John's Journal
Minnesota’s Summer Blockbuster: “For Three” Is A Must-See7/16/2011
PERHAM -- Zach Gabbard walked into the Comet Theater in downtown Perham at 6:25 p.m. Thursday. He was with some of his basketball teammates, and the teenagers were all wisecracks and smiles. The scene was sweet. Everything was perfect. Just like it should be.

The last time the outside world saw Zach walk, it was a mesmerizing, inspirational, tearful moment. On March 26 he got up out of his wheelchair and slapped hands with the rest of the Yellowjackets as the players were introduced before the Class 2A state semifinals at Target Center. A day earlier, Zach had left a St. Paul hospital to be reunited with the team at Williams Arena before the quarterfinal round.

You know the story: Zach, a junior, suffered cardiac arrest during a late-January game at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton … life-saving measures were performed and he was rushed to a hospital in Fargo … after several touch-and-go days he was transferred to a hospital at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and later to a rehabilitation hospital in St. Paul. Progress was slow.

Zach watched from the sidelines as the Yellowjackets won their first two games at state, but he was not at the championship game. His blood pressure was too high that day, and his doctors did not allow him to leave the hospital. Left in the hospital to watch the game on television, Zach cried.

Thursday’s event at the Comet was very special because it opened a door into the 2010-11 Perham season. “For Three,” a documentary film about the Yellowjackets, premiered at the Comet. The movie was produced by Perham assistant coach Brent Hanson.

During the film, Zach (pictured at right with head coach Dave Cresap after the premier) talks about missing the championship game. “I cried,” he said. We learn that when he walked on the court at Target Center, none of his teammates knew it was coming … they didn’t even know he was able to walk.

Hanson, who spent more than 400 hours working on the film, did a remarkable job. The movie intersperses game action throughout the season with interviews with the players and coaches. I was struck by how candid everyone was on camera, which was surely because one of the coaches was asking the questions as opposed to an outsider.

Hanson, who works as an IT technician for Becker County, created a season highlights video after the 2009-10 campaign. “I was kind of planning on doing the same thing this year, with a few interviews here and there,” he told me. “I thought it might be something the kids would really enjoy, not having any idea what path our season would take.”

Hanson spent more than 400 hours working on the film. He shot the interviews, gathered game footage, secured rights to music and did the editing at home on his iMac. “For most of it I worked from 8 o’clock at night until about 1 in the morning, then I’d get four or five hours of sleep and head to work,” he said. “I could do it in my sleep, and I think I did do it in my sleep a couple times.”

DVDs are available by going to They cost $20, with all proceeds being split between Zach’s medical bills and the Perham basketball team. As Hanson told the audience at the Comet before the movie began, “We had a budget of zero dollars, and we did pretty well.”

Indeed. “For Three” is a keepsake, and not just for people in Perham. Zach’s story touched people all over Minnesota and around the world; the film points out how a Caring Bridge web site devoted to Zach (he's signing an autograph in the photo at left) garnered more than half a million hits in just a few weeks’ time. The players talk about the night when Zach collapsed, and how they hugged each other and cried and prayed in the locker room.

The story is universal, with themes of heartbreak and survival, community and togetherness, teamwork and success. Every coach, every athlete and every parent -- in Minnesota and beyond -- should see it.

After the premier, Perham head coach Dave Cresap told me: “I just got goosebumps all over my body. This is a special night for everybody to be together and relive it and see what we really had to go through as a team and a community and Zach as a player, and how close-knit we are. We are a family.”

Zach, who was frightfully thin as the basketball season ended, has put on weight and looks more like his old self all the time, although his voice remains raspy. What was his reaction to the movie? “I liked it. I loved it,” he told me. What did he like the most? “(Learning) how much they cared.”

Interviews with the players provide wonderful insight into what the season meant to the Yellowjackets.

--“Heart. We had heart the whole season,” said Jordan Cresap, the coach’s son who stepped into the lineup after Zach went down. “The motivation Zach gave us really put us over the top.”

--“We couldn’t let him down,” said Jordan Bruhn.

--“We were the team that had the most hardship,” said Nick Tobkin. “We had the will, we had the motivation, we had the inspiration, we came back time after time when things were in our way. So why not us?”

Zach is allowed to shoot baskets but has not been given clearance to fully exert himself. He wants nothing more than to be back on the court when practice begins for the 2011-12 season.

During the film Zach looks into the camera and says, “We better win next year because I need another ring … not being there this year, I just want to know what it feels like to be on the court, playing.

“Why would you doubt me? I’m alive still. Why can’t I play next year?”

In Perham -- as the Yellowjackets have taught us -- anything is possible.

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
More Than 11,000 Miles And Just As Many Memories 7/5/2011
During the first week of practice for fall sports last August, I filled my car with gas and hit the road to begin what would become a memorable school year. That first week, I traveled to St. Paul, Plainview, Shakopee, Faribault and Fridley. A week later I was in Marshall, Minneota, New London-Spicer, Wayzata and Mahtomedi.

By the time the 2010-11 school year ended, I had driven 11,029 miles in pursuit of great stories, great events and great friends, new and old. I traveled all over Minnesota, from football in Adrian to hockey in Duluth to wrestling in Rochester. I saw basketball and soccer and wrestlers and runners and swimmers and debaters and actors and everything in between.

The memories are vivid. Let’s look back …

Story of the Year: Zach Gabbard (right) and the Perham boys basketball team. This was the ultimate Hollywood script, with Zach collapsing during a game because of a life-threatening heart condition and weeks later leaving the hospital to join his team at the state tournament, where they won a championship.

Best Rivalry Game: Football teams from Luverne and Pipestone have been playing for the Battle Axe trophy longer than I have been alive. Last fall I went to Pipestone for the 53rd annual game, and it was a ball. Very fun fact: The freshmen and sophomore teams also play for trophies. The sophomores play for the Hatchet and the freshmen have the Butter Knife.

Best Celebrity Sighting: Having written about Kris Humphries when he was playing basketball at Hopkins, I recognized him immediately while shopping in a mall. The female with him? Kim Kardashian (they since announced their engagement). As I chatted with Kris, I said something like "How are you, young lady?" to the young lady.

Best Individual Effort: Eden Prairie junior Rachel Bootsma, one of the top swimmers in the country, set a national high school record in the 100-yard backstroke at the Class AA state meet.

Biggest Rally: The Burnsville baseball team trailed Maple Grove 5-0 with three outs left in the Class 3A state championship game at Target Field. Watching the Blaze score six runs in the bottom of the seventh was an astonishing thing.

Friend of Media Award: Home plate umpire Larry Anderson hesitated before yelling “Play ball” at a baseball game in Heron Lake. He noticed that Windom radio play-by-play man Dirk Abraham was scrambling a bit at his folding table and chair on the other side of the fence. The game was starting a few minutes ahead of schedule due to threatening weather, and the ump said, “Dirk? You ready?” The radio pro’s reply: “Go ahead. I’ll get on the air when I get on the air.”

Comeback of the Year: The Wadena-Deer Creek volleyball team (left). After a tornado destroyed their school and parts of their town, the Wolverines gave the community a place to gather and rally. Like Perham, the story ended with a state title.

The Night the Lights Went Out: Mahtomedi was playing at South St. Paul in one of the biggest football games of the season. South St. Paul’s Ettinger Field is an old showplace and the Packers have one of the best pep bands around. When the electricity went out before kickoff and the sky grew ever darker as the sun set, the band kept everyone upbeat until the power was restored.

Most Inspirational Athlete: Ben Cunningham, Southwestern United baseball. The senior from Round Lake-Brewster was critically injured in an auto accident, leading to multiple surgeries and the loss of vision in one eye. But he returned to the basketball court and baseball field, to the astonishment of all.

Winter Wonderland: A December trip to Breckenridge and Hawley, on the heels of a major snowfall, was the perfect precursor to a white Christmas.

Biggest Shiver: After a day in Duluth spent holding a Student Sports Information Directors workshop and watching the first high school hockey games at the new Amsoil Arena, walking to the car and waiting for the heater to crank was pure Arctic agony.

Best Community Spirit: Coaches vs. Cancer Night in Ellsworth is very special, with nearly everyone in the tiny town coming to the school for basketball, bidding on prizes and many other wonderful things.

Most Informative Game Program: When the Owatonna boys hockey team hosted Rochester Mayo in early February, the program included a small section called “Recommended Reading.” The six suggested books included “Team of Rivals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin’s examination of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, “Superfreakonomics” and “The Big Short,” described in the program as “an account of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.” More proof that learning can happen anywhere.

Most Enjoyable Photo Shoot: For the girls state hockey tournament program, I wrote a story about former high school stars and Gophers teammates Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell. They were working with tiny tots during a hockey camp in Woodbury when my camera and I walked into the rink. Major fun.

Best Tribute: Art Downey, longtime Edina boys swimming and diving coach, was recognized at the state meet for his 55 years of service. Downey is known for the black eyeglasses he has worn forever, and more than 150 replica glasses were distributed and worn by those in attendance.

Favorite Forward-Looking Meetings: I sat down with with officials from the Twins and Timberwolves, planning for days next season when participants in the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program will get an inside look at both teams. This is going to be a blast.

Most Memorable Morning: The MSHSL staff volunteered at Feed My Starving Children one December day, packing meals to be sent to the needy around the world.

Best Speaker: Newark, N.J., Mayor Corey Booker, a former football player at Stanford, gave an inspiring speech during the Martin Luther King Day breakfast at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Roadkill Trophy: On a dark night, I was driving from Ivanhoe to Marshall after a volleyball game when two great big raccoons decided to stroll across the road. I came over the crest of a hill and thought briefly that a couple hogs were on the loose. The thump under my car was world-class. This award is given posthumously.

--To see a photo gallery with more memorable scenes from 2010-11, visit the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 821
*Miles John has driven: 11,029

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
Arizona, Minnesota Celebrate McDaniel's Hall Of Fame Induction7/2/2011
Twelve people were inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Philadelphia. Among them was Randall McDaniel, who was a high school star in Arizona and has called Minnesota home since 1988, when he was drafted in the first round by the Vikings.

As McDaniel was introduced as a new Hall of Famer during a formal ceremony in a ballroom Saturday, contingents from both the MSHSL and the Arizona Interscholastic Association stood and applauded. Before the Hall of Fame dinner, the MSHSL group was invited to a private reception for McDaniel hosted by the AIA.

Each new Hall of Famer was featured in a video montage about their high school careers. McDaniel’s video began with footage of him lining up as a blocking back with the Vikings and obliterating a would-be tackler. He was a two-time all-state selection in football and basketball before graduating from Agua Fria High School in Avondale, Arizona, in 1983. He still holds the Agua Fria school record in the 100-meter dash. He also never missed a day of school.

He played tight end and linebacker in high school, and there were only 22 players on the Agua Fria football team when he was a senior. “But everybody knew they were in a game when they played us,” he said in the video that was displayed on two giant video screens in the ballroom.

He also said, “Learning how to be a good sportsman, you learn that in high school.”

During his 2009 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech, McDaniel talked about the start he got as a young man in high school, thanking all the people who helped him along the way. He touched on that theme again Saturday night, saying, “Everything I learned (in high school) was about working hard, being a good citizen and giving back.”

--Saturday’s other inductees included Arkansas high school baseball star and major leaguer Kevin McReynolds; Olympic wrestling champion Kenny Monday, who never lost a high school match in Oklahoma; Pennsylvania basketball legend Billy Owens, who played 10 years in the NBA; and Michigan high school football/basketball/baseball star Brad Van Pelt, who played 14 years in the NFL.
Randall McDaniel Becomes A Hall Of Famer … Again6/30/2011
Randall McDaniel had a sterling 14-year career with the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, playing in 12 consecutive Pro Bowls. The offensive lineman, who spent his first 12 seasons with the Vikings, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. He is joining another Hall of Fame this week with his induction into the National High School Hall of Fame.

He is one of 12 individuals who will be inducted in the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) National High School Hall of Fame on Saturday, July 2 at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown in Philadelphia. The 29th Hall of Fame induction ceremony is the closing event of the 92nd annual NFHS Summer Meeting.

McDaniel was a three-year varsity starter and two-time all-state selection in football and basketball at Agua Fria High School in Avondale, Arizona. He also played baseball and participated in track and field, setting the school record in the 100-meter dash as a senior. He was an All-American at Arizona State University before his NFL career.He also is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

The National High School Hall of Fame was started in 1982 by the NFHS to honor high school athletes, coaches, contest officials, administrators, fine arts coaches/directors and others for their extraordinary achievements and accomplishments in high school sports and activity programs. This year’s class increases the number in the Hall of Fame to 386.

The 12 individuals were chosen after a two-level selection process involving a screening committee composed of active high school state association administrators, coaches and officials, and a final selection committee composed of coaches, former athletes, state association officials, media representatives and educational leaders. Nominations were made through NFHS member associations.
A Fantastic June Evening For All-Star Football6/26/2011
The 38th annual Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game was held Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota, and it was a great show on a beautiful evening in a beautiful setting.

The game showcases outstanding senior players from the 2010 high school football season, with players and coaches representing 79 schools and 33 conferences, all selected by members of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association.

The game had been played at St. Cloud State since 2005. Another change this year was that instead of having Metro and Outstate teams (as has been done since 1980), the players were split into North and South squads.

The North won Saturday’s game 17-7, scoring touchdowns on a 3-yard run by Brainerd’s Jordan Hayes and a 34-yard interception return by Eric Riley of Morris. The South’s touchdown came on a short pass from Hopkins’ Billy Gregg to Ryan Woodard of Winona.

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

*Schools/teams John has visited: 821
*Miles John has driven: 11,029