Even in 2009, we knew the 2009 season represented an important turning point for Wyoming high school football.
The introduction of six-man football created seismic changes, and not only for Wyoming’s small schools. The ripples of six-man were felt throughout the state; as six-man came, so did reclassification, which gave us the 4A round-robin schedule, the massive conferences in other classifications and the schedules we continue to see today. (Let’s not forget that 2009 was the first year of the state championship games’ move to Laramie. But that’s a conversation for another time.)
But what if the addition of six-man had been voted down by the Wyoming High School Activities Association? What if Wyoming had remained an 11-man-only state?
The hypothetical ramifications are numerous.
No Patriots: You don’t see an Upton-Sundance co-op. With the enrollment cutoffs at where they would hypothetically be in 2014, the Upton-Sundance co-op would probably be ineligible for the 2A playoffs and would have to play in Class 3A. It’s more likely with that alternative that they’d stay split — and it’s possible that one or the other, or both, could forfeit a season due to low numbers.
No seasons: Hulett, Guernsey, Midwest and Dubois could also potentially forfeit seasons; each one of those four schools has fought numbers problems the past six seasons. Hulett actually did this while still in 11-man in 2010 before moving to six-man in 2011, and Guernsey’s six-man championship run in 2009 was completed with a roster of just 11 players. Actually, Hulett and Dubois in particular might have to end up dropping the sport entirely.
No future: Ten Sleep and Meeteetse found temporary refuge in Montana, as did a couple of Idaho schools. However, when Wyoming formed its six-man league, Montana reorganized its six-man play to include only Montana teams. Whether Montana would have done the same without Wyoming’s shifts in 2009 is uncertain; either way, Meeteetse and Ten Sleep wouldn’t be playing in any Wyoming leagues right now if not for six-man’s introduction in 2009.
No teams: Snake River, Farson, Kaycee, St. Stephens, Rock River? Those five programs never see the field without six-man.
The look in 2014, minus six-man: The addition of Cheyenne South in 2011 does create some shifts, most notably bumping Riverton to 3A and Wheatland to 2A. Otherwise, most conferences remain fairly close to their 2008 statuses, with only minor juggling to adjust for enrollment changes.
With 58 football schools (instead of the 64, including 51 11-man and 13 six-man schools), all playing 11-man, the WHSAA has an easier time making a schedule that fits school needs. Of course, that assumes no schools will forfeit seasons or drop the sport….
Last, if all the shifting that happened in 2009 doesn’t happen, Wyoming might have stay with the alignments it had in 2008: with 11 schools in 5A and 4A; 12 in 3A and 2A and the rest in 1A. (Remember, in 2008, Wyoming Indian was opting down from 3A to 1A.)
Here’s what I think would be the current conferences without six-man:
Class 5A North: Gillette, Natrona, Kelly Walsh, Sheridan, Cheyenne South
Class 5A South: Rock Springs, Cheyenne East, Cheyenne Central, Laramie, Evanston, Green River
Class 4A East: Riverton, Douglas, Rawlins, Torrington, Buffalo
Class 4A West: Star Valley, Jackson, Cody, Powell, Worland, Lander
Class 3A East: Wheatland, Burns, Newcastle, Glenrock, Lovell, Greybull
Class 3A West: Pinedale, Mountain View, Lyman, Big Piney, Kemmerer, Thermopolis
Class 2A East: Wright, Moorcroft, Lusk, Pine Bluffs, Sundance, Southeast
Class 2A West: Big Horn, Tongue River, Wyoming Indian, Wind River, Rocky Mountain, Shoshoni
Class 1A East: Upton, Lingle, Guernsey, NSI, Midwest, Hulett
Class 1A West: Saratoga, Riverside, Burlington, Cokeville, Hanna, Dubois
Football survives, and thrives, in Wyoming without six-man. Football expands, and diversifies, in Wyoming with six-man.
One of those two options sounds better to me.