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Nordic noshing at its best

At the CEC invitational the skiers painted kids' faces with messages of support for Coach Glen Sorenson, who was having surgery the same day for prostate cancer. Jana Peterson/jpeterson@pinejournal.com2 / 2

Last Thursday’s CEC Nordic ski banquet had it all: good food, music, comedy, sports, friends and family.

As emcee and head coach, Glen Sorenson was great. After missing much of the season because he was battling prostate cancer, Sorenson was funny, touching and, above all, sincere.

He talked about the “jolt” of energy he got from seeing the kids racing with their “Glen Strong” facepaint on the day of his surgery, and again when he saw the photo of them all eating orange popsicles when they heard that Sorenson had managed to eat one after seven days without food.

“It’s a good lesson,” he told the kids. “Never forget to reach out. You might not think it’s going to do anything but it might, and it did for me.”

Tellingly, Sorenson didn’t start the awards announcements with the state athletes: Cloquet’s Anja Maijala and Carlton’s Erika Fox. Once he’d introduced every single one of the 40-plus middle school and high school skiers in the program and their family members, he then began by announcing that the boys varsity team was a “gold” all-academic section team, which means the grade point average of the top five skiers came in at 3.75 or higher.

The retired science teacher then revealed that the girls team was also a gold all-academic team and noted that it was easy to average 4.0 GPA times five, adding that he could have gone even deeper on the team and still had a 4.0 average.

“The person who manages the program wrote me back and said, ‘Are you sure about those numbers?’” he told the room full of people with a delighted laugh. “Skiers are usually pretty smart, but that’s impressive.”

With eight All-Conference skiers and two State skiers (both sophomores), Sorenson is bullish about both the boys and girls Lumberjacks Nordic ski teams over the next few years.

“This is not only the state of hockey, this is the state of skiing, too,’” Sorenson said, meaning that to do well in Minnesota means a skier can hold his (or her) own against just about anyone.

It was a good year for the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Nordic ski teams, which not only overcame a lack of snow (the first day their home trails at Pine Valley had a classic track was the last day of practice), they also bonded together to “ski for Glen” as he battled cancer.

His helpers did the same, and their fellow coaches recognized that by honoring them.

All three — Sorenson, assistant coach Ben Croft and volunteer coach Brent Smith — not only were voted Section 7 Coaches and Volunteers of the Year, but the trio were also voted Coaches of the Year for the entire state!

The nominations were very thoughtful.

Jim Vos, the head coach for the Proctor-Hermantown team, nominated Sorenson, who started his coaching career with the Nordic girls ski team at Proctor in 1979. In turn, Sorenson nominated Croft and Croft nominated Smith.

Vos talked about how Croft refused to let Sorenson step down, and how Smith came out of retirement to assist. He noted how Sorenson kept in touch with his players from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and his recovery at home via YouTube video, emails and even speaker phone.

“His absence seems to have no effect on his ability to inspire,” Vos wrote. “On more than one occasion this year I have congratulated a CEC skier on a good race only to have them say ‘Thanks! I’m skiing for Glen.’

“I guess kids have been doing that for about 35 years.”

Croft told of Smith’s conditions in his nomination: “He refused to be paid, he refused to ride any more yellow school buses to ski meets and he preferred to work mostly with the beginning skiers. Who wouldn’t ‘hire’ him!!!” Croft wrote. (See the full text of the nominations online at www.pinejournal.com along with a video of Coach Glen Sorenson and his skiers singing about this year’s ski season during the banquet.)

In typical fashion, all three coaches were modest about the state awards:

“The three of us are so old that all the coaches know who we are,” Sorenson said. “I think they felt sorry for us.”

Croft — who boasts a spectacular head of salt and pepper curls — said the other coaches refer to the three as “50 shades of grey.”

“[We] three have been around for 30 years, coaching different teams, and we’ve been friends that long, too,” Croft said. “It’s nice to coach together.

“We’ll see you next year, hopefully,”  Croft said in the end.

We hope so, too.

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TEXT FOR NOMINATIONS FOR STATE COACHES, VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR

Glen Sorenson, Cloquet Esko Carlton,  Head Coach of the Year, Section 7

Glen Sorenson began coaching Nordic Skiing in 1979 when he assembled the first Proctor High School girls’ team.  In 1982, he started the Duluth Marshall boys’ and girls’ teams and then it was back to Proctor where he coached the first boys’ team in 1989. I was fortunate to have coached with Glen for a ten year stretch during which time I was granted daily access to  the most creative, motivating coach and teacher I have ever known.   Glen’s teams have won three girl’s section championships; four boys’ section championships and many conference championships.  Not surprisingly, Glen has been previously honored as State Nordic Coach of the year (1995-96) as well as State Assistant Coach of the year (2010).

Glen managed to stay “retired” from coaching for 3 seasons before he saw the opportunity to coach the Cloquet/Esko/Carlton (CEC) team in 2013. As expected, Glen’s infectious enthusiasm spread through the CEC team and he was back to doing what he loved most – teaching kids.

This season, section 7 witnessed coaching at a level I’ll wager none of us hope to ever achieve ourselves.  In November, Glen was diagnosed with a particularly threatening cancer which he was told would require surgery if he was to survive.   Since the operation couldn’t happen until January 10, Glen stuck to his plan and drove several members of his team out to West Yellowstone for a week of early season training.  When they returned, Glen got down to the business of coaching his team on all of that wonderful snow that had now melted!  As his surgery date approached, Glen called me to discuss his ability to continue coaching.  He doubted he would be able to meet the needs of his skiers, so we considered possible candidates to step in and help his assistant, Ben Croft (see assistant coach nomination).  Clearly, Glen should have called Ben before me because as soon as Glen told Ben his intentions, the response from Croft was simply “No”.  Ben knew that Glen could and should remain the head coach in whatever capacity he could manage.It wasn’t long before veteran coach Brent Smith came out of hiding to volunteer his services to the cause as well (see volunteer nomination).

Since his surgery, Glen has had only one face to face meeting with his team but he has sent emails, given bus pep talks while on speaker phone and he even made a YouTube video congratulating his skiers on their accomplishments this season.  His absence seems to have no effect on his ability to inspire.  On more than one occasion this year I have congratulated a CEC skier on a good race only to have them say “Thanks!  I’m skiing for Glen.”  I guess kids have been doing that for about 35 years.

Glen Sorenson is a “Hall of Fame” caliber coach and he is the Section 7 unanimous nomination for 2015 Head Coach of the Year.

Submitted by Jim Vos – Head Coach, Proctor/Hermantown Nordic

Ben Croft –Cloquet Esko Carlton,  Assistant Coach of the Year, Section 7

Ben Croft has a long history in coaching Nordic ski racing. He was a head coach at Mesabi East for 10 years and an assistant for Jack Jefferies and Cheri Johnson for another eight years. Ben retired from the railroad, got married, and for mine and CEC’s good fortune, he settled in Carlton and is currently my assistant coach at Cloquet/Esko/Carlton.

In November, I was diagnosed with cancer and had to leave for Mayo on January 10th and miss the rest of the season. I kept in touch only through email, phone and video. Before leaving I asked Ben to take over the head coaching position and he said “NO”.  He asked that I stay as the head and he would take care of the rest. He was fantastic! Ben kept the team together, stayed motivated and upbeat in the face of bad snow conditions and me gone from the scene.  The parents, skiers, and Ben all pulled together, and under his leadership, 50 skiers went to practice every day, with a smile and competed strongly  in a tough section 7 and Lake Superior Conference. Our girls team was conference champs this year and our boys took second.  Last week, two of our girls qualified for the state meet.

If ever there was an assistant coach who went above and beyond the call of duty, it was Ben Croft in 2015 and I am eternally grateful.

Submitted by Glen Sorenson (head coach, CEC)

Brent Smith Cloquet Esko Carlton,  Volunteer  of the Year, Section 7

A few years ago, there was a trail run on ski trails at Pine Valley in Cloquet. During the warm up, I came upon a huge pine tree blocking the trail.  I turned around to tell the race officials and here comes Brent Smith with Carharts on and chainsaw in hand.  Fifteen minutes later Brent had the trail cleared so the event could go on.  Brent has a knack for doing what needs to be done.

When head coach Glen Sorenson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November, Glen knew I was going to need help with the 50 skiers that the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton team had expanded to.  When former CEC Nordic head coach Brent Smith heard our plea, he once again saw what needed to be done and he stepped up.  This time however he did have conditions:  He refused to be paid, he refused to ride anymore yellow school buses to ski meets and he preferred to work mostly with the beginning skiers.  Who wouldn’t “hire” him!!!  He’s been a great addition to the team and the kids love him. I could go on thanking him for his many great attributes, but you can thank him yourselves at the state meet, since he volunteered to be one of the starters.

Submitted by Ben Croft – Assistant Coach Cloquet-Esko-Carlton

 
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