Behind the lines: All stick and no carrot

    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.

    There is an old, rusting water tower sitting on the hill behind what was once Wind River High School on the north side of the Dubois Highway just east of Morton Lake. (Pilot Butte Reservoir) It’s hard to see these days behind all the overgrowth surrounding the decrepit hulk of the decaying brick building.

    For decades the water tower was filled by a pump behind the school and gravity did the rest, supplying pressured water to the school and the handful of teacher’s homes near it.


    This isn’t about the water in that tank, but rather the gravity that the tank used.

    The 1974 football season was one of the most frustrating in Wind River history. The Cougars didn’t have great teams in those early years of consolidation, but this one had promise.

    Morton and Pavillion joined to create Wind River with the high school at Morton and the elementary and middle schools at Pavillion beginning in the fall of 1969.

    Dubois, Wind River, and Shoshoni played 8-man football until the 1973 season against Byron, Basin, Cowley, Deaver, Meeteetse, and Burlington. It was a great conference, but not so great for the Cougars.


    Eventually, Wind River beat all of those teams except one, the Byron Eagles.

    Byron had Morton’s number, winning all 15 games played between the two schools, and they never lost to Wind River either in six tries. Byron fell victim to consolidation as well, merging Deaver, Cowley, and Byron first into North Big Horn Basin, and then Rocky Mountain High School.

    The 1974-75 athletic year was a good one for the Cougars. The track team won head coach Leroy Sinner his first state championship in May. The basketball team under head coach Jack Draxler had one of the school’s best seasons ever, finishing second at the Class B state tournament in Laramie in a close loss to Mountain View.


    The wrestling team had a great season in just the third year of the program, finishing sixth with the late Don Runner, and Orris Miller finishing runner-up at 98 and 126 pounds, and the late Gus Harris third at 185.

    We went 3-5 in football.

    Looking back through the prism of time as a coach with a lifetime of experience, I still wonder why we didn’t win.


    We had a state champion hurdler at slot, a state champion sprinter at tailback, Orris at fullback, an all-state basketball player at quarterback, and an offensive line with size, who were aggressive, and all on the honor roll with off-the-scale ACT scores.

    It made no sense.

    One early October afternoon, the reason became clear. The carrot and stick approach is common in athletics, as well as the workplace. Too much carrot and the workers get lazy and entitled. Too much stick and they get resentful and shut down, never reaching their full potential. It’s a magic mix of positive and negative coaching that brings results.  That season it was all stick, all the time.

    The hill leading up to that water tower was the cylindrical steel “stick.”

    How many schools run hills at football and track practice? The answer is everyone that has one. We used the hill in Lusk for conditioning and individual discipline. We didn’t ever send the entire team up its rocky slope for punishment.

    At Wind River we had two hills, the long one, about 150 yards with a gradual slope on the flat area behind the water tank, and the short one, the steep 35-degree angle to the water tank from the parking lot, just 30 yards or so, but those yards were brutal when piled onto one another.

    We ran that hill often, so did the guys who came before us at Morton and those after us until the new high school was built at Pavillion in 1993.

    On October 4, 1974, the Wind River Cougars lost 34-8 to the Byron Eagles at the old Morton High School Field.

    There was nothing unique in that, Wind River always lost to Byron in football, most teams in the old Big Horn Basin B Conference did.

    We played the Eagles well in the season opener at Byron, leading most of the game before a fourth-quarter power sweep won the game for them 30-22. But our all-state tailback, Wally Westling broke his arm in that game and didn’t return until we played the Eagles again in October.

    Why we didn’t play other teams remains a mystery, our schedule was Shoshoni, Dubois, Basin, and Byron, played home and away. No playoffs, just the same four teams played home and away.

    We didn’t play Byron as well the second time. They had improved, and we remained the same.

    If we had stopped playing football and challenged them to a hill running contest, it wouldn’t have been close, we would have destroyed them.

    The hill was the reward for the smallest infraction in practice. Jump offside, run 10 hills, hit the guy next to you in three-man-roll drills, run 10 hills. Hit the sled at a bad angle, run 10 hills. You get the idea.

    That fall afternoon we scored early on a run by Wally. But we couldn’t stop the Byron running game. They trapped, pulled, ran the toss sweep, and countered us to death.

    The gun sounded (yes, a gun in those days not a horn) we shook hands on the 50-yard line with Byron and were ordered over to the hill, still in game uniforms, with our parents, fans, and girlfriends watching.

    There wasn’t enough room for the entire team to run at the same time, so we were divided into freshmen and sophomores, and juniors and seniors.

    The punishment for losing was 34 timed sprints up the hill with a stopwatch running, a hill for every point that Byron had scored.

    We were tired from playing the game just a few minutes before, but we hit the hill hard. Sprint up, jog down, do it again as soon as the line reformed.

    One of my fellow seniors collapsed near the middle of the ordeal, passed out cold at the base of the hill. As we reached the top and looked down, we saw a couple of the younger guys trying to help him, but all they got for their effort was another hill added to the list and told to leave him lay.

    The juniors and seniors all made it under time. We ran just 34 hills.

    When we finished, we had to watch the younger guys run eight extra. They ran 42 hills, one for helping another player, and seven more because one of the chunkier freshmen couldn’t get up the hill in time. If one guy didn’t make it, the entire group got another hill.

    I don’t think about that punishment drill often, but a few years ago before he passed away, I asked my line coach, and later Wind River head coach Bert Oakley what he thought of it.

    Coach Oakley remembered that afternoon as well as we did. “I was against it. I didn’t see why we had to punish you guys. It was as much on us as coaches as it was you as players, but I was just the assistant,” he said.

    No, of course, it wouldn’t be tolerated today, but those were different times.

    It did impress on my mind the magic of positive and negative reinforcement, and the power it has when used correctly. A negative impression yes, but an impression, nonetheless.


    Related Posts

    Have a news tip or an awesome photo to share?