Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.
Those outside the harsh light of competition will never understand, but players, and especially coaches, who have a longer competitive tenure than the four years their young men and women have to compete know the meaning of a “worthy opponent.”
I’ve found that on many levels with a basketball family whose name is synonymous with the hardwood of Big Horn County.
I ran into all of them at Shoshoni back in December in the Wrangler Invite.
“There has been a Winland playing or coaching basketball in Big Horn County for 65 years,” my friend and retired Lovell Bulldog head boys’ basketball coach Ralph Winland said.
Ralph is the patriarch of a basketball family that includes his three sons, Tim, Rod and Pat, and his grandsons, Kirby and Taylor, who are or were coaches at Lovell, Rocky Mountain, and Burlington.
The youngest, Cooper, is a talented 8th grader at Rocky Mountain Middle School and has big shoes to fill in his family’s legacy, though I think he’s up for the challenge.
I first met Ralph or rather was in the gym with him at Wind River during the 1984-85 season. It was not a great night for the big man from Lovell. I was covering the Cougars for the Riverton Ranger in the old gym at Morton and Ralph ended up being ejected from the game.
Ralph could be intimidating as his three boys have related to me, and officials felt the same at times I’m sure.
In 1988, as a first-year head coach, we played Ralph’s Bulldogs three times, winning the first but losing at Lovell and then in the Five Rivers Tournament at Basin.
It was the following week in Casper at the Events Center that I came to realize what a great man Ralph was.
As I sat in the stands watching games before our late night championship game with Mountain View, Ralph came down and sat next to me.
He offered a bit of well-appreciated advice.
Summarizing it he said, “You’re going to be interviewed by George Kay and the K2 news guys will want your kids in a certain order to announce them. That’s all great, but don’t forget why you’re here. Keep your boys focused, and play your game, ignore the distractions.”
It was excellent advice from a man who had taken his team to the finals the four previous seasons, winning the last two and taking second to our late friend Alfred Redman and his fabulous Wyoming Indian team the two years before.
Two years later, I had another great team in Shoshoni, and we were up six to eight points the entire first half against Ralph and the Bulldogs. Right before the half, he lost it, screaming at the officials and getting a pair of technical fouls just seconds before halftime.
I didn’t know why he was so angry. It was just a traveling call that set him off. As he turned back towards his bench he grinned at me and said, “Try to get a call the second half.”
He was right, we didn’t get a break in our own gym and the Dogs beat the Wranglers that night. It was another lesson in human relationships taught by a master.
Ralph was a legend in the Big Horn Basin, earning All-State honors in 1966 & 67.
He started his career in Cowley, long before it combined with Byron and Deaver-Frannie to create Rocky Mountain and his sons have remained in the area.
Tim was an outstanding player, earning All-State honors three times. He played against one of the greatest players to ever take the floor in Wyoming at any level in Myron Chavez of Wyoming Indian. In his senior year, after losing to the Chiefs in the Five Rivers title game at Cody the week before, his Bulldogs finally beat the Chiefs for the 2-A state title.
Rod was a guard on that team as well, making the All-State team the following year in 1987 in another Lovell title year.
My freshman post player in 1992 idolized the youngest son Pat. Jake Zent was a big kid who developed into a similar player as Pat. The other brothers were guards, Pat was a big man like his dad.
When Jake hit a jumper over Pat at the Conference tournament he was ecstatic. It didn’t matter that we were hammered by almost 30 points by the Bulldogs, he’d hit a shot over Pat. Pat was also an All-State player and a 1992 state champion.
The boys weren’t just great players, they were and are great coaches as well. Tim’s Rocky Mountain teams were state champs in 1995, 97, and 98, and Rod’s girls’ team was runner-up in 2000, losing to their rival six miles down the highway and his alma mater, Lovell in the finals.
Pat took the Grizzlies to the title in 2021 with Taylor as a senior.
Taylor was another triple all-stater earning the honor from 2019 to 2021.
The “Mantis” as my friend David Peck nicknamed Kirby was a familiar player as I covered Wyoming Indian and Wind River from start to finish. The Chiefs won the title in 2014, and the Cougars took it the following year. Kirby played against those two great County 10 teams in back-to-back state championship games.
Now it’s Cooper’s turn to follow his grandpa, dad, uncles, and cousins into the lore of Big Horn County.
The worthy opponent is the guy who gives as well as he receives. He takes the best you can send him. It’s a player you strive to defeat, but in your private moments, you wish he was on your team.
That’s how this aging sportswriter and former coach feels about the Winland boys.
Their wife, mom, and grandma Robyn has much to be proud of and has been in the stands for as long as the boys have battled my teams, and the teams of my friends from Fremont County.
It’s been a pleasure, the kind those outside the fire don’t understand. You can be fierce competitors and good friends, the Winland’s have proven that to me.
And yes Ralph, I still owe you on that bet from four years ago on whether Lander or Worland would win the state title.