When the Gillette high school football programs split apart in a year, the question a lot of Gillette Camel fans can’t seem to shake is the one about the potential success of their program.

When Thunder Basin opens — and begins Class 4A varsity play — in the 2017-18 school year, will both the Camels and the ‘Bolts have enough to be successful?

In this state, quite honestly, there’s not a lot of precedent for what’s going to happen in Gillette. Wyoming has only had two communities go from one comprehensive high school to two comprehensive high schools: Cheyenne in 1960 and Casper in 1966.

Granted, those splits happened more than 50 years ago now. Even so, looking at those results gives us an idea of how well both Gillette and Thunder Basin might do on the scoreboard.

In short: The splits had unpredictable effects on the football programs at the older of the two schools. Natrona’s winning percentage fell off slightly in the 10 years after Kelly Walsh opened in Casper; Cheyenne Central’s winning percentage improved dramatically after East opened.

Meanwhile, Cheyenne East and Kelly Walsh had nearly identical (and sub-.500) winning percentages in their first 10 years on the field.

Football in Cheyenne
Cheyenne Central records, 10 years before the split: 3-6-1, 4-4, 4-5, 6-2-1, 7-3, 5-3, 7-2, 5-3, 3-5-1, 3-5-1 (47-38-4, .551)
Cheyenne Central records, 10 years after the split: 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-2, 6-4, 9-0-1, 8-2, 6-4, 8-1, 6-2-1 (63-31-2, .667)
Cheyenne East records, first 10 years: 2-6-1, 5-4, 4-5, 5-5, 3-6, 5-4, 3-6, 7-3, 2-7, 6-2-1 (42-48-2, .467)

Football in Casper
Natrona records, 10 years before the split: 4-4-1, 2-6-1, 6-1-1, 2-6-1, 3-4-2, 8-1, 5-1-2, 7-1-1, 9-0, 7-2 (53-26-9, .653)
Natrona records, 10 years after the split: 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-3, 3-7, 6-2, 7-1-1, 7-2, 6-3, 7-2 (56-36-1, .608)
Kelly Walsh records, first 10 years: 0-8, 6-4, 5-5, 2-8, 6-3-1, 5-3-1, 4-5, 9-1, 5-4, 0-8-1 (42-49-3, .463)


The splits arguably had more effect on the basketball floor — and in opposite directions for the different cities.

Cheyenne Central’s last title before its split with Cheyenne East was in 1956. However, in the first three years after East opened (1961-63), Central won three consecutive state titles. East didn’t win its first championship until 1988, but was a fairly consistent state tournament qualifier up until that title.

Casper basketball, though, suffered deeply as a result of the split, but the recovery came within a decade. Neither Natrona nor Kelly Walsh made the state tournament in KW’s first three years — 1967, 1968 and 1969. Natrona won the state title, though, in 1970, and KW won back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975. The Trojans’ opponent in the 1974 title game? Natrona.

Basketball in Cheyenne
Cheyenne Central state tournament finishes, 10 years before the split: consolation title game loss 1960; no state 1959; 2nd 1958; qualified 1957; 1st 1956; 2nd 1955; 3rd 1954; 1st 1953; 1st 1952; 1st 1951
Cheyenne Central state tournament finishes, 10 years after the split: 1st 1961; 1st 1962; 1st 1963; 5th 1964; 4th 1965; 3rd 1966; 1st 1967; 4th 1968; 2nd 1969; 3rd 1970
Cheyenne East state tournament finishes, first 10 years: no state 1961; 4th 1962; qualified 1963; qualified 1964; no state 1965, no state 1966; 4th 1967; 2nd 1968; 4th 1969; no state 1970

Basketball in Casper
Natrona state tournament finishes, 10 years before the split: 4th 1966; no state 1965; 3rd 1964; 3rd 1963; qualified 1962; qualified 1961; qualified 1960; qualified 1959; consolation title 1958; qualified 1957
Natrona state tournament finishes, 10 years after the split: no state 1967; no state 1968; no state 1969; 1st 1970; 4th 1971; 5th 1972; 4th 1973; 2nd 1974; 3rd 1975; 6th 1976
Kelly Walsh state tournament finishes, first 10 years: no state 1967; no state 1968; no state 1969; no state 1970; no state 1971; no state 1972; third 1973; 1st 1974, 1st 1975; 5th 1976

It will be interesting to see how Gillette and Thunder Basin handle this split. Interscholastic sports are much more complex than they were in 1966, including the fact that 51 percent of our population now has opportunities to participate in ways they couldn’t in the 1960s. Sports offerings are also more diverse than ever.

And it will be interesting to track how the split affects a successful sports program like Gillette’s across the board, from wrestling to track to cross country and beyond.

If the second schools in Casper and Cheyenne were any indicators, Camel sports — and ‘Bolt sports — should come out fine. Sooner than you’d think, too.


2 Thoughts on “On the field: Post-split success

  1. Projections for Thunder Basin High based on the experience of Cheyenne South since it opened might make an effective comparison.

    South football has been abysmal but South’s basketball teams became competitive fairly quickly.

    I wonder whether the real issue is if the new school will open with only Sophomores and Freshmen versus opening with one or two classes of upperclassmen and classwomen?

  2. Patrick on March 2, 2016 at 7:42 am said:

    Boyd, can you clarify for me: Do we know yet if Thunder Basin will open with seniors? Juniors? Thanks.

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