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Les Knutson: After long winter, Houston is welcome taste of summer

Les KnutsonDaily Globe sports columnist HOUSTON, Texas -- Starting with an early morning flight on Sunday and ending with an evening flight on Wednesday, my wife Cheryl and I were able to spend a few days in the warmth of Houston, Texas, this pas...

Les Knutson
Daily Globe sports columnist 

HOUSTON, Texas - Starting with an early morning flight on Sunday and ending with an evening flight on Wednesday, my wife Cheryl and I were able to spend a few days in the warmth of Houston, Texas, this past week.
Cheryl actually left for Houston two days earlier on Friday and was already accustomed to the heat by the time I arrived. We came back together and shivered as we left the plane at the Sioux Falls airport. Typically, Minnesota’s weather had changed much in a week’s time.
The grass was green in Houston and the daytime temperatures were in the upper 80s, so it was like summer.
Chelsey, our daughter, will be 27 in a couple of weeks and she is her fourth year as a full-time elementary school teacher in Aldine, a suburb of Houston. Chelsey ventured to the Houston area in the summer of 2011 to do her student teaching and has been there ever since.
She had spring break this whole past week and - along with her boyfriend, Robby Gonzales - served as our tour guide for several interesting adventures.
First, we had a delicious meal - salads, chicken, corn bread, sweet corn, baked beans, fried cabbage and cheesecake - at Robby’s parents’ house on Sunday evening.
Then, we spent a couple of hours at a place called Top Golf, attempting to hit golf balls from an indoor deck into an outdoor driving range with targets. I am not much of a golfer, but I managed to hit a few shots into the big targets and Chelsey and I ended up winning most of the time against Robby and Cheryl.
Cheryl fixed us a big breakfast - pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, cornbread, strawberries, grapes, orange juice - Monday morning. Later, Robby drove us a long ways - through downtown Houston to the huge NRG Stadium (formerly known as Reliant Stadium) where the Houston Texans play. NRG is the site of this year’s Final Four and will host the Super Bowl next February.
We took in the circus-like atmosphere of the world-famous Houston Rodeo and enjoyed calf roping, bareback riding, bull riding, chuckwagon races and mutton riding (five-year-olds riding on lambs) before listening to Kenny Chesney in concert. He was good, but I was disappointed that he didn’t sing “The Boys of Fall,” his classic 2010 hit single about high school football.
NRG is right across the street from the Houston Astrodome, which is seldom used and looks small compared to NRG.
Tuesday, we ventured into downtown Houston and toured Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. That’s quite a ballpark and he learned a lot about what it takes to get ready for a Major League baseball game. We also learned it only takes 13 minutes to open or close the huge retractable roof, which weighs a lot. I can’t remember how many hundreds of tons our tour guide, Mike, said it weighed. But it’s a neat park, including the “Train” which carries a load of oranges whenever an Astro hits a home run.
Then we traveled quite a ways southeast to NASA. We toured the museum, saw a space travel movie and walked through a space shuttle replica.
After doing all of that, we made the journey to the Johnson Space Center and viewed the original Mission Control, used during the Gemini and Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s. That was really special.
We also walked through the building at the Rocket Center, which housed a Saturn V duplicate. Wow, is that huge. On the walls were huge displays of each of the Apollo missions, including all six successful moon walks. That was a fascinating walk.
Our trip finished with a great meal at Pappasito’s Restaurant - not far from George Bush Airport. Then we boarded the plane and flew back to Minneapolis, where we waited for another plane for the trip to Sioux Falls.
Like I said, it didn’t feel like summer any more once we got off the plane. But after getting a taste of summer, I am ready to say good-bye to winter.

Brackets getting busted all over
Since the NCAA Final Four is in Houston this year, well-known college basketball analyst Dick Vitale and celebrated astronaut Buzz Aldrin filled out brackets that were posted at NASA. Both of them had Michigan State winning it all.
On Friday, Michigan State was upset.
Being famous doesn’t get you very far when you’re filling out your brackets.

Bentson impressed with Eagles
Bill Bentson, a 1962 graduate of Windom High School, who played college basketball at both Worthington State Junior College and General Beadle State College in Madison, S.D., sees a lot of basketball games every winter. Bill was most impressed with Southwest Minnesota Christian in its state-tournament game against highly-regarded Maranatha Christian Academy Thursday.
“Southwest was good, very good,” said Bentson, who is writes for several southeastern Minnesota newspapers and has done a lot of writing for Minnesota Basketball News. “They had great team speed and exceptional depth. I was impressed with them. Southwest Christian was by far the best team that didn’t win in the opening round.”
Bentson’s testimony is another case for consolation games. The Eagles had a tough draw in the opener and nearly pulled an upset - even without senior ace Ann Pater, who was unable to make the trip after coming down with a reaction to medication prescribed for an illness. Bentson believes that Southwest would win two games at the tournament if a consolation round were played.

Previous trips for area girls’ teams
This was Southwest Christian’s sixth trip to the girls’ state tournament, having gone previously in 1976, 1979, 1984, 1985 and 2010.
Worthington, which joined the Eagles in that first girls’ tournament in 1976, has made eight trips, including 1997, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2012.
Fulda was there four times in a six-year span. The Raiders were there in both 2002 and 2003 before winning back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007. A story on that 2006 season and tournament run is an upcoming “Blast-From-the-Past” feature.
Storden-Jeffers was a perennial entrant from 1988-1993, before becoming Red Rock Central in 1994. The program made a total of eight trips to state under the guidance of Coach Gary Gillis, winning the 1989 state title.
Heron Lake-Okabena won a state championship in 1981 and was there as Heron Lake in 1977 and as Southwest Star Concept in 2008.
Tracy-Milroy won state titles in 1988, 1992 and 1996 and played in numerous other state tournaments. Adrian played in the 2009 state tournament and Jackson County Central was there in 2000, 2004 and 2011.

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Friday night high school sports roundup:
WORTHINGTON – Injuries and fouls plagued the Worthington Trojans girl’s basketball team in a Big South Conference contest against stalwart St. Peter on Friday night. The Saints defeated the Trojans 74-53.
WORTHINGTON – The top 10 teams in Minnesota Class A high school gymnastics will be in Worthington on Saturday (Jan. 28) for the state True Team meet. Participating teams are Becker, Benson, Big Lake, Byron, Detroit Lakes, Mankato West, Melrose, New London-Spicer, St. Peter, and Worthington.
Tom Goehle, son of legendary coach Hugo Goehle, was once a star athlete at Hills-Beaver Creek High School. Now he gives back through coaching and his involvement in Fellowship of Christian Athletes.