Headline from the April 18, 1974, Casper Star-Tribune, reads: "Prep realignment is a sticky issue."

The year 1974 was a good one for dismantling broken systems.

So when the Wyoming High School Activities Association focused on its system — the one where Rock River and all 25 of its high school students was opting up to Class B — the group’s board of control decided to fix it.

Rock River’s plight was a small piece of a fracturing system. By 1974, only eight schools remained in Class C, now Class 1A.

In April of that year, the WHSAA board considered numerous changes it could make to its classification system to make Class C viable again, or perhaps eliminate it altogether in drawing up something new.

The proposals ran the gamut of possible solutions:

  • One proposal would have eliminated Class C, with all C schools moving to Class B, giving Wyoming three classifications for the bulk of its sports.
  • Another proposal called for a return to a two-classification system, with the dividing line between Class A and Class B schools set at 200 students, thereby eliminating both Class AA and Class C.
  • Yet another proposal called for even splits of 18 teams for each of the top three classifications of AA, A and B, with the remaining 19 teams in C.
  • The final proposal would have split Wyoming into five classifications, with dividing lines between the classifications set at 600, 250, 120 and 60 students.

Of the four proposals before it, though, the board selected none of them.

Instead, the WHSAA board went with a fifth option, the one that ultimately saved small-school sports in Wyoming.

That option wasn’t a “proposal” at all. The WHSAA simply stuck with the system it had, with one caveat: It stopped accepting requests from Class C schools to play in Class B. It also canceled the existing opt-ups, like Rock River’s. That, coupled with slight adjustments in the enrollment cutoffs for each classification (including moving the boundary for Class C from 50 to 75 students), boosted the Class C numbers from eight schools to 20.

The road to that decision was a bumpy one, the result of one of the most turbulent times for small Wyoming high schools.

The root of “opting up” came about throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s as Class C schools struggled with conference schedules. Schools in Wyoming’s four districts — the northeast, southeast, northwest and southwest quadrants — worked hard to maintain full conference schedules as seven small Wyoming schools closed between 1966 and 1971 (Hawk Springs/Veteran/Yoder to form Goshen Hole; Morton/Pavillion to form Wind River; Hillsdale; Carpenter; Fort Laramie; and Arvada).

As those smaller schools closed, though, Class C schedules got harder and harder to fill. Class B, with more schools and more stability, became an attractive option. Moreover, schools that had lost enrollment and could have moved to Class C did not so they could maintain rivalries and full schedules.

The tipping point came in 1973, when a trio of tiny schools — Encampment, Medicine Bow and Rock River — all opted up to Class B together.

That’s how Wyoming reached the peak of reclassification ridiculiousness prior to the 1973-74 school year: Rock River, with its 25 students in grades 9-12, a Class B school.

Even so, entering that April 1974 meeting, the path forward was unclear, with different factions of coaches and administrators each proposing their solution as the right answer.

Rather than tear it all down and rebuild, though, the WHSAA simply reinforced its existing structure. That, coupled with small adjustments in enrollment boundaries, brought some equity to each classification.

It worked. Class C schools could still play Class B competition in the regular season, and regional tournaments in both classifications became more competitive across the board. The four-classification system was saved.

Perhaps the enduring sign of the importance of this decision is its longevity. Over the past 49 years, the four-class system has never really been challenged. And the WHSAA’s recent reclassification decision not only reinforced it, it returned Wyoming’s high schools to the system that was saved in 1974. The direct line between 1974 and 2024 is clear, as the state retains four classifications with only small adjustments to the enrollment boundaries for each classification.

What’s old is new again.

At least this time, Rock River didn’t have to become a 2A school to instigate it.

Up next: A look at who’s been affected the most, and the least, by reclassification.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation