WY Wyoming is Great

Hey there all and in this episode, I wanted to expound on something that I am extremely proud to be a part of.  The Wyoming High School Activities Association is the governing body for High School Activities and Athletics in the State of Wyoming.  This last weekend was the State Wrestling Tournament and we are in the winter sport championship season where the next two weekends after this one is the 1A & 2A (schools with populations of roughly forty to just under three hundred) boys and girls basketball tournament and the following weekend will be the big schools of 3A & 4A (schools with populations from three hundred-ish to the largest school in the state of almost 1,900).

Classifications in Wyoming for most sports have the largest 16 schools as 4A, next 16 schools are 3A, next are 2A and the rest are 1A.  There is a pretty sharp cut from the largest school in the state (Kelly Walsh at a population of around 1,900 students to the smallest 4A around 500-800 students.  I phrase it this way as different sports tier and classify their schools differently and after all, there are only roughly seventy high schools in the entire state of Wyoming and some schools simply do not have the student population / interest to yield teams.  This last weekend as stated above is the State Wrestling Tournament and I have some fun history surrounding this event. 

Let’s go 10 years in the past, that makes it the year 2012, Adele, is topping the charts with a song called Set fire to the rain, don’t know if I even know that one, but I do know that the top country songs of the time were Florida Georgia Line’s cruise & that there was Somethin’ ‘bout a truck by Kip Moore.  I was living over in Riverton, WY at the time and the Dogfather was living with his sister in Mills, WY, a suburb of Casper.  At the time, I would drive over to the big city of Casper to visit the Dogfather and timing was definitely a unique situation as he worked nights and when overtime called on Fridays and Saturdays, it was a slightly earlier shift from 2 pm to 10 pm.  This Saturday, he let me know that the state wrestling tournament was in town and that his alma mater and that would be something maybe fun to go do while waiting for him to get off of work so I did.  From that point on, I have been to the state wrestling tournament every year since other than the COVID adjusted tournament in 2021 and I couldn’t get the time off.  This is such a fun and unique experience and the newly christened Ford Wyoming Center is always nearly filled to it’s over 8,000 occupancy capacity.

One of the differences for the state wrestling tournament is the aforementioned 1A class is non-existent and all 1A school have to compete with the 2A schools.  This means that the school with the smallest population in the state per website ( https://www.niche.com/k12/search/largest-public-high-schools/s/wyoming/ ) Rock River at twenty eight students would have to compete against the largest true 2A school of Rocky Mountain High School at 362 students.  The best of 16 tournament is a single elimination tournament with wrestle back potential to get 3rd if you win every match after your loss; but if you lose at any point, you cannot become the champion.

Now I will acknowledge that I have never attended any wrestling tournament but I can’t imagine many tournaments like the tournament hosted in Casper, WY.  There is such a strong dynamic that is so heartening to see and from my experience the commandries between athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers…you can tell that everyone from the 4A coach on the mat next to the 2A mat talking to the athlete after the match to give tips and praise to the officials receiving praise and hugs from coach friends and athletes they have seen grow up in the sport…It might not be “professional” or the decorum that is expected of representatives of the sport, however it’s how things are done here and I will choose the friendships and relationships developed over years instead of ambivalence and sense that it’s not allowed to ever have interactions and relationships with these professional acquaintances. 

I think part of this concept stems from that it’s simply not possible in Wyoming.  In the entire state to cover all classes of competition, there are only about eighty registered wrestling officials, 80…that’s it… that’s averaging just over one official per school.  And when your town for 4A population is averaging 25,000, 3A town population around 25,000 and 2A town population around 1,000 you know everyone and from your interactions and dedication to the community, everyone is going to know you.  Even with us living in the second largest city in Wyoming, whenever we go out, you can’t not stop and see how so and so is doing from the kids you’ve coached and officiated since elementary school to the parents and coaches at the varsity level.  You know everyone and everyone knows you.  It is the best feeling in the world to be welcomed into schools and I personally am humbled every time I get invited to officiate.

But I digress…This is supposed to be about the 2022 State Wrestling tournament, not how amazing youth athletics are in Wyoming

The Wyoming Center as I stated earlier has family, friends and is large enough where you have every classification of competitor on nine mats on the floor of the arena which hosts the college national finals rodeo every year. 

The set up is as follows: 

This setup rarely changes and each school seemingly has it’s own area that it sets up shop and we went this year to enjoy all the festivities but also to support a good friend of ours son who was a contender for the state title.  In order to visit with them, we stayed in predominantly in section 117 of the map above.  Competition is fast as furious during the first rounds where we are punching through weights from 106 pounds all the way up to 285, eight bouts at each weight on three mats per classification.

From the extremely untrained eye of a volleyball official and someone who followed the career of their nephew in law at Penn State and his friends who are gold medalists the changes in styles and techniques from the lightweights to increasing sizes is fascinating. 

At your 106, 113, 120s, you see these young guys squirming and flitting around the ring and wondering what kind of knots they are tying themselves in and if we can tell where one competitor starts and the other ends.  It’s not easy.  When you get a little heavier that’s where you can see where the skill sets, muscular strength of these athletes is present.  These are also the weight classes that you will physically cringe and acknowledge that you are not young anymore and grateful that it’s these wrestlers on the mats and not you who can wake up with a backache just sleeping with the wrong pillow.  But in a way my favorite weight class to watch is the heavyweights, our 285 class especially at the 2A class where essentially if you want to compete, you can and there are definitely some novices in the field. 

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I would not be able to defeat any of these gentlemen, but due to the skill sets of these athletes at the heavy weight class, there is a strong correlation to who falls first and who would win.  The best part of how the tournament is run though?  It’s a rolling schedule which means the wrestle back rounds immediate follow the bracket rounds so you often see a 6’6” + offensive lineman body next to an incoming freshman at 100 pound if he’s lucky and you can’t help but smile and enjoy the competition. 

After the bulk of the competition on the first day though and preceding the semifinal bouts, it is major party time on a scale that is beyond compare and is evidently the only party of it’s kind in the entire United States.  The entire event center is filled with glow sticks, flashing lights, light up cowboy hats, rainbow mohawks, tutu’s and new party innovations year over year.  All teams are announced and classifications are announced starting with the previous year’s championship winning teams and every school is announced, cheered and welcomed to the party.  Then after all the schools fill the floor of the center, each returning state champion is announced and recognized of their achievements.

At the termination of the festivities the semi-finals commence and the first day of competitions draws to a close.  Start of day two is brought to us with the second round of wrestle backs and immediately followed by the winners of round two to wrestle the losers of the previous night’s semi-finals.  The winners of these matches will wrestle for 3rd place, losers for 5th.  After the third round of wrestle backs, a session break where all competitors coaches help out and reduce the number of mats from nine to six removing one mat per classification (mats 1, 5 & 9). At this point the third and fifth place matches are wrestled as simultaneously as possible; taking into account that a match that goes into overtime will obviously delay the subsequent match compared to the fifteen second pin on the other. 

But finally, the main event, the six mats are broken down to the final three, one per classification and all matches for finals will be wrestled per weight class at the same time.  Platforms are erected at the same time for medal ceremonies to take place during the finals themselves between each match / weight class.  Finals competitors line up and the face off occurs where every bout meets their competition and the excitement hits a crescendo.  But in 2022, we have a special guest.  The Associate Director of the WHSAA is Mr. Trevor Wilson.  From personal experience, he is one of the most genuinely nice, hard working and dedicated individuals committed to the high school experience.  His son had a stellar career in high school sports and was lucky to continue that athletic achievement at the University of Wyoming.  Two years ago, he entered the NFL draft and was picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals where he just came home after competing in the Super Bowl.  I can confirm for a fact that I don’t think any other athlete competing in the Super Bowl had an entire state supporting them to the scale that Logan Wilson had and he came to pay his respects to the state, a true class act.

Officials whistles blare, bodies hit the floor, tears of anguish and cries of victory pierce the air of the arena.  Crowds attempt to sway officials from their clearly better viewpoints than the individuals on the floor and parents hold their breath and cry their own tears of seeing their sons hurting sometimes equally emotionally as physically, but more often the moment overrides emotion and that emotion leaks out and impacts those who don’t even have skin in the game.  You see parents who are coaches hoisting their victors in the air celebrating them and you see parents and coaches consoling second place as if second place is worst agony anyone could suffer and in the heat of the moment it is. 

Award are presented and the season’s efforts are over.  That’s it, there isn’t anymore to it really.  Some will bask and be happy with their results, others will harbor grudges, others will use the opportunity to become a better person and have develop their character into fine young citizens.  Regardless, there will always be a next year whether they are on the mat, in the corners or in the stands supported friends and family.  The Wyoming High School Community is the absolutely best community to be a part of.

If you are impassioned about school athletics or activities and want to help please let me know.  All sports and activities are desperate for help or visit whsaa.org for more information.

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