Accolades went to Saratoga senior Grant Bartlett in winning his fourth state cross country championship on Saturday, something no runner had accomplished before him. But what many didn’t realize is that his twin brother Grady, was just a few strides behind him, all four years since they were freshmen. The twins finished first, and runner-up in every Class 2-A state championship meet of their high school careers. They did it twice on the remarkable course created at Wyoming Indian High School.
To the casual observer, there just doesn’t seem to be that much work in creating a cross country course. It’s not like you’re lining a football field, or refinishing the floor of a gym, or all the effort it takes to groom the fairways and greens on a golf course, or is it?
The truth is the casual observer never knows the amount of work that goes into anything. They don’t take note of how a course is laid out to be exactly five kilometers in length, how it utilizes the natural features of the area to create the optimum challenge for hundreds of high school athletes dreaming of an individual or team championship, while creating a viewing area for fans that won’t interfere with the race.
It mattered to the hundreds of people who created the course at Wyoming Indian High School the last two seasons.
The Chiefs Nation outdid themselves in 2021, then surpassed the effort in 2022.
On Friday the teams walked the course as cross country athletes do at every regional and state venue prior to competition. After 800 or so high school runners and coaches walked the 3.1-mile route that winds across the expanse of the Wyoming Indian campus, they were treated to an experience they will never get anywhere else.
The Wyoming Indian staff pulled out all the stops, with dancers, drum groups, introductions, honors, and a feast that provided a meal to over one thousand people. It was impressive, and no one can deliver like Wyoming Indian can for a community event.
From the teepees near the course to the newly dedicated mural on the Wyoming Indian track shed honoring the athletes and teams that have competed for Wyoming Indian in cross country over the past four decades, to the honor guard aiding runners at the finish line, to the Native American Women Warriors group that helped throughout the meet, the Chiefs did it all.
Those in attendance that witnessed this, realized it didn’t appear magically out of the foothills above the Little Wind River. It took work.
There were some humorous events adjoining the work as well. In years past rattlesnakes were found on the course and dispatched with extreme prejudice. This year, in spite of the warm October weather, there were no buzz worms found in repeated trips around the course in the weeks before the competition.
What was discovered one afternoon was a mountain lion. Wyoming Indian coach Aleta Moss was driving along the course checking conditions by herself and was outside her vehicle when she saw something moving in the grass about 30-yards from her.
She looked closely and saw a mountain lion creeping slowly in the tall, early autumn grass. Startled, she radioed back to the school that she was looking at a cougar just a few dozen yards away. The big cat thought twice about the situation. Anyone who knows Aleta realizes the cat was in for much more than it bargained for.
After she relayed her story to the staff and the Wyoming Indian cross country team back at the school, teenage humor took over, as it always does when a beloved staff member gets into a predicament. For the rest of the week, the kids referred to Moss as “Cougar” or “Coach Cougar.” Such is life for a high school coach.
Wyoming Indian set an iconic standard a year ago when then eighth-grade student Ano Brown rode a white horse, painted traditionally while wearing full regalia. It became the symbol of cross country across Wyoming.
Ano was back this year as a high school freshman, still in the same full regalia, but he rode two different horses this time, one white and one a mottled brown color.
What most of the competitors and fans didn’t realize was that Brown was riding with a broken collarbone he suffered earlier in the month while playing football for the Chiefs.
You couldn’t tell it by the way he handled those horses. He took off his sling, so he had both arms free while riding. He rode traditional style, bareback with no stirrups to support him, just a handful of reins and the skill of an experienced rider.
The sight of the horse and rider was the most commented on aspect of the meet and a much anticipated part of the event by those who witnessed it a year ago.
Sadly, it’ll be a while until all those people see it again.
The Wyoming High School Activities Association has moved the event to Cheyenne for the next two years after the Laramie County School District # 1 was the only one placing a bid. The event is tentatively scheduled for the country club. You can’t blame Wyoming Indian for not holding the event annually, it is a tremendous amount of work.
Until that happens, the efforts of activities director Keith Bauder, former coaches Julie and Chico Her Many Horses, Aleta Moss, and the dozens of other staff and volunteers that made this possible should be lauded. Wyoming Indian head football coach Nate Reinhardt, with his vocational education classes, made signs, patches, and silk-screened t-shirts.
Financial aid and equipment came from a wide variety of organizations. The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Business Councils helped fund the event. The Wind River Hotel and Casino prepared the meal, helped with swag bags for the athletes, and included the bus drivers with swag bags designed just for them.
The Northern Arapaho Tribal Committee supplied toilets and trash cans, and the Fremont County Commissioners brought in a culvert to replace the aging wooden bridge over one section of the course.
The Northern Arapaho Dept of Transportation groomed the course, and the Tribal Historic Preservation Office verified that no antiquities were discovered or disturbed as the course was prepared. The Northern Arapaho Tribal Water Commission installed the culvert and the Wyoming Department of Transportation helped fund the culvert installation the first year.
Verizon donated 21 cell phones with enhanced towers for the meet. These and many other behind-the-scenes individuals and organizations worked tirelessly to produce this unique event.
They were above and beyond the call.
It was a great opportunity for the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to show off the beauty of their reservation and they accomplished that too.
Job well done.