Jeff Hammer: Good Examples

    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.

    Even though I retired nearly four years ago, I still maintain slight connections to the youth of our community. Each month, I work a few shifts as a substitute custodian at one of the handful of public schools in town. My shift usually starts in the afternoon just before the students are dismissed for the day, so I don’t have much contact with them, but I always enjoy the end of the day madness that always prevails when kids look forward to what happens next in their sometimes too busy lives.

    For many kids, what happens next is that they are involved in some type of extra-curricular activity sponsored by the school district, and there are many compared to the after-school offerings available when I was a student here in the late 1960’s through the mid-1970’s.


    Keep in mind that in those days, up until I was a sophomore or a junior in high school, if my memory serves me correctly, which sometimes it does not, there were no options for girls, except for those few who wanted to be cheerleaders. 

    There were four sports seasons for boys in junior high when I entered 7th grade in 1970. Football was offered in the fall, basketball and wrestling were offered in the winter and boys could participate in track and field in the spring. It was just the way of the world back then, and few people saw the need to change it.

    At the high school level, a similar situation existed, where choices for boys were narrowed to three longer seasons. Boys needed to choose between basketball or wrestling in the winter and in the fall between football and cross country track. In the spring, I believe the only option was track and field. By the time I entered high school, more than a few people saw the need to change the status quo, and when I left LVHS in 1976, girls could compete athletically in volleyball and basketball and possibly more sports. Truthfully, I don’t recall.

    Other high school activities were offered for both boys and girls, including Future Farmers of America, band and marching band, and I think speech and debate. Perhaps I’ve left out an activity or two.


    Once one entered high school and engaged in a chosen sport, the unspoken expectation was that you would continue in that sport all four years, unless you were cut from the team or dropped out for reasons of your own.

    When I was an eighth grader, a talented high school senior athlete made quite a stir in the community when, after playing football for three seasons, he chose to run cross country track as a senior. You would have thought that the young man had committed treason by giving away national secrets given the amount of scorn he received for that decision. 

    Our own eighth grade football coaches, who spent the majority of each practice with a wad of leaf tobacco bulging out one cheek while holding a spit cup, thought it necessary to involve us in that controversy by sitting us down one afternoon before practice and, after mentioning the athlete by name, lectured us about the importance of commitment and loyalty and finishing what one starts. 


    Secretly, I admired the athlete’s courage for making his choice, fully knowing that he was going to be demeaned, ridiculed, and ostracized for having the audacity to switch sports for his final year of high school. Perhaps he had the last laugh though as he proved to be an excellent cross country runner, representing our community and our high school in exemplary fashion.

    Thanks to Title IX and a growing realization among parents and some educators that our schools were completely ignoring the well-being of half of our school population, today both boys and girls have available to them many and an equal number of activities. It makes one’s head spin just to think about it. For each of the three sports seasons, athletes have at least three choices, in addition to other activities offered at the high school.

    But sometimes kids are not allowed to make their own choices, as peers and parents put an extraordinary amount of pressure on children to follow a predetermined path. For example, just the other day, while volunteering to park cars at elementary and middle school Nordic ski races held at the Lander Golf Course, I encountered a parent who appeared to me (perhaps wrongly) that he had already planned his son’s future athletic endeavors.


    In between the elementary and middle school races, those of us who were parking cars had a little down time and this father was sitting in a lawn chair next to his parking place. HIs two sons were racing, one in elementary and one in middle school; so I went over and engaged in a little conversation that went a little like this:

    “So you have a middle school son racing this afternoon?” I said.

    “Yeah. One o’clock,” he replied.

    “Hopefully he’ll stick with it and ski in high school,” I offered.

    “My son wrestles.” (Wrestling and Nordic ski racing occur simultaneously at the high school level, so a choice would have to be made.)

    I shrugged and said, “Well, maybe by the time he gets to high school, he’ll decide to ski.”

    The result of which was a stony silence and a glare that conveyed the message (perhaps wrongly) that the young man was going to wrestle no matter what. I hope he has a passion for wrestling and that is the activity he truly loves, because I got the impression he may not have a choice. 

    However, I am always heartened when I read about or observe the support of parents of high school and middle school students who allow their children to make their own choices and then fully support those decisions in every way. I’ll offer a few examples.

    At those same ski races, while the elementary kids were skiing, but before the middle races began, a truck bearing County 19 license plates approached the parking area which I’m guessing had the highest lift kit one could buy and possibly the loudest mufflers on the market. At the helm was a big, bearded hombre sporting tattoos on his neck and along both arms, a person one would not want to annoy, and one I hope would not be annoyed when asked to park in a specific parking spot.

    Not to worry. The man was polite and respectful and fully cooperative. When I asked if he had a child racing later, he honestly replied, “Yeah, I have a daughter racing about 1:30. Her mom and I are divorced. She and my ex-wife live in Capser and I live in Evanston, so I thought I’d come up here and surprise her. She doesn’t know I’m coming. What a great dad.

    Not long ago, I read online about a young lady, a 16 year-old high school junior from Jackson who is extremely passionate about the sport of wrestling. She decided at an early age that wrestling was going to be her sport. From the age of seven, she’s put a ton of energy into being the best wrestler she could be. This, of course, was before the Wyoming High School Activities Association sanctioned girls’ wrestling a couple of years ago, so her only option was to wrestle boys. 

    Not surprisingly, as her success and reputation grew, she experienced unkind comments from others, both adults and youngsters, about her decision to engage in a “masculine” sport. At the elementary and middle school level, boys would sometimes refuse to wrestle her, which one can understand…sort of. There is no upside for a middle school boy when it comes to wrestling a girl. He’s either going to get beat or he’s going to experience an unsatisfying win over a perceived lesser opponent.

    But she wasn’t a lesser opponent. More often than not, she won her matches against boys, but all that changed when she entered high school. After reading about her experiences, in her own words, I was amazed that a 16 year-old young woman could mention “puberty” and “testosterone” in the same article in such a matter of fact manner… and seemingly not blush.

    In high school, boys matured into much stronger versions of their former selves and weren’t about to cut her any slack. She lost often, so much so, she considered quitting…that is until the Wyoming High School Athletic Association sanctioned girls wrestling. Since then, she has won every match, earning a state championship as a sophomore in 2023. She is on track to do the same thing this year.

    Her accomplishments would never have been possible without the unconditional support of her parents who are allowing her to forge her own path in life with all the inevitable triumphs and setbacks that foster growth and confidence on her way to adulthood. She no doubt will persevere through all the future adversity that inevitably will be coming her way, while at the same time she will graciously accept any accolades she earns.

    I admire her and her parents.

    Just like I admire another young lady from Encampment, who at the age of nine, decided she didn’t want to learn how to play the piano anymore, and asked her piano teacher, who was also an accomplished seamstress, if she would teach her how to sew. 

    Of course she would, and over the past seven years the young lady, with her instructor’s guidance, has improved her skills, winning multiple competitive awards along the way, specifically as she works with wool. In 2022, she entered into the Make It With Wool competition at the state level, where she won first place, earning her an opportunity to compete at the national competition, where she placed in the top ten with a stunning green wool coat, which was also complemented with an equally impressive dress.

    This girl is not just a one trick pony. She maintains good grades in school, works two jobs, and participates in the town play as part of a local drama club. And again, her parents have completely supported her decisions and are understandably proud. Said her father, “I was worried about her for a while there, whether she was going to be able to do it all. It was a lot, but she did it. I’m so incredibly over-the-top proud of her.”

    And rightfully so, but he and the girl’s mother should also be proud of the way they have raised their daughter to take chances and not follow a predetermined path to adulthood. For those parents who pay attention, they have provided an excellent example of how to raise an independent, risk-taking child, a youngster not afraid to fail, but one that will also remain humble in success.

    These parents have also provided a wonderful display of acceptance and tolerance that are being passed down to their children. Our society could use more parents like that.


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