|No. 3 from 2017-18: Female Football Official Kelly Banyai
|Posted by John Millea (email@example.com) - Updated 7/15/2018 7:26:19 PM
|We have reached No. 3 on the list of my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from 2017-18. This one is pretty special because it's about a pretty special person. Kelly Banyai is a rarity: a female football official. She's also dedicated, committed and talented. In fact, she's an inspiration. This story was originally posted on Sept. 21.
Football Official Kelly Banyai: ‘I Like Being Part Of A Team Again’
A few high school football players in Minnesota have been a little surprised in recent weeks after addressing an official as “sir” and then quickly realizing their mistake. Kelly Banyai has heard that honorific several times on the field, but it doesn’t bother her one little bit.
“They’ll call me ‘sir’ and then they apologize and I’m like, ‘That’s OK. No big deal.’ It doesn’t matter to me,” said Banyai, who is one of a small number of females among 1,433 football officials registered with the MSHSL and is believed to be the only woman working varsity games in 2017.
Banyai, 39, is the mother of two children ages 10 and nine; her husband Matt is a St. Paul firefighter. They live in Prior Lake, where Kelly played high school basketball before continuing her basketball career at St. Mary’s University in Winona. She is in her second year as an MSHSL football official and her first year working varsity games. She is a back judge, positioned behind the defense.
“You learn from everybody,” she said. ‘I like being part of a team again. It’s really fun, it’s a good hobby. I can’t scrapbook, I’m not artsy, I hate shopping. I wish I would have done it when I was in my 20s and got an earlier start. I’m telling my kids, ‘You’re going to be a referee.’ It teaches you so much about handling situations.”
She began thinking about officiating when her son began playing youth football. She was explaining some of the rules to him when she realized, “I always watch and love football but never played or coached. I had a desire to be somewhat involved.”
She went to the MSHSL website and filled out a form for people interested in officiating. She soon received a phone call from Tom Wollan, an experienced official with the Suburban Officials Association. Young MSHSL officials are paired with veterans, and Wollan became Banyai’s mentor.
“Tom called me and he was so welcoming,” she said. “I didn’t want to do any other sports. The plays are really quick, you keep moving, the parents aren’t right on top of you. I’ve enjoyed it so much. Everyone in the Suburban Association has been so helpful.”
Wollan was the referee (informally known as the white cap) and Banyai was the back judge for last Friday’s Chaska-Chanhassen game. She was filling in for Gordy Hanson, a regular member of Wollan’s crew who was off to officiate a college game. Banyai is not part of a regular officiating crew but fills in for absent officials this season.
“Gordy is about as good an official as there is in the state of Minnesota,” said Wollan, a 16-year official who has worked in three state tournaments and one Prep Bowl. “We wanted to get the best possible sub we could for our crew. It became an opportunity for someone who was not as experienced. Kelly took to it pretty nicely. This year we said, ‘Why don’t we have her on our games when Gordy is gone.’ Will she be on a full-time crew next year? Probably.
“I think she’s got good aptitude, and she certainly has a good attitude for it. You like people around you who say, ‘Tell me what to do to be better.’ I’ve known her since before the 2016 season and I would have no hesitation in taking her on our crew full-time if for some reason there was on opening.”
Like a football player, Banyai has tried to gain as much experience as possible in order to improve her skills. She began her career last season by working lower-level games and flag football.
“I’ve tried to get as many snaps as I could,” she said. “I tell the crews, ‘There are so many things I’m horrible at.’ ”
She works in medical sales for Integra LifeSciences. She laughed when talking about officiating and sales: “In reffing you need a thick skin, and being in sales it has to be the thickest.”
Banyai has worked some big rivalry games this season. A week before the Chaska-Chanhassen game she was on the field when Mankato East and Mankato West squared off. She said she’s so focused on her job that she rarely notices the fans.
“I don’t hear the crowd until I try to hear the crowd,” she said.
Banyai spends time each week watching video of the teams she will see on Friday night. “That’s a good way to train, especially for the back judge,” she said. “ ‘Where are my keys, what am I looking for?’ ”
She’s thrilled that she became an official and encourages others to do the same.
“More people need to sign up to be refs,” she said. “It’s a needed position. We have so much sports for youth in Minnesota and we need to be supportive of all parts of it.”
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
|No. 4 from 2017-18: A Major Car Accident, But The Umpire Still Did Her Job
|Posted by John Millea (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Updated 7/14/2018 9:17:00 PM
|As we continue counting down my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories from the 2017-18 school year, here is No. 4. It's an astounding tale of a dedicated official who refused to let a serious car accident stop her from getting to a game. It was originally posted on May 21.
A Major Car Accident, But The Umpire Still Did Her Job
M.J. Wagenson was in such a hurry to get from one softball game to another that she was still wearing her chest protector and shin guards while driving. After working behind the plate at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III tournament in Rochester, the veteran umpire was driving 13 miles to a high school game in Stewartville last Thursday. And everything was going fine until another driver pulled out in front of her.
The result? Two vehicles that were total losses, but amazingly no injuries other than very minor burns on Wagenson’s hands from the air-bag deployment.
“With all the miles we put on as officials, I’m just thankful everybody was OK,” said Wagenson, a Pine Island resident who began working as an MSHSL softball and basketball official in 1986. She has worked many state tournaments in both sports and in 2016 she became the first female official at the boys state basketball tournament (where she also worked in 2017 and 2018). And after 32 years as a basketball and softball official, she has registered as a football official for the 2018-19 season.
Wagenson and Marshall Behrens had each umpired three junior college games in Rochester before driving separately to the game in Stewartville; it’s a testament to the shortage of officials in Minnesota that they were scheduled for four games in one day.
As they departed for Stewartville, Behrens was driving a few minutes ahead of Wagenson. After he arrived at the field, she called and said she had been in a car accident.
He told her, “ ‘Oh, that’s funny.’ But then I could tell in her voice it was real. I said, ‘Are you OK? Do you need me to come get you?’ ”
The wreck happened on the north end of Stewartville. The other driver pulled out from a convenience store, right into Wagenson’s path. She had a split second to turn her wheel before the left front of her 2011 Honda CRV struck the other vehicle in the left rear.
“The gentleman was exiting the Kwik Trip, turning left to go north,” she said. “I was southbound on the divided highway there. I was in the left lane, there was a pickup in the right lane, the guy tried to scoot in front of the pickup and didn’t see me.”
Behrens, who was planning to work the bases, asked a parent to tell the coaches from Hayfield and Stewartville that the game would start a little late. He began changing into his home-plate gear.
“The coaches were great,” he said. “All they cared about was M.J.”
At this point, Wagenson was standing on the side of the highway. Passersby had stopped and someone called 911 while she called Behrens.
Wagenson teaches sport management at Rochester Community and Technical College. One of the two tow-truck drivers who arrived was one of her former students, and she climbed aboard the truck for a ride to the softball game.
“I said, ‘Could one of you give me a ride to the field?’ ” Already wearing her chest protector and shin guards, she grabbed her mask, field shoes, wallet and phone from the now-wrecked car. After the game in Stewartville ended, she called to arrange for a rental car, Behrens gave her a ride to pick it up, then she went to the tow yard and emptied everything else out of her car.
Her Honda, which had around 38,000 miles when she bought it in 2013, finished its driving days with 185,000 miles on the odometer.
Wagenson said she feels very grateful to be able to walk away from such a serious accident.
“My family’s lost a few family members and some close friends in the last year,” she said. “Standing on the side of the road, I was thanking all my angels. My sister texted me later and said, ‘I hope you thanked them all.’
“One of my friends said, ‘You went to the game?’ Missing the game never crossed my mind. I thought, ‘Marshall’s down there working the game and I’ve got to get there.’ ”
As the the game in Stewartville began with Behrens working solo, he never doubted that Wagenson would appear. And she did.
“In the bottom of the third inning, she strolled up like nothing had happened,” he said. “She got a nice ovation from everybody.”
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
|No. 5 from 2017-18: Eastview Coach Is A Multisport Female Role Model
|Posted by John Millea (email@example.com) - Updated 7/13/2018 9:00:21 PM
|We're down to the top five on my list of favorite stories from 2017-18, and here is No. 5. Posted on April 19, this story is about Eastview High School's Molly Kasper, a rarity as a two-sport head coach at a large suburban school, as well as a wonderful role model for young female student-athletes.
Molly's Game: Eastview Coach Is A Multisport Female Role Model
Molly Kasper is a young coach with an impressive resume. In her three years as the head girls basketball coach at Eastview High School, the Lightning have an overall record of 84-12 with back-to-back third-place finishes at the Class 4A state tournament before going 32-0 and winning the state title this year.
Kasper is in her second season as Eastview’s softball coach, making her a rarity among coaches at the state’s biggest schools: the head coach of two vastly different sports in back-to-back seasons. The 31-year-old and her husband Derek also have a two-year-old daughter and another daughter due in July.
Two coaching positions, full-time teaching, a young family and a pregnancy in the middle of it all? Molly’s life is a swirl of school and practice and daycare and family time, but one of her most important roles is quieter, more behind the scenes and crucial to the young athletes in her care.
Kasper is a role model not only as a multisport coach, but as a female who encourages her athletes to maximize their potential on and off the court and the field, to know their full worth and to support each other.
“It is pretty important to me,” said the native of Eau Claire, Wis., who played three sports in high school and basketball at Winona State. “I got to grow up being a multisport athlete, and it helped me with the mental health of being an athlete and being able to play different sports. It also helped me as a competitor and helped me as a teammate. It helped me so much.”
In basketball and softball, Kasper followed Eastview head coaches who stepped down to watch their kids play in college. Melissa Guebert (basketball) and Trevor Monroe (softball) both led their teams to recent state championships. If Kasper was intimidated by following in their footsteps, it never showed.
“When we did the first interviews about basketball, literally within five minutes you knew this is a person who gets it on every level,” said Eastview athletic director Matt Percival (who also has coached the Lightning to a state softball title). “The thing about her is that she has always, always, always been about the kids first and whatever she can do to help develop them as people. She wants to be such a strong role model as a female, as a mom, as a teacher, as a multisport person. That’s been important to her from the get-go.”
Kasper likes to direct her athletes to reading materials that focus on female empowerment, and she has created a Female Leadership Program at Eastview. The program, held one day each year, gives female athletes from all Lightning sports a chance to gather for interaction, instruction, hear speakers and more. Similar programs have been started at Apple Valley, Farmington and other schools.
“She’s definitely the best female role model that I’ve had. I look up to her,” said Megan Walstad, a senior who was named Minnesota’s Miss Basketball this year. “She’s so inspiring and she wants to encourage female athletes to keep doing things and keep getting out there.”
Kasper, who was inducted into the Eau Claire North High School Hall of Fame in 2017, lettered four times each in tennis, basketball and softball and was an all-state selection in basketball and softball. She played at state tournaments in tennis and softball but not in basketball despite playing on teams with a four-year regular-season record of 60-3.
She was a four-year basketball starter and two-year team captain at Winona State (she was Molly Anderson before getting married), where she was a graduate assistant women’s basketball coach for two years. She worked as an assistant girls basketball coach at Rosemount for three years before taking over as head coach at Eastview.
Coaching in back-to-back seasons means little or no down time between sports. This year, softball practice began the week of the girls state basketball tournament. Molly attended softball tryouts on Monday and stopped in briefly on Tuesday and Wednesday. Softball was called off Thursday so the players could go to the basketball tournament.
“I had all of Sunday to technically rest and softball started Monday,” she said with a laugh. “The transition’s been a lot easier probably than in the past, because we’re stuck inside.”
Yes, the weather. Like most other spring sports teams across Minnesota, Eastview softball practices have been held in the gym, with a few games played in domes and a team outing to a bowling alley to mix things up.
Whether the sport is basketball or softball, Kasper wants to make sure her athletes have a positive experience and support each other. Both teams watch other girls sports as a group, with basketball players cheering for the softball team, softball players cheering at track meets, etc. She said that’s important for all her athletes, whether they participate in one sport or more.
“There is so much specialization,” she said. “I’m a big believer that it increases injuries, especially for female athletes.
“I was able to get the other side of athletics, which was the fun part. My mom says I was always the one on the bench with traveling teams, wondering where we would be going to dinner later. I always felt it was part of being a family. I think it’s really hard for some of the teams, where they are, with single-sport athletes. I don’t want them honed in on just one aspect of their life.
“I get it, as you get older you want to specialize. But you need to also be in the weight room and take time off from your sport. I hear girls say they lost the passion, and that’s not why we play sports. We play to keep the passion and have good experiences.”
When Eastview was looking for a new softball coach, Kasper told Percival that she had a strong background in that sport. He was initially worried that she would be overworked by coaching two sports.
“We talked a lot about it because my biggest fear was burning her out,” he said. “She just said, ‘I want to show people that I can be a mom and be a coach. If I’m going to preach to these basketball kids all the time to be a multisport kid, then I can do it, too. We’re going to promote this idea of being a multisport athlete because I can do it as a coach.’ That means something.”
Andrea Abrams, a senior basketball player, said “She’s really good at encouraging everything that we do. And if we’re having a tough time she either talks to us or she knows somebody else who we should talk to. She always knows everything. She’s an amazing person to be around.”
Senior softball player Abby Lien, who will play at Iowa and plans to become a teacher and a coach, said, “She’s really good. She sends me articles and books, talking about being a good female role model. She’s a great coach and I love her so much.”
Percival added, “How does someone that young have that much wisdom? But she clearly does. She came in with a clear vision of what she wanted all this to be about.
“She’ll talk about how much she learns from these kids that has nothing to do with the sport. It has everything to do with how you develop a relationship. She is amazing. It’s been an absolute blessing to have her in our building.”
Postscript: Molly and Derek welcomed Khloe Marlene Kasper to the world on Friday (the day this story was posted). Congrats!
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
|No. 6 from 2017-18: The Inspiration Of Montevideo Dancer Kristin DeJong
|Posted by John Millea (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Updated 7/12/2018 7:04:26 PM
|The countdown continues with No. 6 from my Top 10 favorite John's Journal stories during the 2017-18 school year. This one, posted on Feb. 11, involves a remarkable young athlete who is immensely inspiring.
Montevideo Dancer Kristin DeJong: Pure Inspiration
MONTEVIDEO – Kristin DeJong is no different than any other teenager in this southwest Minnesota town. She’s a sophomore in high school who plays volleyball in the fall and is a member of the Montevideo Gold Dusters dance team in the winter.
The fact that she has a partially prosthetic left leg is an absolute afterthought. Absolutely. “We’ve never doubted anything that she could do,” said her mother, Andrea.
The Gold Dusters did not quality for this weekend’s state dance tournament at Target Center. They made it to state last year and Kristin and the other non-seniors will have more chances to return. The Gold Dusters put on a great show in both categories – jazz and kick – at Saturday’s Class 1A Section 3 championships in the Montevideo gym, but it wasn’t enough to advance from an extremely strong section. Teams from Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd, Yellow Medicine East and BOLD will represent Section 3 in both categories at state.
Kristin was 4 years old when she lost her leg below the knee in a lawn mower accident. She was involved in dance before the accident, and it didn’t take very long for her to resume a very normal and active childhood
The accident took place on August 20, 2006, and she began going to Shriners Hospital for Children in Minneapolis in late September. Shriners does amazing work in prosthetics, and Kristin was walking with a prosthesis by late October. She has been routinely fitted with new prosthetics as she has grown.
“No one usually notices,” she said. “I walk normal, like everyone else. Usually people are surprised when I tell them about it.”
For unknowing people watching the Gold Dusters, it would be next to impossible to notice that one of the dancers was unlike the others.
“She does everything that the other dancers do,” said Montevideo coach Amanda Macziewski. “If we come across a move that she struggles with a little bit, she’s open to telling us and we adjust as needed. She’s an amazing dancer, amazing kicks.”
Kristin, who became a varsity dancer last season, isn’t afraid to have a little fun with her friends when the subject is her prosthetic leg.
“One time during softball I got hit (in the prosthetic) with a pitch and the (pitcher) was like, ‘Oooooh.’ But my team was laughing because I walking just fine. As a joke, one of my friends printed the word ‘bruise’ and taped it on my leg. It’s an ongoing joke.”
She has lost a prosthetic leg while tubing, watching it pop off and sink to the bottom of the lake. She has broken them, another sign of how active she is.
“When they’re more stiff on the ankle they don’t bend as much,” she said. “I wear them out pretty fast, jumping up and down and just running. My doctor tells me I wear them out faster than other people because I’m so active.”
Andrea said that after the accident it was difficult for her and her husband, Doug, to imagine what the future would hold. But Kristin can’t be kept down.
“We had no idea what was in store and what she’d be able to do,” Andrea said. “She handles things quite well and she’s a very good communicator. She lets us know how things are going and if anything is changing.” (Pictured are the Gold Dusters; Kristin is in the front row, fourth from right.)
Kristin gets fitted for a new prosthesis every six months to a year, depending on her growth rate. As a member of the Montevideo kick team, she and her teammates wear matching black shoes and leggings while performing. It’s possible to see the upper cuff of the prosthetic leg sticking out ever so slightly just under Kristin’s knee, but she has to be in the right position for it to be visible.
“People don’t notice it and they’re amazed when they do,” Andrea said. “Being from small communities, word of mouth gets around, and we have friends in other towns. People come up to us and say she’s an inspiration.”
Kristin looks exactly like everyone else on the floor because she is exactly like everyone else on the floor.
“She’s definitely given the girls something to push forward to,” said Macziewski. “She’s never used it as an excuse for not being able to do anything. The girls treat her just like anybody else.”
Which is exactly how Kristin wants it.
“I love going to competitions and competing,” she said. “And I like the family part, being part of the team.”
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
|No. 7 from 2017-18: From Ethiopia To Pipestone
|Posted by John Millea (email@example.com) - Updated 7/11/2018 8:35:13 PM
|This story is No. 7 on my list of Top 10 favorites from the 2017-18 school year. It profiles Michael Suda, a young man with a remarkable story of moving from Ethiopia with his sister to Pipestone, unable to speak English, but finding wrestling and other sports. It originally appeared on March 2 during the state wrestling tournament. I interviewed Michael over the phone before he traveled to state, and caught up with him person at the tournament. I really enjoyed talking with him.
From Ethiopia To Pipestone: Michael Suda Wrestles To Win
Xcel Energy Center has become Michael Suda’s home away from home in the wrestling postseason. The senior from Pipestone High School is seeking his third state championship this weekend, making the 200-mile drive from southwest Minnesota to St. Paul with three teammates who also qualified for state.
That distance is nothing, considering how far Suda has come. As a child in Ethiopia his name was Muluken. He came to America as an 8-yard-old who couldn’t speak English, became Michael, and his journey of more than 7,000 miles, nine time zones and two vastly different worlds is a remarkable story.
His parents -- father Abebe and mother Zewdenesh – wanted a better life for their son and his little sister Hermella. They made a difficult choice and put them up for adoption. A couple in Pipestone, Marcia and Todd Suda, saw a photo of the two kids and the adoption process began. When Michael and Hermella arrived in Minnesota, it wasn’t exactly what they had envisioned.
“I guess when I was in Africa I thought of America as being big cities, big buildings,” Michael said. “I came here and it was kind of a shock; they didn’t have fences around their houses, everything was out in the open. It was a little different.”
He laughs about being so homesick at first that he packed a bag and began walking back to Ethiopia. But as he settled into his new life, especially sports with other kids in the town of 4,000, everything began to change.
Michael has twice qualified for the state cross-country championships, finishing as high as ninth in Class 1A. He’s also a distance runner on the Arrows track and field team. Wrestling, however, became his thing. He went to a youth camp after being in Pipestone for about a year and liked it, but needed to convince his adoptive parents to let him continue.
“I didn’t even really know much English at the time and I was home-schooled,” he said. “They didn’t want me to get bullied or anything, they were a little protective.”
With help from what he called “a lot of people,” including kids and adults, he became a wrestler.
“Back in Africa I used to grapple with friends, just kind of fighting,” he said. “I thought it was cool as a sport, I just enjoyed it.”
He first qualified for the Class 1A state tournament as an eighth-grader and finished fifth at 113 pounds. He lost in the championship round as a ninth-grader and has won two state titles since then at 120 and 126 pounds. He’s in the 126-pound division this weekend, as is another defending state champion, Blake Legred of United South Central, who won at 106 as a junior last year.
Michael defeated Crosby-Ironton’s Nate Williams 17-6 in the opening round of competition Thursday, then beat Cole Rasmussen of Triton 20-10 in the quarterfinals.
Suda’s title-round loss as a freshman provided a sense of purpose.
“He wasn’t very satisfied with that, he expected more out of himself,” said Pipestone coach Brian Bos. “He’s always been highly motivated and driven.”
That defeat not only provided motivation in wrestling, but in Suda’s other sports, as well.
“That lit a fire in me,” he said. “I just worked really hard in all my sports. I think that actually is what drove me in track and cross-country. I came into the next wrestling season, cleaned up my technique, became a smarter wrestler, got stronger. There were a lot of things that went into it. It was the process that made it worthwhile. When I got my hand raised (as a state champion), it was an amazing feeling to better myself and make it happen.”
Suda is joined at this week’s tournament by classmates Hunter Burnett (also a two-time state champ) and Garrett Ploeger (at state for the third time) and sophomore Grant Budden (second time at state).
Suda and Burnett, who is competing at 132 pounds, have worked out with each other for years now, and if all goes well both will conclude their Pipestone careers as three-time state champs. They will continue wrestling together at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“He and Hunter have worked together and been creative, working on techniques,” Bos said. “They kind of feed off each other and keep each other grounded. They know what their job is and they take care of business.”
Burnett also won his first match Thursday with a technical fall over Nolan Rommel of Wabasha-Kellogg and then pinned Shawn Rue of Paynesville in the third period to reach Saturday's semifinals. Ploeger also won twice Friday to reach the semifinals at 170 pounds. He pinned Thomas Battcher of Sibley East and recorded an 11-5 decision over Michael Nelson of Dover-Eyota.
Michael is part of a big family in Pipestone. Along with Michael and Hermella, Marcia and Todd Suba have six other children: David, James, Rachel, Jonathan, Grace and Anna. “It’s pretty crazy,” Michael said, laughing.
Michael has not returned to Ethiopia since coming to America, and his biological parents have not been able to travel here to see Michael and Hermella. They talk on the telephone with their family in Africa, but Michael and Hermella – who came to the U.S. unable to speak English – now speak only English so a translator is needed to help them communicate with their family in Africa.
One thing is certain: The boy who came to America as Muluken before becoming Michael considers himself to be very lucky.
“For sure,” he said. “I could be in a totally different place. My family that adopted me, the coaches who took me in, there are a lot of great people in Pipestone, a lot of families that took me in and put me on the right path.”
Postscript: Michael won another state title, as did Burnett.
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
|No. 8 from 2017-18: Honoring A Soldier's Memory In Waseca
|Posted by John Millea (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Updated 7/10/2018 9:14:46 PM
|Story No. 8 from my list of favorites from 2017-18 is about Waseca High School's one-act play performance honoring a Waseca native who was killed in Afghanistan. It was my great honor to be the author of this story.
Waseca One-Act Play Honors Hometown Soldier’s Memory
Barry Erickson wants his son Caleb, who died way too young, to be remembered. Caleb Erickson, a 20-year-old Marine who was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2014, was a graduate of Waseca High School, and the school’s theater department has been paying tribute to Caleb in a special and very personal way.
The one-act play “Booby Trap,” which Waseca students have been performing this winter, is a work of fiction in which a soldier accidentally sits on a landmine and cannot move.
The play “kind of shows him reliving his past, and his future, which he hasn’t seen yet. And him having to cope with maybe giving his own life up,” said Waseca senior Garrett Natysin, who plays the soldier in the school production.
“Booby Trap” also was performed this spring by Springfield and Jordan high schools in Minnesota, and has been performed by hundreds of other schools around the country since 2001. It was written by Ed Monk, a longtime high school theater teacher and playwright in Virginia.
After rehearsals had begun, Waseca theater director Karen Pfarr Anderson had an idea. One of her friends is Rue Erickson, Caleb’s older sister. Karen contacted Rue with an idea: “We should do this for Caleb. I talked to Rue first and said I didn’t want to do it without their blessing. We talked about raising money and we thought we might get a couple hundred bucks because not many people come to the play.”
What happened was amazing. People heard about the play and the efforts to raise money, and they came to see the play in droves. There is normally no fee for one-act plays at school, but donations were accepted and the dollar figure has reached nearly $2,000.
“Besides Caleb being a humble guy, we are not, as a family, going to let his memory disappear,” said his father after the play was performed at Lakeville South in the Class 2A Section 1 finals. “We may be a little arrogant about that once in a while, but that kid deserves to be remembered. When I heard about this play and that they were doing it in honor of Caleb and his memory, and to raise a few bucks to help out other Marines, it just wound me up completely.”
Natysin and Allison Dufault, who portrays the soldier’s wife in “Booby Trap,” are Waseca seniors who were in junior high when Caleb was killed. (Caleb is pictured.)
“We have received so much support from our community,” Allison said. “It’s been incredible to be able to do something for people who give so much to us. And it’s really opened our eyes to what being in the military means.”
The donations have gone to the Caleb Erickson Memorial Fund, which is dedicated to helping veterans in need. Veterans from Waseca and beyond have seen the play, and the high school students are aware of the impact they have had on the wider community.
“We’re usually doing comedies and slapstick,” Allison said. “So it’s really amazing to be able to do something that has a lot of substance and means a lot to people. It’s been an incredible experience.”
Most of the students involved in the play didn’t know Caleb personally and some were not fully aware of the sacrifices made by members of the military and their families.
“This is a great opportunity for them to learn about this hometown hero,” Pfarr Anderson said. “To not only understand the sacrifice that he gave, but that all military men and women give. Whether they come home or not, that’s the price they put on the line.”
When Barry Erickson attended rehearsal and saw the performance for the first time, it was emotional for everybody. He spoke to the students, telling them, “I see Caleb in each one of your faces.”
“That touched my heart,” Pfarr Anderson said, “it touched the kids’ hearts, and that made them want to do the best they possibly could. They would do that anyway, but it added something that you almost can’t describe. It added a different element.”
One-act play is an MSHSL activity, and this year’s season will culminate with the state festival Thursday and Friday at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium on the campus of St. Catherine University in St. Paul. Waseca did not advance to state, but the competitive side of the activity was almost an afterthought to them.
“When we started talking about competing, they were like, ‘I haven’t thought about that,’ ” Pfarr Anderson said. “They were so focused on ‘This is for Caleb. This is for his family.’ Because this story is not just about the man, the soldier, it’s about the people they leave behind. That really meant a lot to the kids.”
Garrett and other actors wear military uniforms on stage, with the uniforms and patches donated by Waseca area veterans. Among the service members who have seen the play is the soldier who delivered Caleb’s dog tags to his family. (Pictured are the cast and crew with Caleb's family.)
Before the play was performed in Waseca, Caleb’s dad spoke to the audience.
“I explained the anger I felt that he is not with us anymore and he deserves to be,” Barry said. “He deserved to see this play. He deserved to have babies. It wasn’t meant to be. He was not scared of dying. He was a Marine and that’s the Marine spirit.
“These kids do this with all their heart. You can tell they’re determined to do a good job, whether they knew him or not.”
Pfarr Anderson said, “While we are saddened that this show is ending, we know that what we've done with it will last. I know and every one of my cast and crew members know that we accomplished infinitely more than we ever dreamed with this show. We put together a wonderful show that was powerful, purposeful, and performed with attention to detail and reality.
“We made new friends in the Erickson family and the contingent of veterans and supporters that came to see us and our show. Most importantly, we learned about, remembered, and honored a wonderful young man, Caleb Erickson, and raised almost $2,000 for his memorial fund. That gift and the lessons about bravery and service these kids learned will go on to do far more than winning a trophy.”
For more information and to donate, go to https://www.calebericksonmemorial.com
|No. 9 from 2017-18: The Bobs And Brenda
|Posted by John Millea (email@example.com) - Updated 7/9/2018 9:08:35 PM
|Here's story No. 9 on my list of favorites from the 2017-18 school year. This entry, originally posted on Sept. 15, is a profile of three people who have played important roles in Albany High School volleyball for many years.
Bob St. Marie and Bob Havard (also known as the Bobs) and Brenda Utsch are known to everyone who watches volleyball in the Albany gym. With an assist by Albany activities director Scott Buntje, I had dinner with the Bobs and Brenda before a match. And it was a real treat. Here's the story...
The Bobs And Brenda: Committed To Volleyball In Albany
ALBANY – Whenever high school volleyball is played, there are things you can count on. There will be two teams, a net, a ball and two officials positioned at either end of the net.
At Albany High School, three other people are just as reliable as the net, the ball and the court. They are lovingly known as The Bobs and Brenda, and they have worked at nearly every Huskies home volleyball competition for a combined total of 82 years.
Bob St. Marie and Bob Havard (pictured) are retired Albany teachers who serve as line judges, standing in rear corners on opposite ends of the court and waving red flags to signify whether the ball landed inside or outside the lines. Brenda Utsch, a pioneering athlete in the early days of girls sports in Albany, is the official scorekeeper.
They are legends in this Stearns County town, 22 miles west of St. Cloud on Interstate 94.
Brian Hines has been on the Huskies volleyball coaching staff for 20 years (16 as an assistant and now head coach) and he has never known anyone other than The Bobs and Brenda filling those roles.
“The Bobs and Brenda have been so phenomenal and always reliable for us,” he said. “Talk about volunteerism at its highest; giving of themselves for a school district and a community. You can’t ask for any more.”
The three were in their usual spots Thursday night when Albany hosted Little Falls in a Granite Ridge Conference match. On a warm September night, the gym – which is next door to the school’s swimming pool – was a somewhat sticky place. Towels were used frequently to wipe sweat from the court. But that didn’t deter the line judges or the official scorekeeper, who did their jobs as they have always done as the Huskies recorded a 25-10, 25-17, 25-20 victory.
St. Marie has been in his volleyball role since 1987, and Havard and Utsch since 1991. Brenda, a three-sport athlete in the 1970s who is a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, also is the scorekeeper for home girls and boys basketball games and handles offensive statistics on game nights for the Huskies football team.
Asked what she enjoys the most, Utsch immediately replied, “The kids!”
Brenda (pictured) works as a volunteer and the Bobs are each paid $30 per match. But they are not in it for the money. The Bobs are former athletes and coaches; Havard graduated from high school in Salem, South Dakota, in 1960 and St. Marie from Mounds View in 1957. Havard was an industrial arts teacher and St. Marie taught math.
“It’s the best place in the house to watch the match,” St. Marie said of standing in the corner of the volleyball court.
The three have rarely missed a match in all these years. It’s not rare for officials to arrive at the school and ask, “Where are the Bobs? Are the Bobs working tonight?”
“We talk a lot about Purple Pride in Albany and those three are Purple Pride,” said Huskies athletics/activities director Scott Buntje. “It’s those type of people who really make high school athletics and high school events happen. We just couldn’t be more fortunate than to have people like that in our community.”
The three are sometimes reminded of their longevity.
Havard said, “One parent asked me, ‘How long have you been doing this? It must be a long time because I remember you doing this when I was in school.’ ”
For the record, The Bobs and Brenda have no plans to step aside.
Before Thursday’s match, Havard put a hand on St. Marie’s shoulder and said with a smile, “If he goes, I’ll quit, too.”
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
|No. 10 from 2017-18: The Minnesota Coach Who Lives in Omaha
|Posted by John Millea (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Updated 7/8/2018 6:24:17 PM
|Here we go, kicking off the countdown of my Top 10 favorite stories from the 2017-18 school year. No. 10, which was originally posted on Dec. 13, profiles Lyle-Pacelli girls basketball coach Justin Morris, who had moved to Omaha for love and career but remained as coach during the season.
The story has a great postscript, with the Athletics finishing the season as Class 1A state champions. Morris resigned after the season ended, and -- as you will read below -- he will be married later this summer in Minnesota.
The Team Is In Minnesota, The Coach Lives In Nebraska
The Lyle-Pacelli girls basketball team is interesting in lots of ways. The Athletics are ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, for example, and ran their season record to 6-0 Tuesday night with a 71-43 victory at Randolph. The team is a cooperative effort with players from Lyle (a public school in a community of 500 within a mile of the Iowa border) and Pacelli, a small Catholic school in nearby Austin.
It’s rare to have a top-ranked team and it’s rare when public and private schools work together to form teams, as Lyle and Pacelli do in lots of sports.
But here’s the most interesting thing about the Lyle-Pacelli girls basketball team: The head coach lives in Omaha. Which is in Nebraska. Which is not in Minnesota.
Austin native Justin Morris has been the Athletics head coach for several years now, and the highlight of his tenure was the team’s first trip to the state tournament in 2015. The three seniors on this year’s roster – Kristi Fett, Brooke Walter and Kendal Truckenmiller – are hoping for a return visit to state. To get there, the team will need to keep working and improving … even when their head coach isn’t around.
Morris was absent for Tuesday’s game, the first one he has missed this season. He will be back for games Friday at home vs. Glenville-Emmons and Saturday in Decorah, Iowa, vs. Crestwood High School from Cresco, Iowa. Omaha is 300 miles from Austin, a drive of four hours-plus.
“It’s a unique situation. It’s crazy, it really is,” Morris said during a phone interview from Omaha on Wednesday. “I get a little uncomfortable about it, because it’s not about me and what I do. This group of kids is where the story is.”
That’s a fair point. Morris’ coaching and working lives are 300 miles apart because he feels so strongly about his players. He has been coaching since the current seniors were in seventh grade, and he didn’t want to end his tenure until the Class of 2018 played its final season. Thus the occasional absences and the many drives back and forth from Omaha. And when this season ends, so will his coaching career at Lyle-Pacelli. (In this photo, taken as the final horn sounded on the Athletics' state championship at Target Center, Morris is seen leaping into the air on the far left.)
But why? And how? Those are the obvious questions. The answers start back in 2015 when the Athletics went to state. The team beat Mountain Iron-Buhl in the quarterfinals before losing to Ada-Borup in the semifinals and Minneota in the third-place game. At a welcome home rally for the team, Morris was interviewed by a reporter from KAAL TV in Rochester. Her name is Megan Stewart and they ended up dating.
Fast forward a bit. Morris and Stewart are now engaged. When she took a job at KMTV in Omaha earlier this year, Justin also made the move and found employment in his chosen field as a senior vice president of a banking company. They will be married next Labor Day weekend in Megan’s hometown of Lakeville.
Brad Walter (Brooke’s dad and Morris’ uncle) is a former head coach of the basketball team and the current top assistant, taking over when Justin isn’t on hand. Walter directed things Tuesday at Randolph, and Morris is very grateful to have such a seasoned pro on the coaching staff.
“Brad’s really the story,” Morris said, handing off another assist. “He started the youth program. … We’re approaching this collaboratively, Brad and I, we’re really co-coaching. I’ll be back as much as I can, but Brad’s got the reins when I’m not there.
“Brad has got all the ability in the world to run things. We run the same plays, the same defenses and have the same philosophy since I took over in 2012. We have a known commodity in terms of what our philosophy is, our offense, our defense, what our culture is.”
The Athletics are highly entertaining to watch. Fett is a 6-foot-5 center who averages 27 points and has signed with Minnesota State Mankato. The remaining starters -- Walter, Truckenmiller, Olivia Christianson and Abby Bollingberg, as well as the players off the bench – are quick with the ball and always hustling. Fett scored 25 points at Randolph, Bollinger had 19, Walter 13 and Christianson nine.
The players sometimes start practice without any coaches in the gym, but having grown up playing with each other they have built a strong bond.
“We talked about it at the beginning of the season,” Brooke Walter said. “We have to trust each other and everybody has to lead. We have to step up and we know no matter what happens, if (Morris is) there or not, we have each other and we know what to do.”
Fett said, “There are times at practice when we have to get things rolling and keep our standards up. We know we have to be responsible. It’s unique but it makes us really close, too.”
Lyle athletic director Jamie Goebel said Morris came to him earlier this year and explained that he was moving to Omaha but still wanted to coach one more season.
“As an educator you always think about ethical things, the community effect,” Goebel said. “Ultimately it came down to what’s in the best interests of the students. I was confident in what he and Brad and (volunteer coach) Terry Nelsen will be able to do this year, and it seemed like the right decision for Lyle and Pacelli. He’s been very forthcoming, very transparent with me and the girls and we worked through some of the details.”
Lyle-Pacelli lost to Goodhue in the Section 1 playoffs the last two years (with Goodhue going on to win the state title each time). In the latest Class 1A rankings by Minnesota Basketball News, Lyle-Pacelli is No. 1, Goodhue is No. 2 and Hayfield (another Section 1 team) is No. 5.
Lyle-Pacelli, which hasn’t lost a Southeast Conference game since 2012, has built its reputation by giving young players opportunities to play and grow. Of the team’s current veterans, Morris said, “We started moving them up when they were in seventh, eighth, ninth grade. They started having success and it built on itself.”
Morris travels in several states for his job, so driving between Omaha and southeast Minnesota on Interstates 80, 35 and 90 is no big deal. The basketball team’s schedule has been set up to make it easier for him to be in the gym, especially for the biggest games.
“We’re a family,” he said. “From day one when I took over we talked about creating a family culture. It’s about all of us together. We’re in this thing together and we’re going to make it work together. We talk every day about how life is about choices. I made a choice that I was going to get engaged and get married to the love of my life, and she decided she’s going to move to Omaha.
“I’m thankful they still want me involved, I’m thankful Brad is as good a coach as there is anywhere. Because it’s all about the kids.”
All those miles, all those practices, all those games. All that work will, hopefully, take the Athletics back to the state tournament.
“I met the love of my life the last time we went to state,” the coach said, his smile obvious through the phone line all the way from Omaha. “If we get back, maybe I can win the lottery or something.”
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
|The Best of John’s Journal: Honorable Mention Stories
|Posted by John Millea (email@example.com) - Updated 7/5/2018 10:59:23 AM
|This is the point each year when I take time to reflect on what has taken place during the past school year. I have taken a look at everything that’s been posted on John’s Journal from the start of practice for fall sports in August through state tournaments in June. The goal is to come up with a Top 10 list of my favorite stories. This is a difficult chore.
Looking back at 2017-18 was a delightful mission, enabling me to re-live some wonderful road trips and fun stories. I sifted through 425 total entries that were posted between August and June, jotting down notes on several pages of a yellow legal pad and beginning with a very long list in the course of finalizing a Top 10.
Several rounds of winnowing brought the number down from 425 to 57. And then the real work began. As I went through those 57 posts I realized that we’ll need an Honorable Mention category, as well. Five stories belong to that group, and they are summarized here today (including a few paragraphs from each story). You can find these stories by going to John’s Journal and clicking “More of John’s Journal” at the bottom of the page; a month-by-month list of stories is on the right side of the page.
In the days ahead I will re-post each of the Top 10 stories individually, counting down from No. 10 to No. 1.
Thanks to everyone for reading these posts throughout the year(s).
Honorable Mention Stories (in calendar order)
Aug. 26/ Football trip to International Falls and Ada
On Thursday night in International Falls, a grandfather who played in the NFL long ago watched his grandson catch a touchdown pass while another old-time footballer returned to the field where he had coached for four decades. The next night in Ada, young boys from schools that have been longtime rivals took the field together for the first time as teammates.
Such is football, and all high school activities. They are family, ritual, old soldiers and young pups, forming and renewing the fabric of community, spirit and pride.
I hit the road as the fall season began, driving to the Canadian border to see the International Falls Broncos host the Virginia Blue Devils on Thursday in the very first football game of the year, and then angling southwest to Ada where the Polk County West Thunder met the Ada-Borup/Norman County West Cougars on Friday.
It was glorious, to say the least. I drove 902 miles, listened to fans laugh and cheer, and walked the sidelines during two splendid evenings of season-opening football. Here’s what I saw…
Oct. 24/ Bemidji’s Linaes Whiting
Linaes Whiting was not in uniform for the Bemidji High School boys soccer team in Tuesday’s Class 1A state quarterfinals. And that just doesn’t happen, especially during the fall sports season. Here’s why: the senior is a member of the Lumberjacks’ soccer, football and cross-country teams.
He also plays basketball in the winter and runs track in the spring; it must be easy to play only one sport at a time compared to three at once, right?
“I hear a lot of people say that,” said Linaes, whose team fell to Austin 3-2 in overtime Tuesday. “But I don’t think it’s that much tougher than playing one sport. I have more games but I wouldn’t say I’m that much busier. I do my homework, I have a social life, and there are days when there are no games. I find time.”
Dec. 7/ Dasovich family
For any television producers interested in creating a reality show centered on family, school and sports, take a look at Tom and Leah Dasovich and their daughters, Emma and Evelyn.
Their life is a wild ride of girls basketball practices and games at Minnetonka High School, where Leah is the head coach and teaches English … all manner of events at Lakeville South, where Tom is the activities director … and plenty of things that keep Emma, 11, and Evelyn, 5, busy. Thanks to a nanny, help from grandparents and friends, and a family schedule that is often frantic, everything clicks.
The Dasoviches live in Minnetonka, a short drive to school for Leah, Emma and Evelyn; Tom’s commute is about 35 minutes to Lakeville South. In a rare scheduling blessing for which all are grateful, Leah’s team played at Tom’s school on Tuesday evening. The girls rode the team bus to the game and hung out with their dad while mom coached. Minnetonka won the game 63-38, after which the girls helped Tom stack chairs from the team benches on a cart and put them in a back room before heading to the bus with their mom and her players.
Life used to be a little simpler. “Oh gosh, we talk about that a lot,” Leah said with a smile. She looked at her husband and said, “Remember when we used to go to movies? When we used to sleep in?”
Dec. 20/ Gymnastics in the barn on the farm
HENDRICKS – In this small town near the South Dakota border, gymnastics is a family affair. Before the Hendricks/Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Grizzlies and their state-line neighbors from Brookings (S.D.) High School competed in a dual meet one evening this week, the Johnson cousins -- Greta, Sophie and Kaylee -- sang the national anthem beautifully. Grizzlies coach Sherri Johnson – mom to Greta and Sophie and aunt to Kaylee – then took the microphone to introduce the athletes and coaches.
Gymnastics is close to the hearts of Sherri and her husband Gary, along with Greta, 18, Sophie, 16, Sadie, 11, and their extended family and friends. It’s so close, in fact, that the Johnsons can exit their house in the country and take a short walk across the farm yard to the home of the Grizzlies.
It’s called The Barn and it might be the most unique sporting venue in Minnesota and beyond.
To unknowing motorists driving past the Johnson place, the building looks like any other large, modern farm shed. It has several giant garage doors, large enough for tractors and combines to be stored inside. The inside, however, is a gymnast’s dream: top-notch vault, uneven bars, beam and floor exercise equipment, bleachers and chairs for spectators, a fully stocked concession stand, killer sound system, bright lighting, restrooms, drinking fountain, heated concrete flooring, wifi and more … all surrounded by sheet-metal walls and plenty of windows. It is an absolute showplace.
Jan. 8/ Detroit Lakes gymnast Kennedy Hegg
Saturday was big for the Detroit Lakes High School gymnastics team. The Lakers are the three-time defending Class 1A state champions, and Saturday they proved to be the top team in the state regardless of school size by winning the Minnsota Girls Gymnastics Officials Association Classic.
In the meet at Park Center, Detroit Lakes finished ahead of the top two teams in Class 2A, Lakeville North and Lakeville South. The all-around champion was Detroit Lakes sophomore Jackson Hegg.
Most people may not have noticed one member of the Lakers team who didn’t really stand out unless you looked closely. Kennedy Hegg, Jackson’s twin sister, did not compete Saturday because she had been fighting an illness, but she was in uniform as she stood with her teammates and cheered.
Her right arm was different, however. Kennedy wore a large apparatus that extended from her wrist to her upper arm. It affected her mobility somewhat, but nothing can limit her desire to be with her teammates and compete … not even two broken arms.
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
|Pride Of The Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks: Carrie Tollefson Is A Hall of Famer
|Posted by John Millea (firstname.lastname@example.org) - Updated 7/2/2018 10:51:50 PM
|CHICAGO – When a video crew from the National Federation of State High School Associations arrived in Dawson, Minnesota, in March, Carrie Tollefson met them wearing a jacket that said “Blackjacks” across the front.
The Olympian and NCAA champion could have worn any number of things, including some or all of the 13 MSHSL state championship medals she won in track and cross-country during the 1990s. But she wanted to simply be known as a proud Blackjack from Dawson-Boyd High School.
The video aired Monday evening during the 2018 National High School Hall of Fame induction dinner, where Carrie and 11 others were honored as the 36th annual induction class. The event was held at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile in conjuction with the 99th annual summer meeting of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
During the video, Carrie walked the halls of her high school, stood in front of the house where she grew up and pointed out the large sign on Highway 212 that carries a photo of her, the Olympic rings, a list of her accomplishments in high school and at Villanova University, and the words “Dawson, Proud Home of Carrie Tollefson.”
The pride works both ways.
After the video aired and Carrie, 41, received a Hall of Fame plaque and medal, she spoke on behalf of all 12 inductees. Among them was former University of Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, who was one of Nebraska’s top high school athletes during his days at Hastings High School from 1951 to 1955, and Dick Fosbury, who revolutionized the high jump by creating the “Fosbury Flop” as an Oregon prep athlete in the 1960s. (Watch video from the ceremony, including the video from Dawson and Carrie's speech, by visiting the MSHSL Facebook page).
During her remarks, Carrie thanked her mom and dad, Ginger and John, who were in attendance along with Carrie’s husband Charlie and their daughter Ruby. She thanked her high school coaches, her teammates, the people of Dawson and others.
She smiled and said, “I love that I represent Minnesota.”
Carrie mentioned each of the other 11 inductees by name, offering insight into their careers as athletes, coaches, officials, administrators and performing arts teachers.
“They are living examples of passion,” she said. “Passion for their gifts, passion for their teams, passion for their communities, passion to deliver, passion for life.”
As she talked about her days growing up in Dawson, she said, “I can shut my eyes and go back like it was yesterday.”
Tollefson won five MSHSL cross-country championships at Dawson-Boyd High School from 1990 to 1994, including the first as an eighth-grader. She also won eight individual track and field titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, and she set a state record in the 3,200 in 1994 with a time of 10:30.28. Tollefson’s 13 individual titles in cross-country and track are the most ever in Minnesota and her five consecutive cross-country championships is a national record that has never been matched.
She won five NCAA titles at Villanova, was a 10-time All-American and the 1998 NCAA Indoor Track Athlete of the Year. Tollefson was a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team and participated in the 1,500 meters in Athens, Greece.
Tollefson is the 14th Minnesotan inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame. The others are John Mayasich (1986), Janet Karvonen (1987), Bronko Nagurski (1989), Willard Ikola (1992), Jerry Seeman (1992), Paul Giel (1998), Kevin McHale (2000), Dorothy McIntyre (2003), Terry Steinbach (2007), Barbara Seng (2008), Billy Bye (2009), Bob McDonald (2014) and Eugene “Lefty” Wright (2016).
--To see video and photos from the Hall of Fame ceremony, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
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