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John's Journal: A Great New Place To Play In Cloquet

Requiring No Taxpayer Money, Stadium Is A Gem In The Northland

Posted: Saturday, October 21, 2023 - 12:09 PM





CLOQUET – Before everything fell into place, there was a mildly ominous note on the Cloquet High School athletic calendar next to an entry for Wednesday’s football game between the Lumberjacks and visiting North Branch: “This game will be played at Duluth Denfeld's Public School Stadium unless Cloquet's field is ready.”

Soon after, however, the note was updated: “This game will now be played at Cloquet's Members Cooperative Credit Union Stadium.”

Insert a big sigh of relief right here.

That’s because work has been taking place at the stadium throughout the summer and into this fall, and for the first time during the fall sports season, home games were actually played at home.

On Tuesday, the Cloquet/Carlton girls soccer team met North Branch in the Class 2A Section 7 section championship game, followed by a boys section title game between Cloquet/Esko/Carlton and Grand Rapids. The Lumberjacks won both games to qualify for the state tournament, and the crowd was massive.

And on Wednesday, the Lumberjacks football team set foot on the new turf at Members Cooperative Credit Union Stadium for the first time, facing the North Branch Vikings. The football team hadn’t even been able to practice on the turf, spending their prep time on a nearby grass practice field.

“It's pretty much dirt now,” said Cloquet football coach Jeff Ojanen, standing on the new field after Wednesday’s final regular-season game and looking toward the practice field.

North Branch teams have been playing on turf at their home field for five years, and the change is immense, said Vikings football coach Justin Voss.

“We went through a handful of bond opportunities and they didn’t go well,” he said. “Then the district put together another great opportunity and the community supported it, which was fantastic. The kids love the turf. The colors on the field are fresh and bright.

“Overall, people were pumped about having turf. Along with that, the community is excited.”

The new facility in Cloquet is officially named Ron Bromberg Field at Members Cooperative Credit Union Stadium; Bromberg, who coached football at Cloquet for 25 years and is a member of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, died in 2021.

A remarkable aspect of the stadium is that no taxpayer money was used. The school put up a good chunk of funding and Members Cooperative Credit Union committed $1.25 million for the field and $300,000 for a digital scoreboard. That says a lot right there.

“I think it's a statement for our community,” Ojanen said. “We had a lot of people who worked hard for us to get to this point. It was a lot of people who bleed purple and made sure something like this got done for us and for our kids and for our future, too.”

The Cloquet football team had played its three previous 2023 home games at Proctor’s Terry Egerdahl Memorial Field, an expansive swath of turf that hosts football, soccer, baseball and lacrosse games.

Had Cloquet’s facility not been ready for last week’s games – final approval was made on Monday – the football game would have been played in Duluth … as stated in the early warning on the school website.

The construction calendar was precise from the start. The Cloquet school board approved the design and financing package for upgraded facilities in April, followed by this multi-level headline in a local newspaper, The Pine Journal:

Cloquet athletic facility design, financing approved/ Construction will start May 15/ The new facilities are set to be available for Lumberjack teams on Oct. 16.

Oct. 16 was the target date, and that’s exactly when the facility became available for use. The $4.98 million complex includes the turf football/soccer field (with the option to host lacrosse), a newly renovated and resurfaced track, new shot put and discus areas, and a new eight-court tennis complex that replaced an ancient four-court setup. Those courts had been in such disarray that they were unplayable for the girls tennis team this fall; matches were held on three courts in a city park, with 39 tennis players sharing them. 

The handover from the construction crew to the school was made Monday morning, and a final section of the new track was put down that afternoon. There are no lines yet on the track, but lanes will be marked in plenty of time for next spring’s track and field season. 

“Our facilities were kind of lagging behind area schools,” said Cloquet athletic director Paul Riess. “We're the last school in our section to have turf for football and soccer. Our soccer teams have been pretty good the last handful of years and we'd get to the section final with a high seed and couldn't host games, so that was a little of a letdown. And our tennis courts were cracking apart, our track was reaching the end of its life. So for football, soccer, track, tennis, I mean, it's been huge.” 

When the soccer doubleheader was held as the first event on the turf, the atmosphere was electric. 

“To turn around at the end of that girls game (before the boys game) when they were counting down the seconds, the crowd had swelled and the stands were full,” said Kerry Rodd, lifetime Cloquet resident, former radio pro, current reporter for the Pine Knot newspaper and football public-address announcer.

“I said to someone, ‘Look at this. We wouldn’t have been here tonight. We would have been in Duluth.’ I saw people we had never seen at a soccer game before just because they wanted to be part of it.”

The Lumberjacks lost to North Branch 44-7 and finished the football regular season with a 3-5 record. They will open the Class 4A Section 7 playoffs as a No. 5 seed playing at No. 4 Grand Rapids on Tuesday. North Branch (7-1) is the No. 1 seed and earned a first-round bye. For Cloquet, the next home football game will be in 2024.

After the first game on the new field, the Lumberjacks gathered in the west end zone to listen to their coach’s postgame message. The first order of business, however, was to pose for a team photo that would mark the event forever. For the players who are in their final year as Lumberjack football players, this was especially significant on a site that has been the home of Cloquet football for 40-some years. 

“Seniors,” Ojanen said, “this is your last game on this ground.”

Indeed, this was their ground, their brand-new, perfect ground. Everyone smiled for the camera.

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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