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Johns journal's
By: John Millea

From Edgerton 1960 To Hancock 2019, Special Moments Abound

If you know the history of Minnesota high school sports, you know about little Edgertonandapos;s 1960 state basketball champions. A fellow who played on that team 59 years ago sat down next to me in the press box at U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday morning and said, andquot;John, I might have a story for you.'

Dean Verdoes is well-known as a member of Edgerton's starting five, and he went on to a distinguished career as an educator. He is retired now but volunteers at many MSHSL events. His Prep Bowl duty was working as a band host, which takes us to the story he recommended.

He told me about the band from Hancock, which he helped direct to their seats before the Owls played Mountain Lake Area in the Nine-Man state championship game. He told me that band director Jeanine Rupp was a very nice young person, and that several Hancock alums had arrived to play with the band. Jeanine confirmed this when we chatted during the game.

Hancock's high school enrollment is 198, and 67 of those kids participate in band. That includes 16 football players. Jeanine, 24, said she reached out to alumni musicians.

'With 16 of those football players out there (on the field) we needed some help to fill out sections where we're a little bit low,' she said.

Jeanine and I sat in the second row near one of the end zones, chatting for a few minutes before the second half of the championship game resumed. It was one of many unseen but important off-the-field moments during the Prep Bowl weekend.

One of my favorite places at the stadium is the postgame interview room, the same one used by the Vikings. After each game, coaches from both teams meet with the media. They talk about Xs and Os, for sure, but they also talk about their roles as coaches.

Caledonia coach Carl Fruechte was especially poignant after the Warriors captured their fifth consecutive Class 2A title. One of his players, a young man named Isaiah, had been ejected late in the game and the coach was asked about a private discussion he had with Isaiah afterwards.

'I think that's why you coach,' he said. 'If you just coach for football, I think you're wrong. We want to make a difference in their lives. And Isaiah is a great kid. He's a great, great kid. Sometimes I think as a society we're almost too hard on these guys. We are so proud of Isaiah. He's gone through a lot in his life. All his brothers will stick up with him, stick up for him. He's going to be a great human being and we're going to be really proud. And I think that connection has led to the success that we've had. Again, I don't think kids play the sport just to play. They want more out of the sport than just to win a football game or a basketball game, they want that relationship, they want to know that somebody's got their back, somebody they can trust in when the going gets tough.'

Similar sentiments, going far beyond football and sports, were expressed by other coaches.

'They're great football players but better kids, and that's what makes it a lot of fun,' said Chad Gimbel, whose Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms won the Class 1A championship in their first Prep Bowl appearance. 'You come to practice every day, and it was hard yesterday when I talked about this being the last time we're going to practice. We've never had that before, where you know it's the last time that you're going to get together and be able to practice as a team. I got a little emotional, and it's hard because you really care about these kids and love these kids as your own.'

James Herberg was promoted from assistant to head coach at Rocori prior to last season. The Spartans went 2-8 in 2018 before rolling to the Class 4A state title Friday with a 22-21 overtime win over SMB. That gave Herberg a career record of 13-10.

'This is an incredible group of guys. I just wish I really could put it into words,' Hedberg said after the game. 'I'm incredibly blessed to be their head football coach, but these guys truly play for each other. They want to be around each other. And it's just been an absolute pleasure. I'm so grateful for these guys. And it's not just on the field, it's off the field and their personal lives, as well. But if you're going to do something, you're going to make sure that you go all in, and you're going to go above and beyond what's asked of you, and credit to these guys for following that model. They're going to be incredible men after they leave Rocori High School.'

Mountain Lake Area played in the Prep Bowl a year ago, falling to Spring Grove 40-18. The Wolverines were ranked No. 1 in Nine-Man throughout the 2019 season and had never trailed on the scoreboard until Saturday, when Hancock led 14-0 in the first half.

'We talked about it all season long, that sometimes we may not come out very strong and sometimes we may get behind but you have to face adversity and come out, play hard,' Wolverines coach Tim Kirk said after his team rallied to top the Owls 22-14.

'When the whiteboard is full of junk, and orange markers, blue markers, gray markers, black markers, it looks like garbage on the whiteboard,' he said. 'But you clean it off and it's pure, as white as snow. And that's what we've been doing. I got a little nervous when we were down 14-0 because it was just bad; we did some good things but it was just costly turnovers and whatever else happened, but it shows the grit in these guys.

'What I really noticed today is when we were down 14-0 I think I said something about, 'Hey, this is awesome. Let's see what we've got.' And a few of them looked at me like I was crazy but a few looked up and knew, 'Let's see what we're made of.' And we showed it today.'

One of the most uplifting stories of the 2019 football season was how the Dassel-Cokato Chargers kept Jacob MacDonald as part of the team. He died two years ago and his classmates are now seniors. The Chargers kept Jacob's No. 34 jersey with them at every game, including Saturday's Class 3A Prep Bowl contest against Pierz.

In a back-and-forth game that went down to the final moments, Pierz came away with a 28-27 victory. In the handshake line, Pierz coach Dan Saehr put an arm around Dassel-Cokato senior quarterback Sanders Asplin.

'I told him he was a tremendous football player, and I also said that I knew he and the rest of the team and the community were playing for a tremendous, tremendous cause, Jacob McDonald. That's a heck of a story and on their end they're hoping for the fairytale ending. That's a very classy team over there and you respect those kids for how they play the game and how they go about it. He was nothing but a class act, as well as many of the other kids, and it's really cool when you can see a high school football game do that.'

Yes indeed. That's the essence of high school sports and activities. Teamwork, service to teammates and others, everyone pulling together and giving it their all while respecting the opponent and the game.

It was that way when Dean Verdoes was playing basketball in 1960 and it's that way as Jeanine Rupp directs a band in 2019.

At U.S. Bank Stadium

Friday, November 29
Class 1A: Blooming Prairie 41, BOLD 15
Class 2A: Caledonia 26, Minneapolis North 0
Class 4A: Rocori 22, SMB 21 (overtime)
Class 6A: Wayzata 35, Champlin Park 20

Saturday, November 30
Nine-Man: Mountain Lake Area 22, Hancock 14
Class 3A: Pierz 28, Dassel-Cokato 27
Class 5A: Chaska 10, St. Thomas Academy 3

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea' wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.

John Millea | | John's Journal