Cloquet grads give back to the kids


Two summers ago, Jeff Leno of Cloquet started the Sawdust 5K race as a way to help his community pay for the annual fireworks display on the Fourth of July.

Now, the race has nearly doubled in size and the former Lumberjack athlete is ready to start a special fund to help the activities department at the school.

"We've been very pleasantly surprised by the race's growth," Jeff Leno said this week. "We had 221 runners the first year (2011) and 290 last year."

With this edition of the Pine Journal being delivered as the 2013 race is being run, Leno has 297 runners pre-registered with another 70 or so expected to register on race day.

"We're hoping for 370 to 400 runners, and we're proud of that," Leno said. "In three years we've grown to the largest 5K run in Cloquet and every year our technology gets better."

"Our biggest problem now is running out of T-shirts and parking," he added.

Then there's the issue of what to do with the money raised -- and that has changed, too, over the years.

Initially, the race's proceeds went to the Fourth of July celebration. Leno sits on that event's volunteer organizing committee.

Yet the arrival of Shamrock Landfill in Cloquet last year changed the dynamic a bit.

"We raised $2,500 the first year and $4,000 last year," Leno said, "but Shamrock got involved and their owner likes fireworks. That is his thing. They like to do that in the communities they are in, and last year they matched [up to $5,000] donated money for fireworks."

So that freed up money from the Sawdust race for another purpose, and the beneficiary will be the Cloquet Activities Department.

Both Leno and his wife Alyson are former Cloquet athletes and last year directed about $3,000 of the race proceeds to a fund to benefit school activities.

"We banked the money last year so we hope to add to that total this year and then start giving out funds," Leno said. "We will have an application process for activities that need funding, and you don't necessarily need to be in a sport to apply."

Leno estimates that this year's race should raise between $6,000 and $7,000, with roughly three-quarters of that amount going to the activities fund.

"We want to set aside a portion of those funds for underprivileged kids who can't afford activities fees," Leno said. "Alyson and I are pretty passionate about that and we want to give back to the community."

The race will still donate to the Fourth fund as well.

"We end up meeting the fundraising goals for the Fourth too, which still needs assistance, but we can do things to help kids as well."

To say thanks for the assistance, 46 Cloquet athletes volunteered to help with this year's race, along with boys basketball coach Steve Battaglia, girls basketball coach Jeff Ojanen, boys hockey coach Dave Esse, track coach Tim Prosen and activities director Tom Lenarz also helping out.

"We're ready to create our board and start the process this year," Leno said. "We're ready to help."

Contact freelance sports writer Jeff Papas at