PLEASANT VALLEY — The thing about confessions is picking the right occasion, and Pleasant Valley’s principal came clean to his state-champion boys cross country team Monday.

Speaking at the ring the ring ceremony, Mark Proper said it was him that wouldn’t let the Raiders jump in the lake to celebrate on that cold, November Saturday in Oakville.

“It was about 20 degrees that day, wind blowing, freezing,” Proper said, after “lovingly” calling them knuckleheads. “They wanted to take a dive in the lake once they won, so I went and bribed one of the AHSAA officials to tell them that he would take their trophy away, if they jumped in the water.

“I didn’t need 10 people with pneumonia.”

It was plenty warm in Pleasant Valley’s gym Monday morning, and the rings were plenty big.

Marking the occasion of the school’s first state championship in boys sports, and the first public school to win the 3A division, recognized the team. The runners wore Columbia blue T-shirts with red-and-white lettering. They received mini-AHSAA blue trophies and their rings.

Proper said runners were encouraged to go big on rings, paid for mostly through privation donations and partly by the runners’ families, to mark Pleasant Valley history. They went big, all right.

“The from Balfour looked at me and looked at them and said, ‘You all do know this is the same size as some Super Bowl rings,’” Proper said.

Pleasant Valley has won several state titles in girls sports. The school has had runner-up finishes on the boys’ side, including golf and cross country in 2016 and 2017.

The breakthrough in boys’ sports was all about depth, Pleasant Valley coach Brad Hood said. Only senior Skyler McLeod made all-state.

The Raiders’ sixth and seventh runners, Cayden Nelson and JohnAnthony Kitlow, didn’t factor in Pleasant Valley’s scoring but finished ahead of second-place Bayside Academy’s fifth runner, John Thomas Neill, who finished nine places back from Kitlow. That affected Bayside’s score in relation to Pleasant Valley’s.

“At state, we won by just a few points,” Hood said. The Raiders edged Bayside Academy 90-93. “We won state by, basically, the equivalent of somebody hitting a shot at the buzzer in basketball, or somebody kicking a field goal as time expired in football.”

Hood said the team took lesser finishes during the regular season, building depth by running the fifth runner’s pace.

It worked best in the big races, with Pleasant Valley winning the Calhoun County, sectional and state titles. Now, the Raiders have rings big rings to show for their big breakthrough, not to mention a blue AHSAA champion’s trophy in the school’s case, next to all of those trophies from girls sports.

“It means a lot, just to be running for five years and be able to, like, do this with my teammates,” said McLeod, also one of two Raiders to qualify for this week’s state-wrestling tournament. “We’re all really good friends and real close, and it’s just a great thing to experience with them.”

Senior Jacob Gladen credited past teams that helped current team members develop into champions.

“It’s awesome,” he said, “to make school history.”

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.

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