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An Autumn Evening Amid A Season Of Memories
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/18/2017 11:07:41 PM

I was standing on the sideline at Edina’s Kuhlman Field on Wednesday evening, watching the Hornets play host to Eden Prairie in a Week 8 football game between unbeaten Class 6A teams. As is usually the case, I snuck glances at my phone to get updates from other games all over our great state via Twitter.

The setting in Edina was spectacular. As the sun receded into the western horizon, the bright stadium lights stepped up and took control. Both schools brought big crowds to witness the game between teams ranked No. 1 (Eden Prairie) and No. 2 (Edina) in Class 6A, the big boys of high school in Minnesota.

Cheerleaders from both schools wore pink accents in a nod to the fight against cancer. The Edina Hornets took the field by running through a giant inflatable tunnel with a giant air-filled hornet perched on top; four players carried large flags as they sprinted onto the turf, flags representing the U.S., our state, POW-MIAs and the Hornets themselves.

One of the officials came over to say hi at halftime, telling me they had noticed my bright red Toyota Camry in the parking lot. Another gentleman shook my hand and said, “I thought you might be in Ely or someplace like that tonight.”

Nope, I was in Edina for my first Class 6A game of the autumn. It seemed like a grand way to essentially cap off the regular season for MSHSL fall sports. And it’s been a wonderful ride from August into October. I haven’t tracked how many events I have attended, but I saw volleyball at Mabel-Canton and Sibley East, football in International Falls and Wabasso, cross-country in Lakeville and Minnetrista, girls swimming in Hutchinson and New Prague, soccer in St. Paul and on and on.

These events, all of them, are special because high school activities mean so much to so many. The athletes and coaches, for sure, but it’s always a treat to see grandparents sitting on wooden gym bleachers or watching an outdoor game from lawn chairs. The sight of little kids throwing around a toy football on the perimeter of a high school game always brings a smile. And when a talented pep band gets cranked up, well, I’m in my happy place.

When the Edina marching band took the field before Friday’s game, it seemed like clowns escaping a clown car. The band members just kept coming and coming, nearly filling the field. When I asked one of the kids how many are in the band, the answer was 380. Wow.

I love hearing student sections have fun, as evidenced by the kids from Eden Prairie yelling “Marco!” from one side and hearing the response – “Polo!” – come from the Edina youth across the field.

Twitter was filled with other great moments from across the state as the football regular season ended and thoughts began turning to the postseason. There were dispatches from Spring Valley, where Kingsland High School was doing something that no Knights team had done since 2012: Win a football game.

When the final score was posted (Kingsland 35, Hayfield 14) you could almost feel the celebration in southern Minnesota as the Knights and their fans marked the end of a 50-game losing streak.

There was an update from Marshall, where the unbeaten Class 4A Tigers defeated Jordan 76-34 and Marshall senior running back Jefferson Lee V became the fourth player in state history to score 100 touchdowns.

That final score was followed by this Tweet from the Jordan activities department: “Marshall outscored opponents 459-66 this season. Jordan scores 34 tonight, Heads up Hubmen!”

A Tweet from Glencoe-Silver Lake showed the Panthers football team facing the camera above the caption, “Tackle cancer night at GSL. This for you KEVIN!”

There was a postgame Tweet from a football game between Buffalo and Rogers, showing both teams gathered together at midfield for a photo. It’s hard to beat that for sportsmanship, togetherness and community.

The regular season isn’t over for everybody involved in fall sports, but we’re getting close. The girls and boys state soccer tournaments will get underway next week and the girls state tennis tournament will happen next week with team, singles and doubles titles decided. Volleyball teams are beginning section play and cross-country teams will soon do the same. We’ll see the girls swimming and diving state championships, the adapted soccer state tournament, and the fall season will come to a close with Prep Bowl football games on Thanksgiving weekend.

If what we’ve seen so far is any indication, it’s going to be a great finish.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Thank A Ref
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/18/2017 7:43:27 AM

Each year the MSHSL emphasizes the importance of officials in all sports and activities with an initiative called "Thank A Ref." Games are not possible without officials, and it's important to let them know that they are appreciated in what can sometimes be a thankless job.

With that in mind, here's an email that was sent to Jason Nickleby, the MSHSL's coordinator of officials ...

Hi Jason,

I am a 10-year-plus MSHSL soccer referee and I wanted to share with you a recent experience I had.

While reffing the varsity boys game at Rockford on Oct. 3, one of the Rockford players, during a lull in the game early in the second half, said to me "Thanks for coming out to ref us tonight." This totally caught me off guard! I don't recall this ever happening during a game before. But is sure made me feel good!

After I read your article a couple of days ago in the Bulletin, it occurred to me that that might have been the impetus for that player's comment.

Also, in the 30-plus games I've reffed this fall, I think I've heard "Thanks for reffing us" more times in the postgame handshake line than I've heard in previous years. And that's always good to hear.


Jim Brown

The Game, The Afternoon Sunshine, The Morrison County Milk Jug
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/16/2017 4:05:46 PM

Some events are great and some events are beyond outstanding. Let’s tap into that latter category as I tell you about my trip to the great central Minnesota communities of Swanville and Upsala for a Week 7 football game.

The contest would end with one team – either the Upsala-Swanville Patriots or the Royalton Royals – celebrating with the Morrison County Milk Jug, one of a multitude of traveling trophies from rivalries all over the state.

We’ll get to the Jug, but let’s start at the beginning, which was Sept. 7 when I chatted with Hopkins High School athletic director Dan Johnson at a cross-country meet. He told me about meeting Swanville AD/teacher/assistant football coach/head girls basketball coach Aaron Gapinski and learning that Upsala-Swanville plays one football game in the afternoon each year. I sent an email to Aaron, received confirmation and we started making plans.

A few emails later my day was set. I arrived in Swanville at 10:30 a.m. and spoke to the entire high school student population (all 75 or 80 of them), talking about the MSHSL, what it does and my job. Then I was escorted to the kindergarten room to enjoy root beer floats with the kindergartens kids and the volleyball team, followed by pizza with some of the teachers. Food? Check.

Then it was time to drive 15 miles to Upsala. The two schools have their own identities: the Swanville Bulldogs and the Upsala Cardinals. They have cooperative teams in some sports, including football, in which they are the Upsala-Swanville Area (USA) Patriots. Once football season ends, the boys from the two schools will be rivals on the basketball court.

The Patriots play three of their four regular-season home games in Swanville, where Con Natvig Field has lights. The field in Upsala is unencumbered by electrical illumination and provided a lovely setting for Friday’s 2 o’clock game, about which the only word I can come up with is “idyllic.” There was bright sunshine, a cool breeze, fall colors everywhere. The combined pep band from both USA schools was on hand, with fans ringing the field, people sitting on lawn chairs and laying on blankets, and one kid climbing a tree to get a good view of the action.

Before kickoff I chatted with Con Natvig himself. Con began coaching high school football in 1966, is a member of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and is now a volunteer assistant with the Patriots in his 52nd year as a coach. He knows the game as well as anyone.

This was a good matchup between teams in the Mid-State District. Class 2A Royalton came in with a 5-1 record after advancing to the state quarterfinals last year. The Class 1A USA Patriots also were 5-1. The outcome would have an impact on seeding for section tournaments; Royalton in Section 7 and the Patriots in Section 4.

The Morrison County Milk Jug is a relatively new prize. Royalton coach Jamie Morford explained: “It used to be a heated rivalry and now it’s a very friendly competition. With conference realignment and district realignment, we kind of lost that. We wanted to do something to bring the excitement that was, so we came up with the idea for the Jug. It’s really brought a little added atmosphere to it.”

Small towns are always unique places and here’s one example: Swanville head football coach Jay Loven is also the chairman of the school board. And if you need gas, automotive repairs or want to purchase a vehicle, Loven’s Auto Center can take care of you. Jay is the third-generation owner of the business.

As the game began, Loven’s boys held their own in a defensive battle. Royalton’s first offensive series was marked by bad news when Royals quarterback Gavin Suska threw an interception, took a helmet to the thigh and limped off the field. He stayed in the game but was slowed the rest of the day, unable to roll out with effectiveness.

USA punted on its first three possessions and the Royals did so twice after the pickoff. But then the fans gathered around the field – and watching from a treetop – saw a trend begin to develop midway through the second quarter when Royalton running back Cole Wentland broke free on a 57-yard scoring burst.

Wentland added a 17-yard touchdown run on the Royals’ next possession and they led 13-0 at halftime. Any hopes of regrouping by the USA fans were dashed when the Patriots lost a fumble on their own 32-yard line to open the second half. Boom. Wentland charged 27 yards for another TD.

Suska threw off one leg to Zach Gottwalt for a 25-yard score before the Patriots got on the board with a 25-yard pass from Jorgan Kiley to Alex Thieschafer. Wentland closed it out with his fourth touchdown, a 15-yard run with 10 minutes to play. Final score: Royals 35, Patriots 8.

“USA’s defense is always very tough,” Morford said afterwards. “Jay runs a good defense and they’ve had our number. I just wanted to make sure we could pound away and do the things we wanted to do. Having Gavin get hurt, that changed some things, we weren’t able to throw like we wanted to. But the kids responded well.”

After the teams exchanged postgame handshakes, the Royals gathered up the Jug and cheered, thrusting index fingers into the cloudless afternoon sky. They settled down and took a knee to hear a few words from Morford. He reminded them that the regular season will end in a short week, with Royalton meeting Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg on Wednesday (and USA facing Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, the only team to beat the Royals this season).

“Savor this for tonight,” Morford told the Royals. “But we’ll rock and roll on Monday. Wednesday comes quick.”

As he wrapped up his remarks, the coach had one request: “Hand me that jug!”

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

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Class 1A Volleyball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/16/2017 2:49:51 PM

1. Mayer Lutheran (12) - 180
2. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton - 168
3. Minneota - 156
4. Hayfield - 129
5. Bethlehem Academy - 126
6. Wadena-Deer Creek - 121
7. Caledonia - 99
8. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown - 93
9. Rush City - 76
10. Mabel-Canton - 57
Others Receiving Votes: Canby - 34

Class 2A Volleyball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 10/16/2017 2:49:31 PM

1. Maple Lake (13) - 195
2. Marshall - 174
3. Stewartville - 164
4. North Branch - 158
5. Rocori - 136
6. Hill-Murray - 99
7. SW Christian - 93
8. Norwood-Young America - 81
9. Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta - 79
10. St. Cloud Cathedral - 56
Others Receiving Votes: Holy Angels - 51, Kasson-Mantorville - 33, Kenyon-Wanamingo - 28
Teams Only Appearing On One Ballot - Jackson County Central, Pipestone

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