Apr 8, 2012 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff WriterBill Strannigan, a longtime Fremont County high school coach and school athletic administrator, has been selected to the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
He will be inducted in ceremonies July 24 in Fargo, N.D.
Strannigan, who with wife Clarice moved to Fremont County in 1957 when he was offered a teaching and coaching job at St. Stephen's, has been involved in high school athletics and activities in Wyoming for more than fifty years. He still attends events and serves on various high school athletic related boards.
"My first coaching job when I got out of the service (Strannigan served as a paratrooper in the United States Army) was at the Catholic school in Laramie, St. Laurence O'Toole," Strannigan said.
Strannigan had returned to Laramie on the GI Bill to finish the four credit hours he needed for his undergraduate degree in education, and to begin work on his master's degree.
"In that fall, Red Jacoby, the athletic director at the University of Wyoming, called and asked me if I would be interested in coaching a seventh- and eighth-grade team at St. Laurence. There was a seventh- and eighth-grade Catholic League in the state with teams from Rock Springs, Rawlins, Sheridan, St. Stephen's, Cheyenne and Laramie," Strannigan said.
While coaching the youth team, Strannigan begin to build relationships that would impact the rest of his coaching and professional career.
"We had a Catholic tournament on that old tile floor at St. Stephen's. Our team placed third in that tournament. Father (Jerome) Zumach approached me and asked me if I would be interested in coaching St. Stephen's because they were going into the Big Horn Basin Class B League," Strannigan said.
The Eagles' great run
What followed was one of the most successful coaching runs in Wyoming high school sports history when Strannigan led his St. Stephen's Eagles basketball team to a 99-10 overall record, two state championships, three regional titles and a state-record 46-game win streak that stood for 25 years. All-state players on the team included Shannon Brown who was featured in a Sports Illustrated article, Mike Harris and Carl Patton.
Strannigan also coached football (his first teams had just 13 players) and track at St. Stephen's, where he also led the Eagles to a state championship with just eight athletes.
"We weren't restricted to just four events then. We had some great athletes in 1960," Strannigan said.
Strannigan had one other job interview that just didn't feel comfortable before deciding to take the position at St. Stephen's.
"I felt, what do I have to lose? The salary was comparable at $4,000 per year. St. Stephen's is the only place in my life that I got a $100 bonus after our first championship and a $100 bonus after our second championship.
"My years coaching at St. Stephen's have been one of my great memories. I enjoyed basketball the most. We had kids who had speed, average height, were great shooters, and had a willingness to give 100 percent every game," Strannigan said.
On to the Wolverines
Strannigan then moved to Riverton High School where he was a teacher and coach from 1961 through 1975, serving as head basketball coach from 1966-1975.
In 1976, Strannigan was appointed Riverton's first activities director, but it wasn't an easy decision to give up coaching.
"I had a dilemma. We had a pretty good year with Scott Morrow, Homer Bennett and Mark Sanderson, who were seniors, and others. Coming back, I knew I would have had one of the tallest teams Riverton had ever had. I had Rob Cragoe who was really something, Kirk Jensen (6-7), Darwin Stark (6-4), Kevin McCloud (6-3) and Dave Rangitsch. I knew they were going to have a good ball club," Strannigan said.
Strannigan's lifetime record as a head basketball coach was 221-111.
Done with coaching
"Mr. (Albert) Shultz (Riverton's superintendent) came to me and said that 'I think I'm going to be able to sell the board on having a full-time athletic director, and there are a lot of board members that were wondering if you would consider the job. The one stipulation is that you would have to give up coaching.'
"That part really kind of bothered me. I had good ball clubs before, they were always competitive, but here was a ball club that I thought would really be a good one,'" Strannigan said.
It was a big raise in pay -- Strannigan made $750 coaching and assistants made $325 -- and it gave Strannigan an opportunity to get administrative hours he needed. The first year, he had the position half-time and then, the following year, was appointed full-time athletic director in charge of K-12 activities.
"Arnold Syverts did some of it. Floyd Hart did some of it. (Both were RHS principals.) But I was really the first full-time athletic director," Strannigan said.
Strannigan held the AD position from 1975 to 1992 and also was director of the Riverton Aquatic Center beginning in 1987. During his AD tenure, Riverton teams won 10 state titles, 10 conference titles and 26 regional titles.
Strannigan also helped organize the Wyoming Interscholastic Athletic Activities Association, has been instrumental in the Wyoming Coaches Association, is a charter member of the WCA Hall of Fame committee, and in 1992, received the Meritorious Service Award from the Wyoming High School Activities Association.
"The coaching and the championships was a good thing. Overall the things that I did as athletic director were really a highlight. Starting the Wyoming Coaches Hall of Fame was really a highlight. Being able to bring tournaments to Riverton was a highlight. Not only basketball, but wrestling, track and volleyball. We also had state speech, state FFA and state drama.
"Being involved in the construction of the new high school and really pushing to get that 3,000-seat gym was a highlight," Strannigan said. Strannigan recalled that, for a long time, Riverton was not allowed to host regional tournaments.
"In 1952 when they opened the gym (at the old Riverton High School on West Main Street), we hosted the old Big Horn Basin tournament but it was too small. From 1952 until 1982 when we built the new gym, we did not host a regional basketball tournament. They would not come back to Riverton because it was just too small," Strannigan said.
There have been many changes in the way students have competed as athletes over the years, but there are some trends that Strannigan isn't quite sure are for the better for kids.
"Participation -- it's too much trying to put all of our efforts into one sport. The kids, through the years here, were always three-sport athletes. It's become very individualized because they require kids to go to camps. You take away a kid's free time and the emphasis they are putting on that now is way too much. I think it is going to get worse.
"In a school our size, we don't have that many kids to specialize in this sport or that sport," Strannigan said.
Strannigan also thought Riverton had a tremendous nucleus of coaches that stayed together and got along well, including Glen Burgess, Carl Andre, Ivan Jones and Bill Kilmer.
"We really enjoyed each other. We were in there for years, and that is not true anymore (he noted RHS soccer coaches Rick and Peggy Bergstedt, who are in their 26th season, are an exception). We just didn't coach our main sport, we helped out in other sports. I think our coaching staff through the early 1970s was unified," Strannigan said.
"After every game we were at each others homes. The coaching staffs were tight," Clarice Strannigan said.
Good times and sad
"I had some disappointments in coaching. I had a couple of teams in Riverton that I had high expectations for, but when we went to state we fell flat on our face and were playing in the losers bracket.
"I really thought we were good enough to play for a state championship in 1969 with Ross Miller. The 1972 ballclub was a good ballclub with Mike Roden, R.B. Hackbarth, John Dilday, Joe Stanbury and Jim Andre and those kids. One of the best ball players that I really liked and could always count on was John Dilday. What an athlete.
"In 1966, we had Leonard Hinkle, Terry Cole and Harold Befus and Leonard Wood. Leonard Wood was a natural athlete and strong.
"The class of 1980 with Mike Ibach, Tim Daniel, Craig German and Scott Quayle was good," Strannigan said.
But, as good as many Riverton teams have been in basketball through the years, RHS has never won a boys state basketball championship.
"My contention, it may be wrong, is the one thing that Riverton kids have never had is success enough to have the killer instinct. It always manages to slip away and it carries over. I think for our kids, just to make state basketball was an honor, but we wouldn't go down there (to win). That is the one thing that has always bothered me. They weren't like the kids I had at St. Stephen's. If someone said they were going to beat them, well, there was no way that was going to happen. They had that built-in fight," Strannigan said.
That wasn't true when girls sports was introduced in the late 1970s.
"Sherry Douglas could get her kids to bear down, and that took a special individual. Sherry was a good coach," Strannigan said of the successful RHS volleyball mentor who took her teams to multiple state championships over a 12-year period.
Through the years, Strannigan said, the support of the community, including the Jaycees, who volunteered to help sell concessions at wrestling tournaments and then purchased a brand new wrestling mat for RHS, and volunteers who worked at and supported events year after year, and the relationships with former players, coaches and administrators in Fremont County and throughout Wyoming are things he will always treasure.
As for being named to the NHSACA Hall of Fame, Strannigan was humble.
"It means everything in the world. It is quite an honor. For 55 years, Riverton has been so good to the Strannigans," Bill Strannigan said.
Bill and Clarice Strannigan have two children -- Scott, who lives in Laramie, and Terry, who lives in Elizabeth, Colo. south of Denver.
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