Korby's Corner: Cloquet fans are first class


While Black Friday is one of the busiest shopping days of the year, most people in Cloquet weren't seen racing around stores or standing in never-ending lines.

Unless you saw the sights at U.S. Bank Stadium, that is.

You see, many Lumberjacks fans raced to Minneapolis that day and stood in line for a different gift.

Cloquet was shopping for a state football championship.

Black Friday turned into purple Friday, with thousands of Lumberjack faithful streaming into the already purple home of the Minnesota Vikings.

Everybody wanted a piece of Cloquet football. I mean, come on, it was something this town hasn't seen in 41 years.

For four decades, no Cloquet team had done anything like this. The last was in 1976, when the Lumberjacks lost to White Bear Lake 14-13 in the big-school final in overtime.

In Class AAAA nowadays, small towns like Cloquet aren't supposed to be playing past the Thanksgiving holiday. They aren't supposed to be able to beat traditional powers like Becker, or perennial state entrants like South St. Paul handily.

Yet, Tom Lenarz's boys kept answering the bell, each week winning again and again, gaining momentum.

Lenarz is in his 14th season at Cloquet. The 46-year-old actually won a Prep Bowl while playing linebacker for Blaine, Minn., in 1988. He'd be the first to say that was long ago.

He'd rather gloat about his players, both past and current.

Let's not forget, Lenarz started 1-26 in his coaching career, but through 14 years and hundreds of kids' committing to this program, Cloquet has become a state tournament staple squad. They have gone to state four of the past five years, finally breaking through the quarterfinals in November and taking it all the way to last week's Prep Bowl.

Did I buy a shirt to support the team? Of course.

Mine was actually one of 300 sold in just 24 hours leading up to the semifinals. A pile of rooter buses, even adults buses went down for both U.S. Bank stadium games, while all schools were dismissed a half-day early Nov. 17.

Athletic teams even rescheduled their practices to morning time slots so their peers could be there in full force.

These past couple weeks a different kind of force than I've ever seen before has been on display: thousands of supporters, a seemingly endless sea of purple and town pride at its finest.

So yeah, we finished second, but boy did it seem like first.