Behind the lines…what once was and will never be again…

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    The Rangers had a good season, the best in school history at 10-5, but didn’t reach the state tournament that year. The Rock Springs Tigers were a basketball power in those days and took their fifth state championship at the tournament in Laramie.

    It was the last basketball season for the boys from Iowa Center.


    If you haven’t heard of the Iowa Center Rangers you’re either not a historical sports fanatic, or you’re not from Goshen County.

    They played until 1937, those final years during the Great Depression were a desperate time in America, especially in drought-stricken southern Goshen County. The tiny town had just enough boys for a basketball team and sported four with winning records from 1932 to 1937 but didn’t have five boys in high school in 1934 so they didn’t field a team.

    Jump ahead seven decades and I’m sitting on press row at the Casper Events Center with my friend John Gabrielsen watching the Class 1-A girls’ state championship between the Burlington Lady Huskies and the Albin Lady Wildcats. It’s only about 40 miles from Albin to Iowa Center on Goshen County roads.

    Albin had a great team under head coach Barry Ward that season, entering the championship game with a 21-1 overall record.


    Though I had no skin in the game, I found myself rooting for the Wildcats in their final season. After years of delays, the state was closing Albin High School and sending the kids to Burns, Southeast Goshen, or Pine Bluffs.

    “I hope these Albin kids win this game,” I said to John.

    Ever the master of sarcasm, John replied. “Why, they won’t have a place to keep the trophy.”


    Burlington won 57-48 and Albin became just a wide spot in the road as the high school closed and the community around it died.

    That’s the effect small schools have on a community.

    It’s hard to fathom now, but a one-class state tournament was how things were done until 1940. Indiana now has different divisions and is famous, largely because of the film “Hoosiers” for having a long-standing tradition of big and small schools playing for all the marbles no matter the enrollment.


    Albin is just one of a long list of programs that no longer exist. Some ended via consolidation as was the fate of the Morton Broncs and Pavillion Panthers who combined in 1969 to create Wind River. Others just closed their doors, never to hear the banter of excited teenagers as the final bell of the day sounded again.

    As a guy who if given the choice, always takes the back roads to a new destination, these crumbling old buildings that were once the focal point of the local community call out to me.

    Those of us who graduated as late as the mid-1980s can remember when many more small schools dotted our region.

    My only interception came as a sophomore on a conversation try by the Deaver Frannie Trojans in an 8-man game played in Big Horn County. Someone with a twisted sense of humor let several hundred sheep loose on the 8-man field at Cowley just before a game with the Cowley Jaguars that same season.

    If you played at Byron in those days, who could forget the pumping unit, with its giant hammerhead moving up and down in the Eagle’s endzone? The occasional backfire these units produced was a not-so-subtle reminder of the wealth of the district in the days before standardized, per-student funding by the state was established.

    The Cowley Jaguars, Byron Eagles, and Deaver-Frannie Trojans all consolidated to create Rocky Mountain High School.

    While the Grizzlies have fielded many state championship teams, they’ll always fall in the shadow of a Jaguar team from over a century ago.

    In 1922, Cowley won the all-class state championship in Laramie. The scores are indicative of the rules of the day. There was a center jump after every made basket, with no fouls called on the jump as players shoved each other for position. Goaltending was legal as was the modern violation of offensive interference by pushing or dunking the ball as it teetered on the rim.

    Cowley beat a unified Cheyenne team 12-7 in the championship game. The tournament lasted a week, with the winning teams playing six grueling games before reaching the finals. This seems improbable today. These are the teams that Cowley beat on their way to the championship trophy by round of play.

    Cowley 30, Wheatland 8, Cowley 34, Lander 8, Cowley 18, Rock Springs 11, Cowley 27, Buffalo 9, Cowley 22, Sheridan 8 and finally, Cowley 15, Worland 10. Worland was third that year with a 10-4 win over Rawlins.

    Sunrise, Manville, and Carpenter all played in the tournament alongside Evanston, Buffalo, and Wheatland.

    Almost every team traveled by train to Laramie for the tournament.

    In 1973, we watched the Huntley Cardinals beat arguably the best Dubois Rams basketball team in school history at Half Acre Gym in Laramie. That year 12 teams came to Laramie with single elimination in the opening round. Dubois as Big Horn Basin champions had a first-round bye. Huntley handled the Rams 62-57.

    The Cardinals eventually won the title on a Tuesday night 59-51 over Glenrock. The tournament was postponed four days with all the roads into Laramie closed after Wind River and Upton arrived early.

    This is all “ancient history” or “useless trivia” as most of the bored, pampered teenagers of today say, but in the pre-World War II days when life in isolated, largely unincorporated Wyoming was hard work, broken up by simple pleasures, the local field or gym was the place where dreams were made.

    When I take US 85 South from Lusk, or Highway 20 East from Orin Junction these old programs, now largely forgotten, in towns that are returning to the prairie year by year, I often think of what life was like out on these windswept grasslands in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

    The Iowa Center boys (there were no girls sports for another half-century) played the Manville Panthers, Carpenter Coyotes, Ft. Laramie Pioneers, Sunrise Miners, LaGrange Longhorns, Hillsdale Pioneers, Veteran Eagles, Yoder Bobcats, Glendo Eagles, Chugwater Buffaloes, Hawk Springs Hawks, and Glendo Eagles, along with those same Albin Wildcats and Huntley Cardinals. A few teams just used their town name and never bothered with a mascot as Van Tassell, Lost Springs, and Shawnee did.

    If you have the time, or the inclination to look for Iowa Center, you won’t find it. You can find where it once was if you take the back road from Chugwater in Laramie County, to Veteran, in Goshen County.

    You won’t see a school, a gym, or even a decaying business, all you’ll see is open prairie with a few dryland farms.

    You will see indicators of the Cold War with hundreds of missile silos dotting the area. A few have been sold to private citizens, but most are being retrofitted with the latest state-of-the-art nuclear weapon systems. You might even pass a twin cab, U.S. Air Force pickup as crews drive out from F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne for their shifts.

    Paved highways, regional shopping centers, and digital entertainment have replaced the friendly bets at the local feed store, and the Friday and Saturday Night action at the local cracker box gym.

    The memories fade, but they remain a part of our heritage.


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