Behind the lines: Intangible Intensity

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    I was a little late to the Wrangler Classic last Friday afternoon. I’d spent the morning covering and photographing the Dubois boys’ and girls’ basketball teams playing Hanna Elk Mountain in the Shoshoni auxiliary gym and had things to do at home that afternoon before returning to watch the Wranglers and Lady Wranglers tangle with Kemmerer in the final Friday games in the main gym.

    This is one of my favorite tournaments since it brings small school teams from across the state to Shoshoni every year in the second week of the season.


    I’ve been around basketball in one way or another for a long time, over 50 years to be inexact. I thought I’d seen just about everything, well, I was mistaken.

    The scoreboard read 7-2 in the visitors’ favor in the second quarter when I rounded the corner into the gym. My first thought was that the middle bank of the Wrangler scoreboard had malfunctioned, but nope, it was working perfectly.

    The score, yes, oh the score (to quote Dave Walsh) was 7-2 in Kemmer’s favor.

    It didn’t get much better in the third period with the margin widening in the Lady Ranger’s favor by a point, 9-3.


    Yes, 9-3 in a varsity girls basketball game.

    There are often lopsided scores, especially in small school girls’ basketball, and sometimes in larger schools as well. I remember a game between Riverton and Campbell County a couple of decades ago when the Lady Camels were on top by 80 points and still pressing. Splitting Gillette into Thunder Basin and Campbell County took care of many of those unfair walloping games that arrived all too often against the smaller 4-A team.

    Lopsided as in 77-18 is one thing, a game entering the final period 9-3, without neither team running any sort of delay was unprecedented.


    I spotted my friend Greg Bartlett sitting in the front row of the bleachers with his freshman son Griffin. Griffin is the youngest of the five Bartlett brothers. Greg is the athletic director at Saratoga and his wife Heather is the girls’ head coach.

    Sitting directly behind us was the Kemmerer boys’ varsity team.

    Greg and I joked about the score. Griffin was beside himself as he watched what was happening.


    I talked to a few of the Kemmerer kids seated next to us and every one of us made comments, observations, and little jokes about what was unfolding on the hardwood in front of us.

    Somewhere in the final period, the entire mood of the game changed.

    What had been almost a carnival act of a basketball game, became a battle.

    For me, I was proud of the girls on both teams. Despite the obvious frustration of shooting around 10 percent from the floor, they kept battling.

    The Kemmerer boys began to cheer and yell encouragement to their fellow teammates on the girls’ squad.

    It turned into a game, and the largely silent crowd of the first three periods got into the game in a big way.

    Griffin just grinned, as my Dad often said, “like a possum eating a persimmon.” It had taken me half a century to see this type of effort rise from a level of frustration that is incomprehensible to someone who has never entered the ring of competition. Griffin was watching it in his first year of varsity play.

    The players remained the same, their effort was never questioned, but that intangible that coaches strive to bring out in their players came to the floor. Tenacity took control of the game.

    Shoshoni has never had a shooting night like last Friday, in either boys’ or girls’ competition. They scored on just a pair of short-range shots, and a single free throw in 10 attempts, but Morgan Donelson and Abby Jennings drained a combined two 3-pointers to knot the game at 11 points as regulation drew to a close.

    The other 45+ shots the girls took in the game clanked off, drew nothing but air, or rolled around before falling on the rim. The 3-pointers were so on target that the net barely moved. It was a fascinating thing to watch.

    Even the final minute of regulation was unnerving. Neither team could find the range. Kemmerer missed three shots, and Shoshoni two.

    I joked to Greg, “These kids are like Congress, they just can’t stand success.”

    But they weren’t politicians, they were athletes, playing as hard as they could after a full 32 minutes of basketball for their respective schools, their teammates, their fans, and themselves.

    The Lady Wranglers finally pulled ahead, but even that was up for grabs.

    Natasha Martinez hit Kemmerer’s only 3-pointer in the overtime and Donelson hit her second. The win came down to a layup by Jennings.

    Only two girls scored for the Lady Rangers and three for the Lady Blue. Madi Ramage had the other crucial two points to preserve the Shoshoni win.

    My friends Mychael Wiles, Matt Lengfelder and Joe Bridges officiated the game. For those who have never worn the stripes, these types of games are the most difficult to officiate.

    Joe held the ball out of bounds after one time out right in front of us.

    I used an adage that officials often say to each other in tight games.

    “Overtime is indicative of poor officiating,” I said to Joe.

    He just grinned and put the ball back into play. The guys were pros start to finish and called an outstanding game despite the challenging play.

    A few years ago, I watched another friend, Bryon Mowry work a game between the Shoshoni and Saratoga girls.

    There were 103 combined free throws in the game. Shoshoni finished with two girls and Saratoga three as they clawed at each other for 32 minutes. The officials called it close. They brought the girls in for talks and kept telling the coaches to get them to back off. They never did. The boys’ game that followed started almost an hour later than scheduled.

    A note to Griffin, you don’t see many games like the one last Friday in Shoshoni. Learn from it. Intensity and effort will always pay off if you hang around long enough.


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