Behind the lines: No One Wins in a Forfeit

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    A few seasons ago, the Dubois Lady Rams completed an entire basketball season with just five girls. From 2012 to 2014 head coach Juleen Leseberg never had enough girls to scrimmage at practice, but they showed up for every game. There is a lesson in fortitude in that.

    One season my Shoshoni junior high football team had just 11 boys. There were seven eighth graders and four seventh graders on the team. We won the conference with a 5-2 overall record.


    The sideline was a lonely place with just a sixth-grade manager to keep me company, but we played every game, and even had a couple of series that had just nine or 10 boys on the field.

    We needed that against Lander when our quarterback injured his knee. I had a great offensive line and a center who could directionally snap the ball. We went to the single wing with just 10 players and even scored on Lander without a full complement of 11 players.

    The message isn’t that these were exceptional athletes, it’s that these kids showed up every practice, made every game and never forfeited or had a game rescheduled. We played the schedule we were given.

    That’s not the case today, especially at the 9-man football level, and to a lesser extent, the 6-man game.


    It’s become commonplace for teams in the state’s two smallest football divisions to cancel games and simply forfeit. The reasons are myriad but usually boil down to not enough kids on the roster. Or just a few reserves so coaches are nervous to play.

    The rules are easy. You must have five basketball players to start a game, you can finish a game with just one, but he or she will have a hard time getting the ball into play with no one to pass to.

    The same is true in football. Whether it’s 6, 8, 9, or 11-man, all you have to have on the fields to start a game is the minimum for that league, you can finish with as few as four in 6-man, six in 8 or 9-man, or eight in 11-man. You must have three, five, or seven on the line of scrimmage to play, and at least one player in the backfield.


    Wind River has a promising season ahead of them, but they won’t likely play a game until the second week of the season, and they weren’t invited or allowed to a jamboree they’ve played in for years at Wright this season. For unknown reasons, Wright invited a Class 2-A 11-man team from Newcastle instead of the Cougars. Oh well, it’s their choice.

    What isn’t a choice is the game the Cougars were supposed to play this Thursday at 6 p.m. against Saratoga.

    The Panthers have just 11 players out this year and elected to forfeit rather than play Wind River. We can only hope they’ll honor their East 9-man conference schedule since constant forfeits make it difficult for other teams to schedule games.


    Saratoga is a bit over-extended. They average around 80 high school students per year, yet they try to compete in football, golf, and cross country. They compete very well in cross country where head coach Rex Hohnholt has a deep, powerful team year after year. There just aren’t enough boys year in and year out to fill all those teams in a tiny school like Saratoga.

    Even larger schools like our own Riverton and Lander have trouble with participation in golf and cross country, especially on the girl’s side.

    Low participation is one thing, forfeiting is another.

    St. Stephen’s forfeited their first game just like Saratoga. Wyoming Indian plays a mixed schedule of varsity and junior varsity games against West 9-man opponents.

    Part of the problem rests with the lack of desire by the kids walking the halls of high schools across the state. It’s a common statement among track coaches especially, that they have a state championship team getting on the bus after school rather than choosing to compete. Part of the problem rests with tradition. In schools with a strong tradition in a sport, there are always enough kids out for the team.

    It’s common in Cokeville to have every boy in high school playing football. Pine Bluffs has an incredible 54 boys out for football, and they co-op with Burns to compete in cross country. That’s a school with good extracurricular traditions.

    The final piece of the puzzle of why teams forfeit can be placed on the state association. The WHSAA assigns conferences, leagues, and divisions based on enrollment. Yes, it is the fairest, most equitable way to do this, but teams are still forfeit. There must be another way since forfeits in the West 9-man occur every season and few East teams ever have to reschedule games with larger schools lower level programs.

    When a football team chooses not to meet its obligations to fill a non-league, and then a conference schedule, it makes the other teams scramble to get games for their kids to play.

    That almost always means contacting a larger school and getting them to send a freshman, sophomore, or junior varsity team to the lower-division school.

    A couple of schools are nothing short of heroic in this practice.

    Natrona County is the best at sending teams to lower-level programs. The Mustangs have played Shoshoni, Wind River, Rocky Mountain, and Dubois on our side of the state in recent years. Maybe it’s because head coach Steve Harshman was a Midwest Oiler and knows how important games are at small schools, and maybe it’s just because he likes to give all his players a chance to play.

    The Mustangs usually play 11-man when they have the ball and 9-man on defense. In a truly unique combination, Natrona played 11-man on offense and 6-man on defense when they played Dubois. That is a big stretch in comparative styles of football.

    At the end of the game, both the Rams and the Mustangs enjoyed the contest.

    Cheyenne East hosted Shoshoni last year, and Cody, though they are in the smaller Class 3-A West, does the same thing for teams across the Big Horn Basin.

    Over the years Wind River, Wyoming Indian, and Shoshoni have played junior varsity teams from Riverton and Lander, but with lower numbers of boys competing, and with freshman and junior varsity schedules to fill with league opponents, the Tigers and Wolverines haven’t been able to do that as often.

    These quickly arranged games are usually the result of friendships between coaches or athletic directors at the two schools involved. Those connections make the process easier.

    When a team is consistently low on numbers, it’s just not fair for the rest of the league to schedule them, and then scramble for games after they choose to forfeit.

    There has to be a better way.


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