A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949

County stakes claim again this year to being tops in state hoops

Mar 15, 2017 - By Randy Tucker

University Prep won the first state high school basketball tournament nearly a century ago in 1918, with the Buckaroos capturing the all-class crown. From 1918 to 1940 there was only one division in Wyoming prep basketball, with Rock Springs, Worland, Wheatland and Laramie dominating the state tournament.

Tiny Cowley won in 1922 with the Jaguars playing the Wyoming version of Hoosiers. In 1940 the state split into three divisions until 1963 but experimented with our present four-division format from 1952 to 54.

Beginning in 1963, Wyoming boys basketball teams competed in AA, A, B and C. While the divisions remained the same, the names were changed in 1984 to 4-A, 3-A, 2-A and 1-A.

If you're a fan of high school basketball, you might take note that since 1940, 21 of the 77 state champions in Class B or 2-A have hailed from Fremont County.

Fremont is the only one of Wyoming's 23 counties that routinely has teams competing in all four divisions.

The only county title in the state's largest division came in 1968 with the Lander Tigers taking the AA crown.Lander won two more in 3-A in 2005 and 2008. Riverton played four times for the AA or 4-A championship but never won it.

Without question, the most successful basketball program in our county and, arguably, in the entire state goes to Wyoming Indian.The Chiefs have 10 titles and the state's longest win streak at 50 games as well.

Wyoming Indian won it all for the first time in 1984 and repeated in 1985 in the midst of head coach Alfred Redman's recording-setting string of victories. Banners in Wyoming Indian's gym attest additional championships in 1989, 1991, 1993, 2001, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013. It's a good thing WIHS has a large gym. There are a lot of banners hanging there.

In second place among Fremont County schools are the Shoshoni Wranglers with seven titles. Shoshoni won back-to-back championships in 1953 and '54, then became the only school in the county to win three straight with championships, triumphing on the old War Memorial Fieldhouse floor from 1962-64. They won again in 1967 and a final time in 1988.

St. Stephen's is the only school to win titles in two different divisions. The late Bill Strannigan coached the Eagles to championships in 1959 and '60 and set a 44-game win streak in the process while playing in Class B. St. Stephen's played in the 1-A state championship four times in a row and won three in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

Dubois took a pair of 1-A titles as well with a talented group of Rams winning consecutive titles in 1993 and 1994.

Wind River has played for all the marbles four times in school history with second place finishes in 1975 and 2016 but won the title for the first time in 2015 and repeated just a few weeks ago with a win over the rival Chiefs in the season finale.

That leaves the Riverton Wolverines who have fielded solid teams over the last century and appeared in the Class 4-A championship four times but never won the title until this year's 62-34 blowout of Worland for the Class 3-A crown.

There is something to be said for preparation and perseverance in this year's Riverton team.This group of young men started playing together as third- and fourth-graders, with their fathers spending hundreds of hours and driving thousands of miles teaching their then 9- and 10-year-old sons the rules of the game.

I had the pleasure of coaching and coaching against many of the fathers on this year's team, and the lessons they extolled on their sons extended beyond the court.

Riverton was good -- as good or better than any Wolverine team I've watched since 1973. But beyond their skill level these kids were gentlemen, fiercely driven and competitive. Yes, they're living proof that you can be all of those things simultaneously.

I cover a lot of basketball, probably more than anyone else in Wyoming. I've seen great things on the court and horrible things in the stands.

Seeing Riverton kids at Wyoming Indian, Wind River and Shoshoni games, and the reverse in Riverton, is a tribute to how well these athletes know and respect each other.

Watching supposedly adult fans bully high school players because they're cheering for the "wrong" team, or seeing them threaten each other while the kids they supposedly are supporting play with class on the floor below is a problem.

Perhaps a fitting example of how well the kids in our county get along off the floor was a photo op I watched after the Class 2-A championship game between Wind River and Wyoming Indian. Star players Taylor Tidzump and Buell Robinson stood arm in arm while fans took pictures of the talented duo. Mutual respect but in your face intensity a few moments before.That's what it's all about.

Now one final note.Wouldn't the Fremont County Shootout have been an interesting tournament this season? An unprecedented five boys and girls teams were in state-championship games. Riverton's only loss was a 1-pointer to Lyman, a team the Chiefs beat at home. (Riverton beat Lyman in a total blowout the other time they played.) Wind River had just two losses on the season, and one was to Wyoming Indian. Shoshoni's biggest win of the year came over Wyoming Indian.

Oh, the possibilities.


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