Defining a state champion is so simple nowadays that you tend to forget how complicated it used to be.
Now, you win your bracket, you win the state title. But in the days before playoffs, before classifications, even before a functioning Wyoming High School Activities Association, the state’s high school football teams still managed to put together unofficial state championships.
The titles themselves were never anything more than for bragging rights. Games were scheduled based on team records, travel, available sites, weather, gate guarantees and travel costs. Often, two teams that ended up playing in the “championship” game were self-appointed, either because the travel was the shortest or the guaranteed money the greatest.
All that came to an end on Oct. 9, 1931, when the WHSAA came together to oversee the state football and basketball championships. Although the group existed prior to that year, 1931 is generally recognized as the official beginning of the WHSAA, because that was the first year the group began exercising its authority over state championships. (It may have been the first year that schools had to pay dues to be included in state championships as part of the WHSAA, as well, but I am not sure if that’s actually the case or not.)
The system the WHSAA put forth in 1931 was what many schools and coaches had proposed in the late 1920s: a four-team playoff, with one team from each Wyoming region (northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest) qualifying for the bracket.
Prior to 1931, though, deciding championships was not that simple.
Here are the unofficial champions for the years prior to 1931 that I have researched so far, which is back to 1926:
1930 champion: Sheridan. The Broncs beat Laramie 14-6 in a “semifinal” game on Thanksgiving, then swamped previously undefeated Cody 86-0 the following week. Sheridan went on to play Fort Collins, the Colorado champions, on New Year’s Day in Denver, losing 69-14. The Wyoming-Colorado showdown was a one-year gimmick; it was never played again.
1929 champion: Split title between Thermopolis and Cheyenne Central. Thermopolis finished the season undefeated, while Central had three losses, all to out-of-state foes (Fort Collins and Greeley, Colo., and Kimball, Neb.). Nevertheless, the two teams tried to arrange a championship game in Casper for the first week of December, but Cheyenne officials balked at the last moment and instead requested the game be played in Cheyenne. Thermopolis said no, insisting on either a neutral site or Thermopolis, and the game was never played. The Bobcats were the “popular” champion, according to the hometown Thermopolis Independent Record, but Central’s claim was also recognized, as the Indians were unbeaten in Wyoming play.
1928 champion: Split title between Thermopolis and Natrona. After Thermopolis beat Sheridan in a “semifinal” game, the Bearcats and Mustangs tried to arrange a title game for the first week in December. The game was proposed for Casper, but after Thermopolis requested what Casper officials thought was an exorbitant financial guarantee — $2,500 — the Natrona school backed off the proposal. A few days later, Thermopolis accepted a guarantee of $800 to play in Casper — the original proposal put forth by Natrona — but by then the Mustangs had declared their season finished and said the Bobcats’ acceptance of terms came too late for the game to be played. Both teams claimed the title.
1927 champion: Worland. The Warriors beat Cheyenne Central 19-0 in the unofficial state title game, played in Douglas. This was cited as Worland’s 30th consecutive victory. The Warriors were a dominant team this year and beat the Indians, who had lost a couple games to Colorado schools but were unbeaten in Wyoming. Green River (6-0) and Greybull (4-0-3), despite finishing the regular season undefeated, were left out of the title game discussions.
1926 champion: Worland. This may be the only case of a two-game championship series in state history, although it was not planned that way. After Worland and Cheyenne Central battled to an 0-0 tie in the “title game” on Thanksgiving Day in Cheyenne, the two teams almost immediately decided on a rematch. Casper proposed to host the rematch at a neutral site, and nine days later the two teams played again in the Oil City. This time, Worland won 10-0, sewing up the unofficial state title in the process. The only school that claimed to be left out of the mix was Buffalo, which won the northeast district championship with a record that could barely be considered championship-worthy: 2-0-4.
I will post more of these mini-recaps as I continue my research into the 1920s. I just found these ways of deciding a champion quite interesting and wanted to share a bit of what I had found. Research is complete through 1926 and continues back until I run out of microfilm or sanity, whichever comes first…