Gaylord Marching Again Into Contention
January 6, 2016
By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half
GAYLORD – Gaylord had reason to celebrate over the holidays.
The Blue Devils, ranked No. 6 in Division 2 by Michigan Grappler and the Michigan Wrestling Association in their pre-holiday wrestling poll, ushered in 2016 with strong showings in the Tournament of Champions at Goodrich and the Grand Ledge Invitational.
Gaylord placed second to No. 2 St. Johns, and finished five points ahead of No. 5 Goodrich, in last Wednesday's loaded 16-team field at Goodrich.
Over the weekend at Grand Ledge, Gaylord edged No. 3 Eaton Rapids 37-36 despite missing three starters.
The results left head coach Jerry LaJoie feeling quite pleased with how his team is progressing.
"If we can keep everyone together, and healthy, we could make a nice push by the end of the year," he said.
The Blue Devils advanced to the Division 2 Semifinals a year ago in the MHSAA team competition. After beating Flint Kearsley in the Quarterfinals, Gaylord fell to eventual champion Lowell. Lowell then downed Eaton Rapids for the title.
LaJoie returned several starters off that Final Four squad, including his son Dominic, a two-time individual MHSAA champion.
Dominic LaJoie, currently 20-0, is ranked No. 1 in the state at 119 pounds. Jerry LaJoie said his son's mental makeup on the mat has helped propel him to the top.
"He analyzes everything," Jerry LaJoie said. "He's a thinker. If something doesn't go right, like a technique, he works (to correct it). He's meticulous. And he's one of the hardest workers in the room. It’s like World War III watching him and (training partner) Jon Martin in practice."
Then again, practice makes perfect, right? That's been the case, so far, for LaJoie under his father's tutelage.
"I’m always striving for state championships," Dominic LaJoie said. “That’s my goal."
LaJoie is not the only standout on the squad – a fact not lost on the junior.
"This is the best team I've been on," he said.
LaJoie is one of six Blue Devils ranked in Division 2. He’s joined by Martin, No. 1 at 130 pounds; Derek Giallombardo No. 2 at 103; Trevor Giallombardo No. 3 at 112; Shane Foster No. 5 at 215; and Tim Roney No. 9 at 285. Foster and Roney missed the tournament at Grand Ledge with “nagging” injuries.
"I don't want the injuries to become an issue when we get towards the end of the year," Jerry LaJoie said. "We need to let them heal up."
Foster, an Individual Finals qualifier a year ago, was injured in leading the Blue Devils to a football playoff berth. He's been in and out of the lineup, finishing second in the Marquette Challenge and Tournament of Champions.
An unsung hero on the team is captain Tristan Blanzy at 152 pounds.
"He's keeping everyone together, leading by example," Jerry LaJoie said. "He's not one of the stars. He's just a kid who has come up through the ranks and worked hard for everything (he's achieved). He's done it the old school way."
So what's the strength of this team? LaJoie doesn't hesitate in answering that question.
"We're really good on our feet," he said. "We score a lot of takedowns. We're aggressive."
LaJoie is in his 22nd season as Blue Devils coach. He arrived at a time when rival Ray Arthur had the Petoskey program rolling.
"We had some good teams, and Ray kept knocking us off," LaJoie said. "Ray is the guy who got me up every morning to figure out how to beat him."
Arthur, who stepped down in 2010 after 31 seasons, led the Northmen to 685 dual meets wins, sixth all-time in MHSAA history. His 1996 team won the Division 2 championship.
He set the bar high for LaJoie and the Blue Devils, who have now taken over as the perennial powerhouse in the Big North Conference.
"If it wasn't for him (Arthur), I don't think we would be as good as we are," LaJoie admitted.
Christian Wilson, Gaylord athletic director, said LaJoie spends countless hours developing his program – from the varsity and junior varsity teams at the high school to the youth programs.
"There's no secret to our success," Wilson said. "It's the time and dedication that he's (LaJoie) put into it, along with all of our wrestling assistants. They're often here from the time school gets out until 9 or 10 at night working with kids.
"Wrestling is one of those sports where you can't hide. The cream rises to the top. It's something they've put a lot of effort into."
Wilson said LaJoie is a strong motivator, too.
"He relates well to all the kids," he said. "The kids want to wrestle for him. They want to do well for him. His practices are not easy, but they know in order to compete they have to put the time in (training). He has high expectations, and those kids reach for it."
How high can they reach? That question will be answered in the weeks ahead, but LaJoie believes anything is possible.
"I think we can make a run if we can stay healthy and get a few breaks along the way," he said. "(Top-ranked) Lowell and St. Johns are tough teams, but a lot can happen between now and then."
Especially for a team trending up.
Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Gaylord’s wrestling team takes part in the pre-match march before last season’s Division 2 Quarterfinals at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Jon Martin (top) wraps up Dakotah Leland of Flint Kearsley during their match at 130 pounds. (Below) Coach Jerry LaJoie is in his 22nd season leading the program. (Click for more photos from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
March 10, 2023
SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.
That question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”
“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.
It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.
Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.
It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.
“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”
Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.
The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.
“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”
Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.
But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.
Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.
Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.
“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”
Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.
With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.
“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.
Both also learn from each other’s experiences.
“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”
Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”
This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.
With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.
That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.
But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.
With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)