Cloquet has already taken State this year - though the fall sports season isn't over yet.
In a light-hearted contest sponsored by the Minnesota Wild professional hockey organization, the Cloquet Lumberjack sports jersey - with its famous image of a bearded lumberjack - edged out the equally legendary image of the Warroad Warriors in the online contest's final bracketing.
According to Aaron Sickman, media relations manager for the Minnesota Wild, hockey fans were asked to submit nominations for the "Best Jersey in Minnesota" contest on the Wild's Facebook page.
"We received hundreds of suggestions," said Sickman, which he said they narrowed down to a 32-team "tourney."
The Lumberjack jersey was submitted by James Foster of Eden Prairie, Minn., a 2001 graduate of Cloquet High School who played hockey in Cloquet through the Bantam level.
"I saw the Wild's posting on Facebook announcing the contest on the day before submissions closed," said Foster. "I was amazed no one had submitted Cloquet's jersey, so it was an easy decision and a quick Google search for a good picture of the jersey. I submitted it and didn't really give it much thought until I saw the jersey made the 32-team bracket."
Facebook fans voted weekly to narrow down the field to determine the final winner.
"That was when I really started promoting it to friends and family," admitted Foster. "I had several people voting from Cloquet as well as from other places as far as Hawaii and Colorado."
In the first round, the Cloquet logo and jersey came out on top over the St. Cloud State jersey and went on to defeat Bemidji State, St. Cloud State and the North Stars.
"Interest kept growing and when we were going against the North Stars jersey, I started pushing hard for people to vote," related Foster. "Once we defeated the North Stars jersey, support exploded. I was getting texts from people at 1 a.m. saying they had voted 300-400 times. I must have submitted a couple hundred votes myself!"
After making it past the North Stars, the Cloquet Lumberjack jersey moved into the final faceoff against the Warroad jersey.
"Thousands of votes were cast in the final round," said Sickman. "It was hotly contested right down to the wire. In the end, the iconic purple and gold sweater with the grizzled lumberjack edged the legendary Warroad Warrior sweater."
"The day the winner was announced," recalled Foster, "I kept checking Facebook and the Wild website every two minutes until I finally saw an update. It felt awesome to win and I felt a great deal of pride for Cloquet. I have always thought that Cloquet has one of the few truly original and unique jerseys in any sport at any level, and the fact that we have had the same jersey since John Everson designed it speaks volumes to the true hockey tradition in Cloquet."
In return for nominating the Cloquet jersey, Foster won ice time at the Xcel Energy Center for 20 people as well as a suite for a Minnesota Wild game.
"My list of people joining me on the ice and in the suite is growing by the day," said Foster. "I had a group of friends from college last year that I skated with every week. After graduation most of them moved away but I have hopes that as many of them can make it back to skate. I'm tentatively scheduled to skate on Dec. 22, but with the NHL lockout still going on it's yet to be determined. I'm definitely hoping sooner rather than later!"
Cloquet's famous lumberjack logo dates back many years and has gradually evolved over time. When the sports program was in need of a visual image for the lumberjack mascot, the initial prototype was developed through the creative effort of community hockey fan John "Wood Duck" Everson and the artistic skills of a middle school art teacher. It was reproduced at Ultimate Screen Printing, a local screen printing business that operated out of the basement of local firefighter and hockey fan Don Hill, one of the co-owners of the business.
The Lumberjack logo reportedly changed at least a dozen times to reflect the image to be projected on whatever items for which it was to be used, with a sterner, "edgier" look on sports jerseys and a milder, friendlier image for student wear, book covers and other class supplies.
At various times, the Lumberjack was depicted with and without a hat, sometimes wearing a plaid shirt or with an ax over his shoulder. Sometimes it was done in just purple, and at others it was depicted in purple and gold. Eventually, the image was painted at center court of the Cloquet Middle School basketball floor, and that image remained pretty much the standard for the sports jerseys from that time on.
"When I was reading the comments on Facebook about the contest it was apparent that there was a huge amount of support for Cloquet," concluded Foster after the Lumberjack logo was announced as the Wild's contest champ. "Winning the contest was great, but just being able to be part of Cloquet's hockey tradition, well that's pretty cool. I'm just happy to see the Cloquet Lumberjack getting the recognition it deserves. Unfortunately, I don't make many Lumberjack games any more - but I'll be at the tournament this year when Cloquet returns to State!"