Before we dive headlong into the 2020s and prepare for another decade of Wyoming high school football, here’s a quick glance back at the eight things that I think made football in the 2010s particularly memorable. In no particular order, they are:
1. Six new programs start football: From 2010 to 2019, six new programs entered the fray — five new programs in Cheyenne South, Thunder Basin, St. Stephens, Encampment and Rock River and one new co-op with Upton-Sundance. The start-up programs had mixed success levels, with Thunder Basin’s trip to the 4A title game in 2019 the best of the bunch, but Upton-Sundance’s co-op has been a consistent contender and won the 1A 11-man championship in 2015. Encampment revived its program in 2019 and played a hodgepodge of schools at six-man; the Tigers will make the jump to varsity in 2020. Meanwhile, Cheyenne South has just one playoff berth since 2011; St. Stephens has yet to make the postseason; and Rock River only completed three seasons at the varsity level before folding the program, apparently for good.
2. Nine-man football returns to Wyoming: In April of this year, the Wyoming High School Activities Association approved a nine-man football division for Class 1A, with the first season scheduled for 2020. The state will remain with five classifications, as 1A 11-man changes to 1A nine-man. The decision prompted some tough choices, and after the dust settled, 16 schools were in Class 2A, 14 in 1A nine-man and 13 in 1A six-man.
3. Six-man sees big growth: When six-man football was re-introduced in 2009, no one was quite sure how long it would last, or if it would last at all. With only eight teams in the first two seasons in 2009 and 2010, those concerns were justified. However, six-man proved a steady, solid choice for many small schools, and the classification eventually grew to as many as 16 teams as new programs started and other small schools made the choice to play the 80×40 version of the game. Also, the Six-Man Shootout between Nebraska and Wyoming all-stars started in 2012, a nice boost to the game for both states.
4. Class 4A’s Big Four sustain dominant status: From 2010-15, the same four programs (Cheyenne East, Gillette, Natrona and Sheridan) reached the Class 4A semifinals, an unprecedented run of success. Although Rock Springs, Kelly Walsh and Cheyenne Central (and eventually Thunder Basin, which usurped Gillette’s role in the Big Four) all made their way into the 4A semifinals once this decade, it wasn’t enough. Sheridan had the most success of the Big Four, winning five 4A championships in the decade to improve their state-best overall mark to 27 championships, while Natrona won four and East one.
5. Laramie claims role of title-game host: Yes, Laramie and the University of Wyoming hosted the title games for the first time in 2009, but in the 2010s, the city and university gained a much stronger hold on the championships. In case you don’t remember, the decision to move the title games was divisive. However, over the course of this decade, the War has become the spot for title games — an experience like none other for Wyoming’s high school players fortunate enough to make it there.
6. Kaycee and Powell make runs at a record: In winning three consecutive Class 3A championships in 2011-13, Powell won 27 consecutive games — within spitting distance of the state record for consecutive victories, Laramie’s 34 set from 1959-63. That march stopped early in the 2014 season; however, Kaycee came even closer, winning 30 straight games from 2015-17 while notching three consecutive Class 1A six-man titles.
7. Lincoln County dynasties keep rolling: Three programs in the 2010s — Sheridan, Star Valley and Cokeville — won four championships in the span of five years. The last two just happen to hang out in Lincoln County together, where football dynasties continue to flourish. The 3A Braves won titles in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019, while the 1A Panthers won theirs in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014. Together, they’ve combined for 34 titles (22 for Cokeville, 12 for Star Valley).
8. Multiple dynasties stake their claims: In all, 24 programs won state titles in the 2010s, down slightly from the 26 in the 2000s and the 25 in the 19990s who won it all. In addition to the programs already mentioned (Sheridan, Natrona, Star Valley, Powell, Cokeville and Kaycee), five other programs won at least two state championships. Big Horn won four state titles, Mountain View and Snake River won three apiece and Cody and Pine Bluffs each won a pair.
What was your biggest takeaway from the past 10 years of football in the Equality State? Leave a comment and let’s talk about the ways.