|'A Thousand Hugs’ For Wrestling’s McKee Family
|Posted by John Millea (email@example.com) - Updated 12/22/2014 1:19:52 PM
|Mitchell McKee is one of Minnesota’s top high school wrestlers. The junior from St. Michael-Albertville brought a career record of 174-17 into this season, including four trips to the state tournament and a Class 3A state championship at 120 pounds last season.
But people probably know Mitchell best as the son of Seve McKee. At last year’s state tourney, Steve sat in the first row at Xcel Energy Center as Mitchell defeated Blaine sophomore Malik Stewart in the title match. After the match, Malik shook Steve’s hand before Mitchell and his father embraced.
Steve was dealing with a rare form cancer, which took his life on Dec. 7 after 23 months. The story of Mitchell’s state championship, Malik’s show of sportsmanship and the embrace between father and son was shared nationally.
Mitchell, his ninth-grade brother Patrick and their mom, Nina (pictured), are devoted to wrestling, as was Steve. Since Steve’s passing, the family has been inundated with sympathy, well-wishes and hugs. Oh, the hugs.
“I couldn’t walk through this arena without a thousand hugs,” Nina said Saturday at the Minnesota Christmas wrestling tournament in Rochester. “The support is overwhelming.”
For a sport that is built on hard work, tenacity and toughness, wrestling is an intertwined, friendly and family-oriented world. The McKees have certainly experienced that family atmosphere, as evidenced by all the cards, calls, handshakes and hugs they have experienced.
“After wrestling all these years you get to know everybody from all over,” Mitchell told me after winning his second consecutive Christmas tournament title. “But there’s a lot of people I don’t know who say how sorry they are and that type of stuff. It’s been rough but it’s also had its good moments.”
Mitchell, the state’s top-ranked 3A wrestler at 126 pounds, pinned all five opponents at the Christmas tournament.
“You have to come in with the mindset that you’re the toughest one out there and wrestle like you’re the toughest one out there,” he said. “It’s hard to beat someone who wrestles like they think they’re the toughest one out there. And that’s what I tell my brother every time he steps on the mat, ‘Wrestle tough in every position, all six minutes.’ Most of the time you’ll be happy with what comes out of it.”
Patrick placed fourth at 106 pounds in Rochester, and Mitchell was proud of him.
“As a ninth-grader to come into this tournament and place fourth, that’s more than a lot of ninth-graders do,” Mitchell said.
The St. Michael-Albertville team will return to action back in Rochester for The Clash national duals Jan. 2-3. Until then, the wrestlers will get some workouts in but mainly spend time with their families.
“There’s been a lot of support,” Mitchell said, “which has really helped.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 260
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 5,860
|She Dances To The Music (Even Though She Can’t Hear It)
|Posted by John Millea (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Updated 12/18/2014 11:22:34 AM
|Imagine this: You are a member of a high school dance team, and nothing is more important to your performance than hearing the music and the cues it provides.
Imagine this: You are deaf.
Erin Barrett doesn’t imagine this scenario. The junior at Roseville High School is indeed deaf and she is indeed a member of the Raiders’ varsity high kick dance team. How does she do it? Through a combination of visual cues, practice, experience and the assistance of a sign language interpreter. It is not easy, even if Erin makes it look easy.
“Sometimes I feel like she can hear because she always gets it,” said Roseville coach Brittany Rehling. “It’s super amazing.”
With the assistance of interpreter Alene Ray (pictured with Erin), Erin told me, “I’m not really hearing the music so I have to follow what everybody else is doing. I have to think about it, like ‘What are we going to do?’ and I’m counting as well, plus I’m looking at the coaches and the interpreter. I’m picking up all this visually and the team is sort of communicating with me and it sort of flows that way. If I’m stuck I just sort of follow what they’re doing and keep in the flow. It’s not easy.”
Erin was born in China, lived in an orphanage and came to the United States when she was 13, adopted by Sue and David Barnett of Roseville. She doesn’t remember ever being able to hear; she thinks she may have lost her hearing when she was ill as a very young child.
She splits her school days between Metro Deaf School in St. Paul and Roseville High School. She joined the Raiders dance program last year, which was an adjustment for her new teammates.
“I think they were at first kind of like, ‘Oh, OK.’ I instill a lot of trust in the girls,” Rehling said. “I noticed on the first day it was kind of an adjustment, everyone tried to not watch her interpreter. This year it’s really come together and everyone just talks to Erin like she can hear us.
“We don’t really acknowledge it, but at the end of the day you look back and realize she doesn’t hold back and isn’t treated any differently at all. That’s the most beautiful thing of all. She’s just like any other member of the team.”
Prior to Monday’s Suburban East Conference dance championships at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, the Raiders high kick dance team was going through its final practice. Rehling sat high in the gymnasium bleachers, directing traffic.
The coach asked, “Erin, are you behind Fortune?” Ray relayed the question and Erin nodded. Rehling then counted off “1! 2! 3! 4! …” as the team resumed its routine. As the coach counted, Ray held up fingers to match the count so Erin knew the cue. And once the routine began, she was perfectly in step with everyone else.
“She somehow finds that beat and stays on the beat,” Rehling said. “Sometimes girls who can hear have trouble keeping up.”
According to Sue Barnett, “When competition started and people started to find out that there was a deaf dancer on the team and they couldn't pick out who the deaf dancer was, it made Erin feel good. During last year’s dance season, we started to see a girl become more confident within herself, seeing that she can do something that is very challenging and being successful at it. …
“She learned about being challenged with something and keeping at it, and it gave a good feeling when she accomplished it, that she was just part of a team and that her deafness wasn't stopping her from doing things that hearing people do.”
Rehling, a 2007 Roseville graduate, said one of her high school dance teammates was partially deaf.
“Erin kind of resonated with me,” she said. “Everyone thinks, ‘Oh, someone hard of hearing is on the dance team?’ I was really excited to hear about Erin. She’s great.”
Erin said, “When I came in the first year they were all talking and I was like, ‘Sorry, I can’t hear you’ and they were looking at me like, ‘What? How are you going to do this?’ I knew I would be fine. They started to understand, we went along and everything was good. I’m not afraid of anything.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 236
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 5,680
|Jarvis Johnson Died Four Years Ago; You Should See Him Now
|Posted by John Millea (email@example.com) - Updated 12/12/2014 2:56:56 PM
|Jarvis Johnson, a senior at DeLaSalle, is a well-known name in the boys basketball world. He hopes to lead the Islanders to a fourth consecutive Class 3A state championship this season before continuing his career at the University of Minnesota.
That’s pretty good for a kid who died four years ago.
It was December 2010. He collapsed at basketball practice as an eighth-grader and was clinically dead for between seven and 12 minutes. The story of how he came back to life is amazing, and the fact that he is one of the top athletes in Minnesota – with a surgically inserted defibrilattor keeping watch on his heart -- adds another incredible layer to the story of a young man who is a walking miracle.
I visited Jarvis during his lunch break at school, and he told me the story of what he said was just a regular day…
“I went to practice, stretched out a little bit, I was getting loose going up and down the court and I just collapsed,” he said. He began foaming from the mouth. There was no pulse. Doctors later confirmed it was a heart attack; what 14-year-old kid gets taken down by a heart attack?
Calls were made to 911 and Jarvis’ parents. When his father arrived, paramedics were working on Jarvis but they were not optimistic. Just recently, Jarvis’ dad told his son what took place.
“The ambulance people were saying, ‘Sir, he’s been dead for so long he’s not going to make it,’ ” Jarvis said. “My dad told them he wanted to speak with me for one more minute, and he started talking to me. Then they said I had a pulse. They asked him to keep talking to me.”
Johnson was transported to North Memorial Medical Center, where he was placed into a medically induced coma. He regained consciousness four or five days later and remained hospitalized for two weeks.
“The process was tough,” he said. “That doesn’t happen very often to a 14-year-old.”
The fact that Johnson is a top basketball player is just part of his story today. DeLaSalle coach Dave Thorson said Jarvis has become a team leader as well as an inspiration to those who around him.
“What I appreciate most about Jarvis is his attitude and his love of the game,” Thorson said. “I also have a lot of respect for the maturing that’s happened. He’s really been a leader for us in terms of his effort, not only in basketball but in all the other areas that go into being a student-athlete. I can’t tell you proud I am of him and how proud I am of the development that’s taken place.
“He is coming into that role of being a senior leader in a way that I’m just thrilled about. Whether it’s how he communicates in practice, what sort of role modeling he does as a student, how he carries himself. It means something to be an Islander, and he understands that.”
Johnson’s final list of colleges was Minnesota, Wisconsin, Baylor, Nevada-Las Vegas and Wichita State. He said the decision to become a Gopher was an easy one after he made his official visit to the campus that’s only about two miles from DeLaSalle.
“I got a chance to interact with some of the players, went to a class. As soon as I left I felt that the was place for me to be. Just getting to know coach (Richard) Pitino since he’s been here, that’s been excellent. He’s been totally honest throughout the whole recruitment.”
Thorson (pictured with Johnson) and the college coaches who recruited Johnson are well aware of his heart history. Jarvis knows that if he feels tired he needs to take himself out of the game; but that hasn’t happened much in recent years.
He also was recruited by Iowa State. The NBA career of Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg was ended by a heart ailment, and Hoiberg has a pacemaker implanted in his chest.
“He and I did have conversations about it,” Johnson said. “It was kind of an interesting topic between me and coach Hoiberg.”
In the immediate aftermath of Johnson’s heart attack, doctors told him he would probably never play basketball again. That was crushing.
“That was probably the most devastating news a kid can hear at 14 years old,” he said. “After that we prayed, I took things slowly, and a few months later we went back for another checkup. The doctor asked me if I really wanted to play again. He said I could play but be cautious, take my time and ask to come out when I felt tired. By the end of the year I almost felt back to being myself.”
Before Johnson was cleared by his doctors, one of them suggested that he take up golf or ping-pong. That didn’t sit too well.
“I was pretty upset after that,” he said, smiling. “I’m not good at either one.”
The 6-foot-1 guard is quick, strong and athletic. He has helped the Islanders win those three state titles and they are ranked No. 1 in Class 3A this season. DeLaSalle has produced a long list of college players; Reid Travis graduated last spring and is now in the starting lineup at Stanford. Johnson is the next in that storied line from the Catholic school that sits on Nicollet Island in the middle of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis.
“Jarvis is one of those high school athletes who younger kids look to,” Thorson said. “With all the notoriety that happens now with recruiting, and with his decisions, some of that you don’ really ask for, you get it whether you want it or not. But Jarvis does a marvelous job of that, in terms of interacting with those young people.”
Johnson doesn’t mind talking about his health history and doesn’t shy away from questions. He doesn’t think about it all the time, but when he’s falling asleep he sometimes feels the defibrillator.
“I really don’t notice it much, it’s the kind of thing you kind of forget about,” he said. “The only time I really can feel it is sometimes when I’m going to sleep, when everything’s quiet.
“I think about it a lot of times when I’m going to sleep. It’s just like, ‘What if I didn’t have a heart attack, would I be the same person I am today?’ I think about that pretty often.
“I think it would be different. It would definitely be different.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 215
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 5,202
|No Carlie, No Tyus: What Happens Next?
|Posted by John Millea (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Updated 12/5/2014 12:03:16 PM
|In recent years, two names became synonymous with Minnesota high school basketball. And they were first names: Carlie and Tyus.
Carlie Wagner led the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva girls team to Class 2A state championship in 2013 and 2014 and she now plays at the University of Minnesota. Tyus Jones was the star of the Apple Valley boys team (the 2013 Class 4A champions) and he now is in the starting lineup at Duke. After last season they were named Miss and Mr. Basketball in Minnesota.
Both are making a big impact on their college teams as freshmen. But what about their high school teams? How are they moving forward without two of the most recognizable names in Minnesota basketball history?
The stories are not the same. The NRHEG girls, who also lost three other important seniors, are starting nearly from scratch this season, including a new head coach. Apple Valley, on the other hand, has a team of returning veterans and several Division I recruits.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have really grown up and had a great summer and have been waiting their turn and now it’s their turn,” said Apple Valley coach Zach Goring. “We’re a really solid nine deep, when last we year were probably more like six, seven deep.”
The top players for the Eagles include 6-foot-10 junior Brock Bertram, 6-3 sophomore Gary Trent Jr. and 5-11 ninth-grader Tre Jones (brother of Tyus).
“We’ve got five kids being recruited by Division I schools and three seniors off the bench who are going to go to the MIAC,” Goring said. “They want to win and win big.”
Apple Valley is 3-0 going into a game against Waukon, Iowa, on Saturday in the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic at Hopkins.
The expectations are not that high at NRHEG. Wagner was the go-to player, and the Panthers were accustomed to going to her for big points and big leadership. Her sisters, Maddie and Marnie, are sophomore twins who have more varsity experience than any other players on the team.
In NRHEG’s season opener on Tuesday, Waseca defeated the Panthers 62-59 and ended their two-year, 61-game winning streak. NRHEG came back to beat Maple River 73-45 on Thursday.
“We’re trying to figure some of those things out, trying to see who our leaders will be,” said first-year coach Onika Peterson, who was an assistant under John Schultz. He stepped down after last season; among the graduated seniors is his daughter, Jade.
“That senior class was very driven and very hardworking,” Peterson said. “Carlie definitely set a tempo and set expectations. They obviously loved to have fun and have their goofy moments, but when it was a serious situation in practice they knuckled down and kicked it into gear. They weren’t afraid to say ‘These are our expectations and this is what we want to accomplish.’ ”
Carlie Wagner and Tyus Jones filled similar roles on their high school teams. Not only were they counted on to score and play defense, but both were role models to other players.
“I’ve never seen someone who played basketball so effortlessly,” Peterson said of Wagner. “It’s a unique situation to see a kid who can dribble faster than some people are running, stop on a dime and make a shot. She plays so free and makes things look so easy, and it’s not. She was a great athlete but also a great team leader.”
Goring said Tyus Jones’ impact carries over to the current Eagles players.
“Everything he did on and off the court was just such a neat way to show our other kids, ‘that’s how you do it,’ without him telling them to do that. He was as heavily recruited as anyone, and he never mentioned it once. It was never a big deal. The way he was with kids after games, and he never batted an eye at anyone on our staff for five years.
“That’s something we can always go back to: this is how the best player does it, this is how you guys should do it as well.”
The current players at Apple Valley and NRHEG know that there are big sneakers to be filled.
Trent, whose father played for the Timberwolves and three other teams during a 10-year NBA career, said, “You have to take on a new role, you’ve got to really lock down and take over games and play as a whole group.”
Tre Jones said it was strange not seeing his brother on the team this year.
“He was around for five years and you were used to seeing his face around,” Tre said. “But we’ve got a good group of guys and we’re ready to go.”
Not seeing Carlie Wagner in a Panthers uniform also seems odd, but her sisters are ready for the challenge of a new season.
“I guess (it is strange) not always looking for Carlie on the court and knowing she’s going to score for us. We always looked for her,” Marnie said. “We have to all be leaders on the court instead of one leader.”
Maddie Wagner said, “We knew we had to step up with Carlie leaving. Everbody was like, ‘Oh, they’re not going to be good without Carlie.’ We’ll still be good; this is more like a transition year and we have to get used to it.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 202
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,812
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