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Spotlight shines on ’Jacks wrestlers

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CLOQUET—In its eighth year of existence, the Cloquet-Esko wrestling program has had glimmerings of success, but perhaps the brightest moment came last Thursday night.

For the first time in their young history, the Lumberjacks competed in an ageless wrestling atmosphere — under a spotlight in a darkened Cloquet wrestling gymnasium — and lost 57-21 to Aitkin.

Sure, the 36-point loss to the powerhouse Gobblers was a step back, but it was also another step forward for a Lumberjacks program that continues to grow within all facets.

The spotlight — hung by Cloquet-Esko Coach Al Denman and public address announcer Jim Allen over holiday break — sets a traditional scene in statewide gymnasiums throughout high schools to colleges. Although “still not right,” Denman admired the metal-colored light held in place by a yellow pulley system.

“We’re trying to create an entertainment opportunity,” said Denman, noting he and “master electrician” Allen needed a scissors lift and plenty of mathematical calculations to hang the light into the ceiling’s high-overhead rafters. “The whole idea is to give the people of the community an opportunity to come out and support their kids — and this is a great venue to do that.”

Aitkin, coached by Kevin Lamke for 32 years, has always had a venue with a spotlight shining down on its wrestlers.

“It keeps everything focused on the kids out on the mat,” said Lamke. “It’s nice to see some programs try to get wrestling back up, like Cloquet. They’re doing it right.”

Seth Stevens, Mitchell Borchardt and older brother Reid Borchardt all recorded pins for Cloquet-Esko at 120, 126 and 145 pounds last week, while Denman’s son, Conner, also won at 138, before several upper-weight forfeits. The Borchardts also won Saturday’s Rick Lee Invitational in Bemidji in their weight categories.

The biggest win, however, was the new light — for most.

“It’s cool,” said Daniel Stevens, a first-year varsity homeschooled freshman from Cloquet, about the spotlight.

“Our mom doesn’t like it,” added older brother, Seth, a junior in his fourth year of varsity. “It’s bad for taking video.”

Cloquet Athletic Director Tom Lenarz liked the light, as did social studies teacher and wrestling official Tim Prosen.

“As an official, it’s a little hard to see all four hands,” Prosen said, “but I wrestled in high school and college and I always remember wanting to go to that place that had a light.”

“Eight years ago we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” added Denman. “In another decade, it may be standing room only — perhaps too many people to even have it in here.”