This article was first published Feb. 24, 2014.
All these years I've been taking a wait-and-see approach with the dynamic between Kennard-Dale senior standout Chance Marsteller and the thousands of fans who watch him compete for gold medals twice a year at Hersheypark Arena or Hershey's Giant Center.
Those fans have always cheered on Marsteller. But I always wondered if those cheers would eventually turn to boos. If Marsteller would become the villain in some people's minds for the simple fact that he's been dominant for so long. Just like it has for the New York Yankees. Or New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Or the Duke men's basketball team. Or, more recently, snowboarder Shaun White. I could go on and on with this list.
And sure enough, for the first time I can remember in my years watching Marsteller wrestle in Hershey, boos rained down from fans Saturday night inside Hersheypark Arena as the Rams grappler was en route to becoming the 11th wrestler to win four District 3 gold medals.
Leading Big Spring senior Cody Seibert, 16-3, in the third period, Marsteller found himself lying on his stomach with Seibert on his back. Seibert had Marsteller in a headlock and his leg hooked around Marsteller's right leg. Suddenly one of the two officials blew a whistle to stop the bout as Marsteller winced in pain and stood up holding his lower back.
After a brief injury timeout, Marsteller finished out the final 90 seconds lying on the mat with Seibert holding him down, which resulted in the boos and refs whistling three stalling calls on Marsteller, something the Oklahoma State recruit said he has never been penalized for in his highly successful prep career. As a result, Seibert received two points as Marsteller won by a final score of 16-5.
Had he been fully healthy, Marsteller likely would've ended the match sooner with a pin or a technical fall — a topic the humble Rams grappler diverted answering out of respect for Seibert.
I get that fans paid money for admission to Saturday's championship round, some of whom possibly came just to watch Marsteller. I'll just never understand the satisfaction grown adults get in booing a high school student-athlete.
I wonder if those same fans felt bad doing so when a nearby trainer tended to Marsteller after the match, with Marsteller crumpled down on the floor over his knees off to the side of the mat. Or later when he missed receiving his gold medal on the podium during medal presentations as he received treatment in a locker room, only to return shortly after to sign autographs and take photographs for fans, parents and other wrestlers, all the while holding his lower back. He even gave a good six minutes to reporters, spending part of the time talking about how his back has been bothering him for awhile, but most of the time telling an interesting story about teammate Mike Bracey choosing him to be in the corner as an assistant coach during Bracey's 113-pound district title match. Marsteller took the chair of Kennard-Dale varsity assistant coach Al Bracey, who is Mike Bracey's dad and was one of the very first wrestlers in the school's history back in 1980.
"That was his (Mike's) decision before the finals. I was kind of hoping he'd pick me because I wanted him (assistant coach Al Bracey) to be able to sit back and be a dad," Marsteller said. "I don't want say it's like a respect factor but I just thought 'Hey, that's cool (he picked me to be in his corner).' "
To be fair, many fans did the right thing by standing on their feet clapping and cheering at the completion of Saturday's 170-pound title match. Hopefully it was out of respect for Marsteller and recognizing they got to witness four years of seeing the best grappler to ever come out of the district. And that's saying a lot.
Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.