Thole: Pony Classic braves the elements

5-16 spo-thole

Despite a cold, windy and overcast day, the 45th running of the Ponies annual track and field classic was finally held at SAHS on Saturday, May 11.

It was the first official home track meet for the Ponies this year. The Pony Classic was originally set for April 20, but Mother Nature was not kind to spring sports teams this year — especially track and field.

Stillwater throwers try to stay warm while watching a teammate compete in the shot put during Saturday’s Pony Classic.
Stillwater throwers try to stay warm while watching a teammate compete in the shot put during Saturday’s Pony Classic.

The Filly Classic for the girls was also finally cancelled after a few postponements.

The true team section track meets for the girls and boys were held at SAHS on May 9 and the true team state meet will also be held here on Friday night.

As a member of the finish line crew, I can testify that we were a wee-bit rusty because May 11 is a little late to be starting our season. Despite a few glitches, the athletes from 10 high schools went after the trophies and ribbons with gusto while ignoring the weather, to their credit.

I can’t say the same for some of the workers, however, including moi.

When the smoke cleared, White Bear Lake won the big prize with 245 points and Blaine edging Stillwater 232-231 for the runner-up spot. Mounds View was fourth with 192 points, followed by Roseville (178), Eastview (172), Prior Lake (136), Forest Lake (129.5), Owatonna (120.5) and Lakeville South (99.5).

The Big Red won the Jon Francis 3,200-meter team race, the Luke Watson 4×1,600 team race, the high jump and weightmen’s relay.

Veteran Ponies coach Scott Christensen has always preached to his thinclads, “When it comes to winning this classic, you can’t afford a DQ in any event.” Well, the good guys suffered a DQ in the 4×200 and Christensen’s hypothesis came true, although that wasn’t the only place they left some points on the table.

On the plus side, the locals won four events and the athletes from all the schools gave it their best shot under tough conditions. Complete results of the Pony Classic were published in yesterday’s Gazette.

I coached in 10 “Classics” and served as clerk of finish for the last 32 while the sage Jerry Foley was head timer for eight lustrums. This will be our last year with the finish line crew as it’s time for young blood to take over.

During those 45 years, the Ponies have won 14 Pony Classic championships, followed by Mounds View with eight, White Bear Lake seven, Apple Valley four, Andover three and North St. Paul and Robbinsdale Armstrong with two each. Blaine, Fargo South, South St. Paul, Park Center, Rochester Mayo and White Bear Mariner captured one each.

It was great fun while it lasted.


In the huddle

The 15-11-1 Stillwater girls’ hockey team selected Sara Bustad and Hannah Okerstrom as co-MVPs for the Ponies this year. The pair were joined by all-conference selections Dana Almquist and Katie Casto. Bustad was also named First Team All-Pioneer Press and Casto received the inaugural Marah Sobczak Award. Honorable Mention All-Conference went to Hannah Heacox, Jane Vezina, Carlie Hart, Sierra Smith and Ali Biagini. Captains elect for coach Tony Scheid’s squad next winter are Vezina, Smith, Samantha Scheid and Taylor Naugle…. Through the years, just two SAHS players have signed free agent contacts in the National Football League. The most recent

Stillwater graduate and Northwestern University standout Brian Arnfelt recently signed a rookie free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Stillwater graduate and Northwestern University standout Brian Arnfelt recently signed a rookie free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

was Ponies and Northwestern captain Brian Arnfelt, a defensive tackle who just joined the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 2008 SAHS grad recorded 47 tackles and three sacks in 37 games with the Wildcats and earned Player of the Week recognition for Northwestern’s 22-13 victory over Boston College. Arnfelt is the first ex-Ponies player to sign a free agent contract since Mike Stratton ’80, an All-American at NDSU who signed with the Vikings in 1983 before getting cut in the preseason. Back when the draft went a little deeper, Bill Palmer ’70 was selected as a tight end out of St. Thomas in the 15th round (No. 389 overall) of the 1973 draft by the Miami Dolphins. Bob Nelson ’71 was a second-round draft pick out of Nebraska who became a starting linebacker with the Oakland Raiders — where he acquired two Super Bowl rings. Defensive tackle Bill Barnett ’74, also out of Nebraska, was taken in the third round and was one of the original Killer Bees for the Dolphins and played in one Super Bowl. The final Ponies player drafted was defensive tackle Nate Dwyer ’96 by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round out of Kansas. Dwyer played one season with the Cards. Nelson and Barnett are vested…. Did you know that the Ponies synchronized swimmers have not lost a dual meet since 1989 and have won 173 straight since then — at least that’s what I think, and I could be wrong. First-year head coach Kathy Henderson ’91 is a former Gopher and an 18-year Ponies assistant. She is joined on the coaching staff by former Ponies Kellei St. Martin ’91, Juliette Schmidt ’00 and Lisa Kasperson ’04. Henderson herself was a Pony and St. Martin started the program at Hopkins High School in 1992. During her 39 seasons at SAHS, former coach Judy Luzaich compiled a 281-13-2 record. Captains Samantha Sonnee and Mariah Smith are the only seniors on the 34-member squad…. There are no less than 10 former Ponies playing baseball on college diamonds this spring. Dave Koll is on the mound for Bradley University, an NCAA Division I school in Peoria, Ill. Others still playing include Christian Abilla at Iowa Central, Tom Forster at Macalester, Nate Hewes at Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D., Pad Getchell at St. Scholastica, Austin Booher at St. Thomas, Scott Livermore at Augsburg, Patrick Rydeen at Concordia-St. Paul, Joe Zorn at Bethel, Wyatt Kurzejeski at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, and Jake Schmiesing at St. Olaf. This year’s Ponies squad coached by Mike Parker is captained by Aaron Romportl, Andy Peterson and Tony Lennox. The captains, plus Trevor Dudar and Austin Holmberg bring the most experience for the Ponies (7-8 SEC, 7-8)…. Dr. Alena Martens ’95, a former Ponies all-state cager and track ace, is a dentist in Woodbury. In addition to being a basketball star who earned a scholarship to Dayton University, she was a standout sprinter for SAHS who ranked second on the all-time list for the 100-meter dash (12.61) and third in the 200 meters (25.86). Alena and her husband Chris Tardiff reside in Stillwater…. Do your best and don’t sweat the rest…. finis


Today’s rumination #618

It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you place the blame.

• • • •

George Thole retired as head football coach at Stillwater after the 1999 season. He ranks among Minnesota’s top coaches in history with a 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), including four state titles and two state runner-up finishes among 22 championship seasons. He co-authored (with Jerry Foley) “Coaching the Veer Offense,” second edition. His column appears Thursdays in the Gazette. To contact the hall of fame coach e-mail: [email protected]