John’s Journal: No. 7 From 2022-23/ The Best Thing I’ve Seen In A Long, Long Time
Great Moments Happen Through MSHSL Adapted Sports
Posted: Wednesday, June 28, 2023 - 3:35 PM
The story below, which was posted on June 3, is No. 7 on my personal Top 10 John’s Journal stories from the 2022-23 school year. In a long journalism career, I’ve strongly believed that the simple act of showing up, whether you have a story idea or not in advance of an event, can lead to wonderful things.
That was the case with this story from the 2023 MSHSL adapted softball state tournament. After one of the championship games, something special happened, something that I had never seen before. I’ll never forget it.
My friend Jared Rubado, the talented and hard-working sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer, writes an occasional feature titled “The best thing I saw last week.” Jared likes to pull back from the obvious things, like who won and who lost, and focus on the small but important moments that can make school activities so special. (You can read his latest such piece here: rb.gy/8cgax )
The best thing I saw Saturday, and one of the best things I have ever seen in several decades of sports coverage from the youth level to the pros, took place during the MSHSL adapted softball state tournament at Chanhassen High School.
There are two divisions in adapted softball: CI (cognitively impaired) and PI (physically impaired). In Saturday’s championship games, Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville defeated Dakota United 7-5 in 11 innings to win the CI title, and Dakota United topped Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka 13-6 for the PI crown.
The best thing I saw took place immediately after the PI awards ceremony. These ceremonies follow exactly the same pattern as all MSHSL state championships; an all-tournament team is announced, the second-place team members and coaches receive their medals and trophy, and championship medals are placed around the necks of the winning team members, who then take possession of the first-place trophy.
And then come photos. Lots of photos. Parents, friends and others pull out their phones as the teams gather together for a formal photograph with their new hardware.
The Dakota United Hawks players and coaches posed on the court inside the beautiful Chanhassen gymnasium as the cameras began snapping. As they got into place, I noticed someone moving into position to take a photo; he stood out because he wore a red second-place ribbon around his neck.
It was Marcus Onsum, the longtime coach of the Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka Robins. I absolutely cannot remember ever seeing this happen before … the head coach of the losing team shooting photos of the winning team.
A few minutes later, Marcus was in the school cafeteria spending time with his players and their families. The mood was light and relaxed, with no downcast attitudes, no regrets and absolutely nothing negative.
I asked him about the photos, and his response said everything.
“I just want to kind of commemorate the spirit of the state championship game,” he said. “That Dakota United team is a heck of a team. I've coached a lot of really good teams myself and played against some really good teams, and that team's every bit as good as any one of them.”
Marcus is president of the Minnesota Adapted Coaches Association and Dakota United coach Brett Kosidowski is vice-president, according to the group’s website.
“Brett and his coaching staff, they're just such a personable group of guys,” Onsum said. “I love competing against them, I love working with them and their kids are awesome. We’re fierce competitors in the field, but their kids will stop every one of ours in the hallway and say hi, and it's just like it really truly represents the spirit of competition and adapted sports.”
Onsum played basketball at Robbinsdale Armstrong before graduating in 1994. He has siblings with muscular dystrophy who played for the Robins adapted teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Marcus said, “When I graduated from high school, our program founder, Lloyd Olson, approached me and said, ‘You know what? You get these kids, you get what we're doing. Come coach with me.’ And so I coached with him for a year as an assistant and then they brought in another head coach. We were co-head coaches for a while and then in 2000 I took over.”
Saturday’s tournament ended Onsum’s 29th year of coaching adapted athletes. Like everyone involved in adapted sports – the MSHSL also sponsors adapted bowling, floor hockey and soccer – he knows that what truly matters goes well beyond the scoreboard.
“I keep coming back because one, these kids are amazing,” he said. “And growing up with siblings that benefited from adapted sports, I see firsthand the reason why we offer them. I know the benefits of it and I can't walk away from that. I want to make sure that every kid out there continues to get the same opportunity that my own brother and sister and hundreds of other kids have had.”
Those words? They’re the best thing.
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]