It was 5-in-the-morning dark outside on a fogless Friday. A hoodied Jesse Lujan Jr. pulled into the empty school parking lot in his white Chevy pickup, there to make unforgettable memories with one son while trying to keep the memory of another son unforgotten.
“You’re just torn between two things you love,” Lujan said.
On the one hand, Lujan was running extension cords and gassing up a generator for a coach’s breakfast at the Jesse Lujan Memorial Tournament, a boys basketball event named after his son who was killed in a car accident the summer before his senior year in 2011.
In the next breath, Lujan was running a half-pound of excess weight off his son Tristan, who would make the 113-pound weigh-in and wrestle his way into Saturday’s Doc Buchanan Invitational semifinals.
Lujan misses his oldest son so much, yet he can’t afford to miss out on his younger son. And so he drove from Selma High to Clovis High and back, his body only able to be in one place at a time but his heart always in two for the past 18 waking hours.
“You have a lot of emotions going at the same time. You’re trying to think about wrestling, but you’re thinking about the tournament, too. I have Tristan over here and he really needs me at this time, but I feel like I’m letting the tournament down.”
He’s wrong, of course. The Jesse Lujan Memorial went on brilliantly Friday, if you don’t mind the host Bears losing by a point in the semifinals. The food still came up warm in the hospitality tent while Lujan got cold sweats watching Tristan wrestle. His wife Connie managed to keep things moving from morning to bedtime.
This six-year-old tournament has grown so much, both in volunteer service and community support, that the games could go on without Lujan for half a day.
But, don’t take that to mean Lujan can go on without these games. It’s not that he’ll ever forget his son, who would have turned 24 on Saturday. It’s that he wants everyone else to remember his namesake, too, and that gets harder as each graduating class matriculates on by.
“When people are gone, out of sight out of mind, right?” Lujan said. “Time goes by. Our world is so fast-paced that we just forget about things. It’s great for this week to focus on him. It reminds me of what a great kid he was and how special he was.”
Lujan III was a three-sport star at Selma High, with basketball starring above all. He was the league newcomer of the year as a freshman, and the Most Valuable Player and leading scorer the next two seasons. The kid was just 17 when he and childhood friend Anthony Caro died in a car accident on a country road outside of town, just weeks away from his last high school run.
He helped coach a local youth basketball team during high school. The last of those kids are seniors on this year’s Selma team. You better believe Lujan notices every last one of them.
“They’re out there, still keeping his memory alive.”
As for Tristan, he’s making his own memories. Ranked fifth in the state, he wrestles like his dad and two uncles once did, and wants to wrestle at Fresno State. Tristan was at Selma High til nearly 11 p.m. Thursday, the eve of the biggest wrestling tournament this side of the state championships.
Eleven p.m., because the gym needed cleaning up at his big brother’s basketball tournament, and that’s what kid brothers do.
All Lujan knows is that there has got to be a seventh annual Jesse Lujan Memorial next year, because he’s the only Jesse Lujan III that Selma’s got.
If that means Lujan is the one setting up the hospitality tent before dawn, then throw the ice chest in the back of the truck and unlock the chain-link fence.
“Sometimes it’s good to be alone, think about things,” Lujan said. “You can cry when you’re all by yourself, no one’s watching you. Just me and the darkness …
“Man, it seems like it all happened just yesterday. The time goes so fast.”
1. Oh, Raiders. Your answer to 33 years of Lombardi Trophy-free football is to bring back Jon Gruden. The guy who never won you a Super Bowl, but sure did beat you in one. Before you tendered that $100 million, did you realize Gruden never won another playoff game after that? Because all 45-53 after the Super Bowl earned Gruden in Tampa Bay was a TV job.
2. Then again, you Raiders haven’t won another playoff game since Super Bowl 37 season, either, so why not? New non-alcohol drinking game: every time Gruden curses at Derek Carr, the born-again quarterback has to take a shot of communion juice.
3. Fresno State biathlete Josh Hokit went from leading rusher at the Hawaii Bowl to winning by pin in a wrestling dual in 11 day’s time. What other football player could do that, he asked afterwards? Lorenzo Neal, with a Darin Priesendorf on top, so the Clovis kid is in good company.