For a couple decades, Gillette has held a special place in the hearts of other Wyoming high schools’ fans: the most hated high school sports program in the state.
The hate arises from two key areas — jealousy and frustration. Jealousy comes from Gillette’s success; the Camels are consistently at or near the top of every sport it offers. Frustration spurs both from that jealousy of the Camels’ success as well as Gillette’s size; since the early 1990s, Gillette has had one of the largest (and, since Cheyenne opened South High in 2011, the largest) 9-12 enrollment tallies in the state.
Other Class 4A schools sing a similar refrain: Of course Gillette’s the best. It’s the biggest. The only one rooting for Goliath is Goliath’s mom.
The argument, of course, has numerous flaws. Success is not determined by size alone. Body counts mean nothing without the systems in place to help those “bodies” reach excellence, and Gillette has one of the best systems in the state.
Gillette will have the chance to prove that idea in the fall of 2017, when it is scheduled to open a new, comprehensive high school.
But what if the Campbell County School District had decided against a second high school? What if one high school remained the standard in Gillette, maybe for another decade or more? What if that depth turned Gillette into a dominating behemoth that racked up state championships in every sport, forcing other schools rack up participation ribbons instead? And what if the rest of the state’s frustration manifested itself into a beat-Gillette-at-all-costs mentality — one that focused on pooling talent, no matter the setbacks?
The quickest way to pool talent is through a co-op agreement. When a program can bring together the talent of two or three or more high schools onto the same team, that program will inevitably improve simply because of the raw number of bodies available.
For example, what would happen if we took Gillette’s longtime rival Sheridan and added to the Broncs’ roster players from the other Sheridan County schools Tongue River, Big Horn, NSI Academy and Arvada-Clearmont — and then threw in Johnson County schools Buffalo and Kaycee, just for good measure? We’d have a team rich with talent, that’s for sure.
Even then, the Sheridan-Johnson counties co-op would be 676 students smaller than Gillette.
The crux of this fantasy situation is this: What if Wyoming’s high schools started preparing co-ops with the sole intention of knocking off a big, bad Gillette — a Gillette that, in our scenario, is bigger and badder and more dominant than ever?
The co-ops, of course, would have to play by some rules. They would first have to be somewhat geographically feasible, playing by county lines and school district lines whenever possible. Second, co-ops wouldn’t be able to split up any existing schools. And last, co-ops would have to play by this ground rule: no bigger than Gillette, which has a current WHSAA average daily membership (fancy way of saying enrollment) of 2,439 students 9-12.
(Yes, I know, this is not how the WHSAA defines enrollment for a co-op. But stick with me for the sake of argument.)
The goal here isn’t beating Gillette. The goal is beating Gillette at its own game. That means joining forces for good, not for evil. So you won’t see any 10,000-student super-co-ops here. Beating Goliath with SuperGoliath 2.0 brings no satisfaction.
If Wyoming high schools went through all the rigmarole of forming co-ops following those three rules, we’d end up with 14 semi-feasible high school teams in the state:
Sheridan-Johnson: a co-op of Sheridan, Big Horn, Tongue River, Arvada-Clearmont, NSI Academy, Buffalo and Kaycee. Combined ADM of 1,763 (676 smaller than Gillette).
East Border: a co-op of Crook, Weston, Niobrara, Goshen and Platte counties as well as Wright (Wheatland, Glendo, Guernsey, Chugwater, Lusk, Torrington, Southeast, Lingle, Newcastle, Wright, Moorcroft, Sundance, Upton and Hulett). Combined ADM of 1,867.5 (571.5 smaller than Gillette).
KW-C-M (Kelly Walsh-Converse County-Midwest): a co-op of Kelly Walsh, Douglas, Glenrock and Midwest. Combined ADM of 2,194.5 (289.5 smaller than Gillette).
Cheyenne South-ELC (East Laramie County): a co-op of Cheyenne South, Burns and Pine Bluffs. Combined ADM of 1,498 (941 smaller than Gillette).
Albany-Carbon: a co-op of Laramie, Rock River, Rawlins, Hanna, Encampment, Snake River and Saratoga. Combined ADM of 1,783.5 (655.5 smaller than Gillette).
Northwest: a co-op of Park, Big Horn and Washakie counties (Cody, Powell, Lovell, Rocky Mountain, Greybull, Riverside, Burlington, Meeteetse, Worland and Ten Sleep). Combined ADM of 2,333.5 (105.5 smaller than Gillette).
Sweetwater: a co-op of Rock Springs, Green River and Farson. Combined ADM of 2,426.5 (12.5 smaller than Gillette).
Uinta-Lincoln: a co-op of Evanston, Mountain View, Lyman, Star Valley, Kemmerer and Cokeville. Combined ADM of 2,310.5 (128.5 smaller than Gillette).
Fremont-Hot Springs: a co-op of Riverton, Lander, Wyoming Indian, Wind River, Shoshoni, St. Stephens, Dubois, Fort Washakie Charter, Arapahoe Charter and Thermopolis. Combined ADM of 2,102.1 (336.9 smaller than Gillette).
Teton-Sublette: a co-op of Jackson, Pinedale and Big Piney. Combined ADM of 1,174 (1,265 smaller than Gillette).
The surviving standalone schools are:
Natrona: ADM of 2,183.5 (255.5 smaller than Gillette).
Cheyenne East: ADM of 1,468 (971 smaller than Gillette).
Cheyenne Central: ADM of 1,268.5 (1,170.5 smaller than Gillette).
Those 14 programs could roughly split into two conferences, either north-south or east-west:
North Conference: Gillette (2,439); KW-C-M (2,194.5); East Border (1,867.5); Sheridan-Johnson (1,763); Northwest (2,333.5); Natrona (2,183.5); Fremont-Hot Springs (2,102.1)
South Conference: Cheyenne South-ELC (1,498); Cheyenne East (1,468); Cheyenne Central (1,268.5); Sweetwater (2,426.5); Uinta-Lincoln (2,310.5); Albany-Carbon (1,783.5); Teton-Sublette (1,174)
East Conference: Gillette (2,439); KW-C-M (2,194.5); East Border (1,867.5); Sheridan-Johnson (1,763); Cheyenne South-ELC (1,498); Cheyenne East (1,468); Cheyenne Central (1,268.5)
West Conference: Sweetwater (2,426.5); Northwest (2,333.5); Uinta-Lincoln (2,310.5); Natrona (2,183.5); Fremont-Hot Springs (2,102.1); Albany-Carbon (1,783.5); Teton-Sublette (1,174)
Take a moment to think about the potential teams that could arise from such co-ops — deep, talented, capable of continuous competitiveness.
Kind of like Gillette.
A lot of the hate on Gillette is unjustified. Size is not everything.
As we can see in these potential co-ops, though, size sure helps.