John's Journal
Meet Minnesota’s Newest State Record Holder: Maggie Ewen5/4/2011
There’s going to be some construction and landscaping going on at St. Francis High School. It seems that the area where the discus lands after Maggie Ewen throws it isn’t quite roomy enough.

Ewen made history Tuesday in a four-team track meet at St. Francis. She threw the discus 165 feet, 9 inches, which broke the previous state record of 162-4, set by Jessica Cagle of Grand Rapids in 2008.

There are two “wow” factors in this story. The first is that Maggie isn’t the prototypical thrower. She stands 5-foot-9, making her sort of a mid-sized thrower. And she’s only a sophomore, which portends even greater lengths to come.

St. Francis coach Andy Forbort said three of Ewen’s throws Tuesday surpassed 160 feet. Asked how far she might go before her high school career is over, he said, “I’m not sure how far she can throw. But we need to revamp our discus area, because it only goes 170 feet. I joked with our football coach that we might use the football field because it’s 300 feet.”

Tuesday’s record throw came midway through Ewen’s six attempts in the discus ring. “I’m pretty sure it was my third or fourth throw,” she said Wednesday morning. “The throw didn’t particularly feel like the best it could be, but when I let it go and saw the arc and the flight of it, it was like, ‘Oooh, this is going to be a good one.’

“At first I was like, ‘Hey, a new p.r. (personal record). Awesome.’ Then it was like, ‘Oh wait, a new state record, too.’ ”

In her last competition prior to Tuesday, Ewen won at Friday's Hamline Elite Meet with a toss of 147-3. She also won the shot put at Hamline at 45-11 ¾ (that's where this photo was taken). She won the Class 2A title in the discus at last year’s state track meet (159-4) and placed third in the shot put. As an eighth-grader she placed third in the discus and eighth in the shot put at state.

There are genetics at work here. Maggie’s father, Bruce, was a college thrower at Illinois State and came within a quarter-inch of making the 1988 U.S. Olympic team in the hammer throw. Her mom, Kristi, played volleyball at Columbia Heights and Ohio State.

Maggie began tinkering with the discus when she was in fifth grade and her older sister Alicia was throwing on the high school team.

“I didn’t really take it very seriously right away,” Maggie said. “I suppose it did come pretty naturally.”

Forbort called Maggie’s feat “unbelievable” but in the same breath said her success is not a real surprise. “Our throwing coach said as a sixth-grader she would have finished in the top 10 in our section.”

The national high school record in the girls discus is 190-3, set by Anna Jelmini of Shafter, Calif., in 2009. The best throw in the nation in 2010 was 180-9 by Alex Collatz of Stockdale High in Bakersfield, Calif.

That leads to a question for Maggie: How far can you throw?

“How far? I don’t know,” she said. “I haven’t really set any long-terms goals for myself. Right now I’m just worried about 166.”

In the meantime, somebody better get started on expanding that landing area.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 627
*Miles John has driven: 9,604

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Reading And Role Models: Spring Lake Park Finds Perfect Formula5/3/2011
Steve Brady will never forget the magic that took place when students from Spring Lake Park High School began visiting his first-grade classroom. The high school kids’ mission was simple: spend one-on-one time with struggling readers and help them improve their skills.

One little boy quickly became enamored with Jorde Ranum, a senior three-sport athlete.

“This boy plays sports and he wanted Jorde’s autograph,” Brady said. “And Jorde was such a nice guy to give it to him, and that really made a nice bond between those two. Every day the kid would ask, ‘Is Jorde coming today?’

“It’s just that little nudge, just one more effort that we can do to make sure the kids can read.”

Since January a group of about 20 Spring Lake Park high school students have been working with first- and second-graders at nearby Woodcrest Elementary, using a rotating schedule that has two, three or four students visiting three days each week. The high school students are invited to participate in the program and they go through training sessions.

“We wanted to give our children more opportunities to read, and to create relationships and to feel connected,” said Woodcrest principal Judi Kahoun. “We’re seeing gains in reading, and the kids love the connections. It’s real important for our kids just to have another person they can connect with who can make a difference in their lives.”

The process is not complicated. The high school kids (Bria Jones is pictured at right) and their reading buddies sit together in the hallway outside the classroom, and the children read as the older students help them. The high school students will offer advice, such as “Look at the first letter, make the sounds. Does it make sense?”

First-grade teacher Nikki Pudwill said, “They have a positive impact, the kids are excited to see them and they know them by name. I’ve overheard them using strategies, helping kids figure out the words. They interact and work together and it’s very, very positive.”

It’s so simple in its execution, yet so important in its benefits.

“It has really motivated the kids,” first-grade teacher Curtis Horton said. “It’s the same books they’ve read with me and other volunteers, but to be with the high school kids, they are so psyched to read to them.”

The positives work both ways.

“I just think it’s really good giving back to the kids,” said Courtney Nelson, a senior member of the hockey and golf teams. “It’s fun to see them and how much they progress. Going back each time and seeing the smile on their faces is just awesome. They love the experience, and I think it’s very humbling and good for us as well. I enjoy it a lot.

“I think it’s important that we have athletes going over to Woodcrest because it shows that you can excel both academically and on the field. It encourages both, but it shows that school definitely comes first and having those basic skills is necessary.”

The idea for the program sprang from Homecoming week last fall, when Spring Lake Park football players visited all the elementary schools in the district (which is in the northern Twin Cities suburbs).

“We saw the reaction from the kids,” said athletic director Mike Cunningham. The reading program began with team captains in January and has expanded to other students.

“The term I’ve been using with them is, ‘You guys need to leave a legacy here,’ ” Cunningham said.

Amy Bjurlin, a former Woodcrest teacher who now helps staff there improve their skills, trains the high school students before they begin working with young readers.

“We’ve gone through some strategies for coaching elementary students in reading,” said Bjurlin (pictured below). “It’s pretty simple texts that the students are reading, and I’ve modeled for them how a student might read that text, the errors they might make and how they can coach them without telling them the word, so the students have the chance to practice some of those reading strategies on their own with the student sitting with them. The goal is for them to be independent when the coach isn’t sitting there.

“And we remind them to just really encourage the kids in their reading, to offer praise and feedback for the good reading they do. What we’ve seen is the elementary students are pretty excited to read with the high school students. When we started this we really hit our first-grade students hard with a lot of volunteers, and their oral reading scores have gone up a ton.”

The high school students will often wear a sports jersey or other attire that identifies them as Spring Lake Park Panthers. The young readers receive stickers that say “I Read With a Panther.”

It’s a perfect win-win situation.

“The high school kids have really picked up on the coaching. They’re doing a great job of interacting with the students,” Bjurlin said. “Staff members will walk by and say, ‘Wow, these guys are the real deal.’ They picked up the training quickly and they’ve been super responsible and reliable. It’s fun to see them doing such a great job.”

--For more photos, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 626
*Miles John has driven: 9,544

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Remembering ... 5/2/2011
In the wake of Sunday evening's news, I began thinking about 9-11 and what happened in the days and weeks that followed.

I recalled writing about a monument to Flight 93 victim Tom Burnett at Bloomington Jefferson, where Tom was a football team captain in the class of 1981. That story found it way to Tom's widow, Deena, who sent me a very nice thank you note.

I recalled writing about Gordy Aamoth Jr., who was killed in the Twin Towers. He was a football player while a student at Blake, where the stadium now bears his name and a section of beam from the World Trade Center is displayed.

Then I recalled a column I wrote in the Minneapolis Star Tribune the day after 9-11. It seemed to touch people at the time, and it might be worth reading today...

Headline: High school sports can help the healing

In the horrible wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all after-school activities were canceled Tuesday in the Jefferson County (Colo.) School District. This didn't surprise Ed Woytek, the athletic director at Columbine High School.

The day's events hit Columbine hard, especially the senior class. They were freshmen on April 20, 1999, when two students shot and killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

"Our coaches and all of us are on kind of a fine line, especially with what happened here previously," Woytek said.

Columbine still is recovering from that day. Recovery also is an ongoing process in Osceola, Wis., where twin brothers Eric and Aaron Kipp, 18, died in a car accident on the way to football practice 30 days ago.

With thousands of innocent people presumed to have perished this week, what do you say? How do you heal? Maybe it's best to listen to the kids. That's among the lessons learned at Columbine and Osceola.

"Pretty much all of them are saying to us, 'We need to be a family,'" Woytek said. "Because that's what happened a few years ago; they got with family. And that's where we need to be, that's where our American people need to be, is with family."

After the Kipp brothers died, football practices were stopped for a short period. But soon, everyone wanted to return -- or try to return -- to some sense of normalcy.

"Very soon, the kids were ready to go back," said Osceola coach/principal Mike McMartin. "They said, 'Coach, I need to keep busy.' And they were right. When we jumped back into it, although they weren't the best practices in the world, there was almost a big sigh of relief that they could start moving forward and take with us all the good things that the boys had shared with us for so many years, instead of thinking about the bad."

Activities went on as scheduled Tuesday in Osceola, the day of the attacks.

"We just really felt during that time it was massively important that we show to the kids, 'Hey, we're going on. We're not going to let these people defeat us or take us off our feet here. We're going to move forward and be proud,'" McMartin said.

At Columbine and Osceola, tragedy struck a specific community of people. This week, tragedy struck us all.

The Columbine Rebels take a 1-1 record into tonight's game at Dakota Ridge. Osceola is 3-0 and the homecoming opponent for rival St. Croix Falls. The games go on, as do our lives.

"Everybody keeps saying we'll never get back to normal, just like our nation will never get back to normal," Woytek said. "But hopefully we're going to get as close to normal as we can."

So if sporting events are part of your normal routine, stick with it. If you haven't been to a high school game in years, tonight would be a wonderful time to go. Get away from the television, escape the headlines. Find a seat in the bleachers and take a break, however temporary, from all that's gone so wretchedly wrong in this world.

Watch the team captains shake hands before the coin flip. Hold your hand over your heart during the national anthem as the flag flutters at half-staff. Bow your head during the moment of silence to honor this week's victims. Get on your feet for the opening kickoff. Watch our young people -- players, cheerleaders, fans -- as they smile, holler and laugh together during this evening that is tradition both athletic and social. Buy popcorn, listen to the band, cheer first downs, simply celebrate.

Maybe administrators at every school can find a recording of God Bless America, and across our states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and beyond -- we'll sing together when the game ends. Just like a family.
Track Record Watch Gets Rolling At Hamline Elite Meet4/29/2011
Friday was on the cool and blustery side, which is probably fitting considering the kind of spring weather we’ve all been seeing across Minnesota. All sorts of outdoor athletic events have been cancelled or postponed in recent weeks, including lots of track meets.

Those kinds of scheduling problems usually mean that athletes are not in the condition they might be in under better weather conditions. But any doubts about the state of high school track – especially in a couple of boys field events – were slapped in the face during Friday evening’s Hamline Elite Meet.

In other words, be prepared for a bona fide Record Watch to take us through the rest of the track season. We very nearly saw the state record in the boys triple jump fall at Hamline on Friday, and the boys high jump record is another one to keep an eye on as the season continues. Here are the details:

--Eden Prairie senior Michael Sandle (pictured at right) won the triple jump with a distance of 50 feet, 3 1/3 inches, which ranks second in state history. The state record is 50 feet, 4 inches, set by Reondo Davis of Blaine in 1999. Sandle, who won the Class 2A state title last year with a jump of 49-5 ½, will have several more chances to break the all-time record. If the weather is favorable at the June 10-11 state meet, right back at Hamline, big things could happen … if Sandle doesn’t get the record before then.

--In the high jump, senior Trevor Yedoni of Benilde-St. Margaret’s came within two inches of the all-time state record. Yedoni’s winning height Friday was 6-11 before he failed three times at 7 feet, one-quarter inch. The record of 7-1 is shared by Rod Raver of Rochester John Marshall (1973) and Jon Markuson of Chaska (1993). Yedoni also won the long jump Friday.

(To see video of Yedoni clearing 6-11, as well as a photo gallery from the Elite Meet, go to the MSHSL Facebook page. In the photo below, Yedoni clears 6-11.)

The Elite Meet’s most decorated individual was senior Devin Crawford-Tufts of Edina, who has signed to play football at the University of Minnesota. He was a triple champion, capturing the 100 and 200 titles and anchoring the Hornets’ winning 4x100 team with a breathtaking come-from-behind leg. (Video of his anchor leg also can be found on the MSHSL Facebook page.)

Other stars of the meet included senior Analisa Huschle of Bagley-Fosston , a decorated state championship veteran who won the 200 and long jump Friday. St. Francis sophomore Maggie Ewen, the best young thrower in the state, captured the shot put and discus titles.

The Elite Meet, now in its sixth year, is easily the top track event of the season other than the state championships, also held at Hamline University’s Klas Field in St. Paul. The Elite Meet plan is simple: Gather the state’s top athletes in each event and turn them loose. All events are one-race finals except the 100 meters, which has preliminary races. It is a fabulous event.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 625
*Miles John has driven: 9,354

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Terry Steinbach: Major League Player, High School Coach And Dad4/27/2011
Terry Steinbach played in more than 1,500 major league baseball games during a 14-year career, but some of his favorite baseball memories have come after his retirement as a player. Coaching your sons will do that.

Steinbach, who played with the Oakland A’s and Twins before retiring after the 1999 season, is in his fourth year as an assistant coach at Wayzata High School. He took the job when his son Lucas was in high school; Lucas is now playing college baseball at Minnesota-Duluth and Jake Steinbach (pictured here with his dad) is a junior catcher, second baseman and outfielder at Wayzata.

“For me it was a natural fit because I was going to be at the games watching my kids play, anyway,” Steinbach said before a game this week. “It’s nice just to be able to be here, to help all the kids and try to give back some of the stuff that I’ve learned.”

Steinbach grew up in New Ulm, where he was a baseball and hockey star, and he played baseball at the University of Minnesota before being drafted by Oakland in 1983. He played in three All-Star Games with Oakland as well as three World Series, including the A’s 1989 World Series championship. In 2007 he was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame as well as the National High School Hall of Fame.

I remember sitting in the Twins dugout at the Metrodome late in the 1998 season, interviewing Steinbach. He was 37 years old at the time, knowing his playing career was in its closing stages. Back then, Terry and Mary Steinbach’s children were 11 (daughter Jill), 8 and 5 years old.

He told me back then, “The kids are getting pretty active in a lot of their sports. They're like, ‘Hey Dad, can you come and watch my game?’ And I’d love to, but Dad's got to be down at the field, too. They understand, but I don't think it makes it any easier.”

This week, the 49-year-old Steinbach sat in the home dugout at the Wayzata field and talked about spending time with his kids on the ballfield. There was a clear sense of contentment as he spoke.

“It’s fun,” he said of coaching his children. “It’s a little bit of a challenge, too, because here I’m their coach and at home I’m their dad.”

The Steinbachs aren’t the only connection between Wayzata High School and the major leagues. Freshman infielder Mickey Leius is the son of former Twin Scott Leius and brothers Maris (senior) and Matt (sophomore) Blanchard are grandsons of the late New York Yankees player Johnny Blanchard.

Trojans head coach Bobby DeWitt said that whenever Steinbach talks to the players, “Literally, there’s a hush. He’s a guy with experience and know-how, and he’s been where every kid dreams of going. The people he’s played with and played against, those are all the pros that guys like me grew up watching in the '80s.”

Luke Steinbach fondly remembers when he was little, playing baseball with his father on the Metrodome field. His dad became a coach when Luke was 13, and Luke admitted it was a little strange.

“I didn’t know what to say, Dad or Coach? But now it’s 100 percent natural. I’d definitely say it’s a benefit having him out here. He teaches what he calls perfect form, how to throw faster, good footwork and most of all how to be a good catcher. Respecting the game is his main priority.”

Terry Steinbach said he has noticed some differences between his own days as a high school athlete and today.

“I think it’s a little bit different because of the competition for the kids’ time," he said. "In our era we didn’t have the internet and the social networking that they all have now. Not that that’s good or bad.

“I remember my group, we’d get up on Saturday morning and go to the ballfield. We’d just meet there, you didn’t have to call and it wasn’t orchestrated. You’d find ways to play games. Now everything has to be orchestrated. Again, I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. And it’s that way in all sports. But the game’s the same. And there’s better training, better equipment, even some better fields.”

He also has realized that not all players dream of playing baseball beyond high school.

“When you spend a lot of years in pro ball, everybody has aspirations of being a pro ballplayer,” he said. “When you come to high school, there are a few people who might have aspirations of playing college ball, and there are probably more kids who are like, ‘this is it.’ And that’s OK. But when I first got here I would have assumed that everybody would want to play college ball. The reality of it is there’s a select few who would move up that ladder.”

Steinbach still plays baseball with the Searles Bullheads amateur team; his older brothers Tim and Tom are teammates. (Terry Steinbach’s bio on the Bullheads website says he “was a perennial last pick for kickball on the playgrounds of New Ulm in elementary school. … Unfortunately for Terry, his years in the majors prevented him from recognizing his childhood dreams of becoming a corn de-tasseler.”)

Playing amateur baseball “is competitive enough and you’re still playing baseball,” he said.

I’m tempted to write “You can take the kid out of the game but you can’t take the game out of the kid.” But that would be incorrect, because Terry Steinbach and the game remain together. And that’s a great thing.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 600
*Miles John has driven: 9,172

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn