Wrestling: Lumberjacks brothers bond on the mats
While Griffin Fjeld weighs 20 pounds more than younger brother Deekan and has 50 pounds on even littler sibling Bohdon, the Cloquet wrestler was quick to admit he doesn't mind mangling his brotherly teammates on the mats.
"There's definitely a pecking order that goes on," said Cloquet-Esko-Carlton coach Al Denman with a laugh, "but they're very supportive."
All three have been supportive of the Cloquet Area Youth Wrestling Association, where they began their wrestling careers around — or even before — their days of kindergarten.
These days, the trio are all a part of Denman's cooperative high school program, now in its 16th year of existence.
First, there's feisty Bohdon, a 96-pound seventh-grader who competes on the junior varsity, as he still grows into his lean body.
Next, comes talented Deekan, a freshman wrestling at 120 pounds and seeing plentiful varsity minutes for Denman.
Then, there's Griffin, a junior at a muscly 145 pounds who finished third in Section 7AA at 138 pounds last year and is one up for the challenge of making his first state appearance come March.
"Being so close, I know that I can," said Griffin, currently 19-9 on the season in his weight class. "It'd be pretty cool (for me), but it'd be a big thing for (my brothers). Them seeing that would just push them more."
Speaking of pushing, all three brothers were in uniform encouraging one another Tuesday, Jan. 8, when the Lumberjacks took part in the Proctor/Hermantown Quad. On that night in Proctor, CEC carded wins over P/H United 64-17 and Virginia Area 58-19, while falling short of Northwestern, Wis. 46-27.
Still, the pair of wins now give CEC a baker's dozen worth of victories in just early January. A month ago, the team wrestled for the program's first-ever invitational championship, while that following week, the Lumberjacks beat Grand Rapids 36-34 — another CEC first.
"That was a big deal," said Denman of the win against the Thunderhawks, clinched by freshman Gramm Neumeyer's pin at 195 pounds. "It was pretty exciting stuff. Terribly exciting."
While the team has also been to invitationals at Lakeville North, Brainerd and Eau Claire, Wis., the Lumberjacks' latest weekend affair was in Superior last Saturday, Jan. 5.
There, the elder Fjeld and classmate Jordan Allen placed runner-up at 145 and 132 pounds, respectively, while fellow junior Tyler Harms-Synkiew became CEC's first individual champion this season, winning the title at 138 pounds.
The team next travels to Onamia today, Thursday, Jan. 10, and down to Ogilvie Tuesday, Jan. 15. Come Jan. 22, the Lumberjacks host Aitkin and Deer River in their triangular home opener at Cloquet High School.
Expect the Fjelds to be in attendance, as while the three brothers all wrestle, father, Jake, is an assistant coach, while mother, Melissa, is usually there cheering the boys on with her their youngest two children, in son, Cavan, 10, and daughter, Luxun, 7.
While first-grade Luxun does not wrestle, fourth-grader Cavan does, and is quite the young talent already, following his siblings' footsteps.
"It's generational with that family," Denman said.
"Every time we go to sign in, the table workers are always asking if we're all cousins, or brothers," said Griffin. "(Wrestling) is just something that we can all relate on, do together and teach each other."
Denman can correlate, having had his son, Conner, wrestle for him, along with his daughter, Jolynne. His other daughter, Alison, was also the team's manager for half a decade, while his wife, Brenda, has never left his side in helping care for the only high school coach the Lumberjacks have ever known.
He sees that same inspiration in the Fjelds, even if Griffin playfully grounds his brothers to the mats every now and again.
"When you have family on that mat, that is so supportive, that gets you through the tough times," said Denman. "This sport isn't easy. You need that support."
"We're family," Griffin added. "It's pretty enjoyable."