Behind the Lines: The Big Stage

    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.

    It doesn’t have quite the same visceral pull of living and dying on every play as a coach and player experiences, but as a reporter, the state tournament remains my second favorite athletic event of the season. The all-class state track championships remain my preference, but the Class 1-A/2-A basketball championships are a hair’s width away from the top position.

    Nothing against the Class 3-A/4-A tournament, it has equally thrilling and heartbreaking moments, but in my heart, I’m a 2-A guy. I played in the Class B days at Wind River and spent most of my career at 2-A schools in Lusk, Shoshoni, and Wyoming Indian so the bond with these small towns, and the heart of their community, the local high school, remains unbreakable.


    This year’s Class 2-A boys’ state final had a tug of mortality to me. I started my career with the Lusk Tigers a long time ago, 44 years this fall to be exact, and aside from my last three years as tech director at Arapahoe, I finished my career as a Wyoming Indian Chief.

    Lusk and Wyoming Indian still have a tremendous pull on me.

    My wife of soon-to-be 42 years is from Lusk, and my connections to the aging friends from this outstanding little town just west of the Nebraska Sandhills remain strong.

    Covering the Chiefs and Lady Chiefs is a joy. If you find better people than head coaches Aleta Moss and Craig Ferris you’ll have to let me know. They are simply the best, and what they do for their kids is exemplary.


    This year was a milestone for me as well. I haven’t taken my own team to the state tournament since 1988, but I’ve had the privilege of covering many teams coached by my friends who have competed on the big stage.

    To those “experts” in the stands who have never felt the heat of competition under the unforgiving lights of a statewide stage I can only marvel at the often ridiculous self-centeredness they express.

    If you’re a player, an official, or a coach, you have to be on your “A” game when it comes to playing in front of a statewide audience. No, it’s not easy, but the magic of competition is that once the ball goes up, all those pre-game worries, and butterflies disappear on the first play of the game.


    It becomes just another game, a game you desperately want to win.

    That is what makes the competition fierce, fun and creates a lifelong memory whether you win or lose.

    This year was no different for fans of both Wyoming Indian and Lusk, but it was special for me.


    I knew many of the parents and grandparents of the kids from Niobrara County well, but as four decades elapsed, a lot of the names were unfamiliar.

    At Ethete, I’m still in touch with most of the families of the young men and women who played so hard for the Chiefs and Lady Chiefs.

    The legendary sportswriter, Grantland Rice once wrote, ”It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.”

    He was spot on. Character still matters, and it is revealed when tensions are high, defenses are tight and one play can win or lose a title.

    That’s the essence of competition.

    True fans always look for worthy opponents when they face off against each other. Everyone wants to see the two fastest kids race, or the two best boxers square off to decide who is the best.

    The same holds true in every sport, basketball especially.

    If you believed all the pre-season hype, the Lusk Tigers never had a chance to reach the finals, but head coach Eddie Fullmer had his boys ready. (another connection to my youth with his late father Dick at Lingle Ft. Laramie and the first head coach I worked under, his uncle Jerry at Lusk)

    A joke was that the barbershop in Lusk must be closed since so many of the Tiger players sported long, shaggy hair, almost 1970s vintage. The boys from 40 years ago had buzz cuts, reflective of the ranching and railroad that made the Lusk economy spin. The differences ended there. They were as hardnosed as kids from Niobrara County have always been.

    But today, the world is a different place. If the kids want long hair, I don’t care, just be gentlemen, compete hard, and play the game as it was meant to be played.

    The boys from Ethete and the ones from Lusk did just that, they epitomized the worthy opponent.

    One new situation came in the Chief’s semi-final game against Tongue River. I set up with my camera on the baseline towards the north side, the open end of the Ford Wyoming Center floor. There was a loose ball that flew off a Tongue River’s players hands. As official Kaila Haskvitz turned to hand the ball to Wyoming Indian’s Cordell Spoonhunter she motioned for him to move a few feet to his right and said, “Over here honey.”

    I’ve known a lot of officials in football and basketball since I was a kid and never heard one say “Honey” in such a pleasant tone. The knuckle draggers of my era were more akin to Marine drill sergeants.

    She handed Cordell the ball and sped down the floor after him.

    In an era when Title IX and women’s athletics, in general, are under siege by fanatics, it was refreshing to see an all-woman officiating team of Haskvitz, Katie Reeves and Macey Mortimore work a game together. Yes, they did an excellent job. I’d hire them to work my games if I was still in the belly of the beast coaching basketball.

    The bottom line is that it’s not easy to coach, officiate, or organize youth activities in the age of social media.

    The “experts” who have no experience, ability, or relevance to a sport or activity are the first to cast blame and demand ridiculous things.

    I choose to ignore them, as my wife Sue often tells me, “Consider the source.”

    She’s right about this, she’s right about a lot of things.

    When it comes to Monday morning quarterbacking, remember who these people are. They don’t compete, they fear competition and they are the first to complain when a play or scheme fails.

    Ignore them.

    Enjoy the kids, the coaches and respect the officials. Without any of the three, we’d have no sports at all.

    Thanks for another fabulous state basketball tournament and good luck to coach Beau Sheets and the Wolverines as they take the stage this Thursday at 7:30 pm against Cheyenne Central.

    Go Wolverines!


    Related Posts

    Have a news tip or an awesome photo to share?