My obsession with Wyoming high school football scoreboards began a few weeks ago when I caught a livestream of a Worland football game.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Worland’s scoreboard is on a unique position on its field, nearly behind the visiting bench. Here’s a screenshot from the NFHS Network broadcast of Worland’s game with Green River a couple weeks ago:
I had never seen a placement like that before. I thought about it and realized the scoreboard placement could actually be an advantage to the Worland team and coaches, who can do a quick glance up to the scoreboard to see what’s going on, while the road team coaches have to turn their heads all the way around to see the score and time.
I know, I know, I know… small, small, small advantage, likely one that isn’t going to affect a single outcome of any game. I don’t know of any Wyoming high school football coaches with neck impairments — or, if any do, any who aren’t smart enough to hire an assistant without one. (And the press box usually houses coaches from both schools, further negating my theory.) For the players, it’s absolutely no advantage whatsoever.
But it got me wondering about scoreboard placements in Wyoming high school football stadiums. How unique was Worland’s? How unique is anyone’s?
So, I did what I usually do with my free time: I got on Google Maps. Then I started tracing — drawing lines on a computer screen to match the lines of the scoreboards on the map.
This is what I came up with:
Keep in mind here that I used Google Maps, which is often a couple years behind, so any scoreboards put up in the past year or two aren’t accounted for here (looking at you, Natrona and Rock Springs). For a few stadiums where I couldn’t determine from Google Maps where the scoreboards were, I looked at photos online to try to pinpoint my best estimate.
And as it turns out, Worland was — as I had anticipated — a pretty severe outlier, one of only two scoreboards in what I’d call the “chaotic evil” of scoreboard placements.
In Wyoming, the placement of the scoreboards around fields statewide fall into six distinct categories.
Working counter-clockwise from the home stands, they are:
1. Straight on, right side: Cokeville, Kaycee, Burns, Natrona, Glenrock, Kemmerer, Jackson, Thermopolis, Cody, Saratoga, Torrington, Upton, Evanston, Cheyenne East, Laramie, Lusk, Thunder Basin, Star Valley, Lander, Rawlins, Campbell County, Lovell, Sheridan, NSI, St. Stephens, Kelly Walsh, Wyoming Indian.
Of these, NSI, St. Stephens, Kelly Walsh and Wyoming Indian have scoreboard alignments that appear to be slightly angled to the home side, but not all that severely. Cokeville and Kaycee have scoreboards that are much closer to the home bench than the road bench, which is less common than the opposite.
2. Home-team benefitted, right side: Riverton, Lyman, Powell, Pinedale, Rocky Mountain, Green River, Burlington, Newcastle, Mountain View, Big Horn, Moorcroft, Snake River, Greybull, Encampment, Midwest, Southeast, Lingle, Riverside.
All of these scoreboards, except Riverside, are closer to the visitor bench than the home bench but angled to face toward the home bench — making it easier for the home team coaches to see the scoreboard than the road team. Riverside varies by being closer to the visitor bench but still perpendicular to the field.
3. VERY home-team benefitted, right side: Hulett, Worland.
4. Home-team benefitted, left side: Cheyenne Central, Wind River, Tongue River, Farson, Rock Springs.
5. Straight on, left side: Hanna, Pine Bluffs, Buffalo, Meeteetse, Cheyenne South, Douglas, Sundance, Big Piney, Wheatland, Shoshoni, Wright, Guernsey-Sunrise.
Hanna and Pine Bluffs, like Riverside, are perpendicular to the field but closer to the visitor bench.
6. Road-team benefitted, left side: Ten Sleep.
Ten Sleep has the only scoreboard in the state that is purposely skewed AGAINST the home team; the Pioneers’ scoreboard is built at almost a 45-degree angle facing the visitor’s bench. Maybe the Pioneers are trying to overcompensate for their Washakie County neighbors in Worland.
As I looked at all the little lines I drew, a pattern I didn’t anticipate when I started became clear fast.
Almost three-quarters of scoreboards are on the right side in relation to the home stands and bench. In all, only 18 of the 65 Wyoming high school football fields (28%) have the scoreboards on the left side from the home bleachers, while 47 (72%) are on the right side from the home bleachers.
For a solid day, I couldn’t figure out why.
And then I had an epiphany: track.
Track straightaways tend to go in front of the “home” stands from left to right. Scoreboards tend to be on the same side as the finish lines.
That blew my mind; I’m 39 years old, and I had never critically thought about why scoreboards are where they are. Of course, scoreboard placement has nothing to do with trying to gain a home-field advantage.
The bigger epiphany: Scoreboards aren’t just about football. Most fields have multiple purposes, including track and often soccer, too. That got me thinking about scoreboard placement in general. Why do we put scoreboards where we do? Why do we put stadiums where we do? Why do we put anything where we do? Why do we do anything?
Then I came back down from my mania, refocused on scoreboards, and thought about who really uses scoreboards the most. Aren’t they really there for the fans? Isn’t that why so many of them are oriented to face the home stands — because that’s where most of the people sit? And… in some cases, like (get this) Worland, all the fans are on one side, because there are no road-side bleachers?
Maybe Worland’s scoreboard placement isn’t as odd, or as sinister, as I thought. Maybe it’s perfect: perfect for the fans, the group of people who will look at it the most. Maybe that should be the goal behind the design of a good stadium — one that creates an enjoyable time, something you want to repeat as often as possible. Maybe Worland’s weird scoreboard shouldn’t be so weird. Maybe it should be a trendsetter.
Maybe I’m reading too much into every single bit of this. If you made it this far, maybe you are, too. But the journey is a fun one, innit?