Behind the lines…Goodbye Tonkin – watch out for the shiny things…

    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.

    The greatest natural football bowl in Wyoming – Tonkin Stadium – h/t Randy Tucker

    It may not seem to fit a sporting venue, but the February 10, 1982, episode of the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson fits the bill in our modern insanity of always chasing the newest, latest gadget on the market.

    Johnny’s guests that night were Wayne Rogers, Eddie Murphy, and Albert Hague. Rogers and Hague weren’t spectacular but in his first appearance on the hit NBC late-night show, Murphy hit it out of the park.


    Pantomiming to the audience, doing the deadpan stare that made him a star, and bantering with the legendary Carson, Murphy was in his element.

    In one sequence Johnny got a little sidetracked in his interview and started talking about the expensive wristwatch Eddie was wearing.

    “You like flashy jewelry?” Johnny asked.

    Eddie went into his ethnic Brooklyn accent and played the race card without playing the race card in saying, “Yes, boss, I love me some shiny things.”


    It embarrassed Carson but brought down the house.

    Politicians love the “shiny” things that take our minds off what is truly important.

    As I took my morning walk earlier in the week I stopped to take a few pictures of what remained of Riverton High School. The rubble was impressive, and the heavy equipment guys were at it well before 7 a.m.

    Only a single section on the south side of Riverton High School remained standing – h/t Randy Tucker

    We all know the claims that the legislature, the school facilities commission, and those who always want something shiny and new in their community make when it comes to destroying old government buildings.

    The lamest excuse is always, “It will cost more to renovate it than to tear it down and build something new.”

    Do you ever find that being done in the private sector? You can count on no hands the times a privately owned company tears down a functioning structure to put up a new one to “save” money.


    It’s the bright “shiny” thing that pacifies those who don’t understand or don’t want to understand never quite get.

    We moved to Riverton 40 years ago. In those four decades, Jefferson Elementary School was demolished, Lincoln Elementary School was leveled, Riverton Memorial Hospital was destroyed and now Riverton High School is suffering the same fate.

    There are plans to demolish Ashgrove Elementary next and possibly Jackson after that.

    As detractors of the “Army Corp of Engineers” like to say, they can’t stand the sound of running water. In Wyoming, it’s venerable school buildings.

    With Jefferson, it became the main building for the Riverton Volunteer Fire Department, Lincoln and Riverton Memorial Hospital are now a housing development. We get it, things change, progress rolls over the past and people soon forget.

    I’d watched the gradual demolition of the old RHS for several months but hadn’t walked close enough to see what has happened with Tonkin Stadium, or what was once the greatest football field in Wyoming.

    Not many friends left for Riverton High School – h/t Randy Tucker

    You wouldn’t recognize it now. It’s still a natural bowl, perfect for football, but weeds and rubble have reduced the Friday Night Lights of Rivercity to just a barren, vacant lot.

    I know all the arguments. It had asbestos in it, it was structurally unsound, and it wasn’t handicapped-accessible.

    Soon the new high school and middle school on West Sunset will hear the same claims by those who want to destroy and replace, rather than maintain, renovate, and practice wise stewardship.

    In Wyoming, you can’t keep an old building, or in the case of Tonkin, an old stadium. The gangs of attorneys and bean counters just can’t allow that to happen. Too many buildings would be repurposed, and somebody might get a leg up on someone else. We can’t have that, dangerous precedent and all.

    That term, “dangerous precedent” has squashed more dreams, more great ideas and destroyed more communities than any other. It’s a convenient term that squelches new ideas and keeps the status quo in place.

    Ok, there wasn’t much use for a three-story building with a gymnasium and pool attached to a vast open space, at least not in the eyes of the School Facilities Commission, but why did they have to sacrifice the best natural stadium in the entire state in the process?

    It would have involved “thinking outside the box” and cooperation between a variety of state, county, and local agencies to keep Tonkin Stadium alive. Cooperation isn’t high on the political list these days. It’s armed camps that throw grenades or splash mud on each other while ignoring the needs of their constituents. Politicians buy votes, not compromises.

    I never played at Tonkin Stadium. I coached a dozen or so games there and watched my friends from Riverton play there on Friday Nights after we’d played afternoon games at the old Wind River High School at Morton.

    I covered the Wolverines for another dozen or so games, and I watched the greatest game ever played in Fremont County with my late friend Harold Bailey at Tonkin on a perfect autumn afternoon when Riverton beat perhaps the best Tiger team in Lander history, 33-27 on November 5, 1994.

    My history with Tonkin is minuscule in comparison to those who played there, and others who coached there. It is a visceral kick to the gut when these aging players and coaches see what politics has done to their beloved stadium.

    Was there any other way? Of course, there was, and there always is, but the ease of “dangerous precedent” and the fear of actually accomplishing something as a politician that might raise the anger of a small but vocal group prevented any solution aside from destruction.

    Tonkin is gone. No, it won’t be the “New” rec center that generations of child and community-oriented citizens have sought for decades. Rec centers and other youth-centered activities are for huge communities like Newcastle or Cody. We don’t do that here.

    What will become of the empty space on the top of “High School Hill?” Maybe nothing, or maybe someone can create something good out of the mess that “progress” has brought us.

    “High School Hill” How many more years will anyone still call it that?

    Shoshoni, Dubois, Mill Creek, Lander, and Pavillion all leveled the buildings once paid for by local bond initiatives. Local control was easier a couple of generations ago before the federal and state dollars mandated everything. The education was better as well. Is there a connection?

    What happens when an abandoned school is not destroyed is even worse. Take a look at what remains of Wind River High School a couple of miles east of Morton, or the crumbling buildings that were once the home of the Jeffrey City Longhorns.

    Is there a solution? We should all hope there is, but it’s not in bright, shiny things.


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