Nasty incidents around recent high school basketball games against New Ulm have a nearby school district questioning their students' safety and wondering what the future of the schools' rivalry will look like.
When the senior center for St. Peter High School, Alex Bosacker, took the court in New Ulm on Feb. 15, he was stunned at what he heard.
"I got the gay kid guarding me!" a New Ulm player said, according to Bosacker.
Bosacker, a multisport athlete headed to college on a track scholarship, came out as gay to his teammates early this winter. His coach helped organize a meeting after practice, and his teammates hugged him and told him they loved him. Bosacker felt he could finally be himself. He also came out on social media.
At a game at New Ulm in January, Bosacker, 18, said teens in the New Ulm student section shouted that Bosacker was going to touch players' groins.
The next time the teams played, in mid-February, the New Ulm player's anti-gay comments kept up during the entire game, Bosacker said, and the player kept pinching him — hard. Afterward, Bosacker's body was covered with bruises from the pinches, his mother confirmed.
"The experience was awful," Bosacker said. "I wanted to leave the court, to just leave my body at some points."
New Ulm schools said the player was punished, but they did not reveal the punishment. Contacted by a Star Tribune reporter, Matt Dennis, New Ulm's coach, immediately hung up.
At a playoff game Tuesday against New Ulm, St. Peter fans showed up in rainbow shirts to show support.
Bosacker didn't experience verbal harassment but felt pinching from the same player, he said. St. Peter lost. As the team bus headed home, according to police reports, two cars approached from behind the bus on a two-lane road. One passed the bus then swerved in front, causing the bus driver to hit the brakes. A second vehicle pulled up next to it. Coaches and players heard loud thudding noises hitting the side of the bus, like paintballs. Then the cars did it again.
Nobody was hurt, but St. Peter players and coaches were shaken up.
On Thursday, the Nicollet County Sheriff's Office cited four New Ulm students for disorderly conduct. The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor is 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine, or both.
The Sheriff's Office said the teens had fired at the bus with a SplatRBall SRB400 fully automatic water gel ball gun, which shoots 7.5mm water bead ammunition at 200 feet per second.
Jeff Bertrang, New Ulm's superintendent, said he hasn't received information leading him to believe the harassment and the bus incident were related. There will be conversations with New Ulm's student body after spring break, he said.
"It was four individuals making a really poor decision," Bertrang said. "But perception matters. … One incident can reflect poorly on all of us."
Marc Chadderdon, an investigator with the Nicollet County Sheriff's Office, said shooting cars with water blaster guns is common among New Ulm teens. His investigation focused only on Tuesday's incident.
"I heard it described as conservative school versus more of a liberal school. New Ulm school wanted to wear masks (to the game) to tease the St. Peter school because the St. Peter school was wearing masks for longer," he said.
Bosacker's mother thought the punishment too lax.
"A bunch of us feel this was in retaliation for our student section wearing rainbow pride colors," Angela Bosacker said. "What if the bus driver had panicked? They could have caused an accident."
Annette Engeldinger, the principal at St. Peter High School, said everything is on the table with this rivalry's future, from asking New Ulm schools to introduce an equity framework, to increasing security at games between St. Peter and New Ulm, to boycotting games against their conference rival.
"We just showed support for our fellow student and classmate," she said. "Our kids … I'm so proud of them. They've behaved with such character and integrity."
For Bosacker, he says all this has ruined his senior year.
"I hate it so much," he said. "I just wanted to have fun this year, have one last hurrah with all my friends."