If you’ve ever ridden an elevator with college basketball players, you probably noticed that in general, they’re taller than the average Joe. It doesn’t matter if it’s a men’s or a women’s team, tall people congregate toward the sport.
Announcers will often say it’s a big man’s game, which in most cases it is. With a rim set at 10 feet, the closer the top of your head is to the hoop, the easier the game becomes, at least in theory.
That theory doesn’t extend to the coaching ranks quite as well. Successful coaches come in all shapes and sizes, and particularly, all heights, but sometimes the height is noticeable.
Fremont County has arguably the tallest varsity basketball coaches in Wyoming, and many would venture in the entire nation.
They’re not recruited and hired for their height as coaches, but many once were as players. If you were to peruse the benches across Fremont County you’d find six head or assistant coaches standing 6-4 or taller, and one at 5-2 who is the state’s leader in total wins.
Depending on your reference source, the average American man is between 5-7 and 5-9. The seven to nine-inch jump for a 6-4 coach above the average height is substantial, but in Fremont County, a 6-4 coach is on the small side of the ledger.
Starting at the top, so to speak, with Shoshoni boy’s mentor Jonathan Wakelin we find a successful young coach who played for the Lovell Bulldogs at 7-1. Wakelin went on to play at Northwest Community College, then served as an assistant coach at the University of Wyoming before heading east to coach at Division II Notre Dame of Ohio and Fairmont State while earning his master’s degree in special education.
Kyle Miller is a local legend, the big man from the “High Country” for the Dubois Rams. After an outstanding high school career at Dubois, Miller at 6-9, was recruited by the University of Montana Great Falls, the school is now known as the University of Providence, Great Falls. After his playing days in the Big Sky State, Miller returned home to Dubois to operate the family honey business and has been the Rams’ head coach since 2016. The Rams were runner-up in Class 1-A a season ago after tying the school record for most wins in a season at 22.
A pair of brothers, both outstanding high school players, who later played at the next level are the most successful siblings in any sport in the Cowboy State. Craig Ferris took over for legendary head coach Alfred Redman in 2006 and his younger brother Michael Hiwalker has been on the bench with him since the first practice of his 17-year tenure. Along the way, the duo has garnered six Class 2-A state championships, and one runner-up finish.
Ferris, at 6-6 is the most successful big man in Wyoming Indian history, going on to play at Casper College and later at New Mexico Highlands.
Hiwalker, a 6-4 guard/forward with great 3-point range was also a Thunderbird at Casper College.
Shoshoni head girl’s coach Max Mills wasn’t a college basketball player, but a quarterback at Newcastle High School and later Dakota State University where he started three games before suffering a career-ending shoulder injury. At 6-4, Mills is one of the tallest girl’s coaches in the state as well as among the athletic directors. He is also a science teacher at Shoshoni High School.
Long-time assistant Mike Jenkins was a big man in his day at 6-4 and worked with St. Stephen’s boys’ head coach Ricky Blackburn for many seasons. A shakeup this year sent Blackburn to the head girls’ position while Jenkins moved into first chair with the Eagle boys.
All these tall coaches in one little corner of the state, all with success, high skills as players, and now even more developed as coaches.
But to a man, they don’t have the record of the shortest coach in the county in stature, and possibly the entire state in Wyoming Indian head girls coach Aleta Moss.
Moss is the winningest active coach in all of Wyoming with a record of 646 wins against just 232 losses in her 34 years as the leader of the Lady Chiefs.
Moss was an outstanding player in high school and played two years at Central Wyoming College under head coach Fran Buckless before earning her health and physical education degree and taking the teaching and coaching position she now holds at Wyoming Indian.
Moss has led the Lady Chiefs to five state championships, four second-place trophies and brought home hardware from the state tournament in 16 of her team’s 29 appearances.
She coached the girls to a “Three-peat” and led the team to five consecutive championship games from 2017 to 2021.
At 5-2, she isn’t nearly as easy to spot as the taller boy’s coaches, and in a timeout, she often disappears from view behind her girls, but her record is the tallest in all of Wyoming.