John's Journal
Honoring A Coaching Legend In Wabasso7/9/2017
WABASSO – We interrupt the countdown of the Top 10 John’s Journal stories from 2016-17 for a very good reason: To honor a special man from a special place.

A gathering was held here Saturday night to celebrate the 49-year career of Wabasso High School wrestling coach Gary Hindt. He announced his retirement in April and the community – along with others from far and wide – got together at the Wabasso Community Center in what was called “Roast, Boast and a Toast to Gary Hindt.” It was a spectacularly fun time. (In this photo, Hindt, left, greets friends.)

Gary started the Wabasso Rabbits wrestling program when he was hired as a young teacher right out of college in 1968. In recent years Wabasso and Red Rock Central formed a cooperative team known as the Wabasso/Red Rock Central Bobcats. Hindt’s record of 807-214-6 puts him second on Minnesota’s career victory list. He coached six individual state champions and was inducted into the state wrestling coaches Hall of Fame in 1994.

But what he really accomplished had very little to do with winning and losing. One of his well-known quotes is this: “Wins, losses, I don't care ... It's all about the kids and how they turn out in life.”

Throughout the evening, one thought came to my mind: Never underestimate the impact of a coach or a teacher. I think about my own high school coaches and teachers, and all the coaches and teachers that I have the fortune to spend time with in my job. Gary Hindt is the epitome of his profession; he offered encouragement to his athletes, he knew how to motivate them but he never made winning the most important factor.

He was a basketball player in his hometown of Fulda, but he switched to the school’s new wrestling team when he was in 11th grade. “I thought it sure beats getting slivers on my butt, being about the 10th guy on the basketball team,” he told me when I wrote a profile of him in 2013.

Hindt also coached football at Wabasso for many years but gave that up when his daughter Heather was playing college volleyball at Southwest State in Marshall and his daughter Erika was in high school. (“I got to watch my girls grow up,” he said.) Hindt and his wife Jenni have been married for 47 years.

Erika, Heather and Jenni were the masterminds behind Saturday’s gathering. Erika contacted me in April to tell me what they were planning and offering an invitation. I don’t know how many people were on hand Saturday, but the Community Center is a big place and it was standing-room only. And here’s something amazing: Gary had no idea about the gathering until his family convinced him to go with them to the Community Center for some mysterious reason on Saturday. That was one great big secret to keep.

As people poured in, Gary greeted every one of them with a handshake, a hug, a smile … and in many cases all three.

A pre-arranged lineup of people went to a podium and microphone at the front of the room to talk about the coach. Some were former wrestlers, including Ron Rasmussen, a co-captain on Hindt’s first two teams in the 1960s, and Dan Zimmer, the Rabbits’ first state champion in 1976. Zimmer’s family moved from Wabasso to Litchfield before his senior year, so the Hindts took him into their home for the school year. He called it “the best year of my life.”

Johnny Frank, a state champ in 2000 who went on to become a teacher and a coach (currently in Faribault), said, “He made you feel special. I wanted to be Gary Hindt.” He smiled, looked with appreciation at his coach and said, “I wanted to be you.”

Hindt is the youngest of 14 kids. His brothers and sisters, their spouses, kids and others came from all over the country. Zimmer, who lives in Georgia, said there was no way he was going to miss it.

Coaches whose teams tangled with the Rabbits were asked to stand and well more than a dozen did. Female student managers, wives and sisters of wrestlers were asked to stand and half the people in the room stood. Men and boys who wrestled for Hindt were asked to stand and the place went nuts with cheers and applause for them and their hero/coach.

Late in the evening, all those wrestlers posed for a photograph with their coach. The Community Center wasn’t big enough to get them all in one photo, so they went outside.

“You coached for 49 years,” Zimmer said to Hindt. “That’s one heck of a big team.”

That’s one big, proud, very lucky team.

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Best Of John's Journal No. 9: Roseau Girls Basketball7/6/2017
The countdown continues through my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from the 2016-17 school year. This story, which was posted on Jan. 10, is No. 9 ...

Roseau: Where Girls Basketball Stands Tall

ROSEAU – Yes, of course, hockey is big in this little town near the Canadian border. Roseau boys hockey teams have gone to the state tournament a record 34 times and own seven titles, while the Rams girls have skated at state four times.

This winter, however, the hottest team in town wears sneakers instead of skates. These are the glory days for girls basketball in Roseau; the Rams have been to state in Class 2A the last two years, placing fourth in 2015 and third last season. They are currently ranked No. 1 in 2A and ran their record to 12-0 with an 86-61 home victory Monday night over Thief River Falls, which played at state in Class 3A the last two seasons.

The Rams wear warmup shirts that have the word “UNITED” on the back. They hustle, they dive for loose balls, shoot threes, drive to the hoop and use in-your-face, quick-handed defense to spark fast breaks. In other words, they play basketball the right way, the entertaining way. They have a deep bench and lots of experience in big games on big courts.

In other words, they would very much like to finally win their school’s first basketball state championship. And this could be the year.

“They have so many weapons, including girls coming off the bench,” said Thief River Falls coach Jeff Loe. “They have that outside-inside, that balance that teams love to have, and they’re so athletic and aggressive. This is probably the best team they’ve had.”

The marquee players for the Rams are the Borowicz sisters. Kiley is a senior, Kacie is a sophomore and Katie is an eighth-grader. Kiley and Kacie have played at state twice and Katie made her debut on the big stage last year (pictured, left to right, are Kacie, Katie and Kiley). Roseau coach Kelsey Didrikson calls the trio “the horses for us.” But the Borowicz sisters (their name is pronounced “BRAH-vitch”) are complete and utter team players.

“We’re deep and the supporting cast is strong and knows their roles so well,” Didrikson said. “I don’t have to put pressure on (the sisters). We don’t run a single thing for any of them. There are plays that work because we have them, and if the game is on the line everybody knows they’ll probably have the ball in their hands.

“They make their teammates better and their teammates make them better. They all own their roles and execute their roles so well.”

The Borowicz sisters do know how to skate, thank you very much. But they have been hoop-heads for life. Their mom, Tracy, is a former head coach of the Rams girls basketball team and their dad, David, is heavily involved in the game. There are a couple of Borowicz brothers, too: Jake is 10, Jordan is 8 and they also know how the basketball bounces.

Kiley Borowicz leads the Rams with a 26.4-point scoring average. Kacie is next at 18.8, followed by 6-foot-2 senior Victoria Johnson at 12.2, senior Ivy Braaten at 10 and junior Mya Hough at six points per game. Kiley Borowicz and Johnson are the top rebounders, averaging eight boards per game.

The Borowicz sisters get much of the acclaim, but they know how valuable their teammates are.

“It’s more than just us,” Kacie said, to which Kiley added, “Vic really does a lot, Katie (Hulst), Ivy, Morgan (Groenhoff), Mya, one of them will have double figures in a game. This year people are more confident. Our juniors are way more confident to shoot and drive.”

The Rams are undefeated despite dealing with some injuries. They have outscored their opponents by an average score of 81-58. Their narrowest victory came against Barnesville by a score of 74-68 in a holiday tournament. Roseau and Barnesville (11-2) may end up as the top two teams in the Section 8 postseason playoffs.

Among the big regular-season contests remaining on the Rams’ schedule is a Feb. 3 game in Roseau against Mountain Iron-Buhl, which is currently 11-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class 1A. Facing motivated competition is part of the formula for Roseau.

“In every game we have to play harder than we should have to because everyone brings their best game,” Katie Borowicz said.

Kiley said, “You just can’t think you’re the best. I know we are probably the best team but I never think that. I get nervous before every game, I don’t get cocky.”

The Rams were certainly not cocky in Monday’s game against Thief River Falls. They came out flying fast and working hard, running the court and taking control in leading 52-21 at halftime. At game’s end, Kiley Borowicz had 34 points, Braaten had 14 and Kacie Borowicz 13, while Tiahna Nicholson led the Prowlers with 20 and Alexa Rogalla scored 17.

“I thought the first half was probably our best half, or one of our est halves, of basketball all season,” Didrikson said. “They played solid. It was a really good start for us, doing the little things we’re always talking about; playing better defense, ball movement. Our goal was 20 assists tonight and we had 13 at halftime, and I know they were excited about that. It’s fun to see them own that and understand how important ball movement is. They made some beautiful passes.”

Like most of their teammates the Borowicz sisters are involved in multiple sports, playing volleyball in the fall and participating in track during the spring. Kiley and Kacie have been members of relay teams that have qualified for the state championship meet, with Kiley laughing and saying, “That made me more nervous than (state) basketball, especially since track isn’t my best sport.”

After losing in the state basketball semifinals the last two years, the Rams are aiming higher this year. The first goal is to get to state, and if that happens they won’t be satisfied with another spot in the third-place game.

“It would be really upsetting,” said Kiley Borowicz. “Since elementary school everyone has been saying, ‘You guys will go to state when you’re seniors, this is your year.’ The third-place game is good I guess but not what we know we can do.”

“People in school and around town expect a lot from us,” Katie said.

Their coach agreed, laughing when asked if there was pressure on the team.

“It’s not wanting to let anybody down,” Didrikson said. “In a small town this is not just about our coaching staff and the girls on the varsity. It’s something the community is excited about and looking forward to.

“Going to state is special. It is a privilege and an honor. We wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on an opportunity they’ve been working so long for.”

Postscript: The Rams went to win the 2017 state championship
The Best Of John's Journal No. 10: JCC Twitter Barrages7/4/2017
It's time to begin the countdown of my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from the 2016-17 school year. I posted five Honorable Mention stories last week, and today we dive into the Top 10.

Here is No. 10, which was originally posted on April 20...

Jackson County Central Tradition: The Twitter Barrage

Several members of the Jackson County Central track and field team were sitting around a backyard fire one evening after a track meet, doing what teenagers do. They talked, they laughed, they shared moments from that day’s competition. But they also kept an eye on their cell phones, because they knew something good was coming on Twitter.

It’s known as a “Twitter barrage” and it’s the work of their coach, Rafe York. Following each competition, after everyone has returned home and York is looking through the results, he begins issuing Tweets that are a mixture of results, jokes and entertaining observations. Some samples …

Kailey Koep discovered that if she sprints on the runway, she'll jump farther in the long jump. Who'd a thunk?

Matt Strom threw the shot 37' 7.5, which I believe is one foot farther than the average flight of a North Korean missile.


“It’s so fun,” said sophomore track team member Hailey Handevidt. “My mom was in Rochester and she texted me because she wanted to know when the Twitter barrage was coming out.”

Huskies junior Molly Boyum said, “They’re funny. Everybody waits for them to get done. We all want to see what he has to say about us and what sarcastic comments he has.”

The account can be found at @JCCTandF on Twitter. Several hundred people follow the account.

York, who teaches English, also is the head coach of the Huskies girls and boys cross-country teams (and yes, he posts Twitter barrages after cross-country competitions, too) and an assistant boys basketball coach. He has been the Jackson County Central track coach for seven years.

Clayton Cavness made his varsity debut and learned a valuable lesson. Distance runners shouldn't eat like throwers.

In the second heat of the girls' 300 Hurdles Zoe Pohlman left a face-shaped dent in the track... but she popped up, finished the race, and placed 9th...the scrapes all over her body are going to burn in the shower.


“When I took over I thought we needed a way to get results out,” York said. “Twitter was the way to go. At first it was just basic results and I guess my personality started coming through.

“I figure track is a hard enough sell. If I can make it look a little more fun by goofing off a little and having fun, maybe it will get more kids out.”

We didn't run a girls' 4x200 or 4x800. The blame should be placed squarely on Annika's tonsils.

Easton Bahr placed 5th in the 100. He also learned that if the gun is fired a second time, it means stop because there was a false start.


Clearly, York isn’t afraid to give his athletes an elbow in the ribs via Twitter. They know him – and his sense of humor – well and they look forward to seeing their name in the latest barrage.

“Sometimes we’ll say stuff that is kind of dumb or funny or just like weird, and he’ll put it in his barrage and make fun of us,” Boyum said. “And then we’re like, ‘OK, now the whole world knows about that.’ ”

Handevidt said, “He likes to Tweet a lot, and they’re always funny to read. And it won’t just be about the track meet. It’ll be about something that happens on the bus and we’ll just laugh about it.”

York said one of the benefits of being in a small town is that he knows the kids and their parents.

“It works as long as the kids and the parents are going to appreciate the joke,” he said.

He ends every barrage with the same message: I love Track season. That’s a statement heard frequently around the Huskies in the spring.
“I’ve been saying that in practice for years,” York said. “I was a head coach in Colorado and one day in practice I just sort of blurted it out. When we’re out practicing in the rain, I’ll yell. 'I love track season!’ ” (Pictured here is York with Hailey Handevidt, Molly Boyum and Jessica Christoffer.)

If you're a junior and you're still reading tonight's barrage, GO TO BED! You have the ACT tomorrow.

Did I mention @jamiek1980 brought cookies from the Lakefield Bakery to celebrate Kailey's birthday? I only ate three.


“I think it’s really great,” junior Jessica Christoffer said of the coach’s post-meet social-media habit. “I always stay up super late just to hear what York has to say. It’s also great to see what he has to say about the other people that I may have missed in the meet.

“If our 4x4 does really good, we’ll say, ‘York, our 4x4 needs a Twitter barrage. Say something about the starter, and then second, third and fourth!’ ”

Reaction to the Twitter barrages comes not only from athletes and their parents.

“It’s kind of crazy,” York said. “I’ll come into school the next day and people will ask me about it; ‘Hey, what did that one mean?’ I like seeing the reactions. Sometimes I get distracted seeing who’s liking and who’s re-Tweeting.”

Hailey lists The Shawshank Redemption, Saving Private Ryan, and Avatar amoung her favorite movies. None of them would make my Top 5. I used the British spelling of "among" intentionally there.

Sophie Johnson, Hailey Handevidt, Zoe Pohlman, Regional Manager Kaitlin Feroni, and I talked Prom, movies, and music on the way home.


The Huskies’ next track meet will be Monday in St. Peter.

A new barrage will follow.
Minnesota Students Honored On A National Stage6/29/2017
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Thursday was a day to remember for the Minnesotans who are here in Providence for the 98th annual summer meeting of the National Federation of State High School Associations. The convention, which is attended by representatives of every high school governing body in the nation, was highlighted when two Minnesota students received national NFHS arts.

Danny Lilya, who will be a junior this fall at Moose Lake, received the National High School Spirit of Sport Award. Josie Ross, who this spring graduated from Benilde-St. Margaret’s in St. Louis Park, was the recipient of the National High School Heart of the Arts Award. People from around the nation are nominated for these awards by their state governing bodies, which are grouped into eight sections of the nation. Section winners are chosen for each award, and from those finalists the national winners are selected. This is the first time both winners have come from the same state. (Pictured are Danny with his parents, Dan and Sheryl, NFHS president Bob Gardner, right, and the MSHSL's Kevin Merkle, left.)

Danny and Josie received their awards Thursday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, with more than 500 convention attendees on hand. Each received a standing ovation.

Here are summaries of Danny and Rosie…

Danny Lilya, Moose Lake

Like most other students at Moose Lake (Minnesota) High School, a school with 184 students, sophomore Danny Lilya plays a variety of sports.

However, unlike those other students, Lilya was born with a broken back, is a paraplegic, and has been confined to a wheelchair his entire life.

Nonetheless, that has not prevented him from participating in the sports he loves, including football, sled hockey, track and wheelchair softball. By doing that, he literally has all four seasons covered with different sports. Last fall, Lilya was the holder on extra points and field goals for the Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels football team.

Despite the attention that Lilya has received from his extraordinary achievements, Moose Lake High School Athletic Director Tony Andres said, “Danny’s just an average teenager - he’s very personable, he’s fun and he participates in a lot of different things.”

Josie Ross, Benilde-St. Margaret’s

From the cultural epicenter of the Twin Cities, Josie Ross has embodied the very best the performing arts offer. Ross’ tremendous talents and accomplishments in the arts have been matched, perhaps even exceeded, however, by her selfless nature and her unyielding desire to help others. (Josie is pictured with her parents, Chuck and Debra, Bob Gardner and the MSHSL's Amy Doherty.)

In addition to her exemplary 3.96 grade-point average and membership in the National Honor Society, Ross has been involved in many activities and clubs.

Ross has participated in numerous performing arts activities, including debate, speech and choir. Among her many awards in this area are the Minnesota State High School League ExCEL Award and the Benilde-St. Margaret’s School Outstanding Character Award.

However, it is the realm of theatre that could accurately be described as her true passion.
Among her theatre accomplishments, she’s a four-year cast member of the One-Act Play, a performer in multiple school musicals and plays, and has received several Hennepin Theatre Trust Spotlight Theatre Awards.

*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Best of John’s Journal: Honorable Mention6/26/2017
Every year at this time, I read through everything that’s been posted on John’s Journal from the start of practice for fall sports in August through state tournaments in the spring. The goal is to come up with a Top 10 list of my favorite stories each year. This is never easy.

Looking back at 2016-17 was a delightfully time-consuming task. Going through what was posted was a whole bunch of fun, sifting through 364 total posts, jotting down notes and beginning with a very long list in the course of finalizing a Top 10.

The initial winnowing brought the number down from 364 to 46. And then the real work began. As I went through those 46 posts, struggling to shorten the list, an idea popped into my head: Adding an Honorable Mention list to the Top 10.

After deciding on the Top 10, I put together my next five favorite stories. In the coming days I’ll re-post each of the Top 10 stories individually. For the Honorable Mention stories, I’ve put together a summary for some along with the date they were posted. (If you scroll to the bottom of this post and click on “More of John’s Journal”, you will see a month-by-month list of everything that has been posted here since I joined the MSHSL staff in March 10.)

And with that, here are the Honorable Mention stories (in chronological order)…

Aug. 27/ Football season opener in Babbitt

The very first game of the 2016 football season took place way up north in the tiny town of Babbitt, where nine-man teams from Mountain Iron-Buhl and Northeast Range met on a sunny and warm Friday afternoon. An excerpt from the story:

This game and atmosphere was wildly, spectacularly, unbelievably different from what will take place on November 25 and 26 in downtown Minneapolis. Half an hour or so before kickoff, a dozen fans patiently waited in front of a little ticket booth that was as yet unoccupied. They eventually wandered through the gate and took their gratis seats on the single set of bleachers. Ticket takers arrived a little later and enough paying fans came through to almost fill the stands.

The football field, tucked in behind Ron Castellano Ice Arena, is surrounded by a very Shawshanksian metal fence topped with barbed wire ... as if there is something worth stealing inside. There once was a running track around the field, but all the lanes are grass-covered now. A thin concrete curb remains in place inside where Lane 1 used to be, presenting just enough of a lip to trip up those who aren’t paying attention.

The bleacher accommodates fans from both teams, and they can see an old scoreboard directly across the field. I don’t know the age of the scoreboard, but the thing makes a “click” sound with each second that ticks off. It is pure analog glory.


Sept. 13/ Officiaiting crew mourns a lost member

Travis Kiel was 35 years old when he was killed in a traffic accident on July 31. He graduated from Milaca High School and lived in Foley. A football and basketball official, Travis was well-liked by his fellow officials. His crew honored his memory all season by wearing patches with his initials on their caps, and for some games a moment of silence was observed in Travis’ memory before kickoff. An excerpt:

“He was very studious of the game,” said Tom Bolduc, the referee (white cap) on the football crew that Travis was part of. “Nobody ever said a bad thing about him.”

Travis’ death was doubly tough on Bolduc’s crew because back judge Paul Seaton’s daughter Erin was married to Travis for 10 years before he died. They have two children, seven-year-old Whitney and four-year-old Wyatt.

“He loved the Friday nights,” Seaton said. “He played at Milaca High School, and when the opportunity came to be an official he had that gleam in his eye. Friday nights were special for him. Right from the get-go he was a quality official.”


May 15/ Monticello’s Nick Zwack: Three Sports And A Lot More

Nick Zwack is a busy young man. As graduation nears, the senior at Monticello High School is putting the wraps on a prep career that, while hard to match, will inspire the next generation of Monticello student-athletes.

If you see his name and wonder, “Where have I heard about that kid?,” think back to the Class 1A boys state hockey tournament. That’s when Nick became a statewide star in leading the unseeded cooperative team from Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake to a state runner-up finish.

Hockey is just one-third of his athletic career. He also was the quarterback on the football team and this spring he is the No. 1 pitcher and also plays frst base for the Magic baseball team. The lefthander will stay with baseball in college, pitching at Division I Xavier University in Cincinnati.

But athletics is only part of Nick’s legacy. He was his school’s recipient of the MSHSL Triple A Award, which recognizes achievements in Academics, Arts and Athletics. Zwack is a top student who also plays violin in the school orchestra. He was named the Region 8AA winner of the Triple A Award and was recognized with other winners from around the state at a halftime ceremony on the Target Center court during the boys state basketball tournament.


May 31/ Let’s Do This In Minnesota: Future Teacher Signing Ceremonies

A wonderful happened this spring at Norwalk High School in Iowa, when graduating seniors who planned to become educators were honored in a special ceremony. An excerpt:

“Everyone loved it. It’s been huge,” Johanna MacKenzie told me. She is a teacher in Norwalk who was asked by superintendent D.T. Magee -- it was his idea -- to put together the signing ceremony for future teachers.

“The general feedback was, ‘This is so awesome, we want to see it every year,’ ” Johanna said. “The kids felt so honored. They felt like they were a really big deal that day.”

That’s the point. Nothing is more vital to the future of our world than education, and we need to do everything we can in Minnesota and elsewhere to encourage young people to consider careers in education. (Full and proud disclosure: I am the son of a teacher and the father of two teachers.)


June 1/ Everyone In Alexandria Is Cheering For Josh Molden

While Josh Molden was in a Minneapolis hospital, his Alexandria High School track and field teammates were competing at a section meet in Moorhead. Josh, one of the top long and triple jumpers in the state, was undergoing treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. An excerpt:

Josh’s name was first on the list as the triple jump competition began. The official called his name and the 60-second timer started. The official declared a foul and the rest of the jumpers took their turns. Through three rounds of jumps, the pattern continued.

“Pretty much our entire team, everyone who was not competing at the time, was standing there by the triple jump,” (coach Mike) Empting said. “It was a special moment. It wasn’t a really big deal for anybody who didn’t know what was going on. But it was very significant for everybody who did know.

“It was emotional. It was pretty quiet. I don’t think our kids even knew how to respond, other than they knew they wanted to be there, they wanted to be a part of it.”


*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn