Cloquet family shares passion for wrestling, one member at a timeCloquet-Esko wrestling coach Al Denman watched intently as a pair of his Lumberjacks fiercely skirmished at Monday evening’s practice. It was his daughter Jolynne against his son Conner.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CLOQUET – Cloquet-Esko wrestling coach Al Denman watched intently as a pair of his Lumberjacks fiercely skirmished at Monday evening’s practice.
It was his daughter Jolynne against his son Conner.
“That brother-sister niceness was sure gone, but it was kind of surreal,” said Al Denman about his oldest daughter facing off with his youngest son for the first time before his eyes at a varsity practice. “While I was watching, it was kind of a dream come true.”
That’s because the Denmans are a Cloquet wrestling family. Al coaches, Jolynne and Conner wrestle and middle daughter Alison is the team manager. Wife/mother Brenda rarely misses a match at home or away.
“It’s what we’re passionate about,” Al said. “It’s just like a hockey family, or a basketball family. We’re the same way, only with wrestling.”
Al was a wrestler in high school and earned a spot for the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs before a shoulder injury years ago. Finally, after 20-plus years of rowing, Denman decided to coach the sport he loved most to give kids the opportunities he had himself.
Devoting much of his time to the Cloquet Area Youth Wrestling Association, Denman, alongside much noted help with CAYWA, became the Cloquet-Esko high school program's head coach almost a decade ago.
Following a year at the middle school level and two years of junior varsity, the Lumberjacks' inaugural wrestling program began during the
2006-07 season and is now entering its sixth year.
Now his kids have gotten involved.
While Jolynne, a senior, has been wrestling varsity since her freshman year, Conner, a seventh-grader, has been on the mats since before kindergarten. He is now old enough to enter the varsity ranks for the first time this winter.
“I get nervous watching them out there,” said Al about his kids taking to the mats. “Wrestling is a very demanding sport. I steered them toward it, but it’s their decisions.”
“Wrestling is pretty much life for us,” added 13-year-old Conner, who competes in the 120-pound weight class. “We play other sports, but wrestling is pretty much everything.”
Even for 113-pound Jolynne, who is one of just three girls on the team.
“Even to this day, I get nervous once I step on the mat,” she said. “I’m intimidated all of the time. It’s almost like David versus Goliath.”
Jolynne and Conner are just two marquee wrestlers for the optimistic Lumberjacks entering the season. Although still growing as a program, Al noted Esko brothers Reid and Mitchell Borchardt will be key contributors on the mats, along with Jordan Baker, Kristina Erickson, Cohen Nelson, Trevor Louther and others.
Cloquet-Esko will open its season by traveling to Hinckley-Finlayson for a triangular meet with the Jaguars and Nashwauk-Keewatin at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9. The first home triangular is Dec. 29.
“Everyone is working really hard at practice because they want to keep driving and achieving,” Jolynne said. “I have a feeling this is going to be a good year.”
It’s while Conner and Jolynne wrestle that Alison, a junior, acts as her father’s assistant, tallying results, submitting scores and keeping records of seemingly everything.
“She has a lot of responsibilities,” Al said. “She does a lot for us.”
Alison said that she experimented with wrestling in elementary school but, unlike her siblings, she enjoyed the pencil and scorebook instead.
“I’m a real baby when it comes to getting torqued around,” she said with a laugh. “Jolynne and I are complete opposites. She’s super tough and I’m kind of like the wimp.”
Traveling alongside her father, brother and sister, Alison said what she and her family get to experience every winter is something pretty cool.
“I love going and cheering,” Alison said, “and being alongside them.”
“She’s always been there for me,” chimed in Jolynne.
Don’t forget about Brenda, either.
According to Al, without his wife running daily errands, buying specific groceries for their kids to watch their weight, and firmly pressing his white shirt and purple tie on meet night, wrestling wouldn’t exist for their family.
“I don’t iron those shirts,” Al laughed. “She’s what makes this all possible. If it wasn’t for her, this would all crumble.”
Brenda doesn’t mind it at all.
“To see Al coach along with Jolynne, Alison and now Conner out there is just incredible,” Brenda said. “I’m probably their biggest fan.”
Her usual trip to the grocery store can be more difficult than most, with her children battling to stay within their weight class and body fat percentage.
“It’s not fun,” she laughed. “Conner said once winter has started now, that we’re all on the ‘caveman diet.’ There are definitely no goodies in this house.”
Snacks or not, the Denman’s couldn’t care less. It’s wrestling season.
“It’s a blessing that I have a family that is all together here,” said Jolynne. “We all support each other and continue to build each other up. It’s pretty cool.”
“We’re a wrestling family,” added Brenda – even if her children are squaring off at practice.