By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com
(Riverton, Wyo.) – Riverton School District #25 Activities Director Jeremy Hill said today the district is looking to move the Western Regional 2A Basketball Tournament out of Riverton on alternating years, due to financial and other concerns.
The tournament annually brings 16 teams to Riverton for games at three venues over three days. The RHS gym, the Middle School gym and Central Wyoming College’s Rustler Gymnasium all host tournament games with fans coming from as far away as Cowley, Lovell and Greybull in the north, to Saratoga, Kemmerer and Big Piney in the southwest. Of course Fremont County’s 2A schools enjoy the support of large local crowds from Shoshoni, Pavillion and the Wind River Reservation that give the tournament a state tournament feel.
“We are hoping to rotate the tournament between Riverton and Cody every other year so that we don’t operate the tournament at a deficit,” Hill said in an email. ”Currently we subsidize the tournament from funds earmarked for RHS Activities.”
The Executive Director of the Riverton Chamber of Commerce expressed surprise when he learned about the potential move. “Why would they do that?” asked Jim Davis. “That event fills up our motel rooms and restaurants and people fill up on gasoline, snacks and shop here for three days during the middle of the winter. It’s hard to replace that kind of business. Even though the schools don’t pay the lodging tax, their fans and supporters certainly do,” he said. “It’s one of our biggest events on the calendar including the Fremont County Fair and the Riverton Rendezvous events when you throw in the car show.”
Davis said the school district has not approached the Chamber for any financial assistance, which he said he is willing to give. Although Davis said Hill had called him several times, he said that they hadn’t gotten together yet. ”I have lodging tax funds that could be used for this, and I gave out $70,000 from that fund last year alone. If they need the help they need to let me know,” he said.
Hill said he uses revenues from concessions to subsidize the staff payroll for the tournament, “to the tune of several thousand dollars.”
“We have not approached the chamber, but Jim and I have had a few conversations lately,” Hill said, who also indicated that the reason for rotating the tournament is not entirely financial. ”We host so many tournaments for our own students, as well as others in Fremont County, that it also takes a pretty heavy toll on our few consistent tournament workers. Especially when they want to go to State Wrestling or an away basketball game to see their grandchildren,” he said. “We also want to provide opportunities for our teams (RHS) to play at home the last weekend of the season as well as have the opportunity for our fans and staff to attend State Wrestling. We also lose an academic day every year for the tournament as well. We love the tournament, just want someone to share it with us.”
While Riverton has annually hosted the Class 2A events, Lander hosts the 1A Western Regional tournament at the Bob Carey Memorial Fieldhouse and Auxillary Gym at Lander Valley High School. Between the two towns, 32 basketball teams and their fans descend on the county for the basketball action. Fremont County School District #1 Activities Director Barry Scott said Riverton’s decision would not have any impact on Lander hosting its tournament. He said the Lander community has been supportive of the Class 1A event in many ways, including showing up to watch the games. He said he might have to “get creative” in future years to help fund the event, but he said he wasn’t concerned. Fremont County’s Class 1A teams include Dubois and St. Stephens.
At the Casper Convention and Visitors Bureau, CEO Aaron McReight said that when Casper hosts the Class 1A and 2A state basketball tournament, which also draws 32 teams to the Casper Events Center and Casper College’s T-Bird Gym over a three-day span, the event brings $4 million dollars into the Casper economy. Casper hosts five state high school culminating events, including the state finals for volleyball, wrestling, 1A/2A and 3A/4A basketball plus track and field. “We definitely track the visitor spending from these five events,” he said. “They fill up the town with their fans.”