Behind the lines….Oh the weather outside is frightful (sing along)

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    The weather rarely cooperates with athletics in the Cowboy State. This week, with regional volleyball, last-chance swimming, and playoff football in all five Wyoming divisions it is yet another rendition of dropping temperatures, howling winds, and mixed rain and snow. Aside from the road trip, the weather doesn’t matter much indoors, but we don’t have domed stadiums to contend with our contentious weather in football. It would be a concern in less hardy people, here we just play.

    It’s late October on the High Plains and foothills of the Rockies, what else would you expect?


    Winter is predicted to arrive Friday when Dubois travels to Kaycee, Wind River hosts Lusk and Riverton has a rematch with the Evanston Red Devils. This brought me back to similar situations over the last 50 years of prep football.

    A scant half-century ago, heavy snow fell beginning Wednesday night. It was wet, heavy snow, laden with moisture. Practice was fun for a while that night, but there is only so much slipping and sliding you can do while trying to play football.

    It kept snowing until after midnight, then the temperature dropped to around 10 degrees. The surface of that wet snow compressed a bit under its weight, then froze solid. We practiced in our socks in the gym Thursday afternoon.

    The next morning, we heard that Byron called down and asked us to forfeit, rather than make the trip down the Big Horn Basin on questionable roads. Our AD told them if they wanted to forfeit, that was fine, but we weren’t going to.


    So, the Eagles came to Morton.

    Somebody came up with the great idea of carving out the 10-yard lines with a small tractor and a blade. It worked for the six-foot width of the blade. It also created gaps with the ice 10 inches above the bits of green grass cleared by the tractor. Safe? No one would allow it today, that’s about the only thing safe to say about it.

    Byron beat us 28-0, a big improvement over the 54-0 shellacking we took earlier in the season against them in Big Horn County. We played Byron, Basin, Dubois, and Shoshoni twice in those years, and played the Chiefs at Mill Creek in the first varsity meeting between Wyoming Indian and Wind River. It was cold that afternoon too.


    Before I jump ahead a few years, it’s worth noting how we prepared to play in cold and wet in those days. Bread sacks were popular. You put on a pair of socks, put a bread sack over each foot, put another pair of socks over the plastic bread sack, loosened the laces on your cleats, then changed the outer pair of socks at halftime.

    It worked well, but it would never fit the product-driven athletes of today who insist their parents buy them only the best all-weather gear, even when the weather isn’t that bad.

    Yellow “Chore Boy” cotton gloves were popular. None of us had the modern neoprene-style tackified gloves worn even by fifth graders these days. If you were a lineman, aside from the center, you could wear the same gloves you used to feed hay, or shovel silage after practice.


    If you were a back, receiver, or center, good luck, live with it. We did stuff a white towel into the back of the center’s pants for the quarterback to dry his hands, but that was as fancy as we got.

    Jump ahead to the 1981 Class B football season, and the Lusk Tigers are hosting the Sundance Bulldogs in the Tigers’ first lower division playoff game. Lusk had been a power in Class A (modern Class 3-A) athletics, but the enrollment declined, and Niobrara County wasn’t the bastion of Division I athletes it had been in the 1950s to early 70s.

    We won the Texas Trail Conference with a 7-1 record and faced Sundance in the semi-finals at Gibson Field in Lusk.

    It snowed hard Friday before the 1 p.m. kick off on Saturday. At 7 a.m. I took my snow shovel and walked to the field where I met the other coaches, fathers of players, and community members and we swept the field. We beat the Bulldogs 12-0 and blasted Pinedale on Halloween Day the following week 21-0 for the title.

    Four years later, I was in Blue and Gold as a Shoshoni junior high football coach and assistant basketball coach while still writing for the Ranger. The Wranglers were playing Cheyenne Seton at Okie Blanchard Stadium in Cheyenne for the championship.

    Seton scored first, and then the storm hit. A heavy blanket of wet snow covered the field. We scored but missed the kick and trailed 7-6 for most of the game. The storm broke and the Wrangler offense scored, and Lance Bolte intercepted a pass for a touchdown late in the game and an 18-7 win.

    Some of the guys wore “Chore Boy” gloves that day too.

    In 1998, I had a great middle school team at Shoshoni. A win at Wyoming on a Thursday afternoon and we were the undefeated conference champs. Mother Nature had other ideas.

    We left Shoshoni on a warm October afternoon. The weather in Shoshoni is often much different than at Ethete or Ft. Washakie.

    As we descended the big hill north of Ethete to play at the old Middle School Field east of the stop light I watched a storm boiling in off the foothills above Ft. Washakie.

    The storm was intense.

    The Chiefs wore solid white uniforms with blue numbers and a red Chief logo on their white helmets. We couldn’t see them as the snow gusted heavily. All you could see on some plays were their black shoes and the red Chief logo. A few of the Wyoming Indian players, and several of mine, wore those venerable “Chore Boy” gloves and you could make out the bright yellow, almost like a Hollywood green screen.

    We were a speed team, and the Chiefs were huge. We slipped, slid, and couldn’t get our feet while Wyoming Indian marched steadily with a pair of 180-pound backs. We lost 20-14.

    In 2012 I was a volunteer coach at Shoshoni with head coach Rick Lindblad.

    We opened the playoffs in Yoder against Southeast Goshen.

    The early winter storms in Platte County are often the stuff of legend and the wide open beet fields surrounding Barry Miller Field didn’t offer much protection.

    Once again, the Wranglers were a speed team that threw the ball almost every down in Lindblad’s “West Coast Style” offense.

    Groundskeepers at Southeast had pushed all the snow onto the visitor’s sideline. The home sidelines were dry, and we were standing in six inches of water, almost to the hash mark.

    The Cyclones blew us out 61-21 so you couldn’t blame the field conditions, but on a dry field, we would have given them a much better game.

    Watch this weekend as temperatures hit the single digits and snow comes to the Wind River Valley. How the kids, coaches, and officials handle the challenges is worth watching.


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