and those who help shape them.” (Pictured are Tori Holt and Krissy Wendell.)

“MN Prep Spotlight is a wonderful way to showcase the outstanding athletes and teams in Minnesota,” said Dave Stead, executive director of the Minnesota State High School League. “And as a co-host Krissy Wendell is a recognizable, knowledgeable, and well-respected athlete whose successful career has continued to stay connected to our Minnesota schools and communities.”

Last season School Space Media produced the Conference Spotlight that streamed on Schoolspacemedia.tv. Besides Conference Spotlight, which has been re-branded as MN Prep Spotlight, Schoolspacemedia.tv also will produce up to 18 live game streams of football, soccer and basketball games each week. School Space Media will produce 40 MN Prep Spotlight shows for the 2014-15 high school sports season.

Wendell is a Park Center High School graduate where she was an all-state athlete in hockey and softball. She continued her career in hockey at the University of Minnesota, where she was an All-American, co-captain, and Patty Kazmier Award winner (given to the top collegiate women's player in the nation). In addition to being part of two NCAA championship hockey teams, she also competed in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Wendell recently joined the 45TV broadcast team as a studio analyst during the MSHSL girls state hockey tournament. She is an assistant coach of the girls hockey team at Cretin Derham-Hall High School in St. Paul; the head coach is her husband Johnny Pohl, a former Red Wing, University of Minnesota and NHL player.

In 1994 Wendell became the fifth girl to play in the Little League Baseball World Series and the first to be in the starting lineup.

Host Tori Holt is a 1993 Apple Valley High School graduate who has been a play-by-play broadcaster and sideline reporter for the past four years on the MSHSL tournaments on 45TV. Holt has twice been part of a team that has won a Regional Emmy for “Best Live Program Event/Special.” He currently is on staff at School Space Media, attended St. Cloud State University and coaches varsity high school baseball at Apple Valley.

In addition to hosts Tori and Krissy, Eric Nelson of WCCO Radio will file weekly reports, as will newcomer Charlie Beattie.

More on School Space Media:

School Space Media, LLC is a St Paul-based company that provides media platforms focused on the audiences that attend prep sports. SSM connects fans to information about prep sports, advertisers to the audiences that attend varsity level events and shares revenue with partner locations.

For more information contact Andy Price at aprice@schoolspacemedia.com (612) 366-0421 or Tori Holt at Tholt@schoolspacemedia.com or (970)567-7723. Follow MN Prep Spotlight @mnprepspotlight and “Like” our School Space Media Facebook page.
Coming Off Dream Year, Chatfield Football Ready For More 8/14/2014
CHATFIELD – Jeff Johnson, the head football coach at Chatfield High School, was chatting in a quiet classroom Wednesday a few moments after the football players had wrapped up a whiteboard cranial session and returned to the practice field.

I mentioned the 2013-14 school year, which is one that will live forever in the memories of residents in this town of 2,700 south of Rochester. The Gophers won the Class 2A football state championship, the 1A wrestling state title, and the baseball team finished third at the 1A state tournament.

“Dream year,” Johnson said. “Dream year. Truthfully, if that ever happens again, it might not be for a long time. It was unbelievable.”

The Gophers girls teams didn’t have a bad year, either. The volleyball team came within one victory of the state tournament, the basketball team reached the subsection final and the softball team (also coached by Johnson) came within a whisker of winning the section title and going to state.

“It was an unreal year, for the boys and the girls,” Johnson said.

Ten minutes later, Johnson was on the football practice field along with three assistant coaches and a band of Gophers that is hoping to experience another unreal season. Chatfield lost 10 seniors to graduation, and that group set a high bar. Chatfield’s state championship in 2013 was the school’s first since a three-year run of titles in 1994, 1995 and 1996.

“It started with a group of kids who really loved the game of football,” said Johnson, a Pine Island native who played football at Winona State and is in his ninth year as the Gophers head coach after two years as an assistant. “And they realized year in and year out, every year as they got closer to their senior year, the more work they had to put in during the offseason if they wanted to beat some of our biggest rivals.

“Caledonia was a powerhouse down here for many, many years and they were tired of getting outmatched by them. We had a little bit of disappointment the year before, we only lost 6-0 when we really thought we could beat them. But those kids said, ‘Hey, we didn’t and we’ve got to put in that much more time.’ And they really worked their tails off and started really working hard in the offseason. That’s where it starts. It starts with the kids and wanting to win.”

Wednesday’s two-hour practice (the second of the day) was an exercise in precision, detail and hard work. The players were split into four groups, each working with one of the coaches. There were passing/defending drills, work on the blocking sled, a station for offensive reps, defensive line drills and more. Since the Gophers will play a Zero Week game (vs. Fillmore Central on Aug. 22), they had been in full pads for nearly a week, but there was a much stronger focus on technique than contact.

Neighborhood dogs occasionally barked at the commotion of whistles and voices.
When water breaks were called, the players sat in the shade under a storybook stand of large pines that ring two sides of the practice field. The practice began at 11 a.m.; when the end came two hours later, the sun was high and hot. But the Gophers know what it takes to become a champion.

“I think that we’re going to have a really, really great year,” said spectacularly named senior Julius General. “Everybody’s very connected and everybody will get time to play and just have fun together.”

Chatfield’s only loss last year came against Caledonia 19-18 in the season opener. The tide turned in the Section 1 championship game, when the Gophers defeated the Warriors 13-10 in overtime (ending Caledonia’s six-year run of state playoff appearances, which included five titles). The Gophers followed with state tourney victories over Jackson County Central, Hawley and finally Minneota in the Prep Bowl.

Playing six postseason games (after eight in the regular season) is a big bonus for young players looking for future playing time.

“All those sophomore who dressed with us last year, they got to practice in the R.C.T.C. (Rochester Community and Technical College) bubble, on the turf at Kasson-Mantorville, they played in the Metrodome,” Johnson said. “So that’s a huge advantage going into this year. If you do that for two or three consecutive years, like Caledonia did before that, those kids are almost getting a full extra football season in once they become seniors.

“We lost 10 seniors, which isn’t a lot. But all 10 of those seniors were very good athletes and they all contributed big time. So we’ve got some holes to fill. But we return a lot of kids who got either a lot of playing time or a little bit of playing time.”

The players know what needs to be done as a new season approaches.

“Last year’s success really helped us see that we can be on top again,” said senior Hank Friederichs. “It’s not going to be given to us, but if we work hard and get the job done it will be us again.”

Senior Tommy Jech said, “Everybody’s kind of bought into the program over the last two years because we’ve had such good success. Even though we did lose a lot of people, we’re getting new people in because everybody’s buying in. We have a bunch of people that can step up.”

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

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 6
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 369
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Day One: 17 Hours, Five Teams, 191 Miles And Lessons Learned8/11/2014
I was walking from the football locker room to the gymnasium at Park High School. The closer I got to the gym, the louder the music became until I recognized the tune: the Ozzy Osbourne classic “Crazy Train.” I walked into the gym to see the cheerleaders doing their stuff while the pep band played before a large contingent of students and other fans.

This was at 11:40 p.m. Sunday. Monday was the first day practices could be held for fall sports in Minnesota, and the Park football team was getting a jump. The Wolfpack team entered the gym shortly after I did, which had the fans on their feet as the band played the school song. Coach Darin Glazier took the microphone and thanked the band, cheerleaders and fans for being there, introduced the team captains and talked about the season ahead.

Shortly before midnight, Glazier said “Let’s go” and everybody went out to the stadium. The lights were turned on at the stroke of midnight as the football players whooped and hollered and began drilling.

For the 2014-15 school year, Monday was day one. Or Day One if you prefer. After my “Park After Dark” visit, I returned home and slept for a bit before visiting four other teams on Day One. Here’s what happened …

11:35 p.m. Sunday/ 12-year-old Jake Kuemmel, son of Park activities director Phil Kuemmel, handed me my first Diet Coke of the new year. It was a 12-ounce shortie, since we all know late-night caffeine can be a sleep-stopper. Jake and his dad stood at the panel of switches that operate the lights at the stadium, with Phil waiting until Monday’s official arrival to flip them on. By this time the team was waiting in one darkened end zone and the fans were in the darkened stands. And then: Let there be light … and a new season.

1:06 a.m./ Arrive home and hit the hay (miles traveled: 51.6).

6:30 a.m./ Alarm clock blows the whistle and off we go.

6:58 a.m./ Turn the key in the John’s Journal Toyota Camry and hit the road.

7:52 a.m./ Arrive at Wayzata High School in Plymouth (miles traveled: 87.6).

The Trojans won Class 2A state championships in girls and boys cross-country last year, after which girls coach Dave Emmans was named girls cross-country coach of the year by the National High School Coaches Association.

Boys coach Bill Miles, who began his cross-country coaching career 45 years ago at Cretin High School and has been at Wayzata for 39 years, welcomed 140 boys and five assistant coaches to the first day of workouts. With those large numbers, it was no surpise that Day One logistics included eight color-coded clipboards that carried various informational categories.

“It’s a new start, obviously,” Miles said. “It’s exciting to see all the kids and sort of thrilling to see the new kids, the kids who haven’t been here before. You hope that they end up having a four- or six-year high school experience for a lifetime of running and being part of that running community. It’s very fun that way.

“It’s like the first day of school. It’s a new start and everybody can relate to that.”

9:02 a.m./ Arrive at Minnetonka (miles traveled: 101.8).

The girls soccer team is practicing on one of the schools’s four artificial-turf fields. Coach Jeff Hopkins -- whose team won the 2A state championship last season – and his assistants are watching juniors and seniors in the tryout phase of the preseason. Twenty-nine players are wearing numbered jerseys, playing seven-on-seven on two shortened fields as the coaches make marks on clipboards.

The Skippers’ practice began at 8 a.m. and ends at 9:30. They will return later in the day for another workout. Before they depart, Hopkins leaves them with a few brief messages: “Have a passion and be able to compete.” And “We want you to have an impact on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”

“We’re really excited,” Hopkins told me as we chatted about Day One. “It’s an opportunity for the kids to come in, and we look for kids who are passionate to be here. I always tell the girls on the first day, ‘The best job you can ever have is to play soccer and be with your friends.’

“I think the expectations are high. But I always say that we have a whole different team each year. The expectations are that we continue to try to be competitive and try to develop players and also try to win.”

Rebekah Thoresen, one of the seniors on the team, said, “The total goal would be to win state again. That’s like a total dream of everyone. Even though we won last year, winning it two times would be the best gift ever in our senior year.”

10:16 a.m./ Arrive at Southwest Christian High School in Chaska (miles traveled: 119.8).

The Stars won the Class 1A state volleyball championship last year with a team dominated by a superb senior class. On Day One, 29 girls (ninth-graders through seniors) are on the court with coach Greg Sayuk. The first day of practice means working on more than volleyball skills, however.

“On Day One every year we spend a lot of time talking about expectations; what the coaches expect of the players and more importantly what the players expect of each other,” Sayuk said. “We kind of have three things that we’re looking for. One is represent the program; two is love everybody else first, making sure you put your teammates before yourself; and the third thing is personal responsibility.”

Sayuk and his wife Kari were expecting the volleyball season to be interrupted by an important event: the birth of their first child. The due date was Sept. 1, but Dominik Sayuk chose his own birthday, arriving five days before practice began.

11:47 a.m./ Arrive home, grab some lunch and get some other work done (miles traveled: 152.3).

3:45 p.m./ Arrive at South St. Paul (miles traveled: 171.7).

Everything was different on this practice field. This wasn’t Day One for the Packers but Day Six; they will play a Zero Week game against Chanhassen and began practice a week early in order to do so. They were wearing full pads and playing full-contact football. This was spirited, this was up-tempo.

One of the quarterbacks lined up behind center and shouted “Ninety-Eight! Ninety-Eight! Milwaukee!” The ball was snapped and the pads popped. Head coach Chad Sexauer exhorted the defense, “Eleven helmets to the football!”

“For us it’s been five kind of fun days, enjoying and talking about kids and the great things they’re doing,” Sexauer said. “And then Day Six becomes kind of that contact thing, and four or five kids who were off your radar, all of a sudden they put pads on and they pop onto your radar.”

South St. Paul has one very un-secret weapon in assistant coach Paul Miller, a 1968 Packers grad who coached Apple Valley to three big-school state titles in 16 years, is a former Packers head coach as well as a head coach on the collegiate level at St. Olaf, Hamline and Minnesota-Crookston.

“He’s that Russell Crowe, Beautiful Mind,” Sexauer said. “He just has that ability; he thinks football and lives it and is always doing what’s best for kids. What a mentor for me. I’ve learned so much from him.”

That’s what Day One and Day Six and every day to come is all about for every team. Learning, having fun, doing what’s best for kids.

5:01 p.m./ Home sweet home (miles traveled 191.9).

--To see a photo gallery from John's Day One visits, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 5
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 191
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Prepping For A New Year, Including Zero Week Football7/31/2014
Summer is rapidly winding down, with practices for fall sports officially beginning on Aug. 11. But 33 football teams will get a head start on the 2014 season, beginning practice on Aug. 4 and playing Zero Week games on Aug. 22 or 23.

Zero Week is a tool that helps schools fill their eight-game regular-season schedules. All Zero Week teams will have a bye week later in the season, when no football-specific workouts can be held. With the debut of district football scheduling in 2015, Zero Week will not be needed.

The MSHSL board of directors will hold its first meeting of 2014-15 on Aug. 5 at Ruttger’s Bay Lake Conference Center near Deerwood. The agenda for the meeting can be found on the mshsl.org main page under “League News.”

I’m always on the lookout for great stories, and I’m excited as a new school year begins. Feel free to send me an email and tell me what’s happening with your team, your school, your conference, etc.

Zero Week Football Games

Friday, Aug. 22 (all games at 7 p.m.)
Park Center at Richfield
Chanhassen at South St. Paul
Worthington at Redwood Valley
Southland at Caledonia
Fillmore Central at Chatfield
Brooklyn Center at St. James
St. Clair at Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity
Bethlehem Academy at Mankato Loyola
Rushford-Peterson at Kingsland
Goodhue at Wabasha-Kellogg
Glenville-Emmons at Lanesboro
LeRoy-Ostrander at Houston
Spring Grove at Lyle/Austin Pacelli
Mabel-Canton at Randolph
Chaska at Menomonie, Wis.
Minnetonka at Hudson, Wis.
Superior, Wis., at Hopkins

Saturday, Aug. 23
Providence Academy at Crookston, 2 p.m.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 0
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 0
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Flashback to 2012: From Nine-Man to 6A, The Football Season Is Underway7/23/2014
As the first day of practices for fall sports -- Aug. 11 -- draws closer, here's another story from the John's Journal archives. This one comes from late August of 2012 and two Zero Week football games; a nine-man contest between Wheaton/Herman-Norcross and Underwood, and a big-school game between Hopkins and the team from Episcopal High School in Houston, Texas...


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.