Note: This is the seventh and final in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.

Kemmerer’s boys basketball came into the 1977 Class A West Regional tournament after an 8-10 regular season that was beset with injury and inconsistency.

Somehow, the Rangers won three straight at regionals and carried that momentum to win three straight at state, a six-game run that no one expected, least of all the Rangers.

The Rangers played well against good teams but struggled against not-so-good teams, said John Scott, who was a senior on the team and now is the head football coach at Lander.

“We rode the tides,” Scott said. “When things were up, we looked great, but when they were down we looked terrible.”

The team was also adjusting to new coach Glenn Murray, who came to Kemmerer straight after college after growing up in Potsdam, New York. Previously, the Rangers had been coached by Vince Guinta and Todd Dayton, two hall-of-fame coaches in their own right who were in many ways opposites in their approaches — Guinta in-your-face, Dayton composed.

Murray fused the talent and the coaching styles to get the most from his players in Kemmerer. However, that fusion didn’t come until the postseason.

Entering the regional tournament, the Rangers knew they could play well, but Scott said “it wasn’t like we said, ‘Hey, this is our last chance,’ any of those ‘Hoosier’-type stories.”

Instead, the Rangers didn’t over-think, and Murray didn’t over-coach. Kemmerer won three straight, beating a two-loss Lovell team in the semifinals and then handing defending Class A champion Star Valley its first loss to a Wyoming team that season in the championship.

“And then we’re the regional champs, regional champs at 11-10,” Scott said. “I think it was the first time all year we were over .500.”

Even after winning the West Regional, Kemmerer was still an underdog.

Glenrock entered the tournament at 19-1 and was, along with defending champion Star Valley, the pre-tournament favorite.

Kemmerer drew Buffalo in the first round, playing a game that started at 10 p.m. in the university’s Fieldhouse in Laramie. The Rangers started slow and trailed by eight midway through the third quarter. Then Kemmerer kicked into gear, using a full-court press to rally and win 65-60.

The Rangers played Lovell, again at 10 p.m., in the semis, a rematch of the regional semifinal. Lovell was a tough draw, as the Bulldogs were the only team to beat Glenrock during the regular season and were keen on some revenge after losing to the Rangers the previous week. And it showed, as — much like what happened the night before against Buffalo — Lovell built a 10-point lead during the late stages of the third quarter.

Again, Kemmerer rallied, pressing the Bulldogs into defensive oblivion and winning 72-65.

Clearly, the Rangers were peaking at the right time. But the biggest challenge was yet to come; Glenrock, as expected, awaited in the championship.

Scott said he recalled stepping onto the court at the UW Fieldhouse for that title game with a decided lack of certainty.

“They’re warming up and they’re really sleek-looking,” he said. ” … They all wore a boutonniere on their warmup and they just looked really confident.”

But that uncertainty quickly turned into motivation. After seeing the Herders on the other side of half-court, “I think we just kind of felt we had nothing to lose,” Scott said.

The championship game, another 10 p.m. Fieldhouse start, was the opposite of the first two games, with Kemmerer jumping out early and Glenrock rallying in the third quarter. The Herders crept within three, but Kemmerer continued its trend of playing its best when it mattered most. Thanks to clutch foul shooting and a stalwart defensive effort, the Rangers held off the Herders, 70-59.

Just like that, the team that had stumbled to an 8-10 regular-season record was the Class A champion. The Kemmerer team was one of only a small handful of Wyoming basketball teams to have a losing record in the regular season only to win a state championship.

So what changed?

The first was health.

Mark Dolar was the leading scorer for the Rangers in each of their tournament games, scoring 22 in the title game. He had 21 in the semifinals and 22 in the opening round. Injuries, including to Dolar, dogged the team in the regular season, but by regionals everyone was healthy.

Aside from the health of the team, Scott also said the team’s mentality changed once winning became the priority. When the Rangers won, they did so as a team; when the Rangers lost, they looked at their individual play.

“Those (individual) things kind of always took precedence when we were losing… and (the mentality) was, ‘Well, at least I scored this many,'” he said.

To date, it’s Kemmerer’s only state basketball championship, boys or girls.

Scott, now the head football coach at Lander after a few stops around the state and some time as the head coach at Black Hills State, said the players from that championship team remain close 45 years later.

“As a coach, I think that’s why those championships really do mean so much,” Scott said. “It’s not the on-field stuff. It’s afterward. … We still own that (championship). It’s ours. That’s the aftermath of what you tell a kid and why you (commit)… Whether it’s (a 3A championship) or the Super Bowl.”


Note: This is the sixth in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.

Few championships were as unexpected at the start of a playoff round as Cheyenne Central’s Class 5A title run in 2005.

After the regular season, the Indians were a lackluster 4-4.

Three weeks later, they were polishing off a dominating championship game against their crosstown rival.

By the end of it all, Central’s players were hoisting a trophy to represent the school’s first football championship in 16 years.

“We had just a great bunch of kids all around, and they’re the ones who need the credit,” said Brick Cegelski, the coach who led the Indians to the title and who stepped down in 2013 after 18 seasons as head coach. “I was just so happy to coach the kids that we had and to see them grow up together. 

” … They were all great lifters, they were all multi-sport kids, and they’re all really great friends. When you have a group like that, things are gonna be good.”

They didn’t start that way.

After two games, no one except the most die-hard fan had Central in the championship conversation. Central started 0-2, losing its first game to Kelly Walsh by the less-than-inspiring score of 45-7 and falling to Thompson Valley, Colorado, 32-14.

The Indians recovered to beat Green River and Evanston to even their record at 2-2 before losing to Cheyenne East in the Capital Bowl, East dominating in a 31-7 victory.

That East game was supposed to be a test of Central’s growth. Instead, it became a distraction from the realities around them. For Cegelski, the week of the East game was one of the toughest in his life, as his sister Val died from cancer the same week.

“It was just a bad week all around,” he said.

Victories against Rock Springs and Laramie, followed by a home loss to Natrona, left Central at 4-4, just good enough for a home playoff game. But not much else was expected of the Indians — that is, if they could even get out of the first round.

In the week leading up to the quarterfinal game, though, something shifted in Central’s practices.

“We had a really good No. 1 team going against a really good scout team,” Cegelski said. “I don’t know if we ever really had that (in future seasons). We just had a feeling that all of a sudden we got really good.

“Our kids felt it, we felt it, and we figured we were gonna make a run at it and come out on top.”

To start the playoffs, Central played Laramie, a team the Indians needed double overtime to beat just two weeks prior in a 45-42 squeaker. The quarterfinal was similarly close, with the Indians narrowly pulling out a 27-20 victory.

In the semifinals, Central faced Natrona, 8-1 and the top-ranked team in the state heading into the playoffs. Natrona controlled the pace early and took a 17-3 lead in the third quarter after a pick-six. But Central came back and tied the game at 17, the tying touchdown from Corey Wheeler coming with 47.7 seconds remaining. Bryan Hill’s 1-yard touchdown run in overtime was the deciding score in a 23-20 overtime victory.

The Indians celebrated on the field — and then celebrated in the locker room when they heard they would get a second chance against their crosstown rivals.

“We heard East won, (and) we cheered in our locker room,” Cegelski said. “And I know they cheered in their locker room because they already kicked our ass once.”

The presence of two cross-town rivals in Wyoming’s big-school championship led to perhaps one of the most hyped title games in state history. The game was moved to Friday night to accommodate an anticipated big Cheyenne crowd, as well as a live television broadcast, something rare for football in Wyoming in the pre-streaming days. Even with the television option, extra portable stands were brought in to the old Okie Blanchard Stadium to accommodate the expected excess crowd.

Although a bit of wind and rain that night kept some fans away, estimates of somewhere between 5,000 and 7,500 fans showed up.

In the championship game, though, the Indians skipped the dramatics. They jumped out to a 20-0 lead and held on to win 27-14, securing the school’s first, and only, football championship since 1989.

“From the very first drive, I could tell by the line of scrimmage that this East high team didn’t have a chance,” Cegelski said. ” … Kids just played out of their hats. They played to the ability that we thought we had.”

Cheyenne Central’s 2005 team is one of only four Wyoming championship teams that ever finished its season being outscored by its opposition; for the year, Central was outscored 245-244.

But Central scored enough points when they had to, a testament to the growth in maturity and poise the team had throughout the season.

Leading the Central team under center was Brick’s son, also named Brick, which made the championship run extra sweet for the coach.

“Our little boys turned into men, and I think that’s our story,” he said.


Note: This is the fifth in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.

Former Campbell County soccer coach Lyle Nannemann remembers more than one player coming up to him with the same complaint during the 1994 state tournament: I’ve got nothing clean to wear.

On the verge of a championship that had reverberations across the state, some of the Camels had to make an emergency underwear run.

“Some of them didn’t pack enough clothes for that weekend because they figured they’d be coming home sooner than they did,” Nannemann said this summer, 28 years after the Camels’ unexpected championship that completely changed the expectations of soccer teams in Wyoming. “It was unexpected they were going to carry on into the championship. They figured they’d be going home early.”

With expectations low but momentum high, the Camels won the 1994 state soccer championship, and in doing so became the first school outside Cheyenne to finish a season on top.

The start of state-sanctioned high school soccer in Wyoming in 1987 made clear the difference between the haves and the have-nots.

Cheyenne had what was necessary to win championships. No other community did.

Cheyenne schools had won the first seven state soccer championships, with East winning in 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1992 and Central winning in 1990, 1991 and 1993. In both 1987 and 1992, the two Cheyenne schools faced each other in the championship game.

Rory Williams, who played for Campbell County, also said Cheyenne’s club team, the Steam, helped build that depth and that competitiveness.

“They just had a lot more players, and their depth was always really good,” Williams said. “They just had really high expectations.”

Added Chris McMackin, a senior on the 1994 Gillette team and now the Camels’ head coach, the Cheyenne schools’ proximity to Colorado gave them opportunities no other programs had.

“They just had a head start on the rest of the state,” he said.

Meanwhile, expectations weren’t as high in other programs across the state — as the lack of underwear shows.

Even so, Nannemann said the ability to fuse talent helped make the Camels champions.

“They were a great group of boys,” Nannemann said. “There was a lot of different personalities on the team and they just came together and gelled to win the championship.”

The lead-up to the 1994 state tournament gave no hint to the seismic shift about to take place in soccer in Wyoming. With an expanded eight-team field for just the second year, East and Central were both the prohibitive favorites. Central came into the state tournament with a record of 9-0-1. East, meanwhile, was 8-1-1, its only loss via its crosstown rival.

Lander (8-0-2) was the West Conference champion, but not a true threat as the Tigers hadn’t played Cheyenne schools and, well, weren’t from Cheyenne.

The rest of the field was unremarkable, with Riverton (6-3-1) and Natrona (5-2-3) just above .500, Kelly Walsh (4-4-2) and Campbell County (5-5) right at the midpoint and Buffalo (3-7) sneaking in as the last representative from the much tougher East Conference.

The expected happened in the first round. Cheyenne schools cruised; Central obliterated KW 9-0, while East shut out Riverton 3-0. Lander won, too, but needed overtime to beat an underwhelming Buffalo team. That just left Campbell County and Natrona playing for the right to go up against someone who would likely end their season the next day, as consolation rounds were not yet played at state.

The two teams battled to a 1-1 draw in regulation time, as Jeff Vega scored late in regulation on a penalty kick for the Camels to send it to overtime. Then McMackin scored the game-winner in the first half of overtime, and the Camels were on… seemingly to their doom against Central, a team that hadn’t lost in two years.

But, contrary to expectations and history, the Camels found a way to give the Indians their first loss in a rainy, snowy game in Laramie. Holding Central to just one goal (against a 5.6 goal-per-game average) in the 2-1 victory, McMackin scored again, this time less than two minutes into the game, and Williams added another within the first 10 minutes.

“They hadn’t experienced that in two-plus years,” McMackin said. “They were in shock.”

After the two goals, Williams said, “we just held on for dear life for probably the next 70-some minutes, in the snow and in the rain. … They had a lot of ammo and were able to get quite a few shots off, but our defense did a great job and our goalie, Mike Roe, did a great job (with 11 saves).”

And just like that, the Camels were onto the championship game against another Cheyenne school, East.

McMackin said Campbell County’s confidence was high against the Thunderbirds. Despite losing twice to East in the regular season, both games were competitive.

The Camels’ defense rose to the heights necessary for a state championship game. Freshman Justin Graham’s penalty kick in the first half was all the scoring Campbell County needed, and the Camels beat East 1-0 to win their first state soccer championship and the first for any Wyoming school outside of the confines of the Capital City.

McMackin said the crowd for the 1994 title game was one of the largest he had ever seen for a Wyoming high school game.

“So many teams were there rooting for us just because they wanted someone other than (a) Cheyenne (school) to win,” he said.

Along with the 2016 team from Laramie and the 2017 East team, the ’94 Camels are one of only three 4A boys teams to win state titles by winning three games at state each by a single-goal margin.

The Camels’ title ended the Cheyenne stranglehold, and they understood immediately that they were ushering in a new era of parity across the state in boys soccer.

Although East beat Central in the 1995 title game, six different schools won championships in the next six years, including Natrona, Buffalo, Kelly Walsh and Laramie. East and Central still sit atop the state soccer championship tallies, with East at eight and Central at seven, but Jackson has also won seven titles (including the three most recent in 4A) while Kelly Walsh and Laramie are right behind with six apiece.

McMackin said the change in Gillette’s community soccer programs is evidence of the strides the Camels have made and matches similar programs statewide. Where the teams in the 1980s and 1990s were formed by teams of players whose parents had never played soccer, “now you’re seeing second-, third-generation families who have played the game here.”

However, Campbell County still has only the 1994 title to claim as its own. McMackin, who had such a critical part of the 1994 team, is now the head coach of the Camels and is working to change that.

“It was like we lifted the curse for the rest of the state and then put it on ourselves,” he said.

Meanwhile, 28 years later, Nannemann — who stepped down as head coach in 1998 but still works with Gillette’s club soccer teams alongside some of his former players — said the Camels’ breakthrough “did make the confidence level come up where other teams felt they could do it also.”

And Williams, now the head boys basketball coach for defending Class 4A champion Thunder Basin, said the 1994 title was the one that helped other teams say, “If Campbell County can go in there and compete, why not us?”


Note: This is the fourth in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.

In the fall of 1981, Kelly Walsh senior Diana Jones was on the verge of something unprecedented — a fourth consecutive state cross country championship.

Cross country was still relatively new to girls in Wyoming, having been added as a sport only in 1975. However, Jones took to it quickly and won the individual championship as a freshman, sophomore and junior. No other Wyoming cross country runner, boy or girl, had ever won four, and she had it in sight.

As a senior, though, Jones’ two eventual biggest challengers at the state meet were relative unknowns.

One was a sophomore from Sheridan who finished 40 seconds behind Jones at the finish of the 1980 championship race.

The other was a freshman from Worland who was taking her first steps in one of the greatest high school careers ever seen by an athlete in Wyoming history.

They didn’t know it yet, but the trio of runners were on the verge of turning in what might well be the most exciting finish ever seen at a state cross country meet.

The problem is that 41 years later, the details of that race in the minds of the three runners are all fuzzy.

For all three, however, even though the specific bits and pieces of one race didn’t stay, the lessons of competition remained.

The race, the finish, the records — eventually, they all became secondary to the actual people running the race, the character they built and showed and the lives they led not because they won or lost, but in what they learned from giving their best in the moments when their best was required.


So who were these runners set to try to dethrone Jones?

The freshman: Worland’s Francie Faure would become one of Wyoming’s most decorated high school athletes by the time her high-school days ended. She won the Milward Simpson Award, which goes to the state’s top all-around male and female athletes, in 1985. She earned it, having won three consecutive cross country championships and 13 individual track titles — including a four-year sweep of titles in both the 800 and 1600. She was the first girl in state history to win four 1600 titles. And she still has the 3A state meet record in the 400 and the all-time state record in the 800, the oldest mark still standing. After Worland, she earned her place on the track team at track-crazy Oregon.

The sophomore: Sheridan’s Marcy Haynes finished sixth at state cross country as a freshman. She went on to win both the 400 and 800 races at the Class AA state track meet as a freshman, and she’d later win the 400 as a sophomore and a senior. She set high school meet records in middle-distance running throughout the region, some of which stood for decades. She later ran collegiately for a trio of track programs in the Midwest.

The trio — Jones, Faure, Haynes — raced at the 1981 girls track and field meet without fully realizing what was at stake.

Everyone knew Jones was going for state history and her fourth consecutive title.

No one knew Faure would win the next three.

And then there was Haynes, the one standing between two runners and their chances to do what no other Wyoming cross country runner had accomplished.


Jones knew how delicate her grasp was on the titles. After winning titles as a freshman and sophomore, she faced a stiff challenge as a junior from Gillette’s Linda Goddard. Goddard beat Jones handily at the regional meet before state and was on pace to do so again during the state championships. Goddard actually beat Jones by 13 seconds but was disqualified for “missing a flag,” the equivalent of taking a shortcut on the course, early in the race. Jones, who had finished second, was named champion, her third straight.

But that was nothing compared to the challenge that was about to come her way in the 1981 championship race in Lander.

The results on the Wyoming High School Activities Association’s website tell the story better than anyone involved can do today.

  • First place: Haynes, Sheridan, 12:39.
  • Second place: Jones, Kelly Walsh, 12:40.
  • Third place: Faure, Worland, 12:40.

Three runners, one second between them. Two four-peat attempts quashed in less time than it takes to read their times out loud.

But how that came to be? How three runners all ended up at the finish line within a second of each other?

When reached this summer, all three had only faded memories of that race, if any.


Jones said she had no memory of her final high school race.

“It was probably so traumatic that I blocked it out,” she said.

Haynes, too, has no memory of her only state cross country championship.

“Cross country really wasn’t my thing,” she said. “It was something I had to do. She (Jones) was a distance runner, so it probably was more upsetting to her than it was exciting for me. … Maybe that’s why I ran well, because I didn’t think about it.”

Faure has the clearest memory of the trio, but even her details aren’t complete; she needed to touch base with her high school coach, Doug Reachard, for some of the details.

Faure said she was a distant third when Reachard called out to her over the last 100 or 150 yards to go catch the leaders. She tried, but came up short of a miraculous comeback. For Faure, she said “it wasn’t one of those nip-and-tuck battles. It just was for the last second. … At the finish line, I was there when they were there.”

Even though the details of the championship didn’t stick with any of the three runners, the lessons they picked up from competing helped guide them throughout their lives.

Haynes — now Marcy Zadina — fought knee injuries in high school and, despite surgery, never fully returned to her form, finishing third at state as both a junior and a senior. She still ran collegiately, first at Nebraska before a stress fracture in her foot forced surgery and the end of that path. She later joined the track and field team at South Dakota State, then bounced around a bit before finishing her degree and her track career at Minnesota-Duluth.

After having the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom to her two sons — one who is now a collegiate hockey player and the other who is an actor — she settled in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where she lives with her sister.

Meanwhile, Jones — now Diana Schwahn — had an accomplished cross country career at Weber State. She then went to the University of New Mexico, receiving her degree in physical therapy in 1989. She now practices physical therapy and runs a physical therapy business in Omaha, Nebraska.

“I still run, not as fast, obviously, and not as far, but at least three or four times a week,” she said. ” … Through cross country I learned how to be a leader, and now in business I’m a leader.

” … Cross country is extremely hard work, so I think I’ve been able to take those skills and apply them to my work life.”

Faure, the youngest of the group, ran for the University of Oregon and lived in Eugene for 22 years before moving to Seattle in 2007. She works for Brooks, which makes running shoes and apparel.

Faure said track and field showed her the importance of “giving your best and showing up for your team. There’s just lifelong lessons that are kind of ingrained that I don’t even think about them anymore. … At this point I probably take (the lessons) for granted.”


With both Jones and Faure thwarted in their four-peat attempts, Wyoming went another two decades before its first four-time state cross country champion.

Natrona’s Sarah Balfour became Wyoming’s first such athlete in 2004, winning four consecutive Class 4A championships. The next year, Rocky Mountain’s Emily Higgins completed a four-year sweep of the Class 2A championships. And, of course, eventual Gatorade national cross country runner of the year Sydney Thorvaldson of Rawlins won four straight at Class 3A from 2017-20.

On the boys’ side, Saratoga’s Grant Bartlett could become the first four-time champ this year as he goes for his fourth Class 2A championship this weekend.

As the runners from 1981 showed, winning a fourth championship doesn’t dictate success or failure beyond that one race.

The memory will eventually fade.

The lessons will stay.


Note: This is the third in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.

Saratoga wrestling team photo, 1957.
Saratoga wrestling team photo, 1957. Courtesy of the Saratoga High School yearbook.

Compared to Wyoming’s larger schools, Saratoga was late to the wrestling party.

The Panthers did not even had a wrestling program until the 1953-54 school year, seven years after the sport was sanctioned in Wyoming.

Then again, Dale Federer was not a part of things until then.

Federer, who grew up on the family homestead in southeastern Wyoming, went to Cheyenne High and joined the wrestling team while at the University of Wyoming, came to Saratoga in 1953 with plans to bring the sport to the upper North Platte valley.

The challenge of developing a competitive, much less a championship, program to Saratoga was daunting. Once high school wrestling was established in Wyoming as a high school sport in 1946-47, early wrestling championships were the exclusive domain of big schools.

After Cody won the state’s first six wrestling championships, a group of big schools — Cheyenne Central twice, Rock Springs and Laramie once each — all won state championships. Usually, those titles came while competing against other large schools, who were often the only ones to field wrestling teams.

Only one classification of wrestling existed at the time, unlike the three-classification setup (4A, 3A and 2A) that Wyoming has today. In those days, small schools had little chance to compete for a championship, much less win one.

Then, behind an innovative coach and a rare collection of talent, Saratoga proved that assumption wrong.

The school had fundraisers to support the fledgling program. And even with a couple missteps, the Panthers’ youngsters were quick studies. Each year, they did a little better. In 1954, the Panthers finished eight out of 10 teams at the state meet; in 1955, they were seventh out of 12; in 1956, sixth out of 16.

By the 1956-57 season, the Panthers were consistently among the top wrestling teams in the state. Federer was president of the Wyoming Wrestling Coaches Association.

And in the first practice of that new season, one of the final pieces of a potential champion showed up in a freshman phenom who went on to rewrite Wyoming’s high school wrestling record books.


Dave Edington has a special place in Wyoming’s high school wrestling history — the first wrestler to ever win four individual state championships.

His first title came in 1957. Not coincidentally, that season, Saratoga blitzed the competition, including all those big schools who were there first, and romped to the team title at the state meet.

This championship was no fluke. The tiny school that was only a few years removed from adding the sport had the deepest and most talented team in the state, beating the likes of Cheyenne, Casper and Laramie.

Saratoga finished with three individual champions — Edington at 120 pounds, sophomore Merle Oxford at 95 pounds and senior Ron Perue, who was undefeated for the season, at 145 pounds. Junior Gary Maki finished as the runner-up at 112 and sophomore Norm Perue was the runner-up at 154, while senior Rod Johnson was third at 133.

Saratoga finished with 73 team points, well more than runner-up Newcastle at 62. The remaining 13 teams in the team standings — all of them Class AA or Class A teams, as Saratoga was the only Class B team entered at the meet to score any points — couldn’t come close to matching the pace set by the Panthers.


Edington was without a doubt a special talent. After winning his fourth title in Saratoga in 1960, all without losing an in-state match in four years, he wrestled at the University of Wyoming and went undefeated as a freshman. But in a match early in his sophomore year, his opponent suffered a blood clot mid-match and died. Edington was forced to take time away from wrestling, and when he tried to return, he was out of condition. He never wrestled competitively again.

However, his wrestling journey was only beginning.

As a wrestling coach in Ronan, Montana, Edington established his second legacy. Over 20 years (1968-88), Ronan won eight state championships, including five consecutive from 1978-82, and had 33 individual champions. Other accolades and opportunities rolled in at the state, national and international levels, including a coaching spot on the 1976 Olympic team.

Today, Edington is in his early 80s and lives in Ronan.


Federer, meanwhile, found his calling beyond Saratoga and beyond Wyoming.

After returning to the University of Wyoming to pursue his doctorate in counseling, Federer joined the faculty at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in 1963. He continued there until 1987, when he retired after a career that included starting a crisis hotline in the area and developing a senior peer counseling program. His civic leadership roles in San Luis Obispo continued long into his retirement, and he died in 2016.


Although other wrestling championships came, Saratoga never again put together an all-class championship — in fact, Saratoga remains as the only all-class champion to come from the Class B ranks in the 18 years before Wyoming split into three classifications of wrestling prior to the 1964-65 season.

The Panthers finished fourth at state in 1958, third in 1959 and seventh in 1960. However, when three-class wrestling was established, Saratoga won the first three Class B wrestling championships in 1965, 1966 and 1967. The team also won Class B titles in 1974, 1975 and 1977 and came within a point of winning it all in 1976, as well.

However, Saratoga hasn’t finished in the top five at a state wrestling meet since 1998.

Even so, the Panthers’ title paved the way for other smaller schools to try wrestling. In less than a decade after Saratoga’s championship, three-class wrestling had come to Wyoming, and schools that had never tried wrestling before or had done so on a limited basis expanded their programs to take advantage of the new opportunity.

Direct lines can be traced from Saratoga’s 1957 championship to the sport as it exists in Wyoming today.

After all, it took the Panthers to prove wrestling wasn’t just a sport for big schools.

Did they ever.


Note: This is the second in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.

Team photo of the Lingle girls basketball team from 2006.
Team photo of the Lingle girls basketball team from 2006. Courtesy of the Lingle-Fort Laramie High School yearbook.

The Lingle girls basketball team won the 2006 Class 1A championship by the thinnest of margins — a phrase that can be defined in two different ways.

First, the scores: Lingle won its three state tournament games by a combined five points, which is a state record — no other Wyoming team has won a state basketball title with such a slim combined margin in its three tournament games.

Second, the shot: Lingle’s championship-winning shot in its 32-31 victory against Encampment, a 3-pointer at the buzzer from senior point guard Lindsay Worley, survived on its trajectory only after barely sailing past a defender’s outstretched hand on its way to the hoop.

Together, behind those final scores and that final shot, the Doggers put together one of the more improbable championship runs ever seen at a state basketball tournament.

The fact that Lingle was a noted underdog in each of its three state tournament games, too, makes the run all that more memorable, more than 16 years after it happened.

In what looked like a two-team race between Guernsey and Encampment to the title, the Doggers unexpectedly beat both pre-tournament favorites.

Worley, speaking this summer from her home in Wisconsin, said it felt like the Doggers won two championships that weekend. The first came in the semifinals, when undefeated Guernsey — constantly Lingle’s undoing — fell to the Doggers. The next came in the actual championship game, where Lingle knocked off two-time defending champion Encampment and Worley’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer provided the final margin.

“Nobody was banking on us to win the state championship game,” Worley said, “and that was like, the biggest upset.”

But before the title game came two other close games for Doggers, who came into the 2006 state tournament as the No. 3 seed from the East Regional. Lingle had barely won its third-place game at regionals by eking out a 65-63 victory against Kaycee — a portend of things to come.

In the first round at state, the 16-9 Doggers played 17-5 Farson, which was No. 2 out of the West and had nearly beaten Encampment the week before in the West Regional championship.

Lingle’s state championship run nearly ended there. The Doggers gave away a 14-point fourth-quarter lead, and Farson tied the game late. But Angela Ostrander hit a free throw with 2.6 seconds remaining, the last of her game-high 23 points, and Lingle survived and advanced, 51-50.

Up next? Those pesky, undefeated Vikings from Guernsey. The Vikings entered the game 25-0, rarely challenged and twice victors over Lingle in the regular season, including a 23-point victory against the Doggers just two weeks prior. This was a Guernsey team loaded with talent and athleticism, proven not only by the zero in the loss column but by their 1A volleyball championship — in which they beat Lingle in the title match — that fall.

But the rivalry went deeper than that, Worley said, all the way back to middle school.

“I just remember Guernsey always kicked our butts, every single year,” she said.

But Lingle matched Guernsey’s energy and chemistry, finally overcoming their nemesis neighbors and ending the Vikings’ undefeated season with a 56-53 victory.

“Our energy as a team, we were just not giving up,” Worley said. “It just switched. It was amazing how we all came together in that game.”

After the semifinal victory, the exhausted but elated Lingle team faced yet another challenge: Encampment, which was 21-4 and on the brink of a third consecutive championship, something that had never been accomplished at the 1A girls level in Wyoming.

“We weren’t nervous,” Worley said. “We were just excited, excited we made it to the championship game.”

Encampment’s methodical style was in sharp contrast to Guernsey’s running style the night before. In a pace Worley said was “crawling,” Encampment maintained control early.

“We were struggling as a team because they were defending really tight on our post side,” Worley said “That was our goal — our goal was to beat Encampment in the paint, but they were defending really well on the post.”

Down seven in the third quarter, though, the Doggers finally broke through and found some offensive and defensive consistency. Not much, but enough. So, Lingle rallied. And rallied. And rallied. Eventually, the Doggers pulled within two, at 31-29.

Down by that margin with 8 seconds remaining and 94 feet to go, Worley said the coach’s plan was to feed the post and play for overtime. But 31 minutes and 52 seconds of game play made Worley aware that the plan was tenuous.

“The way that Encampment was defending, they were just all over our post, and it never would have worked,” she said.

So as the huddle broke, and as the ball made its way upcourt in her teammates’ possession, Worley said “something, for me mentally just clicked, and I just needed the ball in my hands.”

She started calling for the ball, then clapping. Loudly. This was going to be her shot to take.

A teammate saw her near the top of the key and gave her the chance she was looking for. No time to think — Worley caught and shot, well beyond the 3-point line but still only millimeters over the outstretched arms of Encampment’s Kally Custis.

“That’s why the arc of the ball was so high. I remember shooting up and over her hand,” Worley said. ” … I just knew it was going in. I knew that was one of my strengths at the time. I was a shooter, and the shooter wants the ball.”

Worley’s 3-pointer beat the buzzer, and Lingle had just won its first modern girls state basketball championship by the thinnest of those two margins — a one-point, 32-31 victory that came on a shot that survived being blocked by less than a fingertip.

The realization of the significance of the shot came quickly for Worley, who looked up into the celebrating crowd and saw her father, tears in his eyes. Soon after, the two found each other, and Worley’s dad hugged her as dads do when they can’t contain their excitement, picking her up and twirling her around.

For Worley, who played her senior season only after recovering from back-to-back knee injuries, the championship was the closure of one chapter of her life. But she did take some time to soak in what she could and enjoy it.

“I was riding high for a full week after that,” Worley said.

Worley’s basketball career ended with that shot. She found her passion in health and fitness, a career she has pursued for the past 14 years. After getting her master’s degree in public health from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Worley is now working as a heath educator, wellness coordinator and trainer at a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, the Doggers’ run from Worley’s senior year remains a testament to the unpredictable nature of sports, exemplifying how an entire team can dance on the edge of failure multiple times and still find success through good fortune, opportune timing and the right attitude in the game-defining moment.


Note: This is the first in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.

The Reliance boys basketball team from 1949. Photo courtesy of the 1949 Reliance High School yearbook.
Top row: Coach Jack Smith, Ronald Wilson, Robert Burns, Tony Tsakakis, Everett Hernandez, John Fortuna, George “Bud” Nelson, Stan Kouris, Claude Thomas, Walter Sawick, assistant coach Thomas Manatos.
Bottom row: Manager Henry Telck, George Jelaco, Michael Fresques, James Rafferty, William Strannigan, Ernest Mecca, Spiro Varras.

The Reliance High School basketball team from 1949, one of the most remarkable teams ever fielded in Wyoming history, has two big claims to fame.

The first, most obvious, is the smaller of the two accomplishments: A team from a high school with 94 students played with Wyoming’s big schools and nearly pulled off a basketball championship run for the ages, finishing as the state’s runners-up during a magical week in March.

The second reason why the Pirates of 1949 are so special goes well beyond the scores of games played more than 70 years ago, stretching into communities and lives across the state and country. Of the 15 players in the team picture, three (plus a fourth freshman not in the photo) went on to become inductees into the inaugural class elected to the Wyoming Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Several others became coaches and educators in Wyoming. Also in the mix were boys would become an oceanographer, a doctor, a civic leader, a Naval weapons specialist and more — a collection of leaders who shaped countless lives. They were inspired by a coach who left a noticeable impression on their lives.


It seems odd that a team that would produce so many coaching legends would come from a town and a school with such little hardwood success. To put it bluntly, Reliance did not have a rich basketball history. Aside from trips to the state tournament in 1929 and 1930, when all teams no matter their record could play, the Pirates’ only other visit to state came in 1942, when the Pirates rallied from a first-round loss to win the consolation championship.

In 1948, the year before their memorable run at state, Reliance finished a paltry 11-14 but had shown promise in the regional tournament, upsetting Rawlins in the first round and nearly beating Kemmerer in a state play-in game before losing 33-32.

The following season, the Pirates had shown they were an improved team under coach Jack Smith, but they still looked far from championship material. Reliance was competitive during the regular season, finishing 14-9 and going 11-4 in conference play, good enough to finish second in the nine-team Class AA/A Southwest District. (Incidentally, the Pirates also played well at home, in a “crackerbox” gym that needed two 10-second lines because the court’s length was too short to be regulation.) Reliance reached state by finishing second in the Southwest District tournament; their one-point loss to top seed Rock Springs in the title game was proof, though, that the Pirates could play with the state’s best.

This realization came even though the Pirates were not blessed with the one thing that usually guarantees success in basketball, height. The starting five of senior Spiro Varras and juniors Stan Kouris, Bud Nelson, Michael Fresques and George Jelaco were built for hunching in coal mines, not posting up on the block.

“We were really small,” Nelson said. “We had one person that was over 6 feet tall. I was the center and I was 5-11.

“We didn’t have much height, but we had a lot of fight.”

The size of the school itself, not just its players, was another handicap, another one Reliance was determined to overcome.

With a senior class of 18 students and a 9-12 student body of 94 (according to a count from the school’s 1949 yearbook), the Pirates were one of the smallest schools in Wyoming’s Class A ranks. At the time, Wyoming basketball only had two classifications — A and B — as four-classification play with classes of AA, A, B and C was still three years away. The dividing line between Class A and Class B was an enrollment of 100 students. Riding the edge of that line, Reliance played against Wyoming’s biggest boys from its biggest schools, including some schools more than 10 times their size, despite having only double-digit numbers walking the halls.

In fact, John Fortuna, a senior on the 1949 team, said the Reliance superintendent probably lied in reporting the school’s enrollment to keep the Pirates in Class A.

But Reliance was used to the challenge, and they knew how to handle it.

“Most of what made our team click was aggressiveness and desire and to believe in that we could win,” Nelson said. “People will look at us and kind of laugh at us, like a car of midgets drove up to the basketball court… but we had the desire to win so much, that made up for us being so small.”

When the state tournament came around, that desire wasn’t yet on display for the state to see. Reliance wasn’t given much of a chance to get out of the first round, much less make a deep run.

Up first was Worland, which had finished third in the Northwest District tournament but had 19 victories on the season, including one against mighty Casper Natrona. The Pirates weren’t fazed; Fresques scored 12, Kouris 10 and Varras nine, and Reliance won 43-35.

Next up: Cheyenne.

This is where the dream had to end, right? After all, the Indians represented the state’s biggest school and, at the time, its biggest basketball dynasty.

Entering the 1949 season, Cheyenne and coach Okie Blanchard had won six of the past seven state basketball championships. The Indians had their struggles in 1949, sure, but still came into the game against Reliance with 18 victories, a Southeast District tournament championship, momentum from a 27-point first-round victory against Gillette and a student body significantly larger than that of the Pirates. (The 1949 Cheyenne yearbook shows 829 students in grades 10-12.)

The game wasn’t even close — and not in the way that most expected. Reliance dominated Cheyenne in every possible way. Kouris had 10 and Nelson, Varras and Jelaco had eight apiece, no Cheyenne player had more than five, and the Pirates won 44-27.

“They were much bigger, but we were quicker,” Varras said. “We pressed, and we had a bunch of guys that were just really tough. And the pressure got to (Cheyenne). Their coach told our coach later, ‘I’d trade two of our big guys for one of your scrappers.'”

That was the game that turned the state’s attention to the little team that could.

Now one of the final four, Reliance was among a set of giant-killers. Little-regarded Lusk beat Northwest District tournament champion Cody in the second round, while at the same time Lovell had beaten Rock Springs — the team that beat Reliance in the Southwest District title game. The only non-surprise among the final four teams was Casper (Natrona), which had consistently been one of the state’s best all season long.

The semifinals paired Reliance with Lusk and Lovell with Casper. But with mighty Cheyenne already vanquished, what were the Tigers? Once again, Reliance played above its size, Nelson scored 14 and the Pirates wiped out Lusk by 11, 39-28.

Just like that, little Reliance was in the state championship.

Casper’s 45-35 victory against Lovell set up one of the most unlikely of title pairings: the 22-4, big-school, big-town, we-belong-here Mustangs against the 19-10, small-school, small-town, we-belong-here-too Pirates.

Nelson said excitement for the Pirates had reached a frenzy back in the four coal camps of Reliance, Winton, Dines and Stansbury. Those who couldn’t make it to UW’s Half Acre Gym by car, train or bus for the championship still managed to keep up with the proceedings. Even the underground miners in Reliance’s coal mines kept in the know. Miners running hoists above ground would listen to the game on the radio and periodically write down the score of the game.

“They’d put (the scores) on the coal cars and run them down the mine, and (the miners) could keep up with the scores that way,” Nelson said.

The Pirates’ magic ran out in the championship, though, as a bigger and more physical Mustang team built a six-point halftime lead and won by 13, 49-36.

“They played a completely different ballgame than any other team we played,” Fortuna said. “They forced us to move the ball. … They just turned the tables on us.”

Regardless, Varras was named to the all-state team, the first time a Reliance player had been so honored. And the Pirates picked up all kinds of recognition for being the team to not only end Cheyenne’s title run but to reach the title game. The team came home with a big, golden basketball trophy for its runner-up finish, which was displayed proudly in the school trophy case, and Smith was named the state’s coach of the year.

Jim Rafferty, a junior on the runner-up team, said the reason for the Pirates’ success was a simple combination of the care and comfort the players had for and with each other: “We played together.”

However, the on-court magic ended there.

The 1950 team had the opposite experience of being the hunted, not the hunter; the Pirates finished 21-2 in the regular season and won the Southwest Conference regular-season title. Then it all crumbled down at the district tournament, where Reliance had the misfortune of losing their final two games of the season in the final two games. They didn’t even have the chance to repeat their run at state, failing to qualify and spending that weekend at home.

The 1952 and 1953 teams, now playing in Class A and avoiding run-ins with the likes of Cheyenne and Casper, each advanced to the state tournament semifinals but no further.

That’s the closest Reliance ever got to another title run. With a declining enrollment, the Pirates moved to Class B in 1955 and, not long after the Union Pacific coal mines near Reliance closed in early 1959, the high school closed later that year. Reliance went 4-16 in its final season of basketball.

Reliance, population 714, survives today, with the school remade into apartments. The nearby mining towns of Winton, Dines and Stansbury, whose youth also filled the halls of Reliance High and whose citizens emptied the town to come to a high school basketball tournament in Laramie in 1949, did not survive, as a handful of foundations is all that remains.

And Varras is curious what happened to the big, golden trophy.

“I don’t know where that went,” he said. “That would be nice to know.”


The true nature of the Pirates’ championship-game run wasn’t apparent for decades later, after it became clear just how special the group of young men on that team in Reliance truly was. To a man, each of them went on to lead successful, enriching lives. Many of them gave back to the sport by becoming coaches, educators or administrators. Others found success in other lines of work, such as engineering, medicine or military service. Many served as part of the U.S. military the Korean War. And they led the way for younger players who didn’t see the floor but saw the leadership in action and followed the path blazed in part by a dramatic championship-game appearance.

The team, and the fortunes that followed them, included:


  • John Fortuna: Worked in the oil and gas industry for nearly a decade, then worked with the U.S. Postal Service in Rock Springs for 30 years. Lives in Rock Springs; age 91.
  • Everett Hernandez: Became an engineer and had a 40-year career with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego; was also a youth baseball coach and taught math at San Diego State and San Diego Mesa College. Died 2017.
  • Claude Thomas: Went to college at BYU and to medical school at Utah; was a practicing doctor in Utah for more than three decades, retiring in 1993. Died 2014.
  • Spiro Varras: A WCA hall of famer, led Rock Springs’ basketball team to four state championships in 14 years as head coach and was a math teacher at the school. Lives in Rock Springs; age 91.


  • Michael Fresques: According to Varras, Fresques was a Korean War hero, working as a medic and rescuing people from battlefields after injuries; he graduated with an engineering degree from UW in 1956; buried in Fort Logan National Cemetery in Colorado. Died 2006.
  • George Jelaco: Was a teacher, coach and administrator in Rock Springs for close to three decades; he is a member of the Wyoming Sports Officials Association’s hall of fame. Died 2000.
  • Stan Kouris: A basketball coach for six years at Rock Springs and at one time was the elected head of the Wyoming Coaches Association, a position Varras took over immediately after Kouris became an administrator at Rock Springs High; he later worked as a grocery manager and owner in Utah. Died 2021.
  • Ernest “Ernie” Mecca: A 30-year member of the National Guard and civic leader in Sweetwater County, with accomplishments and memberships too numerous to mention, and was employed by Rocky Mountain Power; later became chief of staff to Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan. Died 2011.
  • George “Bud” Nelson: A WCA hall of famer, he was a coach and administrator at Rock Springs and Cokeville as well as at Western Wyoming College, where he was the basketball coach; he was named the national athletic director of the year in 1989 while at Rock Springs. Lives in Rock Springs; age 91.
  • Jim Rafferty: Worked in extraction industries, both coal and oil, until his official full retirement in 1988. Lives in Reliance; age 90.
  • William “Bill” Strannigan: A WCA hall of famer, coached St. Stephens to a then-record 46-game winning streak and two state titles; was later activities director at Riverton for many years. Died 2012.
  • Tony Tsakakis: Worked in the office of the lieutenant governor in Minnesota. Died 2020.


  • Robert Burns: Graduated from UW in mechanical engineering; Nelson, his brother-in-law, said Burns spent his career working on space research and technology with Lockheed Martin. Died 2015.
  • Walter Sawick: Graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Colorado; he served in the Navy and worked at Mare Island Naval shipyard and Concord Naval Weapons Station. Died 2010.
  • Ronald Wilson: According to Nelson and Fortuna, Wilson went to pharmacy school at UW and later worked as a pharmacist in Texas. Lives in Amarillo, Texas.

And some freshmen who weren’t in the team picture went on to have an impact as educators and coaches in Wyoming:

  • John Maffoni: An educator in Rawlins for 40 years, working up from teacher and coach — he was head football coach for six years — to administrator; he was the Rawlins High principal for nine years and the district superintendent for eight years. Lives in Rawlins.
  • Jim Mecca: An educator throughout the Bighorn Basin, including time in Thermopolis, Burlington and Shoshoni both teaching and coaching; he later owned the Tepee Pools in Thermopolis and was involved with fundraising for Shriner’s Hospitals for Children. Died 2019.
  • Jack Rafferty: A WCA hall of famer, was a coach and athletic director in Buffalo for many years, retiring in 1987; he was president of the Wyoming Coaches Association and led Buffalo to two state basketball championships. Died 2020.

Finally, senior manager Henry Telck also got into coaching; his specialty was youth baseball, where he eventually served as president of Rock Springs Little League. He, too, was a Korean War veteran, and he worked for 32 years for Mountain Fuel Supply. He died in 1997.

Meanwhile, the coaches of the team made their impacts beyond Reliance, too. Head coach Jack Smith — a graduate of Kemmerer and a former member of the UW basketball team — stayed on as the Pirates’ head coach through 1955. He later entered administration and became superintendent of Rock Springs schools, holding that position for 23 years. He died in 1999 at age 80.

His influence stoked the passion many of the Reliance players had for both sports and education.

“He was in World War II as a bomber pilot, and he just inspired all of us,” Varras said. “He was just that kind of person. I think that was one of the main reasons we all went into coaching. … We really felt that he was a good person and we tried to be the same way.”

Added Nelson, “He was a fundamental coach. He was a great coach that way, X’s and O’s, and he had a way with young people. … He was quite a man, and we all admired him.”

Assistant coach Thomas Manatos taught in Reliance and later in Rock Springs for 42 years. He also was the sports voice of the Tigers on the radio, broadcasting Rock Springs football and basketball games for almost 20 years. He died in 2004 at age 84.

Varras said Manatos was his inspiration to become a math teacher.

In Reliance’s case, success bred success. The success of the players after high school was no doubt related to the successes they already were, and the successes their families and community helped mold them into, with or without a couple victories in March.

Fortuna said the legacy of the team’s success was evident each of his 30 years delivering mail in Rock Springs, which was full of former residents of the closed coal camps.

“When I carried mail, the majority people knew me from playing ball in Reliance,” he said. ” … They knew all the players. It was like family.

” … It was just something that stuck with them all the time, that a little burg like we were could beat someone like Cheyenne.”


Box score photos courtesy of Bud Nelson.