#Lookback: Fremont County’s First State Basketball Championship

    Among the six Fremont County high schools there have been 33 state boys basketball championship teams since the first games were played over a century ago.

    Wyoming Indian leads the county with 13 titles and Shoshoni is second with seven.

    The first team to take home the trophy with the net on it came with the 20-2, 1953 Shoshoni Wranglers.

    Shoshoni played a wide-open schedule that season as part of the always-tough Big Horn Basin.

    The Big Horn Basin with teams in Hot Springs, Big Horn, and Park Counties has the most state titles of any region with a combined 57 championships. A key to Shoshoni winning the title came in playing very competitive teams during the regular season.

    In 1953, Shoshoni was still feeling the benefit of the huge Boysen Dam project and the town was booming with restaurants, stores, a drive-in movie theater, a bowling alley, and a traditional movie theater.

    Shoshoni 1951 – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    Towns like Riverton, Worland, and Lander weren’t that much larger than Shoshoni, and though the Wranglers played Class B basketball, the equivalent of the modern Class 2-A, the other schools played in Class A.

    The Wranglers opened the season with eventual Class A state champion Worland in tournament play at Basin. Basin and Greybull were also Class A teams in those days. Shoshoni head coach Jack Heron refused to tell his players who their opening tournament opponent was and for a good reason.

    The Wranglers beat the Warriors in double-overtime, then cruised to the tournament title.

    “We traveled by car in those days,” senior Bill Thoren, an all-state player on the team said. “We had three in the front, three in the back with one guy driving. We only took 10 players to away games.”

    Big Horn Basin Champion Shoshoni Wranglers – h/t Bill Thoren

    The Wranglers traveled all over the west and northwest regions of the state. They picked up wins over Riverton and Lander as well.

    “Lander had a Native guy that would dribble down the right side of the floor and hit a hook shot every time he got in range,” Thoren said. “Whenever he touched the basketball, something good happened for them.”

    That was legendary Lander Tiger Hubert Friday, who as a senior outscored the Riverton team at Lander by himself 54 to 53.

    The schedule that season was dotted with well-known teams to Fremont County fans, but also a few schools that don’t exist anymore. The Wranglers played a tough Cowley team in Big Horn County in the legendary log barn that was the Jaguars’ gymnasium.

    They also played Burlington, Thermopolis, Byron, Deaver, Basin, Greybull, Manderson, and Ten Sleep. The Ten Sleep Pioneers were the only team in the Basin to beat Shoshoni that season.

    The Green and Gold Morton Broncs – h/t 1953 Big Horn Basin Tournament

    Their other loss came against Glenrock.

    Locally the Wranglers swept Morton and Pavillion, the forerunners of the considated Wind River Cougars.

    Shoshoni had been to the state championship game once before, in 1947 under future Riverton head coach Bob Porter, but were beaten handily by Ten Sleep 37-12. In 1948, Porter led them to a third-place finish with a 42-38 win over LaGrange.

    The Pavillion Panthers before they became the Wind River Cougars – h/t 1953 Big Horn Basin Tournament

    The 1952-53 Shoshoni team was huge by the standards of the day, with four players over six feet. Team members were Dode Coats, Norman Adams, Ike Wolf, Rupert Brockman, Bert Slafter, Doug Todd, John Fredericks, Dale Neal, Hubert Brockman, John Longfellow and Thoren. Bud Kaiser was the team manager.

    Driving the cars for the team were Bud Currah, a local businessman, and a US Navy veteran from the Pacific Theater in World War 11, and Wayne Wallage.

    The gyms in the 1950s weren’t the palatial structures they are today, many of them lived up to the term “crackerbox.”

    “Cowley was a challenge because the log rafters were low,” Thoren said. “You couldn’t have any arch on your shot.”

    Riverton’s gym wasn’t much better.

    “The seats at Riverton came all the way up to the floor,” Thoren said. “Lander had a good gym and they were the dominant team in the county. The Ten Sleep gym was very small.”

    Downtown Lovell 1950s – Big Horn County Museum

    Overnight trips with stays in motel rooms were common in the 1950s and remained so until the end of the 20th century. When the Wranglers played up north against Byron, Cowley, or Deaver they stayed in Lovell.

    In 1952, the Hyart Theatre, a landmark in Lovell was brand new and arguably the best theatre in all of Wyoming.

    “The Hyart had just opened up,” Thoren said. “We went for a movie in the afternoon before we played.”

    Shoshoni played in what was called the “old gym” before the original school was demolished. It had a stage on one end and folding chairs down the side until vocational agriculture arrived in 1949.

    “Harry Reed was the ag teacher,” Thoren said. “Ag students built the bleachers in shop class.”

    The new bleachers narrowed the floor a bit but provided three rows of seats, where only one was available before.

    Shoshoni won the district tournament at Greybull, taking the top seed at the state tournament the following weekend in Powell.

    Awards for players in the 1953 District Tournament at Greybull – h/t 1953 Big Horn Basin Tournament

    They opened with a win over Deaver, then beat Byron for the district championship.

    The state tournament had been at the University of Wyoming, but Northwest College just built a new gym, and the state tournament was moved to Powell.

    The officials for the 1953 Class A & B District Tournament – h/t 1953 Big Horn Basin Tournament

    After riding in cars all season to away games, the Wranglers were surprised when boosters hired a bus to take them from their motel in Cody to the tournament site.

    “Someone in Riverton had a travel bus, and our fans rented it for us,” Thoren said.

    The Wranglers opened state tournament play against the Hanna. They edged the Miners 44-40. In the semi-finals, they faced one of the legendary small schools of Wyoming in the Huntley Cardinals. They beat Huntley 50-46 with Bert Slafter scoring 15, Rupert Brockman 13, and Thoren 11.

    It set up a championship game with Jackson Hole.

    It might seem strange today for a small town like Shoshoni to play the Las Vegas of Wyoming in Jackson, but until the late 1970s, Jackson was just another cow town before tourism blew it up.

    Solon Coats brother of Shoshoni player Dode Coats – h/t 1953 Big Horn Basin Tournament

    The title game opened with a fast-paced 22-18 first-period score. Sportswriters of the day predicated a game in triple digits, but both teams cooled off.

    Shoshoni held a 39-35 lead at the end of the third period, but the Wranglers bolted to a runaway title, outscoring the Broncs 17-9 in the final period for a  56-44 championship.

    Thoren, Slafter, and Brockman all earned all-state honors.

    The memory of this first title hangs on the wall of the new Shoshoni gym with three state football titles, a boys’ track championship, two girls’ track titles, and the 1983 Class B girls basketball championship.

    Shoshoni’s first state championship team – h/t 1953 Big Horn Basin Tournament

    Shosoni went on to win the title again in 1954, then pulled off a “three-pete” with championships in 1962, 63, and 64, another in 1967, and their last one in 1988.

    1953 State Championship Game – Northwest College, Powell


    JACKSON     44

    Shoshon – Bill Thoren 7, Hubert Brockmant 12, John Fredericks 5, Rupert Brockman 9, Bert Slafter 12, Dode Coats 5 – 56

    Jackson – Gillette 20, Timmermeyer 13, Rock 5, Rock 2, Hoffman 3, Wilson 1 – 44

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