Today, when we think about successful six-man football programs in Wyoming, we don’t think about Glenrock or Big Horn.
Yet, if we had asked the same question in 1941, the top two teams that would immediately come up would be the Herders and Rams.
These two programs renew their rivalry on Friday in Glenrock, with the Herders ranked first and the Rams second in my Class 2A rankings. They’re both perennial contenders for the 2A championship, and as 2A East Conference rivals since 2009, they’ve developed a healthy, competitive, high-stakes rivalry.
Key games between them, though, didn’t start in 2009. In fact, their first game against each other ended up being one of the most important games in state history.
On Nov. 20, 1941, Glenrock beat Big Horn 22-20 in the state’s first regional six-man playoff game — and its last meaningful six-man game for several years.
Much like most six-man programs of the era, both programs were taking baby steps into that playoff. The Big Horn program was in only its third year, having started football in the fall of 1939. Glenrock, meanwhile, had started its program in 1923 but had gone through extended periods without a team; the 1941 season was just the Herders’ ninth and, like Big Horn, was just its third season since starting back up in 1939.
However, Big Horn was a fast study and won the Northeast district six-man crown in 1941, while Glenrock picked up on the game just as fast and won the Southeast district. The two teams met in Sheridan, neither knowing what to expect; what they got was more than 1,000 fans to show up at Central Field to watch the two teams fight it out for the regional title. The Herders won in a thriller.
Less than three weeks later, America was jumping headlong into World War II, and smaller programs struggled to continue during the war years. Big Horn didn’t have a team from 1944-47; Glenrock skipped the entire 1942 season. When statewide playoffs came back to Wyoming in 1948, though, there was a six-man division — thanks in big part to the success of the Big Horn-Glenrock regional playoff back in 1941.
Six-man, eight-man and nine-man have come and gone in waves in Wyoming. Big Horn and Glenrock haven’t. They’ve consistently been among Wyoming’s best teams, with Glenrock sporting a .613 winning percentage and Big Horn a .593 entering the season.
Oh by the way, they’re both undefeated this year.
When they take the field tonight in Glenrock, keep in mind the influence of this rivalry goes way beyond the two teams involved.
Week 5 is also a huge rivalry week in Class 4A, as the Energy Bowl between Gillette and Sheridan, the Oil Bowl between Natrona and Kelly Walsh and the Capital Bowl between Cheyenne East and Cheyenne Central will all be played.
It’s an interesting dynamic in Cheyenne, where both East and Central have already lost to 2016 Cheyenne city champion South. The Capital Bowl isn’t what it used to be, not only this year but every year from here on out, thanks to South’s entry.
That old feeling may also be dying in northeastern Wyoming, where Friday’s Energy Bowl may be the last one to feel like an Energy Bowl. With Thunder Basin High School set to open in Gillette in 2017, the rivalry between the Camels and the Broncs can’t help but be diminished, if even slightly, by the new rivalry brewing between cross-town rivals in Gillette.
Oh, sure, the Energy Bowl will always be important. The Camels and Broncs will always have a special place in each other’s hearts. But it won’t be THE game like it is today, and I’m sad to see that dynamic disappear.
One parallel we can draw is in the Laramie-Cheyenne Central rivalry, once the king of Wyoming rivalries. The addition of East, and eventually South, in Cheyenne changed the dynamics of the rivalry between the Plainsmen and Indians. Laramie may say Central is its biggest rival; Central, thanks to almost 60 years staging off against in-city rival East, may not say the same in return.
That said, this year’s Energy Bowl — a rematch of last year’s 4A title game — promises to be plenty special, with the top-ranked and undefeated Broncs hosting the once-beaten Camels in a game that has deep playoff implications in addition to the rivalry angle.
That angle may mean less and less in years to come.
And that’s why the stands at Homer Scott Field should be full on Friday. Even if you have no rooting interest, this may be your last chance to see this rivalry in all its splendor, as everything it can be.
Other games I’m watching closely this week: The Cheyenne South-Laramie game is interesting: South won its first three, but comes in having lost two in a row, while Laramie lost its first three, but comes in having won two in a row. … Likewise, the Oil Bowl between Natrona and Kelly Walsh pits a couple teams that could be really good, or really bad, or kind of average, maybe. Perhaps the real identities of these Mustangs and Trojans simply need a rivalry game to show themselves. … When the schedule came out in November, Douglas at Torrington figured to be the biggest 3A East game of the year. Nothing I’ve seen since then makes me think any differently. … The Worland-Cody game will be a heck of a litmus test for the upstart Warriors — and a heck of a challenge for the already-in-season-saving-mode Broncs. … Rivalries aren’t just a 4A thing this week: Big Piney and Pinedale will face off in their annual Sublette County showdown, too. … Wheatland at Newcastle could be the best game of the week; both teams need to keep pace with Big Horn and Glenrock, but only one can. … Kaycee and Guernsey-Sunrise are the only two teams left undefeated in 1A six-man East play. The winner maintains its own playoff destiny. … It’s nice to see the Burlington-Meeteetse game back on the schedule, especially when both teams appear to be on their game.
Picks. Bold = winner.
Cheyenne East at Cheyenne Central
Cheyenne South at Laramie
Gillette at Sheridan
Natrona at Kelly Walsh
Rock Springs at Evanston
Douglas at Torrington
Jackson at Green River
Lander at Buffalo
Riverton at Rawlins
Star Valley at Powell
Worland at Cody
Big Horn at Glenrock
Big Piney at Pinedale
Burns at Thermopolis
Lyman at Greybull
Moorcroft at Lovell
Mountain View at Kemmerer
Wheatland at Newcastle
Class 1A 11-man
Cokeville at Wyoming Indian
Lusk at Tongue River
Shoshoni at Saratoga
Southeast at Upton-Sundance
Wind River at Rocky Mountain
Wright at Pine Bluffs
Class 1A six-man
Burlington at Meeteetse
Hanna at Lingle
Kaycee at Guernsey-Sunrise
Rock River at Midwest (at Natrona County HS, Casper)
St. Stephens at Riverside
Class 1A six-man
Farson at Dubois
Hulett at Normative Services
Ten Sleep at Snake River
My picks last week: Above average for the season, below the mark of 100 percent I shoot for every week.
Last week: 26-6 (81 percent). This season: 112-29 (79 percent).
Week 5 is going to be fun this season. With so many key games and rivalries being played this week, it can’t help but set the course for several teams whose fates remain in question. So who do you think is going to rise to the occasion this week? Leave a comment and we can talk about it….