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Players cash in with discount card

Before head coach Jeff Ojanen became a 21-year fixture in the coaching ranks of the Cloquet High School football program, he was a Lumberjack football player. Even then, the program was buoyed by the sale of discount cards.

"We've been doing it for as long as I can remember," he said. "The cool thing is how supportive the community is."

Every year, the team's players sell between 1,500 and 1,600 cards for $20 apiece, Ojanen said. Doing the math, that comes to $30,000 to $32,000 each year, minus the costs to produce the cards. The cards feature discounts to businesses across the city, including Heather's Cafe, which offers $5 off a bill of $20 or more.

"It helps our local school and football team," owner Heather Gist said. "It's a good program. It benefits us, too. It's low-cost advertising."

To understand what makes the discount cards so popular, the Pine Knot invited captains Carter Horvat and Warren Hietala to the office to discuss the fundraiser.

The two players were named captains during training camp in August.

"It means a lot because the team voted us in," Hietala said. "You've got to accept the leadership."

That means leading off the field, too. The players were given one week in August to fan out across town, selling the discount cards.

"We usually try to hit the streets pretty hard," Horvat said, describing door-to-door sales.

"It's a short time span, but they pretty much sell themselves," Hietala said. "When people see you they will stop you."

The players always make hay when they pop into Carmen's.

"We go to all the local bars, especially Carmen's," Horvat said. "People eat them up there."

Carmen's offers $5 off a purchase of $25 or more. The discount cards also include $2 off a haircut at Cost Cutters, $0.07 off per gallon of gas at Holiday, grocery discounts at Super One Foods, fast food savings at Erbert and Gerbert's, Burger King, McDonalds, Taco John's and Steak Escape, pizza savings at Sammy's, Domino's, Papa Murphy's and Little Caesars, and a sporting goods discount to Outdoor Advantage.

Some of the savings are one-time only, others allow for repeated use.

The most popular discount among the players themselves? "DQ," Horvat said without hesitation, referring to the ice cream purveyor Dairy Queen.

Why is that?

"It's a free Blizzard," Horvat said, referring to the buy-one-get-one offer.

The discounts are good for one year, until the next season's card comes around. A QR code on the cards also opens up access to discounts to national companies for things such as movies, theme parks, rental cars and oil changes.

Each player is given 20 cards to sell, and there are special prizes for those who sell 25 or 35, including a sweatshirt or protein shaker cup with a speaker affixed to it.

"It's a pretty cool cup," Heitala said.

Unlike the early days, when Ojanen and his peers were selling paper cards, the now hard plastic discount cards are organized through a Kansas-based company, Adrenaline Fundraising.

The money raised is used to support the football program in a variety of ways.

"This is our big fundraiser, basically, so we can do extra stuff," Horvat said. "We usually try to use it for team meals. Right after Thursday practice [before a game day] we'll go into the cafeteria and we'll have spaghetti and dessert as a team."

The team also uses it to buy pads, helmets, equipment, and pizza for the ride home during away games.

"If you look at our team now, we all have new helmets pretty much from selling these cards," Hietala said. "Jerseys, too. These are the newer ones."

The solid purple Nike jerseys worn by the two captains are free of the tears, streaks and stains they'll gather during the course of a rugged football campaign.

The season begins Friday in Two Harbors, where the Lumberjacks figure to be ready for a slugfest.

"They're well-coached," Horvat said of the Agates. "It's just going to be who's going to be more physical up front, because they just go boom-boom-boom, run-run-run. If we're more physical, it should be a good game."

Both captains play linebacker on defense, while Hietala lines up as quarterback on offense, where Horvat fits in at tight end.

If the players work as hard on the field as they do selling discount cards, the season ought to prove fruitful.

"Our kids really work hard," Ojanen said. "And the community really rallies, wanting to buy the cards. It's a great fundraiser. They sell out every year and make more than enough for us."