I’ve been on vacation for the past couple weeks, and I’ve been using some of my free time at the Natrona County Public Library, chipping away at the research for this project.
The further back I go, the tougher it is to find results and schedules in one place. Rudimentary research has been completed for eight seasons now (1943-50) but a significant amount of legwork remains on each of those seasons.
When I first started this project, I was amazed Wyoming did not have a playoff system in place for most of the 1940s. As I have read the day-to-day accounts of life in the 1940s, though, I’m less and less surprised.
Gas and travel rationing severely cut down where teams were able to go and who they played. District play was loosely organized at best, and often incomplete — schools usually did not play all the other schools in their respective districts during the season, which meant qualifying for a playoff was all but impossible. Also, there was no real push to organize state playoffs during World War II, be it by the Wyoming High School Activities Association or by any specific schools, coaches, players, parents or media. Debating a champion, apparently, was much more fun than settling the issue on the field.
The end of each season was littered with postseason challenges, usually issued through the newspapers. In 1947, for example, Northwest district champion Lovell challenged Big Five champ Rawlins to a “state championship game” in Casper. Rawlins declined, so instead, Lovell challenged second-place Big Five team Natrona. NC won that game, but Rawlins maintained its hold on the mythical state championship.
You’ll notice that my state championship team listings do not include the years 1941-47. In part, that’s because there were no state playoffs. However, the period between 1962 and 1974 was also littered with mythical champions. So why do I list the mythical champs between 1962 and 1974 and not the ones between 1941 and 1947?
I don’t know.
I think that might change soon. But the prospect of picking state champions from 60-plus years ago is full of problems.
The first problem is that there was no statewide media or coaches poll back in the 1940s. The statewide AP and UPI polls were used to determine the unofficial champs in the period from 1962-74, but no such mechanism existed in the 1940s. Instead, newspapers declared their own unofficial state champions. From what I’ve seen so far, the papers often came to a consensus, but without knowing which reporters saw which teams, it’s hard to give those selections a lot of credibility.
That said, here are the teams I’d pick as the unofficial state champions of the years I’ve researched:
1947: Rawlins. Big Five champions; refused all postseason game offers.
1946: Sheridan. Big Five champions beat Cody 20-19 in the first “Turkey Bowl,” the unofficial state championship game, played on Thanksgiving day in Casper. By the way, I think it was this particular game that really galvanized the effort for a state championship playoff system in later years….
1945: Cheyenne Central. Went 9-0, with victories over Torrington, Rawlins, Natrona, Laramie and five out-of-state foes.
1944: Cheyenne Central. Went 8-1, with the only loss to Alliance, Neb. Beat in-state foes Rock Springs, Torrington, Natrona, Rawlins and Laramie.
1943: Cheyenne Central. Went 7-0-1 (but may have played one more game). First undefeated season in school history. Topped Rock Springs, Rawlins, Natrona and Laramie in in-state play. (A case could also be made for the team from the Heart Mountain Japanese internment camp, which went undefeated and un-scored upon. However, the Eagles were not allowed to fully participate in district play, and Powell — the team that eventually won the Northwest district — refused to schedule Heart Mountain. Powell beat Worland 19-13 in the district championship game on Thanksgiving.)
The years 1942 and 1941 are still waiting for my eyes.
In part, what drives me to continue this research is to acknowledge the efforts of the boys who played in these six “lost” years, the six years from 1941-47 where no champions are listed. Their efforts have gone unrecognized for too long. Their only misfortune was being born, and conversely playing high school football, at the wrong time in Wyoming’s history. Those players, and those teams, deserve to have their names listed as state champions — even if it’s only unofficially.