The Minnesota State High School League is investigating why the other teams boycotted the award ceremony after the Faribault Emeralds won the state high school high-kick dance tournament.
The Emeralds stood alone on the floor of Target Center on Saturday night to accept their first-place trophy and medals. When they went to join the other five teams in the tournament, to share hugs and high-fives, the other team members inched away until the Faribault athletes again stood alone.
"I felt really heartbroken," Faribault senior captain Abbie Meehl said. "That kind of hurt me just knowing they're not with us."
The protesting teams were disqualified for "unsportsmanlike conduct" after they refused to line up for the awards ceremony. No second- or third-place trophies or medals were awarded.
The teams, coaches and parents apparently were upset that the Faribault team's routine looked suspiciously similar to a YouTube video of a performance by an out-of-state dance team. The team appeared to copy the video's costumes, heavy eye makeup and music. They were also upset that the high school league had cleared the Emeralds of any rules violations.
Many of the fans and MSHSL officials, as well as the announcer, were caught unaware. The tournament ended with a fizzle, not a bang, and a whole lot of questions remained unanswered Sunday.
Erin Kruesi, who blogs as "Coach Erin" on Minnesota High School Dance Team Online and coaches a small team that wasn't in the state tournament, saw the incident unfold.
She has seen the video the Faribault team had been accused of lifting from. The Faribault team's performance had only a few seconds of the same choreography in a four-plus minute routine.
As far as the costumes, makeup and music, she said, none of those are counted in a team's score.
"This happens a lot," Kruesi said. "A lot of things in dance are not exactly brand-new ideas. They made every attempt to use inspiration. They didn't intentionally cross the line into plagiarism. Other people didn't agree and filed a grievance."
MSHSL officials wouldn't say who complained.
"It's fairly obvious that it's an immediate competitor," Kruesi said.
Phone messages left with coaches and assistant coaches for the Wayzata, Eastview, Chaska and Lakeville South dance teams were not returned Sunday.
At the awards ceremony, it was only the Faribault fans that cheered, Kruesi said.
The Emeralds left as quickly as they could; the protesters stayed on the court, holding hands and cheering each other on, she said.
Kruesi said this isn't the first allegation of plagiarism at a tournament. Last year, a team was accused of stealing moves and then was exonerated. Nobody protested or boycotted, she said.
Despite the controversy, the MSHSL posted complete results on its website Saturday night. In Class AAA, Wayzata placed second; Eastview, third; Chaska, fourth, and Lakeville South, fifth.
MSHSL Executive Director David Stead and Associate Director Kevin Merkle said Sunday that they would have no comment until a full investigation is completed.
The league posted a statement on its Facebook page Sunday that said the league was made aware of a possible rule violation Feb. 9. It was investigated by the school and the league and "there was a complete consensus" on Feb. 11 "that a violation had not occurred."
"The MSHSL will further investigate what took place during the Class AAA awards ceremony. League staff and the board of directors will determine a course of action after that investigation is complete," it said.
Kruesi said communication between the league and the state high school dance team isn't what it should be despite the fact that the dance-team competitions bring in more money than any other girls' sports, including basketball and hockey combined. Teams' proposals to change the rules are routinely rejected and problems aren't discussed thoroughly.
"Some people have no patience with the league right now," she said. Still, "we have to defer to the league. If the league says a rule wasn't broken, that's what we have to do."
Was there a bigger issue at play at the tournament? Kruesi said she doesn't know.
"I'm really curious to know what else was going on," she said. "I watched the videos. I talked to coaches on all sides. I saw what happened, and I don't know that anything should have warranted that extreme of what happened."
At least 150 girls and coaches participated in the protest in front of at least 500 spectators, Kruesi said. There was "a good 15 minutes of drama," she said.
And she's not sure who is to blame.
"The coaches out there are some of the most respected, honored people in our dance community," she said. "This is not some rookie coach going rogue. This is the best coaches and they decided to do this unanimously."
As for the Faribault team, it remained proud of its victory.
"We won it fair and square," coach Lois Krinke said. "If they didn't want their second- and third-place medals, I couldn't care less."