Editor’s note: This post was written by “Stat Rat” Jim Craig, formerly of Lusk and now of Cheyenne, who has provided significant help to the research on Wyoming sports history.
In amassing and compiling data about Wyoming prep basketball from the early 1930s to the late 1960s, it’s sometimes fun to answer obscure questions. Information for this article centers within the decade of the 1940s and coaching. To wit: Which hoops coaches were the most successful during the 1940s? I’ll be using research from the 1939-40 basketball season up to and including the 1948-49 campaign, 10 seasons total.
This was a tough decade to coach in, made more difficult by the four years that World War II lasted. Coaches, generally being younger men, found themselves to be prime candidates for the military. Many volunteered right after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941 and several Wyoming schools had to scramble to find replacement coaches mid-season. Often, older school superintendents—many were ex-coaches— stepped in as coaches pro tem. The average tenure for a coach at any one school was only 1.75 years for the entire decade. Longest tenures of the decade at any one school totaled eight years by Clarence Birch at Cokeville and Lincoln Gardner at Star Valley. Only three coaches coached every season of the 1940s: Coach Birch (also Encampment), Carl Murphy (Lingle and Riverton) and Charlie Roberts (Burlington, Lovell and Worland).
|Top Ten 1940s Coaching Records by Wins|
|*Okie Blanchard||Central, Natrona||8||187||0.842||1.000||0.875||6|
|Charlie Roberts||Burlington, Lovell, Worland||10||145||0.582||0.600||0.100||1|
|Carl Dir||Manville, Shoshoni, Worland, Rawlins||9||139||0.612||0.333||0.111||0|
|Lincoln Gardner||Star Valley||8||123||0.745||0.500||0.000||0|
|Joe Schwartz||Saratoga, Rawlins, Natrona||6||120||0.722||0.667||0.333||1|
|Chester Christiansen||Lovell, Evanston||6||114||0.713||0.667||0.667||0|
|Silas Lyman||Buffalo, Ranchester||7||109||0.609||0.714||0.000||0|
|William Engstrom||Superior, Rock Springs||6||102||0.618||1.000||0.167||0|
|Clarence Birch||Cokeville, Encampment||10||99||0.569||0.400||0.200||1|
|Archie Conn||Chugwater, Torrington||7||91||0.607||0.714||0.000||0|
|Norman Mikkelson||Superior, Glenrock||6||83||0.61||0.500||0.000||0|
|Walter Dowler||Rock Springs, Central||3||79||0.84||1.000||1.000||2|
|Frank Mathew||Clearmont, Powell||4||73||0.64||0.750||0.000||0|
Q-Factor=percentage of times qualified for the state tourney; Medal=percentage of times finishing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd; *Wyoming Coaches Association Hall of Fame member
The chart above answers most questions about the decade, showing that C. H. ‘Okie’ Blanchard is by far and away the best hoops coach of the 1940s. (The same thing occurs for the 1930s and 1950s by the way, articles for a different day, maybe.) Okie leads in total wins by 42 games, win percentage, qualified all of his teams for the state tourney, medaled (first, second or third) seven of eight times, and won six of 10 big-school state championships. And he spotted two years of the 1940s to his prep hoops coaching brethren by stepping away from prep sports to coach and work at the University of Wyoming.
Best of the rest? Because he only coached three years in the 1940s, Walter Dowler doesn’t make the top 10 win list, but still rings up an impressive total of 79. Coach Dowler succeeded Okie at Rock Springs as head coach and won the 1937-38 state championship—too early to count on this arbitrary time span—won it again for the Tigers in 1940-41 and the next year in Cheyenne in 1941-42. Coach Dowler might’ve won another state title the following year but the Uncle Sam had different plans for him. Coach Blanchard was named his replacement and took the 1942-43 state title. After his stint in the Navy, Dowler turned his energies toward school administration and Okie continued to post a string of championships for the Indians. (Dowler’s lowest 1940s finish was second place in the 1939-40 season to—you might’ve guessed it— Coach Okie’s NCHS Mustangs.)
Three to consider—Byron’s Wilford Mower took home two 1940s state championships, coaching the final four years of that decade. He posted 74 wins, added another state title in 1950 and 111 1950s wins to his Hall of Fame total. Laramie’s Floyd Foreman ended his stellar coaching career in the 1940s with 76 wins in the four years he coached during the decade, qualifying the Plainsmen for tourney play each year and medaling three times. Just missing the top ten was Natrona County’s Darrell Hathaway with 87 wins during a four-year span of the 1940s. His Mustangs qualified each time for the state tourney and medaled twice. That average of over 21 wins a year is enviable.
Halls of Fame are a rather recent phenomena, and Wyoming started theirs in 1984. Have any 1940s coaches been omitted by the Wyoming Coaches Hall of Fame? The biggest stumbling block is the 20-year requirement of coaching with at least 80% of that occurring in Wyoming. As mentioned before, WWII disrupted many coaching careers during this decade and as a result, most fall short of the required two decades. Coaches then coached ALL sports all year long: football in the fall, basketball during the winter and track in the spring. Such investments in time tended to shorten coaching careers. The same can be said for coaches during the 1930s, where the Great Depression affected school budgets, cancelled or reduced seasons and caused all teachers uncertain employment circumstances.
Personally I’d like to see Floyd Foreman added to the Hall of Fame list, even if he’s a few years short of 20. My records go back to the 1930-31 season and I believe Coach Foreman started in Laramie the year before in the 1929-30 school year. My records—minus the 1929-30 campaign—show an amazing career. Coach Foreman qualified the Plainsmen for all the state tourneys except one, and that was the state tourney cancelled by the scarlet fever in 1935-36. His teams medaled 10 times: two state championships, five runners-up and three third place finishes. Minus that first year, he totaled 257 wins and a .754 win percentage. Pretty impressive accomplishments, even if his 14 years served are shy of 20, and certainly worthy of recognition in the Wyoming Coaches Hall of Fame.