The Rochester Beacon Academy is aiming for the fall of 2015

Beacon Final Cut from Chad Smith on Vimeo.

The Rochester Beacon Academy of Rochester, Minnesota, is aiming for a fall, 2015 start. The Academy is a charter school, which means it falls in the public school category. However, the curriculum will be a little different from the norm.

The school will feature things like smaller classroom sizes, more structure in the daily schedule, smaller numbers of students in the hallways in between classes for easier transitions, and more individualized attention for each student. According to, this may be the perfect setting for children diagnosed under the autism spectrum. These children require much more structure in the learning environment, with a lot of routine in how material is presented. They also like small class sizes, require help with social skills, and need lots of individual attention. All of these requirements are part of the intended curriculum at the Academy.

According to, no child under the autism spectrum will learn the same ways as others will. In fact, the Academy will offer different options for students, such as those who need to be up and moving will be allowed to do things like squeezing stress balls, just to get some of their “wiggles out.”

While the Rochester Beacon Academy may be a good fit for students under the autism spectrum, anyone who wants to attend the Academy may do so. No diagnosis of any kind is required to attend the school.

Small Dog Rescue is saving the smallest of man’s best friend

The website wants you to know that homeless pets outnumber homeless people by a 5-to1 margin. In fact, they say that only 1 out of every 10 dogs born in this country will find a suitable home. Small Dog Rescue in Rochester, Minnesota is doing something to combat stray dogs, especially the smallest ones.

Small Dog Rescue is committed to the rescue, rehabilitation, and placement of dogs twenty pounds and under. Most of the animals surrendered by their owners. Reasons vary, but most of the time the owners simply can’t care for their animals anymore. A good example would be a senior citizen who’s entering a retirement home, and can’t have pets there. Small Dog Rescue would rather take the animals in than see them simply let loose on the street to fend for themselves.

Surrendered pets are then placed with fosters, who care for the animals until a suitable adoptive home can be found. The adoption process is rather extensive, but the sole purpose is to match each dog with the right home, so the match is enjoyable for the animal and for it’s new owners too. estimates it costs American taxpayers roughly 2 billion dollars each year to round up, house, kill, and dispose of homeless animals. Small Dog Rescue is doing what it can to reduce the burden on taxpayers, and at the same time, trying to bring happiness and love to the smallest types of man’s best friend.

Minnesota Children’s Museum offers little ones the Inventors Workshop

The Inventors Workshop from Chad Smith on Vimeo.

The Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester, Minnesota, believes that children can learn to love learning at an early age. The Museum offers a program called the “Inventors Workshop.” It’s targeted at kids in their preschool years, which experts say are key years at getting kids started on a path toward successful learning.

The Museum sets up supplies in it’s art room, and children are let loose to create what they will. There’s no limit except how far a child’s imagination can take them. They are free to create whatever they like, using the scissors, pencils, crayons, colored paper, and other raw materials.

It may look like the children are just playing with things, but the website says it may look like fun and games, but there’s an intense amount of brainwork going on. Young children learn through play and creative activity, so as they assemble the raw materials into creations, they’re learning things like problem solving and physics.

The website calls play “the business of childhood.” Play allows the child free rein to experiment with the world around him, and the emotional world inside of him. While it looks like child’s play, there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes, including problem solving, skill building, and overcoming physical and mental challenges.

The Museum collects donated cardboard boxes, bottles, food containers, and different types of supplies throughout the year, and then reuse them for the art program. The Museum staff hopes visitors draw inspiration from the different exhibits and things going on around them, and will create something unique.

Bull riding takes center stage in Rochester on Friday night

Friday night bull riding in Rochester, Minnesota from Chad Smith on Vimeo.

Bull riding took center stage on Friday night in the Graham Arena on the Olmsted County Fairground in Rochester, Minnesota. Veteran cowboys jumped on the backs of angry, 2,000-pound bulls as they competed for thousands of dollars in cash prizes.

Bull riding has been increasingly popular in Rochester the last several years. After turning people away at last year’s event because of a complete sellout, MF Productions added an overflow room adjacent to the arena, complete with a large video screen and refreshments, in case of a sellout in the main arena. 10 minutes before show time, a ticket-seller at the arena entrance said, “We’re selling standing room only seats because so many people showed up for the event tonight.”

Friday night’s rodeo schedule featured some big, strong cowboys wearing pink rodeo gear. Friday night was billed as “Tough Enough To Wear Pink Night,” as riders and fans were encouraged to wear something pink to show support for breast cancer research. Event sponsors agreed to donate money to research for every person who wore pink to the event.

Mutton busting was one more popular event on the Friday night schedule. A handful of 7-year-old boys and girls put on helmets and, one-at-a-time, jumped on the back of sheep, grabbed handfuls of wool, and held on as long as possible while the sheep sped at breakneck speed around the arena. Each participant took home a prize after the competition.

Matt Forss, President of MF Productions, was busy taking down the equipment on Sunday afternoon, and said, “We’re already looking forward to next year, when the 20th annual rodeo event will take place in Rochester.”

The 18th Annual Pro Bull Riding Event is this weekend in Rochester

The 18th Annual Bull Riding Challenge is coming to the Graham Complex at the Olmsted County Fairground in Rochester this Friday and Saturday night. The even begins at 7:30 each night, with the doors opening at 6:00.

A wild, eight-second ride is all that will stand between experience bull riders and cash prizes. Of course, that wild ride will come atop a 1,200 to 2,000 pound bull. It’s guaranteed to be a lot of fun for the whole family to watch.

Matt Merritt is a veteran rodeo entertainer, which he said used to be called a rodeo clown. He said, “the bulls are legitimate athletes, and they have their own personalities. They’re amazing when you get a chance to sit and watch how the work.” He said, “The bulls have their own way of doing things and their job is to simply spill the rider as quickly as possible.”

Matt Merritt is a professional rodeo entertainer who will appear at a bullfighting event this weekend in Rochester (photo courtesy of Matt Merritt)

Matt Merritt is a professional rodeo entertainer who will appear at a bullfighting event this weekend in Rochester (photo courtesy of Matt Merritt)

If you aren’t familiar with riding, you may be surprised to learn there’s no saddle and no halter either. It’s much more challenging than that.

Merritt said, “The rider climbs on the bull with a braided bullrope that has a handle, similar to a bullwhip. The rope is wrapped around the body of the animal, behind the front legs,  while the cowboy grips the handle. The rope is pulled tight, which snugs the handle down on the hand.”

Next, the excess portion of the rope is held in the rider’s open hand. Merritt said, “The rope isn’t actually tied to the bull. It’s wrapped around the animal’s body, so the rider’s strength is what holds him on the bull.” He then has to stay balanced on the bull, and Merritt said, “It’s all the strength of his leg and groin muscles that keep him on the bull’s back.”

It’s a big challenge. “If the rider touches the bull with his free hand, he’s disqualified,” said Merritt.

Matt Merritt, pro rodeo entertainer, plays to the crowd at a recent event (photo courtesy of Matt Merritt)

Matt Merritt, pro rodeo entertainer, plays to the crowd at a recent event (photo courtesy of Matt Merritt)

Merritt is a veteran rodeo entertainer. His job is to keep the crowd entertained, and to keep the audience from realizing the show has come to a pause as they manage 40 bulls. “They’ll buck ten bulls in a section, and then they have to reset the bulls for the next ten rides. My job is to keep the show flowing with crowd interaction, humor, dancing, and keep the crowd from realizing the show has come to a temporary stop,” said Merritt.

He said the job has changed over the years. Bull fighting is no longer part of the rodeo clown’s job. “Years ago, when rodeo first started, there was one guy in the ring that did it all. As the sport has developed, bullfighting has become a separate job from entertaining,” said Merritt.

Merritt said he’s been in the rodeo business for roughly fifteen years now. “I started when I was about fifteen years old. I’ve been all over the country, and have gone to Canada and Australia as well,” said Merritt. “Rodeo was common back in northwest Louisiana where I grew up. I found a way to fit in and not have to risk myself quite like the bull fighters do.”

Overflow viewing will be offered this year. Folks who want to get away from the crowd or find a better view, you can go to an adjacent arena, to an area with concessions and bar service.

Friday night is “Tough Enough to wear Pink Night.”

For more information, check out the MF Production website at Fans are encouraged to wear pink to show support for breast cancer awareness. Sponsors have agreed to donate money for each person that wears pink.
Other events include a dance both nights, plus, don’t miss the fan favorite event Mexican Poker.

Teen MOPS is making better moms and a better world

Teen Mops is mentoring in action from Chad Smith on Vimeo.


Kids and parents were getting ready for the bi-weekly Teen MOPS meeting (Photo by Chad Smith/Full Sail University)

Kids and parents were getting ready for the bi-weekly Teen MOPS meeting (Photo by Chad Smith/Full Sail University)

Teen MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) is a nationwide Christian ministry, with a chapter at Christ Community Church in Rochester, Minnesota.  Veteran moms come alongside young, teenage mothers, who can find themselves in some difficult situations, and help them navigate the various challenges of motherhood.  Motherhood is a challenging job all by itself, but when teenage girls find themselves with children, the job can become very overwhelming.  The Teen MOPS meet every two weeks, and come together for a meal, fellowship, learning, and a MOPShop, where they exchange points they earn through attendance for things they need, such as baby clothing, food, and various other necessities.

Rochester Ice Hawks hockey season comes to an end in the playoffs

The Rochester Ice Hawks of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League, Tier 3 Division, took on the Dells Ducks in a best-of-three, second round playoff series over the weekend.  The first game was Friday night on the Ducks home ice, and Dells won 4-0.  With the season on the line in Rochester the following night, the Ice Hawks needed a win to keep the season alive and send it back to the Ducks home rink for the deciding game in the series.  Rochester came out firing shots early, but couldn’t sustain the momentum throughout the game and came up short:



Cirque de Fun… Funding Futures for Little Lives

This gallery contains 5 photos.

The Kingdom Kids Christian Preschool in Rochester, Minnesota, recently found out it was cut off from any state funding because it uses a Christian curriculum.  The Kingdom Kids staff refused to bemoan the loss of valuable funds and possibly makes cuts in the staff and programming.  Instead, they put together a carnival fun night called […]

Rochester Honkers readying for 21st baseball season

Tom Hanks once said, “There’s no crying in baseball!”  The quote came from the 1992 hit movie “A League Of Their Own.”  According to Dan Litzinger, the General Manager of the Rochester Honkers baseball team, there’s no offseason in baseball either.

The Rochester Honkers turn 21 this year (Photo courtesy of silver

The Rochester Honkers turn 21 this year (Photo courtesy of silver


The team roster is full.  The coaching staff is ready.  The Northwoods League schedule in set in stone.  The Honkers are putting the final front office preparations in place for the season opener on May 27, at Mayo Field in Rochester.


Finding players


“We could probably fill out four full teams by November 1, with all the applications that come in,” said Litzinger.  That’s a big change from when the team first formed back in 1994.



In addition to the applications process, Litzinger said the Honkers coaches double as a scouting staff.  “Our coaches are college coaches, so they’ve seen players, and they’re seeing players.  He said they have a good idea of which players they’re interested in.

A close play at third base (photo from

A close play at third base (photo from


“We have relationships with college coaches all over the country.  They know us, so they’re calling and saying hey, I’ve got these two or three guys I want to send up your way.  They want to know what our roster looks like and what needs we have,” said Litzinger.  “Coaches will tell us we’ve always taken care of them, so they want to take care of us.”


He said they do call up coaches across the country and inquire about players that might be good enough to be on the team’s roster.  Litzinger said it’s “a lot to weed through as we try to put the best team we can out on the field.”


The Northwoods League


According to the Northwoods League official website, the League formed back in 1994, and billed itself as a league of “all-star” teams of college players.  Litzinger described the purpose of the Northwoods League in his own words:


He said the league runs on major-league specifications.  “We use wooden bats.  Our umpires come from umpire schools, so they’re trying to make the big leagues as well, said Litzinger.  “Everything we do mimics the minor league experience, so that’s how we prepare some of these kids to make the jump”

The Northwoods League requires it’s teams to use wooden bats to mirror major league baseball games (photo by

The Northwoods League requires it’s teams to use wooden bats to mirror major league baseball games (photo by


Ten years ago, he said the players would face a challenge adjusting to wooden bats after years of playing with aluminum bats, but that’s not the case anymore.  “With the recent changes in aluminum bats, the adjustment comes quicker,” said Litzinger. “They’re trying to make aluminum bats act more like wooden bats, plus more and more kids coming out of junior colleges across the country play with wooden bats now.”


Litzinger said the biggest adjustment is getting used to each other:



2013 season was rough


“Trying,” was the word that Litzinger used to describe the 2013 season.  The Honkers finished the summer with a 28-42 record, 23 games out of first place in the North Division.


“It was one of our worst on-field performances ever.  We got hit by injuries.  We got hit by the Major League draft.  It happens to everybody, but last year was especially difficult,” said Litzinger.  “We just didn’t mesh right away.  I thought we looked good on paper, but, that’s paper.”


The Honkers had several players taken in the June Major League draft, going anywhere from rounds 25 to 40.  Litzinger said they aren’t getting much money at that point when they sign their first contract, but asks, “How do you tell a kid no?  How do you kill a kid’s dream?”


“You want some of your guys to get drafted, because that means you’re signing the right kind of players.  You just don’t know the mental aspect of who’s going to sign, and who isn’t,” said Litzinger.  “It’s tough to replace that kind of talent in June.”


2014 season approaching


The Northwoods League teams bring in top college talent from all over the country, and Litzinger said the quality of baseball is outstanding.  “It’s a Division 1 conference game every night, and it can get to be a grind.”


“Guys have to step up their level of competition,” said Litzinger.  “How do you get through 72 tough games in a summer?  There are going to be slumps, and players have to decide how they’re gonna get through it because that’s what they’ll need to do in pro ball.”


“Players can’t be out until two in the morning.  You have to get up and you have to do your work.  Players have to eat right, and they have to get the proper amount of sleep,” said Litzinger.


He said, “All they have to do is concentrate on baseball, work on their skills, and have a little fun too.”

Fans young and old can attend Honkers games (photo from

Fans young and old can attend Honkers games (photo from


The Honkers open the season May 27, with a home game at Mayo Field in Rochester against the Waterloo Bucks, North Division

champions from 2013.  First pitch will be at 7:05.  For more information on ticket packages, check out the website at










Keeping a weather eye on Minnesota

“Persistent.”  Not exactly the word many Minnesotans may choose to describe this winter, but it’s appropriate, according to Mark Seely, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist.

U of Mn Extension climatologist Mark Seely (photo from

U of Mn Extension climatologist Mark Seely (photo from


According to a recent Google search, the word ‘persistent’ has many interesting synonyms:  tenacious, determined, single-minded, relentless, interminable, and uninterrupted.  Seely said the reason all these words fit is it hasn’t been this consistently cold in Minnesota and the Midwest in a long time. In fact, the Minnesota Public Radio website calls this “the coldest winter in 30 years.”


Looking back


Seely said the interesting thing about this bitterly cold winter is, “it didn’t necessarily start early.  The winter that we know it as, frankly, didn’t start until the first week of December.”  Since then, Seely said the state has been in a deep freeze, the likes of which it hasn’t seen in some time.


“Since December, it’s been the coldest weather, by any measure, since the winter of 81-82.”  Winter this consistently cold is a new experience for many young Midwesterners:


Seely said the Midwest has had colder winters, but few that have been this persistent.  “It has been so consistently cold, we’ve had many of our observers report large numbers of nights with below zero readings.”

How this winter stacks up against past winters (graph courtesy of the Twin Cities NWS)  (photo from

How this winter stacks up against past winters (graph courtesy of the Twin Cities NWS) (photo from


What is driving the cold?


According to the Weather Underground website, a weather phenomenon known as the polar vortex may be driving this relentlessly cold weather in the Midwest.  The polar vortex is an area of very cold air that typically centers over Siberia and Canada’s Baffin Island.  A piece of the vortex broke off, and was forced south in part by the Jet Stream, into the Great Lakes Area of the US.


DTN Senior Meteorologist Mike Palmerino said “An unusual area of warm air over Alaska and northwest Canada pushed the cold air south.  They’ve had a lot of warm weather in Alaska this year.”  The polar air has pushed south in the past, so it’s not an unusual occurrence.

DTN meteorologist Mike Palmerino  (Photo from

DTN meteorologist Mike Palmerino (Photo from


Uneven snow cover


“I would say the eastern half of the state ended up with fairly decent snow cover that’s pretty consistent,” said Seely.  “However, the western half of the state, because of the high winds, ended up with variable snow cover.  In areas unprotected from the wind, our weather observers have reported seeing areas of bare soil in their farm fields.”


Seely said in unprotected areas, the lack of snow cover has allowed the permafrost has driven 4 to 6 feet deep, and that’s something, “We haven’t seen that in a long, long time.”  That means the ground is going to take time to thaw for spring planting in Minnesota.

One of the few areas where wild grass pokes through snow cover in SE Mn (photo by Chad Smith)

One of the few areas where wild grass pokes through snow cover in SE Mn (photo by Chad Smith)


What is ahead?


“The weather models are coming together and showing some moderation for the rest of the winter,” said Seely.  “That’s not to say we won’t have colder than normal days, but the sheer number of below zero days are going to go away.”


Palmerino said soils “east of the Mississippi River are in pretty good shape moisture-wise.  If anything, I think the main concern going into spring is that it’s too wet.”  He said “a stormy weather pattern and cooler than normal temperatures would definitely interrupt spring planting.”


Seely said the good news is the future models are showing moderating temperatures into March.  However, not all the predictions are positive:


Palmerino said it’s a fine line when farmers look to spring.  You want the weather to warm up and melt the snow, but not too fast either:

SE Mn has a lot of snow to get rid of before spring planting (photo by Chad Smith)

SE Mn has a lot of snow to get rid of before spring planting (photo by Chad Smith)


Here’s what it’s been like to drive in the Midwest this winter: