I wanted to point out a column written by CST editor Chad Baldwin today about new high schools. Baldwin, my former boss and the guy who, in the end, allows me to continue working for the Star-Tribune on a freelance basis, scratches the surface of the issue well… but I disagree with him on one point:

There is no reason for Gillette to open a new school until Cheyenne and Casper do so first. Cheyenne did what I think was the right thing and got us halfway there; Casper, in short, messed up, not only for Casper but in part for Gillette, too.

As Baldwin’s editorial pointed out, the problems that popped up when Casper started talking about a new high school (or what ended up happening, a new building that holds all the programs the other schools can’t or won’t take…) basically crushed any hope of a third comprehensive high school in the city for decades to come. Chief among those problems was the school of choice option that exists in Casper; several others, including groupthink, inter-community speculation and paranoia, administrator bonus pay, conflicting goals within the district hierarchy and a desire to maintain ultra-competitive sports programs, gave Casper a new high school building without giving it a new high school.

One of the problems with the new school setup in Casper is the way the Natrona County School District reached this point. The new campus is classic design by committee; it satisfies everyone, therefore, it satisfies no one. When (not if) this new setup creates more new problems than it answers old, no one can take the blame. I guess that’s good if you’re playing CYA, but that shouldn’t be what education is about.

Obviously, more than athletics considerations went into this decision, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on school construction, funding and budgeting. But Cheyenne made it work. Casper didn’t make anything — it ended up with something.

There are many repercussions from what has happened in Casper, and athletics — not only in Casper, but statewide — will feel those repercussions for at least the next three decades. Because of this decision, I think it will be at least that long before a third comprehensive high school opens in Casper. And even though Gillette and Casper are two distinct communities with different funding, different priorities and different goals, I now think it will be at least that long before a second full-on high school in Gillette opens.

The benefits both communities would have by opening new high schools would mostly be felt in the activities arena: more teams, more spots. Maybe, probably, this means fewer championships. That has been the sticking point in many discussions, whether it’s better to have championship-caliber teams from a deeper talent pool or competitive teams from a shallower talent pool. However, new high schools in Gillette and Casper would give most of the large high schools in the state a “pool” that’s about the same depth — something that benefits every school, not just the schools in Gillette and Casper.

I think it is tougher for a community to go from one high school to two than it is to go from two to three. In that regard, Gillette arguably has a tougher decision to add a new high school than Casper does. It makes sense for Gillette to wait for other Wyoming communities to take the lead.

Cheyenne took that lead. Casper didn’t follow. Now Gillette won’t — and probably shouldn’t — sacrifice its one-school setup.

Now, barring a sudden population surge, we’ll have to wait until 2040 to revisit this again.

And, because of how the Natrona County School District made this decision, there’s no one to thank. Or blame.

–patrick (mad props to my wife Char for the graphic)

4 Thoughts on “Casper’s high school decision and its repercussions

  1. Dahl Erickson on October 4, 2010 at 1:04 pm said:


    Great job calling this situation out into the public. Every two years, the WHSAA has to get together to discuss and solve the issue of reclassification and one of the biggest and most consistent sticking points is where do you draw the line and what is fair? Had Casper done the “right thing” such as Cheyenne, I agree with you it likely would have only been a matter of time before Gillette determined that it was in their best interests as well. I also agree with the Casper before Gillette topic. After all, Casper has about 1,400 more high school students than Gillette do they not?

    If I recall the lone Natrona County School District board member who voted against this independent campus idea, she said that it was less and less about the students and more and more about Orange and Green.

    Anyway, I’m glad that people are at least talking about holding everyone else hostage in the interest of maintaining sports dominance.

  2. Steve Core on October 7, 2010 at 3:45 pm said:

    Patrick, nice job. I have a question and need some help. When I first started this gig in the fall of 1986, green river was playing worland,cody, lander rawlins ect. The wolves were in the big class, so what happened. Were there 14 schools in the big school class??? Because in the 90’s, the wolves were playing the teams there playing currently. Please help. Steve Core

  3. Patrick on October 7, 2010 at 6:24 pm said:

    Hi Steve,

    There were a couple big reclass changes in the 1980s. The first came in 1983 when the state went from the AA-A-B-C divisions to 4A-3A-2A-1A. That was also the year Wyoming went from three football classifications to four. That stayed pretty much intact until 1990.

    In 1982 there were 15 teams in AA football — Sheridan, Laramie, KW, Central, East, Gillette and Natrona in the East and Rawlins, Worland, Riverton, Cody, Powell, Rock Springs, Green River and Lander in the West.

    But after that shifting of classes, things changed a bit. For example, 4A had 13 teams in it in 1986 — seven in the east conference (Central, East, Gillette, Sheridan, Natrona, KW and Laramie) and six in the west conference (Rock Springs, Green River, Cody, Lander, Worland and Rawlins). This would have been for all sports, I believe.

    Then in 1990 the WHSAA added the fifth division for football and that’s when they went north-south for everything (KW, Natrona, Gillette, Sheridan and Riverton in the north, plus Cody for hoops, then Central, East, Laramie, Rock Springs and Green River in the south, plus Evanston for hoops). Evanston and Riverton flip-flopped spots in football soon after this (1991) and Central actually switched to the north for football.

    But 1990, in going from four classes to five in football, was when the big shifts happened. I also think that was the year 4A fell to 12 for all other sports and the East-West setup changed to the North-South that they had for so many years.

    Hope this helps.


  4. Pingback: Who’s next? Speculation on the location of Wyoming’s next high school | WHSFB HQ — The Wyoming high school football blog

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