New book highlights Minnesota star athletes

By: 
Bill Bentson

Really, a snowstorm in April? People will think I live in Minnesota, or something.

I got an email from my daughter, Roberta. The content of the email was a headline from the KTTC weather department: “Tornado drill cancelled due to snow storm…” Only in Minnesota. Today, Thursday, April 11, was scheduled to be the state-wide test day for tornado drills. Needless to say, snow blizzard trumps tornado, at least this year!

My good friend, Dave Dudek (also known as Goob), and I have an “odd-even” bet-thingy, that we re-create at a variety of sporting events, or for a variety of sporting events. His favorite number is 9, so he’s odd (don’t tell him I said that), and my favorite number is 22 (for real), so I get even. The latest event was the NCAA men’s championship game; odd-even at half-time and the final score. Half-time score was 32-29 (Virginia) and the final score was 85-77 (Virginia, in overtime). I called Goob and told him it was a tie. He won the half-time and I won the final. He said, “How are we going to break the tie?” I suggested the Twins game vs. the Mets. He concurred. Not only was the final score even, making me the winner, the total was 22 (14-8, favoring the Twins. A special note: not only did the Twins beat the Mets, they knocked last year’s National League Cy Young winner (Jacob deGrom) out of the game.

One of my favorite contributors to this article is John Millea (John’s Journal, Minnesota State High School League). It’s not like we set an interview time, I just use some of the information he has in his article, and then tell him (when I see him at a state tournament) that I used this article. Here’s an excerpt from one of his recent articles, titled, “Minnesota Made Me” is a book for every sports fan (March 30, 2019).

John writes: While watching the NCAA basketball tournament on Friday evening, I flipped between games involving Duke and Kentucky. As this happened, I Tweeted the following: "Kinda cool to flip from Duke/Tre Jones to Kentucky/Reid Travis. Minnesota: State of Basketball."

Tre Jones, like his big brother, Tyus, was a high school athlete at Apple Valley before playing at Duke. Reid Travis was a star at DeLaSalle High School before playing at Stanford and now Kentucky. As I write this, I'm watching Gonzaga play Texas Tech in the tournament; another DeLaSalle grad, Geno Crandall, plays for Gonzaga.

Minnesota is a state of hockey, a state of basketball, football, baseball, you name it. Minnesotans are a proud lot, whether that pride is focused on our lakes and rivers, our forests and other natural areas, our wonderful lifestyle or our athletes.

“Our” athletes are the focus of a terrific book published recently. It's titled “Minnesota Made Me” and it’s the perfect embodiment of the pride Minnesotans take in our favorite home-grown athletes. Thirty-eight individuals are profiled in the book, written by Pat Borzi, a longtime Minnesota journalist. The foreword is written by Sid Hartman, the 99-year-old sports columnist from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, whose byline first appeared in 1945. 

Pat and I have something in common: Neither of us are Minnesota natives. I grew up in an Iowa town about 20 miles south of the Minnesota state line, so I like to claim that I’m an honorary native of this great state. Pat is an East Coast guy who worked at newspapers in Maine, Florida, New York and New Jersey before moving to Minnesota for love; he is married to veteran Minneapolis Star Tribune sports reporter Rachel Blount, a romance that blossomed from their time covering several Olympics together. They are the finest people I know. 

Pat is a noted freelance sports reporter, contributing to MinnPost and covering the midwestern American sporting scene for The New York Times. He’s lived in this state for nearly 20 years and has come to know many of Minnesota’s highest-level athletes. In this book, he tells their stories. I learned a lot. 
For example, I always knew that Matt Birk had played football and earned a degree at Harvard. But I didn’t know that his decision to say yes to an offer from Harvard was a yes-or-go-home thing. Birk visited the campus the very day the football coach had to submit his list of recruits to the admissions office, so he asked Birk point-blank if he was in. The book quotes Birk, “And I said, ‘If I get into Harvard, I’ll come.’ And I did."

I have known Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer for many years from my time covering the team as a newspaper reporter. I knew he had grown up in the little Minnesota hamlet of Dumont. I learned in “Minnesota Made Me” that Dick was adopted, for which he is clearly grateful.

If there is a theme that runs throughout the profiles in the book, it can be summed up by a comment from Bremer: “For work ethic, the one thing I took from my parents and the people I was surrounded by in Dumont was, if you commit yourself to something, then it is a commitment – you see it through to the end, and you devote yourself to that particular challenge.”

Many of the athletes profiled in the book are very familiar names: Lindsay Whalen, Adam Thielen, Tyus Jones, Herb Brooks and others. But Borzi didn’t just write about current athletes who everybody knows so well. He goes back in time with chapters about golf legend Patty Berg and 1941 Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith, as well as soccer stars Tony Sanneh and Briana Scurry, Olympic curling champion John Shuster and others. 

The profiles are in alphabetic order, beginning with Patty Berg and ending with Lindsay Whalen. Those are two fine bookends to this project; Berg was born in 1918 and we all know almost everything about Whalen. 

Whalen, the basketball legend whose playing career wound from Hutchinson High School to the University of Minnesota to the WNBA and the Olympics, is now the Gophers women’s basketball coach. After graduating from high school and before starting college, Whalen worked a summer job on a 3M assembly line in Hutchinson; that’s where her father was employed for many years.

One morning at 5 a.m., facing a 12-hour shift that would start at 6 a.m., a young, tired Lindsay begged her dad to let her skip work that day and go back to bed. Her father insisted that they were both going to work. She asked, “You can’t just tell my boss I couldn’t sleep (all night)?” He answered, “No. If you want to get fired, that’s your deal. We’re going to work.”

Borzi writes, “It taught Whalen about responsibility and accountability, lessons she still brings to everything she does; Do your best. No griping. No excuses. And most important, never disappoint those relying on you.”

Responsibility. Accountability. No excuses. Hard work. Those words provide an underlying theme to everything that’s great about Minnesota. And “Minnesota Made Me” is now part of that greatness.

Thanks John, you convinced me! When this weather clears up, I’m heading to Barnes and Nobel to buy this book. This will add to my collection of Minnesota sports heroes.

SEC All-Conference

I don’t think I’ve had any of the Southeast all-conference teams in my article yet. Here goes with the girls’ team.

First team: Jordyn Glynn (Grand Meadow), Olivia Christianson (Lyle/Pacelli), Alyssa Rostad (Houston), Riley Queensland (Grand Meadow), Lauren Buchholtz (Kingsland), Megan Erickson (Randolph) and Haley Hungerholt (LeRoy-Ostrander). Second team: Abigail Bollingberg (Lyle/Pacelli), Payton Danielson (Mabel-Canton), Ellie Buchholtz (Kingsland), Emma Geiwitz (Houston), Skylar Cotten (Grand Meadow), Andrea Splichal (Randolph) and Amelia Solum (Spring Grove). Honorable Mention; Emily Snyder (Lanesboro), Mariah Edgington (Spring Grove), Isabelle Olson (Grand Meadow), Becca Rostad (Houston), Samantha Wernimont (Kingsland), Lauren Helgeson (LeRoy-Ostrander), Lucy Nelson (Lyle/Pacelli), Madison Michels (Mabel-Canton), Morgyn Otte (Randolph) and Elizabeth Amundson (Schaeffer Academy). Co-Players of the Year are Olivia Christianson (Lyle/Pacelli) and Jordyn Glynn (Grand Meadow).

Kingsland and Houston tied for the team championship in the East division at 10-3 and Grand Meadow and Lyle/Pacelli won the West division with 12-1 records.

Next week I’ll get the Three Rivers Conference boys and the Southeast Conference boys teams.

Thanks to everyone for their comments. Hey to the Great 8, my Fab 4 and my sweet wife, Carol. You are the greatest! Melissa is going to have to sit down when she gets this. It’s not even 11 a.m. yet. Have a great week, one day at a time. Hasta luego to all my friends. See you at a high school activity real soon.

P.S.I got this from Brad Johnson and wanted to pass it on to all my weekly Readers.

Save the date of April 28 for the Southeast Minnesota All Sports Reunion.

The intent of the gathering is to bring any and all (current and former) coaches, athletic directors, officials, site workers and their respective spouses or significant other to this gathering. It will be held at the Rochester Eagles Club in Rochester on April 28 from 1 to 5 p.m. This will be a very casual setting with a cash bar available for attendees and food available if attendees desire to order food.

This concept is a “spin off” of the former end of year celebration that was held at the old Holiday Inn South many years ago at the end of the basketball season. Life moves so fast and so we wanted to have this event to bring people back together to share stories, reminisce about the games of today and yesterday and to catch up with colleagues. We would like to invite coaches and officials from all sports that were and are involved in the games along with athletic directors.
This event is being organized by Jeff Wills, Mark Patterson and Loren Else.