Creation No. 0011
Editor’s Note: S.E. Hinton is the author of one of the most famous books written about American adolescence. If you haven’t read it or seen Francis Ford Coppola’s 1982 film adaptation, you are missing a stunning and timeless expression of what life is like from the “outside.” Hinton was 16 years old when she began to write The Outsiders, it was first published three years later when she was a Freshman at the University of Tulsa. The book has sold over 14 million copies in the last 40 plus years.
I’m a hockey writer. I have seen hundreds of games - recounted thousands of goals and heard as many tales about players, teams, coaches and fans. Not until this year, have I come across a more historic band of brothers than the 2016 senior class of St Cloud Apollo.
While standing at a rink near you, I went on and on about Apollo to a friend. I told him, “they’ve been to state two out of the last three years with only 20 guys on both JV and Varsity.” He said, “no way.” I said, “only a couple of them have a future beyond high school….and they win…a lot.” He looked at me and said, “is Apollo the private school in St. Cloud (as if to invoke a public vs. private debate)?” No my friend, Apollo is the public school where hockey is about to die…Apollo is the polar opposite of private. No fancy facilities, uniforms, or teams that want to play them.
This year, they have 16 Seniors and 22 total players. After this year, there won’t be an Apollo team. This team will disband and be forced to co-op just like Richfield did this past week. Unlike Richfield, they could go down in history as the only program to win the state championship and not field a team the next year. Disney makes movies about kids like this…I can already see Kevin Costner on skates playing the role of their coach, Pete Matanich.
To which my friend said, “they are The Outsiders.” They probably got a guy who is pretty and gets all the girls like Soda Pop (Tanner Breidenbach), a guy tough as nails like Dallas Winston (Brandon Bissett) and a couple guys who love where they’re from, but know there is a better life outside of St. Cloud like Ponyboy Curtis and Johnny Cade (Nick Althaus and Gino Lucia).
The trophy case displaying Apollo's accomplishments at the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud
I stopped and within 48 hours I got in my car and met these boys one evening to hear their story. The guys I met were 15 years old in the Fall of 2012 and were joining a high school team that had no tradition and no real hope for success with the likes of section powers St. Cloud Cathedral and Little Falls in their way. Much like S.E. Hinton, they have written a great story. Those freshmen helped bolster a team that beat Little Falls to go to state in 2013 and last March they beat Cathedral for a second trip in three years!
After pulling back the onion a few layers, you learn that Apollo plays both a JV and Varsity schedule with this thin roster. “We can’t play a varsity only schedule, non-conference teams wouldn’t schedule us without a JV,” said Head Coach Pete Matanich. So these four year lettermen, strap it on and play four periods just about every game and play JV. That’s right, High School Elite Leaguers Gino Lucia and Tanner Breidenbach each take their turn skating for the second team in order to make Apollo, Apollo. “The only way to maintain our identity is to play JV, “ summed up Matanich. “It’s the Apollo way.”
What makes this team so refreshing is they are all we and no me.
When asked of their future, none of them had plans past March. With hard work that started the day after the state tournament last March, these guys have been lifting three days a week at six in the morning preparing for their final run. “We have tasted the state tournament, this year we want to win it – the only way we can win it is to out work our competition, “ said senior Gino Lucia. “It would be special to close down this program (temporarily) in style,” said senior Brandon Bissett, “to leave a legacy behind that no one could take away.”
At the bitter end of The Outsiders, on his death bed Johnny tells his good friend Ponyboy to “Stay Gold.” Johnny was referencing a Robert Frost poem the astute Pony had read to Johnny while they were on the run from the police, “…nothing gold can stay…”
This Apollo team doesn’t wear gold, that color is reserved for their private school rivals from the other side of town. But what these outsiders from the other side of the tracks are setting out to do this year is golden in many ways.
Stay gold Apollo. Stay Gold.