Editor’s note: This post was written by “Stat Rat” Jim Craig, formerly of Lusk and now of Cheyenne, who has provided significant help to the research on Wyoming sports history.
[Researching as a go-fer for Patrick Schmiedt is a pastime this retired teacher/coach truly enjoys. It’s fun to occasionally turn up useful nuggets for inclusion in several of his ongoing projects, be it the exhaustive wyoming-football.com, a developing wyoming-basketball.com, or his newest addition to Wyoming prep sports canon, champlists.com. Take a moment sometime online to eyeball all that he has amassed and gathered, a truly amazing compendium of Wyoming prep sports data and information.]
When it came time to accumulate state tourney results for volleyball, we knew it’d be problematic to find accurate accounts from the early years. Volleyball received short shrift via the media in its initial decade — the 1970s — as volleyball’s seasonal counterpart, prep football, dominated the sports writing of that time. An account of the first state volleyball tourney in the Casper Star-Tribune merited just five sentences in all, and that was the state champions’ home newspaper. That’s too bad, because that initial culminating event had all the elements of a classic, one that has yet to be duplicated to this day.
First and foremost, the 1971 gathering was open to all comers, almost. Only the Big Horn Basin teams had qualifying events, but from the other three corners of the state ANY team could enter. Eventually 34 teams were bracketed into a single-elimination contest. Lacking a venue like the Ford Wyoming Center, four gymnasiums were used: Natrona County and Kelly Walsh high schools and Dean Morgan and East junior highs. Secondly, it was a one-day — Saturday, Nov. 13, 1971 — event: win to advance, lose to end the day. Finally, there were NO classifications: Little, big and medium-sized schools were all included in the SAME bracket.
Of the 31 — out of 34 — teams we’ve been able to identify, two were Class 1A, 14 were Class 2A, six were Class 3A, and nine were Class 4A (although back then they were classed C, B, A and AA). First-round upsets of 4A schools thinned the competition quickly. Little Burlington bounced Natrona from further action and Sundance did likewise to Cheyenne Central. Pre-tourney favorite Cheyenne East was eliminated by Wheatland while Buffalo ejected Riverton, Albin sent Rawlins packing, and one of our three unidentified teams ousted Powell. By the round of 16, only three 4A schools remained: Laramie, Cody and Kelly Walsh.
The round of 16 produced a “battle of “Ingtons” — sadly, Arlington, Wyoming, has no high school — and 1A Burlington and 3A Torrington squared off for bragging rights, certainly a rarity as the two schools are neither close in geography nor in school demographics. The small-school Huskies defeated the Trailblazerettes — it took awhile for the “ettes” diminutive suffix to thankfully exit the sports vernacular — to enter the quarterfinals. Of the seven quarterfinalists we know, 4A, 3A, and 2A each had two representatives along with 1A Burlington.
The semifinals found 2A Mountain View versus 4A Kelly Walsh while 2A Upton faced 3A Douglas. Mountain View had a heck of a run to the semis, defeating 3A Lusk, 4A Cody and 4A Laramie, but Kelly Walsh took the semifinal W by scores of 15-11 and 15-4. Douglas had similar luck with Upton, winning 15-12, 15-2. At the end of a long day, Kelly Walsh needed three sets to defeat Douglas by scores of 13-15, 15-10 and 15-11 to win the first state volleyball championship, claiming a bit of glory for all of the state’s largest schools.
Officials were pleased with the tourney but disappointed in the turnout, probably explained partially by its four competition sites. Tickets were $1 for adults, 50 cents for students. Nowadays, 32 teams still gather in Casper for a bacchanalia of bumps, sets and spikes. Four champions are crowned, one for each classification. Still, one exits today’s tourney wondering how the teams — in particular the champions — would fare against one another. That initial 1971 tourney provided answers to such questions.
Today, June 23, marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX. Events like the ’71 state championship show that in some areas, Wyoming was ahead of the curve, at least by a few months for volleyball in this case. However, by late 1971 the WHSAA had held championships for girls’ teams in alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, golf, swimming, tennis and track for several years. Cross country and basketball would follow in the 1975-76 school year, within the compliance time allowed by Title IX. Wyomingites by nature are loath to accept most any edict from the federal government, but Title IX is definitely an exception. The playing field was leveled for an excluded half of the population. Those that participated in the first volleyball state tourney — women now in their 60s — are true pioneers.