The football teams left standing in the Class 1A/11-man West Conference aren’t sure what kind of season they are in for.
News of Saratoga’s decision to forfeit its season due to low participation numbers had already spread throughout the conference by Friday afternoon. And its impact goes much further than losing a conference game on the schedule.
Cokeville, Rocky Mountain, Shoshoni, Wind River and Wyoming Indian remain in the conference. That could change in the coming weeks, however, when Wyoming Indian learns its exact number of players. The Chiefs cancelled the final two games of their season last year due to few remaining healthy players. So the other four teams have begun mental preparations for the season — some of which do not include Wyoming Indian.
In the event the Chiefs are forced to forfeit the season, all four remaining teams will automatically qualify for the playoffs. It also means that those remaining teams see a trend. They’re afraid the same fate could be coming for the rest of them. And that’s a scary circumstance that some have flirted with before.
Four years ago Shoshoni was low on numbers. The Wranglers finished their game against Wind River that season — a 33-14 victory — with 10 players.
“It sucked,” head coach Tony Truempler, who was in his second year that season, said recently. “It’s a terrible, terrible thing.”
Truempler also had to work around it the following season. Shoshoni went undefeated throughout the regular season. The back-half, however, involved a 57-0 win over understaffed Saratoga, a 69-0 mercy rule win against Wyoming Indian, a 63-0 victory against Wind River, a forfeit win at Burlington’s expense and a 48-6 win against Riverside, which voluntarily dropped to 6-man the following year due to low numbers.
Each game involved Truempler pulling starters in favor of junior varsity players, usually by halftime. They hadn’t been exposed to a competitive game in nearly two months by the time the playoffs approached.
“You never know if you’ll get a game. It’s basically a JV game. When we get ready for the playoffs my varsity kids don’t get enough playing time at the important time of the season,” Truempler said. “You can’t play them because you just look like the biggest jerk.”
Shoshoni lost its quarterfinal game that season 21-3 to Southeast. Undefeated season over.
Shoshoni had been scheduled to travel to Saratoga for its regular-season finale this year. No make-up game has been scheduled as of yet.
Last season, Rocky Mountain suffered scheduling woes, with two of the Grizzlies’ games being cancelled. Both dates left open were rescheduled — one a 26-14 loss to Wright, the other a 9-all tie against the Natrona County sophomores that got called at halftime due to lightning.
“It was hard,” Rocky Mountain head coach Richard Despain said. “It was tough. You get five games and guys are wondering why they practice all that time and don’t play.”
Despain estimates to have about 20 players out for football once practice begins next month. That’s largely in part to the sophomore and freshmen classes. Despain estimates he has five combined seniors and juniors on the roster.
Wind River head coach Mykah Trujillo is optimistic his team will surpass 40 players this year. He credits the growing football culture in the fall and added commitment to the weight room during summer. The Cougars made the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons last year.
Still, even they are not without their own obstacles. Before a decision has been reached regarding Wyoming Indian’s season, the Cougars already have an agreement to play their home games at the Chiefs’ Intertribal Stadium because of the poor condition of LeRoy Sinner Field.
“It’s going to be a crazy year,” Trujillo said. “It’s going to be one of those years. I tell the boys we’ll train for the expected things that we know.”
Saratoga, like most teams in its position, plans for it to only be a few years before reigniting its football program. But the prospect of returning a football program that turned dormant is no guarantee. And that’s the scary part. With enrollments dropping throughout the state, it may just be a matter of time before more teams suffer a similar fate.
“We’ll do everything we can to keep this going,” Despain said. “The next few years will be better, but that doesn’t speak to every community and every town.
“If it continues to wither and die then it will take something out of me. All I can do is approach it the best I can. We’re going to do our best to make sure it stays alive here.”