John's Journal
A Change In Prep Bowl Schedule For 2014; No Decision On 201510/3/2013
The MSHSL board of directors on Thursday approved the timing of the Prep Bowl for the 2014 season, which will be the first year of an anticipated two-year stretch in which the football state championship games will be played at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

TCF Bank Stadium will be used for those two years after the Metrodome is torn down and construction progresses on a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. The MSHSL has to work around the university’s own football schedule, so the 2014 Prep Bowl will be played Nov. 21-22, which is the Friday-Saturday prior to Thanksgiving instead of the traditional Thanksgiving weekend games.

In another change – also because of the availability of TCF Bank Stadium – state semifinal football games will not be played at the same site as the Prep Bowl. In 2014 and 2015 those games will be played at various sites, much as the current state quarterfinals are held.

There is more uncertainty about the 2015 Prep Bowl schedule, as well as the entire 2015 football season. That’s because TCF Bank Stadium will only be available for the Prep Bowl two weekends before Thanksgiving. That raises questions such as: should the regular season start two weeks earlier? Should the playoffs be shortened? Should the regular season be seven games instead of eight? Should the Prep Bowl games be played at indoor stadiums in Fargo or Grand Forks, North Dakota?

The board made no decisions about the 2015 football season at Thursday’s meeting. More information will be gathered before such decisions will be made.

In other items from the board meeting …

--The girls and boys state soccer semifinals and finals are expected to be played at St. Cloud State's Husky Stadium in 2014 and 2015. Dates are being finalized and the board is expected to approve tournament schedules at its December meeting.

--The board heard a proposal from the softball advisory committee to add a fourth class in softball and a proposal from the baseball advisory committee to enlarge postseason rosters from 18 to 20 players. The board is expected to vote on both proposals in December.

--Chanhassen High School principal Tim Dorway, a former journalism advisor and current board member of the National Scholastic Press Association, spoke to the board about a proposed partnership between the MSHSL and the Minnesota High School Press Association. This was a discussion item and a vote is expected in December.

--The board honored Tom Johnson for his service as soccer coordinator and rules clinician and Laura Berg Olson for her service as dance team rules coordinator.
Congrats To Winona Cotter's Maura Michener, Old Dutch Athlete Of The Week10/2/2013
Old Dutch High School Athlete of the Week: Maura Michener, soccer, Winona Cotter

The junior is a team captain for the Ramblers and she has been a varsity starter since eighth grade. Maura scored seven of her team’s nine goals in back-to-back victories over Lake City and Caledonia in Hiawatha Valley League play. Through the season’s first 12 games she scored 17 goals.

The Ramblers have several international students on the girls soccer team and Maura has been instrumental in helping them become part of the team, on the field and off. She also helps with a summer soccer program for kids age 5 through 12, is a member of the marching band, pep band, jazz band, track and field team, church choir, church youth group, Irish dance and works part time at Hy-Vee.

Maura also is an honor student who takes Advanced Placement classes, a blood donor, she has twice donated hair to Locks of Love, performs in school plays and musicals and plans to go to Japan as an exchange student next summer.

Congratulations to Maura Michener for being this week's Old Dutch High School Athlete of the week!
MSHSL Board Of Directors Agenda: Football, Soccer And More 10/2/2013
The MSHSL board of directors, which meets six times a year, will gather Thursday at MSHSL headquarters in Brooklyn Center for its October meeting. The agenda includes a wide variety of topics, but football and soccer are likely to garner the post-meeting headlines. Read a preview of the meeting by clicking here.
Nominate Your Favorite Athlete For Old Dutch Athlete Of The Week9/29/2013
Nominations are open for this weekly honor, and you can find all the details by clicking here


All Smiles In Esko: New Stadium, New Turf And A Big Win 9/28/2013
ESKO – First, some relevant numbers from a fun-filled Friday at a football game in northern Minnesota: 28, 14 and one.

The final score in the Great Polar Alliance White Division contest was the Esko Eskomos 28, Two Harbors Agates 14. The key number, however, is one. As in one community coming together for one purpose. And Friday was the one night when everything culminated in one glorious celebration.

After the game/celebration had ended, I asked Esko senior quarterback Marc Peterson about the day.

“Oh, it was fun,” he said, speaking for the whole town. “It was awesome.”

Let’s go back a few years to where Friday’s story began. In the town that’s 10 miles south of Duluth, Les Knuti Field had been in use since the early 1970s. But it was aging as the new century began and everyone knew something should be done. In 2009 a referendum seeking funds for a facility upgrade failed. In 2012 the field’s bleachers were condemned and the fast-failing stadium lights were removed. The knockout blow came in June 2012, when the old ballyard fell victim to massive flooding, as did nearby baseball and softball fields and other places to play.

At this point, drastic action was needed. A committee called Esko Pride was formed last year. The group put together efforts to raise community awareness of the need for improved facilities, and students pitched in to go door to door, do TV interviews, write letters to the editor and hold events. On election day, voters approved an education levy as well as a facilities referendum. The facilities plan called for a grass field, but people in town wanted to strive for more.

Another new group, the Esko Turf Club, was formed in January of this year with the goal of raising enough money to add artificial turf to the football/soccer field that was under construction. In no time, the goal was reached. Installation of a SprinTurf surface began when the snow melted.

“To see the transformation from before to now, the way we envisioned it and the way it is now, it’s even more grand than what we imagined,” said Esko activities director Chad Stoskopf. “When you see it on paper, it looks nice and it makes sense, but to see it now kind of takes your breath away. It’s better than we could have ever anticipated.”

It is a showplace. The playing surface is raised so it’ll take a whale of a flood for high water to ever reach it. An igloo is painted on the 50-yard line, and both end zones are painted blue with “ESKOMOS” in large white letters. A new metal grandstand sits on one side of the field, topped by a roomy pressbox; new baseball and softball fields are under construction behind the bleachers, and windows in the “back” of the pressbox will allow it to be used for those fields, too.

The scoreboard is behind the visitor’s bench, opposite the grandstand. That’s a unique spot for a scoreboard and it works amazingly well … why didn’t anyone think of that before? On a fence behind the scoreboard is a long line of banners from businesses that supported the project.

The Eskomos played their first four football games this season on the road at Cloquet, Moose Lake-Willow River, Deer River and Duluth Marshall. All that time, finishing touches were being put on the new stadium. A flagpole had not yet been installed by Friday’s game, but local Cub Scouts proudly held the stars and stripes at midfield while the Esko choir knocked out a tremendous rendition of the national anthem.

The Esko football players had not practiced on their new field before facing Two Harbors. In fact, none of the Eskomos had even stepped on the field until early Friday morning.

“We were all hootin’ and hollerin’ and having a good time,” said Peterson, who completed nine of 11 passes for 170 yards. His favorite target, junior wide receiver Aaron Olson, caught four passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.

Imagine that … a football game in Minnesota with a Peterson throwing to an Olson.

The victory gave Esko (which reached the Class 3A state quarterfinals last year) a 3-2 record, and the loss was the first after four wins for the Agates. The Eskomos were thrilled with their dominant victory, in which senior John Carr ran for two short touchdowns and senior Earl Brinkley returned a fumble 51 yards for a score. But the thrills went much further.

“It’s great,” Olson said. “I’m thankful for everybody who donated to the Turf Club and the school and the whole community for giving money.”

The sense of anticipation had been growing since voters approved the facilities referendum, and it grew exponentially when turf became a reality. This is a great big deal for a great small school; Esko’s 9-12 enrollment is 367 students. The only smaller school in Minnesota with a turf field is Sauk Centre (306 students).

“Ever since the flood, ever since the suggestion that they were going to do something like this, we’ve been looking forward to this,” Peterson said.

And oh, what a night it was. The game capped Homecoming week, which is always festive in itself. During the pregame ceremonies, skydivers delivered the game ball, a soccer game ball (the Eskomos girls soccer team played its first game on the field Saturday vs. Princeton) and an Esko flag … although the parachutist carrying the football lost a battle against a strong breeze and landed outside the stadium. Another neat touch: the word "Family" on the back of every Two Harbors jersey.

At the coin flip, four members of the 1946 Esko football team were honored; that was the first football team in school history. The head official wore a microphone so everyone could hear the explanations for penalties (there weren’t many).

There was a long line for food at a mobile barbecue stand. There was popcorn and commemorative T-shirts. The field is located a few blocks from the high school, and one of the most impressive pregame sights was a parade on foot – cheerleaders, football players, soccer players and students of all ages – from the school to the stadium.

And the band. My goodness, the Esko band. I go to a lot of high school events all over the state, and this band is something very special. No uniforms, no marching, but no matter. The orchestra, under the direction of Richard Mowers, was positioned on small bleachers behind the north end zone. And once they began playing, they seemingly never stopped playing. They played during timeouts, they played during halftime, between quarters … they even played between plays. A referee’s whistle would blow, Mower would wave a hand, and we would hear the Flintstones theme song or the Scooby Doo theme song or a snippet of a rock and roll classic … and as the ball was snapped for the next play the music stopped. Only to resume at the next whistle. Amazing. Incredible. Pure entertainment and fun.

After the game, the Esko football players stood in front of their band and applauded. The football team applauding the band. How stunningly cool is that?

That scene was the perfect ending to a perfect celebration that was years in the making. What has happened in Esko is a testament to hard work, commitment, community involvement and reaching a goal through total teamwork. And there’s no better lesson for our young people than that.

Eskomos, you are my heroes.

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 71
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 3,638
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn