4-A to 3-AOct 2, 2015 By Steven R. Peck
Some stature is lost, but the sensible move gives our teams better chances
Local pride took some bruising this week when the Wyoming High School Activities Association voted to reclassify Riverton High School from Class 4-A sports and activities to Class 3-A.
From the moment the current classification system was adopted in the 1960s (today's 4-A was called AA then), RHS always has been in the top class, with the exception of football, where 4-A is a smaller group.
In every other sport, though, we've been with the big guys. Basketball. Volleyball. Wrestling, soccer and track. Golf and tennis. Swimming. Marching band, debate, drama, cheerleading and dance. RHS has been a 4-A school, and, by extension, a 4-A city.
Now, though, the state association has dropped the Wolverines to 3-A, a notch below Jackson, which will climb to Class 4-A starting next fall.
So, from playing divisional and tournament games against Casper Natrona, Cheyenne Central and Gillette, the Wolverines will square off against Pinedale, Mountain View and Newcastle.
There will be plenty of familiar opponents coming to Wolverine Gym, beginning with Lander. Cody, Powell, Worland, Rawlins and Star Valley also remain on the schedule.
Riverton (enrollment 741) vs. Newcastle (enrollment 223) sounds strange, especially when the two towns are brought to mind. Honestly, though, is it any stranger than Riverton (enrollment 741) vs. Gillette (enrollment 2,519)? The Wolverines beat Gillette in the state basketball semifinals a couple of years ago, one of the great moments in school sports history, but for the most part these matchups over the past 20 years or so have not been very competitive across the sports spectrum.
These decisions are based on enrollment, and based on enrollment Riverton belongs in Class 3-A. Where the division between classes ought to occur is debatable (we'd favor a 4-A/3-A break between Cheyenne Central and Laramie), but the way it's done now places Riverton, logically, in Class 3-A. The population of the city has never been bigger, but there are more high school opportunities than ever before as well. It is far from guaranteed these days that a 17-year-old who lives in "greater Riverton" will go to high school at RHS. Wind River, Shoshoni, St. Stephen's, Wyoming Indian, Fort Washakie and Western Heritage all have high school aged kids from the 82501 zip code. So, while gross population remains stable or growing, high school enrollment doesn't correspond.
Further, the growth of Cheyenne, Casper and Gillette outpaces other cities. While Riverton remains the ninth-largest city in Wyoming, it is further behind Cheyenne, for example, than it was 10 years ago.
There always is some movement between classifications. Thermopolis, a Class 2-A opponent of Shoshoni this year, will jump to Class 3-A next year just as Riverton drops a class. Hello, Bobcats, a team RHS hasn't played regularly for 40 years.
Might Riverton jump back up? Not without a big population increase. The coming addition of the second high school in Gillette and the rumored third in Casper, both of which will be bigger than RHS, probably mean that Riverton is a Class 3-A school for good. Perhaps the Wind River Job Corps Center or the Moneta Divide gas projects will bring an extra 500 people to town and 50 more students to RHS. Hope for it, but don't bet on it.
Some have argued for years that Riverton ought to be in 3-A. Now that it's happening, there will be more chances to win. That's something. Riverton's kids, who don't worry so much about this kind of thing as the grown-ups do, still are the ones wearing the uniforms. They won't miss having to play Natrona and Central. They still deserve our cheers every game, regardless of the opponent.
There usually isn't much use fighting classification decisions, but the Wolverines do have an argument to make in the case of golf. Riverton has won three straight Class 4-A boys golf state championships, and our golfers would be favored to make it four in a row next year. That would be a wonderful accomplishment for the school and the players.
A petition to "play up" for one more year in golf is being considered, and the state ought to grant permission for one more year. The 3-A golf teams would appreciate it too.