Sometimes a singer can tell a better story than a writer can. This is one of those times.
While trying to think of a headline for this piece, a song popped into my head that’s an awful pun considering what I’m about to relate, but one of the stanzas feels more and more fitting the more I think about them:
And when you finally fly away, I'll be hoping that I served you well.
For all the wisdom of a lifetime, no one can ever tell.
But whatever road you choose, I'm right behind you win or lose…
Of course, the song is Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young,” and I told you that so I could tell you this.
Sometimes the beauty of a high school program is measured in much more than wins and losses. The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey program received two unique distinctions this last week which reinforce that home truth.
Assistant coach Kyle Young was named the Section 7AA Assistant Coach of the Year, an honor he won for the second time. His constancy throughout Dave Esse’s tenure as head coach means that many a CEC senior has been guided by a good man with a better heart.
Young has been a bit more than an assistant this year — he guided the team to its first victory over Duluth East in four years early in the season when Esse was felled by illness.
“I trust him completely,” Esse said of his longtime assistant. “He knows so much about the game and relates so well to the players. He knows what he’s doing and he deserves all the credit he gets.”
Young is part of the local coaching tradition — like Esse, having played defense for the Lumberjacks in high school before heading off to college.
While Esse went to the University of Wisconsin-Superior, Young attended Bemidji State before returning home to run the defensemen for the team.
“He didn’t win it last year and he should have,” Esse said. “So it was a year late but I’m happy for him and proud of him. I’ll go to bat with him over anyone. He’s a loyal guy and I trust him with basically anything.”
The two are cut from the same cloth. And that’s a good thing. In a program that guards its traditions as closely as any in Minnesota, the two are a throwback to the old school.
“Cloquet is as close to the old school as you’re going to see in any program anywhere,” longtime coach Tom McFarlane said this week. “The coaches there understand what that means.”
The other piece of good news had to do with the team itself, which was crowned Section 7AA academic champions for what is believed to be the first time ever.
Esse has spoken over and over again of the willingness of these players to do what is required on and off the ice, and surely there’s no better measure of a student-athlete than the “student” part of that equation.
“This whole team is really good in school and are great kids on and off the ice,” he said. “I never had a problem with them and that just shows you. They’re going to succeed in life because they have the right mindset.”
Part of the uniqueness of this particular award is that the players, of course, come from three different high schools in three different communities. So to win a section academic award speaks well of the schools in all three of the cooperative program’s towns.
“We have three good schools here,” Esse said. “Most people don’t understand that. It’s a little challenging in three different schools, but we have great teachers in all of them, great parents in the program who understand the need for school first, and the kids themselves deserve the honor for how hard they worked.”
Team effort, in this case, means more than one thing.
“Getting to state is the pinnacle,” Esse said, “but this is an important honor and it’s well deserved.”
Frankly, it’s easy to root for a program that has its priorities straight. The ’Jacks won a playoff game this season despite a sub-.500 record during the regular season and the future looks extremely bright — on the ice.
Off the ice, it’s nice to note that things seem to be going just as well, both in terms of leaders and those being led.
Be courageous and be brave.
And in my heart you'll always stay