Rawlins has forfeited its homecoming game, scheduled Friday against Douglas, due to a shortage of available players from a COVID-19 quarantine.
The school announced its decision to cancel numerous homecoming-related activities in a Facebook post on Thursday.
Douglas activities director Doug Hughes via email on Friday clarified that the football game between the two programs won’t be made up and will go down as a forfeit victory for the Bearcats.
Rawlins AD Kasey Garnhart said in an email Friday that Rawlins’ football players in quarantine would not return to school and practice until Wednesday at the earliest, making a make-up too difficult to fit in the short amount of time remaining in the season.
Both teams play in the Class 3A East Conference.
Rawlins is the sixth football program in Wyoming this season to forfeit at least one game due to COVID-19, joining a list that includes Guernsey, Torrington, Lingle, Burns and Thermopolis. Douglas also beat Torrington by forfeit earlier in the season.
Both Lingle and Torrington have forfeited their Week 1 football games, to Wind River and Douglas respectively.
Lingle forfeited its game to Wind River on Thursday; Torrington forfeited its game to Douglas on Friday morning.
Lingle activities director Mike Lashley, when reached by email by wyoming-football.com Thursday, declined to elaborate on the reasons for Lingle’s forfeit, saying only that the Doggers could not field a team this week.
A Torrington High School Facebook post on Friday said the forfeiture was due to “injuries and illness.” Torrington activities director Gabe Bartlett reiterated that in an email to wyoming-football.com on Friday, citing both factors as the reason for the forfeit.
“Just not enough students to safely play the game,” Bartlett wrote.
In all, five Wyoming high school football games have now ended in either forfeiture or cancellation. Burns and Thermopolis lost their Week 1 games due to COVID-19, while St. Stephens cited injury and eligibility issues in a Wednesday school Facebook post as its reason for forgoing its Friday game against Lusk.
Note: This story was updated at 11:04 a.m. MDT Friday with comments from Bartlett. This story will be updated as necessary when, or if, new information becomes available.
Burns has forfeited its Week 1 game against Mitchell, Neb., after COVID-19 quarantines left Burns unable to play.
Burns High activities director Barry Ward announced the forfeiture on Twitter.
Due to Covid Quarantines the Burns vs. Mitchell Tigers Football game will be canceled. Per WHSAA rules the game will go down as a forfeit win to the Mitchell Tigers. @wyopreps@54Rhodes@Proman56NP@jjohnke
In an email Wednesday with wyoming-football.com, Ward said the exact number of Burns students in quarantine would not be finalized until contact tracing was complete. However, in-person school and sports practice will continue at Burns.
Ward said a decision on Burns’ Week 2 game against Tongue River, the Class 2A East Conference opener for both teams, “will be made when the contact tracing picture becomes clearer.”
Thermopolis’ football team was scheduled to play Tongue River this week and Big Piney next week. Both games were scheduled as road games for the Bobcats.
In an email with wyoming-football.com on Tuesday, Thermopolis activities director Brandon Deromedi said the Tongue River game would be canceled, while the Big Piney game would be made up at 2 p.m. Oct. 19 in Big Piney. The Big Piney game is a Class 2A West Conference game.
“It is disappointing to be in a digital instruction period this early in the school year, but unfortunately numbers of students and staff infected with COVID 19, or under quarantine orders has reached the threshold of needed separation,” Hunt wrote.
The Facebook post said at least 30% of Thermopolis’ students were out of school due to illness or “other reasons,” including quarantine. Deromedi said the 30% threshold for moving to online learning and teaching was a district policy.
“We have had some COVID cases,” Deromedi said, “but most students that are out are due to quarantining and proactive measures to stay healthy.”
Deromedi said sports teams will not practice during the next two weeks.
Hunt’s letter said Hot Springs County schools will not require vaccinations or the wearing of masks without a state order to do so.
Thermopolis is the first school in Wyoming this year to cancel games and adjust its schedule due to COVID-19 illnesses and quarantining. Burns, Douglas, Newcastle, St. Stephens and Wyoming Indian undertook similar measures last year, with St. Stephens and Wyoming Indian canceling all fall sports.
Forty Wyoming high school football teams will play this week with state championship hopes motivating them.
In 2020, that in and of itself is reason to be grateful.
In a season where two teams couldn’t play at all due to COVID-19 and several games were rescheduled or canceled, the fact that the postseason is moving forward as scheduled can’t be overlooked.
I’ll admit it — I was not sure this would be possible.
With COVID-19 cases rising steadily across the state all season long…
… and with early-season scares with Newcastle and Douglas and a late-season KO from Burns… and complete cancellations from St. Stephens and Wyoming Indian… I kept waiting for more. A more severe outbreak not localized to one community or one team. A quarantine that couldn’t be overcome. A season-ender after a season had started.
It hasn’t happened.
COVID-19’s autumn surge in Wyoming should make everyone take note of how fragile all of this is. It should make every Wyoming football fan more vigilant, more careful, more cognizant of the risks and more responsible for the direction of the line in that chart.
Mask up. Distance apart. Wash up. Or watch a season come to an end at the least wanted time.
Football was the test balloon. Indoor winter sports like basketball and wrestling are going to require even more care. Let’s get used to it now, and keep the seasons, plural, going.
Against the backdrop of COVID-19, the games almost seem secondary. But with state championships on the line, and with half of this week’s teams kissing those hopes adios, you can bet you’ll see some great stuff this weekend. I think the teams in bold will win, but everyone deserves some praise for just being here in one of the weirdest seasons we’ll probably ever see.
Friday Class 4A (8) Laramie at (1) Cheyenne East: East won their Week 3 game 56-13, and unless Laramie loads up on magic wands before the game, expect a similar result this time. (5) Rock Springs at (4) Sheridan: After shutting out Thunder Basin 35-0 last week, there may not be a hotter team in the state right now than the Broncs. (7) Kelly Walsh at (2) Cheyenne Central: The Indians stumbled down the stretch, going 1-2, but should still have enough in the tank to beat the Trojans. (6) Natrona at (3) Thunder Basin: Two weeks ago, the ‘Bolts won this matchup by 40. I think it’ll be closer this time, but Thunder Basin still has the edge. Class 3A (4E) Worland at (1W) Cody: Man alive, was Cody’s 48-6 victory over Jackson last week an eye-opener. The Broncs are 3A’s team to beat. (3W) Powell at (2E) Lander: Powell won their Week 2 matchup 31-0, and although Lander will fight hard, Powell is still the favorite. (4W) Star Valley at (1E) Douglas: Even though Douglas is 7-0 and Star Valley has a losing record, I’m REALLY tempted to pick the Braves. But I still like the Bearcats at home. (3E) Riverton at (2W) Jackson: Week 3. 57-7, Jackson. The Broncs have a definitive advantage in this one. Class 2A (4W) Cokeville at (1E) Torrington: These are the playoff matchups I love — ones between two programs who have never played each other before. The Trailblazers have the advantage, but the Panthers always play well in the postseason. (3E) Wheatland at (2W) Mountain View: How badly was the Buffalos’ confidence shaken after their Bridger Valley Bowl loss last week? If it’s more than “a bit,” Wheatland could pull the surprise. (4E) Big Horn at (1W) Lyman: The hot-and-cold Rams could be tough, but the Eagles’ defense has been on point every week, all season long. (3W) Lovell at (2E) Upton-Sundance: Between them, these two teams have three losses by a combined 11 points. This could be the game of the week across all classifications. Class 1A nine-man (4W) Riverside at (1E) Southeast: Southeast averages about 44 points a game. Riverside has scored 66 points all season. (3E) Pine Bluffs at (2W) Shoshoni: The Hornets will definitely put up a better fight than they did when they lost to the Wranglers 40-13 in Week 5. But Shoshoni still has the edge. (4E) Saratoga at (1W) Rocky Mountain: Saratoga has been playing well of late. The only problem is Rocky Mountain has been playing well all year long. (3W) Greybull at (2E) Lusk: Don’t let a 1-2 finish to the season fool anyone; Lusk is still a legit title contender. Class 1A six-man (4E) Hanna at (1W) Farson: Farson’s unbeaten record speaks for itself. The Pronghorns should advance easily to the semifinals. (3W) Encampment at (2E) Hulett: The Tigers are in their first postseason ever. They’ll get a test from the Red Devils, but a tough West Conference schedule should make Encampment more than ready for this test. (4W) Snake River at (1E) Kaycee: The Buckaroos’ defense has been scary consistent all season, so if Kaycee can get enough points, they should be good. Against Snake River, that’s a big if, though. (3E) Guernsey at (2W) Meeteetse: Meeteetse has been one of six-man’s most pleasant surprises this fall. They should be able to keep the momentum going at home against the Vikings.
Non-playoff games Thursday Burns at Newcastle
For a full schedule including kickoff times, as well as results from past weeks, go here. Click on “Quarterfinals” on the top of the page for this week’s schedule.
Here are the results of my picks from last week and this season:
Last week: 24-4 (86 percent). This season: 207-59 (78 percent). Does not include forfeit from last week.
Who do you think is ready to pull a big surprise in the first round of the playoffs? Leave a comment here, or hit me up on the Facebook page or on Twitter.
Burns will not play one of its final two games of the 2020 season and will reschedule the other due to COVID-19 quarantines, the school’s activities director said Monday on Twitter.
Burns AD Barry Ward said the team will also cancel scheduled JV games.
Burns High School was notified on Saturday that due to COVID-19 quarantines our football team will not be playing our last 2 Varsity football games vs. Newcastle and Torrington as regularly scheduled. We will be canceling our JV games vs. Wheatland and Mitchell, Nebraska.— Barry Ward (@BurnsBronc) October 12, 2020
On Saturday, Laramie County School District No. 2, of which Burns is a part, posted on its website that a student at Burns Junior/Senior High School had tested positive for COVID-19 and that some students had been placed under quarantine.
This is the third in-season cancellation of high school football games in Wyoming due to COVID-19 this year.
The Douglas High School activities website noted the cancellation of Douglas’ varsity game with Powell as well as cancellations of a freshman game with Laramie on Thursday and a JV game with Riverton scheduled for Monday.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Wyoming Department of Health’s COVID-19 website listed 28 lab-confirmed cases, with 12 of those 28 being confirmed in the past 24 hours. As of Wednesday, the state was averaging just more than 38 new confirmed cases per day, using a 14-day average.
Powell Tribune reporter Carson Field reported Wednesday on Twitter that Douglas’ team had multiple cases.
UPDATE: Multiple players have tested positive on Douglas’ end, according to Powell AD Scott McKenzie, leading to the cancellation.— Carson Field (@CarsonDField) September 16, 2020
Douglas is 2-0, having defeated Torrington two weeks ago and Belle Fourche, S.D., last week. Powell is 3-0. The game will be listed as a no-contest cancellation, not as a forfeit.
This is the second time this season a Wyoming football game has been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. A Week 1 game between Newcastle and Buffalo was also canceled after Newcastle players were exposed during a game against Hot Springs, S.D.
Buffalo and Newcastle will not play their scheduled game on Friday after Newcastle officials learned their players had been exposed to COVID-19 during the Dogies’ game last week.
A press release from Weston County School District No. 1 Superintendent Brad LaCroix said a player from Hot Springs, S.D., who played against Newcastle last week tested positive for the disease earlier this week.
The Dogies did not practice on Thursday, the release said, and one Newcastle player was put on COVID-19 testing protocol.
The release said no one on the Newcastle football team has yet tested positive for COVID-19. Schools remain open. Other activities will go on as scheduled.
“We suspended team activities immediately when a member of the team went into the protocol, and had hoped we would have information this morning from health officials that would allow us to life that suspension and play tonight’s game,” LaCroix said in the release. “We were able to buy a little time last night, but we simply had to make a ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ decision this morning. Without new information from health officials, we can’t justify lifting the suspension yet and sadly have to cancel tonight’s game out of caution. The health and well-being of our players and their families — both here and in Buffalo — has to be our first priority, and we just don’t have enough information at this time to go ahead and play tonight.”
The game was a nonconference game, with Buffalo in Class 3A and Newcastle in Class 2A. Previously, officials with the Wyoming High School Activities Association have said games lost to COVID-19 would be listed as no-contest games, not as forfeits.
College teams across the country are scrambling as conferences postpone, cancel or reschedule games; the NFL’s direction is uncertain, too. Last week, the Mountain West — including the University of Wyoming — postponed its fall sports.
In Wyoming, COVID-19 will be the fourth wave of illness to threaten high school football. In 1918 and 1957, the culprit was influenza; in 1951, polio.
Every time, games were canceled. Every time, school leaders made hard decisions. Every time, players, coaches and teams had to sacrifice football for something bigger.
And once, a pandemic changed a team and community irreversibly, putting in perspective what it means to try to do normal things in times that are anything but.
1918’s influenza outbreak
By far, the most severe of the previous football-delaying outbreaks came with the 1918 influenza epidemic.
That fall, Wyoming high school football teams didn’t play a single game.
In early October, schools across the state started shutting down due to the epidemic. Many did not reopen until January.
The sports affect was limited almost solely to football. Even then, only a small selection of high schools in the state had the sport. Only Sheridan, Buffalo, Cheyenne Central and Laramie fielded football teams in 1917; those same teams, plus Natrona, were the only schools to field football teams in 1919. The University of Wyoming football team also canceled its 1918 schedule.
By the late winter of 1919, the epidemic had cleared up, and the second annual state basketball tournament was played in Laramie that March.
In 1957, another influenza epidemic struck Wyoming. Although not as severe as the 1918 flu that wiped out the entire season, 18 Wyoming high school football games were lost to the flu in 1957.
The cancellations started on Sept. 27, when a game between Rock Springs and Green River was canceled. Rawlins and Evanston canceled their game the following week. Three more games were canceled the week of Oct. 11; the week of Oct. 18, the peak of the flu wave, nine games were canceled. Flu wiped out five more games after that.
The 1957 flu pandemic killed 116,000 people in the U.S. Of those, the number of flu deaths in Wyoming was quite low — reports from November 1957 indicated fewer than five.
But the caution of 1957 was informed by the tragedy of 1951.
1951 brings polio and perspective
In 1951, the worry wasn’t the flu. It was polio.
In the 1951 calendar year, the United States had 28,386 cases and 1,551 deaths due to polio; in 1952, at the outbreak’s peak, the U.S. had 57,879 cases and 3,145 deaths.
Unofficially, eight Wyoming high school football games in 1951 were canceled due to polio. Another 11 games were canceled beyond that, although some were canceled during the first week in November, which brought a big snowstorm to Wyoming.
Sheridan was the first hotspot where multiple games were canceled. The Broncs had to give up three midseason games — games against Lead, S.D., Cheyenne Central and Riverton were all canceled after Sheridan’s schools were closed on Oct. 4. Sheridan’s schools re-opened on Oct. 22; by then, 25 people had contracted polio in the area and two people had died. The schools reopened only after no new cases were reported for a week. The Broncs finished their season, losing their final two games to finish 2-3-1. (Two other Sheridan County six-man games involving Ranchester were also canceled because of polio.)
A second hotspot was Guernsey. There, the toll was much higher — both for the football team and its players.
During the 1951 season, the Guernsey Longhorns (as they were known before combining with Sunrise in the 1960s) were in the middle of an amazing turnaround. After finishing winless in 1950, the Longhorns were a charmed team in 1951. Winning close game after close game — including 20-16 against Manville, 24-16 against Glenrock and 25-24 against archrival Sunrise on Oct. 26 — Guernsey was 7-0.
The day of the victory against Sunrise, though, the Longhorns were understandably distracted. One of their teammates, 16-year-old junior Floyd Stellpflug, had gone into the hospital in Scottsbluff, Neb., the night before. He had polio.
The Longhorns still won. On the field, a district championship and a place in the state playoffs was still nearly in reach. After beating Sunrise, the only conference game that remained was against twice-beaten Huntley on Nov. 2. With a victory, the Longhorns would reach the playoffs for the first time in program history.
The game never happened.
Four days after entering the hospital, and four days before the Huntley game, Stellpflug died.
Within 48 hours of Stellpflug’s death, Guernsey’s school board ordered the school closed for a week to limit the disease’s spread. By then, two of Stellpflug’s teammates (Johnny Hall and Johnny Sudbury) and Stellpflug’s sister-in-law (Mary Stellpflug) were also in various Wyoming hospitals being treated for what was thought to be polio, as well. However, at least one case (Mary Stellpflug’s) was pneumonia, not polio.
The closure of the school also brought about a closure to Guernsey’s football season. The Longhorns canceled their final two games, finishing 7-0 but also finishing without Stellpflug.
Two others Platte County boys — a 9-year-old from Guernsey and an 8-year-old from Wheatland — died later in November. (For perspective, Hall died in 2016 at age 82. His obituary said he struggled with the side effects of his affliction with polio for the rest of his life.)
Wyoming had 211 total polio cases in 1951, and more than 30 people died, including Stellpflug and the two other Platte County children.
Although polio peaked across the country in 1952, its effects were limited in Wyoming that year. In 1952, Wyoming only had five high school football games canceled. None of the cancellations were attributed to polio.
Now, in 2020, Wyoming’s football players, coaches and administrators are preparing for a fight that they haven’t had to face in more than 60 years.
The disease has already had a massive effect on Wyoming high school sports.
The Class 4A/3A state basketball tournament was canceled on March 12, the morning after Wyoming had its first verified active case of COVID-19. For the first time since 1936 (and a scarlet fever outbreak), the state basketball tournament was canceled.
Part of why leaders can justify returning to fall sports when the number of lab-confirmed cases per day is nearly triple what it was when spring sports were canceled is that we know much more about COVID-19 now than we did in April. We understand better how it travels. We understand better how to protect ourselves. We understand better how to manage the sickness if we are infected.
But, like polio and influenza, COVID-19 still has the potential to incapacitate and kill.
To think we won’t have cancellations or school closures this fall is naive (but I love the optimism). To think football will go on unaffected is misguided; COVID-19 has already affected sports, as we’ve seen with Wyoming Indian and St. Stephens.
It’s easy to maintain a status quo, to move forward as if nothing’s wrong. As a state, Wyoming and her citizens have to be prepared to make, and abide by, hard decisions, decisions that disrupt that status quo. In fact, some such decisions have already been made.
Teams, coaches, players and fans have to mentally commit now — if they haven’t already — to do the things that will help save the season. Be willing to wear the mask. Be willing to forgo the pregame tailgate. Be willing not to have the pep band. Be willing to give up attending a game due to distancing restrictions. Be willing to have a big rivalry game canceled. Be willing to sacrifice a perfect season or a state championship.
Players, especially, have to commit to speaking up if they exhibit symptoms. No team has any room for selfish players this fall. If symptomatic, players have to speak, and they need to be in homes, in schools and on teams that encourage them to speak — before they get others sick, before the disease ends not just that player’s season but his entire team’s, before schools close, before the curve becomes a spike, before another funeral.
Be willing to do these things, and football can continue. It won’t be “normal” football, but these aren’t normal times.
Be willing, in Floyd Stellpflug’s memory — and his lesson.