Apple Valley won yet another state title in wrestling and ? lean in, listen intently ? there were barely a few detectable boos.
That hasn't always been the case.
Over the years, when the Eagles have taken the mat or left it with a victory, there have been easily detectable boos.
Anti-Apple Valley boos.
High school sports are supposed to be about sportsmanship. That concept has gotten shoved aside when the Eagles have been involved. And it has been like that for the past decade.
While just about everybody loves an underdog, a lot of people aren't fond of the team or the individual that always seems to pulverize opponents.
You know how some people love to hate the New York Yankees? It's like that with Apple Valley. Only the Eagles have won more championships than the Yankees over the past three decades.
Name any sport at any level ? high school, college or pro ? and Apple Valley is one of the most dominant anywhere. The Eagles are ranked No. 1 in the nation among high school wrestling programs, and that top ranking is in the four most prestigious polls. Between 125 pounds and 160 pounds, the Eagles have been able to come at teams with their own version of Murderers' Row: Six defending state champions in individual competition.
On Thursday, Apple Valley crushed White Bear Lake (65-12 in the Class AAA quarterfinals), Prior Lake (70-0 in the semifinals) and St. Michael-Albertville (61-6 in
the state finals) by the combined score of 196-18. It was the Eagles' 19th state championship since 1983 and 12th in the past 13 years in Class AAA. The year they didn't win, 2005, people cheered. Not for the team that beat them, but because Apple Valley lost.
"You never want to see kids booed," said Pete Buesgens, Apple Valley's athletics director. "I know these kids and how hard they work, and what they've sacrificed to be great wrestlers. You want to see that appreciated and not see kids booed because of a name on the front of a singlet."
The worst of it for Buesgens was in 2003, when Trevor Laws lost in the state individual finals. Laws still is an Eagle ? a Philadelphia Eagle. Now an NFL defensive tackle, Laws was the defending state champion in the heavyweight division when he lost in '03 to Hutchinson's John May. People cheered wildly ? because Laws lost.
"This place went crazy when he lost," Buesgens said. "I remember walking with him underneath the arena afterwards, with my arm around him, and he looked at me and said, 'Why do they hate me so much?' Here's a high school kid who really internalized that and felt it wasn't directed at Apple Valley, it was directed at him. I had to remind him it wasn't him. It was Apple Valley."
Some people resent the Eagles purely because of their success, and some buy into allegations that Apple Valley recruits wrestlers, and they use that to stoke resentment. Destin McCauley, who will go after his fifth state individual title this weekend, said it was the other way around with him. He recruited Apple Valley, moving there from North Sioux City, S.D., as a sixth-grader.
Since his first individual state title as a seventh-grader, McCauley has walked off the mat just once at the state championships without a win. It was his sophomore season. And people cheered when he lost in the 135-pound finals in Class AAA.
"It kind of got to me, but people are going to cheer who they want to cheer for, and they're going to do what they want to do. I just took it and went on from there," McCauley said. "I don't see why they just can't respect us. We're going out there to do a sport we love to do. I wish they'd support us more often."
It has gotten better lately. The booing has been tamped down.
"We really haven't gotten that many boos this year," McCauley said. "I think people are respecting us, and they see that we're representing Minnesota now that we're the No. 1 team in the nation. We're not just representing Apple Valley. We're representing the state."
The Eagles also represent what it takes to become a success.
"I think more and more people have come to appreciate the level of wrestling," Buesgens said. "They see the dedication. It's more the casual fan who hears rumor and innuendo so they think they need to boo. I don't think it really bothers our kids. I think it fuels them a little bit more."
If you wrestle at Apple Valley, you come to accept and expect the boos.
"I guess you've got to take that as a compliment," said Jim Jackson, the Eagles' head coach. "If you were coaching a team that has won 18 national titles and they accuse you of recruiting, human nature is (people are) going to be jealous (of the success). I don't like when kids are booed, but you can't control it."
You just keep on doing what you have been doing.