The preservation of Wyoming’s high school football history didn’t happen on a whim. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide this Web site would become a life-long project. But maybe I was born that way.
Some of my earliest memories are of autumn days at the Sundance Kids Day Care Center, which was just a stone’s throw from the school’s football field. Perhaps once or twice a week in September or October, there would be a football game going on down at that field. And when that happened, my feet always seemed to take me to the corner of our playground closest to the field. There, I’d struggle to get a better view of the field and answer the questions I couldn’t — Who was playing? Are those green uniforms? Is it Moorcroft? What’s the score? How much time is left? Who’s winning?
Of course, I also watched more than a fair share of games from those stands in Sundance, but it’s not those memories I keep. It’s the ones in that southeast corner of the playground at daycare.
Between first and second grade, my family moved to Yuma, Arizona, and my dad landed a job on the chain gang at Cibola High School. I was allowed to tag along as long as I observed two rules — stay out of the way of the chain gang and stay out of the way of the players. Looking back, I’m positive that time on the sidelines helped increase my love for football. And it wasn’t just the game. It was the band, the crowd, the smell of an Arizona evening, the chance that my feet might end up on the Friday night television highlights.
The weird part of it was that I didn’t spend my time playing in the “little kids’ game” north of the field like my friends did (you know, the same game that develops at every high school game, as younger brothers emulate their heroic older siblings by playing two-hand touch and 5-Mississippi. Maybe I didn’t play because I didn’t have an older brother to emulate…. but that’s another topic). Instead, I spent my time watching the game. Watching how a chain gang worked; how officials covered certain parts of the field; how the game ebbed and flowed with the actions of the players, the crowds or the band. It was not the playing I loved. It was the observing.
We moved back to Wyoming before my sixth-grade year, this time to Midwest. As a sixth-grader, I was eligible to play junior high football for the Midwest Pumpers — my first organized football. But the Pumpers were not a powerhouse. Actually, we were a pushover. We could barely put a team together. My first year, we had 11 players, and we played 11-man football.
Losing makes you an old soul before your time. In an 11-year-old’s mind, there is nothing as frustrating or disappointing as your team forfeiting a game because you twisted your ankle, and there was not a substitute on the bench to come in and replace you. You carry that with you for the rest of your life.
There is a flipside, though, and I learned it the next year. The Pumpers — now with a roster pushing 20 — faced East Junior High from Casper in the second-to-last game of the season. The game was 12-12 at the end of regulation, and in overtime I snagged the winning touchdown pass. The highest of highs is a moment like that, when all the sacrifice in the world is worth it for the one play where you get to be the hero. You carry that with you, too, for the rest of your life.
I continued playing football throughout high school, even earning all-conference as a senior. Of course, this was Midwest, and an extreme amount of athletic ability wasn’t necessary to be one of the 11 players on the field. The longer I played for the Oilers, though, the more I realized that I knew little to nothing about my school’s football history. No one else did, either (or, if they did, they certainly weren’t sharing with anyone else). It was sad.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Midwest is one of those places where, except for in a few isolated cases, the generations don’t carry through. There aren’t last names you associate with Midwest like you do with other communities in the state.
So I started looking up the history for myself (the result of that is here). And it was rich with fascinating stories.
The first lighted high school football game in the nation was played in Midwest in 1925. The school canceled football for two years in the early 1930s after a player named Benjamin Gallus died during a game against Casper. There was the game played in 1937 against Casper in which the winner was awarded a football signed by then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt (Midwest lost). There were great teams of the late-1940s and the state championships of 1979 and 1991.
That research struck a chord in me. Surely, if Midwest’s history is this rich, other schools must have similar stories in their past, similar triumph and tragedy, similar oddities and memorable moments. And if somebody ever had the time, it would be so much fun to learn about it all. The bug was permanently planted in my brain. …
Fast-forward to the final semester of my senior year in college. I only needed seven credits to graduate, but I had to take 12 to remain a full-time student and keep my scholarships. I knew this well in advance of my senior year, and that old bug I’d planted four years earlier finally had an outlet. Rather than take some useless course that would only hold my interest because of its necessity for me to graduate, I decided to do exactly what I thought somebody really needed to do — research Wyoming’s deep history of high school football. With the approval of my advisor, I set out on a plan to research Wyoming’s high school football history for 15 hours a week (for class credit!). I spent Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the basement of Coe Library, flipping through old microfilm and doing the work that eventually would become this Web site.
What a blast! In addition to all the raw data I compiled, all sorts of cool stories began to pop up, stories I had never heard growing up. Like how the state didn’t have championship games in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Or the fact that Glendo, Bow-Basin and St. Stephens all had thriving football programs at one time. Or how the “Big Six” once dominated Wyoming’s football landscape.
These stories, our history, have been all to easily sluffed aside for too long. Wyoming’s football history is incredibly rich and diverse, and nothing — no teams, no players, no games — deserve to be forgotten. And I guess that’s what motivates me now. Too much of our focus is put on the present and not nearly enough is on the past. Our history should earn our attention and respect — even if it’s something as simple as a football game.