Two leave Apple Valley wrestling team, leaving trail of questions

By Mike Kaszuba, Star Tribune
02/13/2014, 10:16pm CST

Prep state team wrestling championships – Class 1A, 2A and 3A. Apple Valley’s Dayton Racer, top, wrestled St. Michael-Albertville’s Talon Juusolain the Class 3A 138-lb match. ](MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE( (cq all named program)

Two members of Apple Valley’s top-ranked wrestling program have abruptly withdrawn from the school and left behind a trail of questions as the team goes for a ninth consecutive state title.

With the state wrestling tournament less than two weeks away, the departures already have taken several odd twists. One of the departed wrestlers, Dayton Racer, who is nationally ranked as one of the best high school wrestlers in his weight class, this week enrolled at a small western Minnesota high school and hopes to wrestle in sectional team competition on Saturday. Racer’s eligibility with his new team still was being debated Thursday.

The controversy also has shined an uncomfortable spotlight on Apple Valley, where many of the team’s top wrestlers have come from other states and where Racer’s family has charged that jealousy from the parents of his teammates drove Racer from the school. The events have provided a look into the highly competitive wrestling subculture in which families of talented wrestlers move around the country — Racer is from southern Missouri, and has been wrestling since age 5 — to find the best high schools.

Apple Valley Principal Steve Degenaar said Racer and another wrestler, Trom Peterson, both left the school within the past three weeks, but he defended the program and said that the team’s large influx of out-of-state wrestlers was “somewhat normal in Minnesota today — the system allows it” under state high school transfer rules.

Degenaar added that the sudden shake-up “just means that our wrestling team [has] a little bit different lineup than we would have thought a month ago. But in a program such as ours there are people to fill in missing spots.”

Amateur Wrestling News in January ranked Racer as the 17th-best high school wrestler nationally in the 152-pound weight class. As a sophomore at Apple Valley, he won the 2013 big-school state title at 145 pounds, and in 2012 was the state runner-up at 138.

Apple Valley entered this season with 82 individual state champions all-time — 32 more than any other Minnesota high school. The school’s wrestling website describes the program as “one of the premier sports programs in the state of Minnesota and the United States.”

David Lee Racer, Dayton’s father, said the transfer was caused by other parents at the school who were jealous that “Dayton started getting a lot of hype” and had separated himself, talentwise, from most of his teammates. He said one parent, whose son also wrestled for Apple Valley, has “been trying to get Dayton in trouble for years.”

Dayton’s father and grandfather, David Racer Sr., both said that some parents were purposely trying to disqualify Dayton from wrestling through a series of allegations and had succeeded in January in getting the wrestler suspended from the team. “It’s definitely a conspiracy, and [a] setup,” David Racer Sr. said.

Apple Valley’s principal said Wednesday there were “a number of things that we’ve been asked to take a look at,” but he declined to provide details.

Brent Schafer, an attorney representing the Racer family, said he still was trying to sort through the allegations but added that the case may be an “example of parental bullying to the highest degree, and I think it’s kind of the underbelly of some of the high school sports.”

On Monday, Racer enrolled at tiny Wheaton High School near the Minnesota-South Dakota border and joined another highly-ranked wrestler, Cameron Sykora, at the 140-student high school. “I’ve never seen anything like it” regarding an athlete, said Wheaton Principal Russell Armstrong, who is trying to determine whether Racer can be eligible for the school’s co-op wrestling team’s next match Saturday.

“He’s that good at wrestling and he shows up at your door step, and [you ask], ‘You’re transferring to Wheaton?’ ” Armstrong said.

Racer’s father said he now has a home in Wheaton, and also had a job prospect in the area. But Racer said he did not yet know whether his son, a high school junior, planned to graduate from Wheaton. “We’ll see how things go,” he said.

Schafer meanwhile said the family also had considered enrolling Racer at two high schools in Iowa before settling on Wheaton.

Can Racer be eligible to wrestle with the co-op Border West Buccaneers as early as Saturday — after only five days in his new school? The answer remained unclear Thursday as officials in Apple Valley, Wheaton and at the Minnesota State High School League debated the case.

According to the state high school league, transfer rules for wrestlers are governed by specific “last date to join a team” regulations. According to those rules, wrestlers are eligible for the state tournament only if they were a member of the school’s team no later than the fourth Monday after the start of the regular season. However, there are some exceptions that could apply to Racer’s case and open the door.

Armstrong also said that Degenaar, the Apple Valley principal, telephoned Wednesday to tell him Apple Valley was dropping all code of conduct issues the school had with Racer — a move that could further open the long-shot possibility of Racer being eligible at Wheaton.

Armstrong said Thursday he was awaiting a decision. When Racer’s eligibility is determined — and who will determine it — is now “kind of the million-dollar question,” he said.

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