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Forever young at state tournament

Mar 12, 2014 - By Randy Tucker, Sports Writer

This year's Class 1-A / 2-A state basketball tournament was a reminder of the transitory nature of youth. It doesn't last forever. Jerry Patrick of Burlington completed his 35th and final tournament with a third-place finish. That leaves just Rich Murray of Lusk and Diane Moser of Tongue River with careers that date back to the early 1980s.

I had an interesting conversation with former Pine Bluffs basketball coach Roger Humphries as he watched his son officiate a semifinal game at Swede Erickson Gym. We both joked that his son had gone to the dark side, but Roger made a serious observation.

"He works two nights a week, makes about $400 a weekend, doesn't have to go to practice, doesn't put up with parents or administrators, gets paid mileage, doesn't babysit teenagers, and makes a lot more money than a coach who does all those things," Roger said.

It reiterates the point that the present state of outside pressure makes coaching a dim reflection of what it once was and makes you wonder how far it will go before the outside influences win outright and end prep sports as we now know it.

But on a positive note, sometimes comments from the stands made to game officials can be outright hilarious.

As the Wyoming Indian girls battled eventual state champion Tongue River in the semi-finals, a close call that could have gone either way went against the Chiefs. Casper official Rod Both is well known across the state and has been working the tournament for more than three decades. Both is about 6-4 and has a shiny hairstyle -- as in totally devoid of hair.

"Hey ref, get the hair out of your eyes," a voice called from the Wyoming Indian section.

Mascots have largely gone the way of cheerleaders and unbiased parental opinions, but there were a couple of interesting ones at state this season. Most of us never made the connection, but the Kemmerer fans did. Sitting amidst the Ranger faithful were two fully dressed "Power Rangers" (not the pink one, mind you, but ones of the red and blue variety.)

Undoubtedly the most athletic mascots in attendance were from Dubois. Two-time state champion wrestler Sterling Baker donned a Blue Man Group-style shirt and tights, plus his favorite superman Underoos to join his fellow hurdler and wrestler Rowan Hawk on the sidelines of the Rams' games. Hawk was dressed as a full-curl Ram mascot.

While most of the people working the tournament are exemplary, helpful and enjoyable to be around there are always a few of those who get a little bit of authority and it goes directly to the limited recesses of their heads.

It's a pet peeve of many sportswriters and photographers that the "rent a cop" personalities who sometimes work these events feel it is necessary to tell you what you can and can't do as a sports reporter.

As I shot the St. Stephen's girls opener against Lingle Ft. Laramie one of them approached me and said, "You can't use a flash in here. You're blinding the players."

It wouldn't have mattered much if I hadn't heard the same inane comment every year for the past decade.

"No I'm not. I've shot these kids all year, and there is no problem. Besides, the WHSAA allow it," I said. I kept on shooting.

A few minutes later his supervisor came over and threatened to throw me out.

"Go ahead," I said. "But first let's talk to the commissioner. When he tells you you're wrong you're going to apologize, aren't you?"

WHSAA director Ron Laird was eating lunch in the hospitality room as we approached. It was a short conversation. Laird said I could use the flash.

I looked at the guy and he grudgingly mumbled "I apologize."

No issues for the rest of the tournament, but no eye contact from these guys either.

Sometimes a little style goes a long way. The Burlington boys are by far the best team in Class 1-A and a good one regardless of class. They displayed class of a different style when the entire team showed up dressed entirely in black with orange suspenders and orange bow ties. It included both coaches, managers and every player. Quite a striking sight when they entered the gym.

During the Dubois / Upton consolation game the announcer played the song "Drunk on You" by Luke Bryan.

A couple of Upton High School girls were sitting behind me and said loud enough for everyone around to hear, "I don't think that's an appropriate song for a high school game."

Hmmm... There might just be some hope for the future, in Weston County anyway.

"The best buzz I'm ever gonna find. Hey I'm a little drunk on you. And high on summertime..." is the refrain of the song. Whatever happened to "Cotton Eyed Joe" or "Centerfield" by John Fogerty?

I think the young Bobcat fans were on to something.

Common sense must have skipped a generation just west of the Black Hills. An adult from Upton kept repeating. "Check the foul count ref, it's getting out of hand, you need to even it up." I checked, nine on Dubois, eight on Upton.

Longtime Dubois official Bill Sedlacek was sitting next to me and leaned over and said, "It's no more the referee's job to keep the fouls even than it is the score or rebounds." Good point, Bill.

Time to get outside again. Here's to a great spring season.

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