Longtime coach in final season
With apologies to Mark Twain, reports of Glen Sorenson's retirement are greatly exaggerated.
Sorenson, who spent much of 2015-16 battling aggressive prostate cancer, has returned for a 38th — and this time, final — season as a high school Nordic skiing coach. He's coaching at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton at the personal request of his top assistant.
"Arne Maijala asked me if I would do one more year to help him along, and I said yes," Sorenson said. "There's a lot for him to learn, and I'm feeling good, so I came back."
Sorenson wouldn't have come back if he wasn't physically able.
"I send my blood to Mayo (Clinic) every six months and so far, I'm clean (cancer-free)," he said. "Last year, I had surgery at Mayo and I was kind of a mess that winter."
But Sorenson also couldn't resist one more season around his athletes.
"It's a super relationship — that's why I coach," he said. "To spend time with the young ones, teach them how to work hard, ski correctly and have fun at the same time. I enjoy their sense of humor. I suppose that's why I kept teaching for 35 years, too."
That sense of humor started early in the season when the ground was still devoid of snow.
"I had the kids do a snow dance and videotape it," he said, explaining that many of the kids formed groups and did choreographed dances to popular music out in the forest at Pine Valley, where they practice.
"I will give a prize at the end of the season for the best dance — and those kids are crazy," Sorenson said. "I love their creativity."
And it worked. Practice on Tuesday, Dec. 26, was nearly canceled because of cold.
"They didn't last long," Sorenson said of his skiers. "I told them to do what their body would let them. Franny Slater was the tough one — she lasted an hour."
Sorenson's girls' team will be deep, but without a star like Anja Maijala or Erika Fox, both of whom graduated last year.
"We have a lot of kids (over 80 skiers are out for the girls and boys programs) and the girls will be good. Franny Slater and Elise Pickar are the top skiers, I believe."
Junior Aiden Ripp, who has Olympic potential in the Nordic Combined events which feature skiing and ski jumping, leads the boys team along with Tyler Northey from Esko and Josh Sanders, a freshman at Cloquet.
"Aiden is there for the team," Sorenson said. "The kids know it. They also know he has a great talent he's working to grow. He's on a different schedule, but the kids all know Aiden is with them. He's a strong leader. But our boys team should be knocking on the door to qualify (for state) from this section."
And, to be fair, it would be fun for Sorenson to have a state-level, or even a state champion skier, in his final year.
"Aiden is the kind of kid who can win it, but it wouldn't be something that I personally need," Sorenson said. "It's not on my bucket list. But it would be so great for the students and for Cloquet. It would bring a smile to everyone's face. As long as we don't overdo it with him, he has a chance."
And to be equally fair, winning a state championship in Minnesota is a big deal.
"We aren't just the state of hockey," Sorenson said. "With Alaska and parts of New England, we're the state of skiing too. To win at state level here is a tremendous achievement."
With his final season underway, Sorenson is looking ahead.
"It's time for this program to go on without me," he said. "To have a Cloquet teacher running the program is great. I think my time as a coach is done, but I'm done, too. I've been coaching since 1979. I have five grandkids now, spread out between St. Louis Park, Anchorage, Alaska, and Omaha."
Yet, even though he's ready to go, it's still impossible to get the love of the sport out of Glen Sorenson.
"When I get there, it's great," he said. "When I get to practice, I love it. I love it. I love it."