David Watson

There was a time when knowing which Wyoming Class 4A conference Laramie High School was in was easy — it was commonly called the Interstate 80 conference.

Just follow the schools from Cheyenne to Evanston.

For many years the South Conference was Cheyenne East and Central, Laramie, Rock Springs, Green River and Evanston. The North Conference was, well, logically the other 4A teams to the north.

Those days are long gone, especially with the additions of Cheyenne South and more recently Thunder Basin in Gillette to the 4A ranks.

Football is not part of this discussion as there are no conferences in 4A, it’s just all 10 teams.

Now trying to figure out what other sport is in what conference has become rather convoluted, and even more so shortly before the fall season began when three LHS coaches received surprising news.

First and foremost, Laramie never has and probably never will worry about changing — up or down — overall classifications. The Wyoming High School Activities Association mostly determines that based on the school’s population of students, and Laramie has always been safely in 4A.

Travel cost, when it comes to distance and expenses for overnight stays, is also a concern for the WHSAA. The downturn of the minerals industry (mostly coal) — a once lucrative revenue that fed the coffers for overall state education — slashed the budgets for school districts significantly.

The old South and North conferences changed to East and West several years ago with Laramie grouped with the three Cheyenne schools, Sheridan, and recently the two Gillette schools — Campbell County and Thunder Basin.

That stayed the same for some sports this year. But basketball and volleyball were broken down further into quadrants: Southeast, Northeast, Southwest and Northwest. Again, with travel costs in mind, Laramie is grouped with the three Cheyenne schools in the Southeast quadrant.

But sometime in the summer, the results from a meeting of the state’s activities directors determined that Laramie’s wrestling, boys and girls swimming and cross-country programs would be immediately moved to the West Conference to fill a void left by Jackson going down to Class 3A.

For those sports, Laramie is now with Evanston, Green River, Rock Springs and the Casper schools of Kelly Walsh and Natrona.

“I was a little bit shocked to tell you the truth,” LHS swimming coach Tom Hudson said. “I found out about it through Greg Schabron, the cross-country coach, who said ‘hey, did you hear about the conferences?’

“When I asked our activities director to look into it, he knew nothing about until he called around and found out it happened over the summer. I think the three Cheyenne schools wanted to stay together, which makes sense. Then the other logic I heard was that the West only had five schools with Jackson moving back down to 3A and they decided to pluck Laramie out of the East.”

Laramie was not represented at that meeting. Former LHS Activities Director Jeremy Qualls had moved to his new position as principal at Rock River. It was also before current Activities Director Ron Wagner was hired and on the job here shortly before the fall season began.

Schabron, Hudson and wrestling coach Stuart Brinkman first thought they had to completely revamp their schedules — and do it quickly.

“I thought it was going to affect us a lot,” Brinkman said. “Later, I found out that we didn’t have to change it right away for this year and we will just have regionals at Rock Springs.”

It was also the same for Hudson and Schabron. The only changes this year are the conference meets: girls swimming and diving regionals will be at Kelly Walsh instead of Cheyenne South, cross-country regionals are in Rock Springs instead of Sheridan and wrestling is in Rock Springs instead of Thunder Basin.

“For years we were in a South Conference in what I called the I-80 league,” Hudson said. “Now we are back with those schools.

“But to not to be in the same conference as the Cheyenne schools doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I suppose greater minds than me made that decision.”

I’m willing to bet it’s difficult to find more than a handful with greater minds than Hudson when it comes to logically thinking about high school athletics. He has been coaching at LHS for nearly 30 years, won multiple state and conference championships and has a national coach of the year to his credit.

So at LHS, (I think) we now have:

— Basketball and volleyball in the Southeast quadrant.

— Soccer, outdoor track and field and golf in the East Conference.

— Wrestling, boys and girls swimming and diving (with separate seasons) and cross-country to a West Conference.

— Tennis in a South Conference comprised of all the southern schools in the state for a non-classification sport with 17 teams in the state.

Indoor track and field, Nordic skiing and alpine skiing are similar to tennis with no classifications, but with fewer teams and no need for conferences.

Confused yet?

I wouldn’t blame you. I too miss the easier days of just the I-80 schools grouped together in a simple South Conference for all sports.

But more concerning is how the recent change for wrestling, swimming and diving and cross-country will financially impact LHS and Albany County School District No. 1?

Taking three East Conference schools from Cheyenne — 45 minutes away that don’t require overnight hotel expenses — out of the travel budgets and replacing them with the closest West Conference schools in Casper or Rock Springs did not do Laramie any favors.

While travel costs are a statewide issue for high school athletics and reorganizing classifications and conferences may have helped other schools address those concerns, Laramie got a bad deal after this latest conference revision.

David Watson is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at dwatson@wyosports.net or 307-755-3327. Follow him on Twitter at @dwatsonsports.

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