Mar 17, 2013 - By Randy Tucker, Sports WriterThe Class 2-A West regional boys and girls basketball tournament was the first of its kind in Wyoming to merge conferences into a regional concept. Prior to the arrival of the tournament in 1997, there wasn't much parity across the state when it came to the 1-A and 2-A ranks.
Some years, 11 teams competed for just two spots in the Five Rivers and Texas Trail conferences, while two of four teams qualified in the Northeast and Southwest leagues.
The concept of the best four teams from the 10 teams in the western region qualifying for state was welcomed by Big Horn Basin and Fremont County schools initially but eventually was lauded by nearly every school in the state's two smallest divisions.
There are now four boys and girls regional tournaments in Class 1-A and 2-A with the largest crowds attending the tournaments held in Riverton and Lander each year.
Discussion came up just prior to this year's tournament on the feasibility of alternating the 2-A tournament between Riverton and Cody or possibly even Rock Springs. In light of that discussion, Riverton High School activities director Jeremy Hill, Riverton High School principal Dr. Joanne Flanagan and Riverton Middle School activities director Tim Bell convened two meetings during the regional tournament at Riverton High School.
"We love to host the tournament," Hill said in opening the meeting, but he and Flanagan noted some ongoing concerns associated with it.
The financial cost to School District 25, the strain on Riverton's administrative and custodial staff, and the loss of an academic day to the students of Fremont 25 were all listed as concerns.
Representatives from nine of the 10 boys teams in the tournament were represented, and a straw voted indicated that everyone wanted the tournament to stay in Riverton except coaches from Rocky Mountain who indicated they would like to see it alternate between Riverton and Powell.
Thermopolis boys basketball coach Ernie Mecca, who previously served as athletic director and principal at Dubois High School when the tournament began, responded that the Powell site was too small to host the finals.With crowds near or exceeding 3,000 historically during the boys and girls finals only Riverton and Wyoming Indian have gymnasiums large enough to host an event that size.
"When this tournament was originally discussed, a rotation between Rock Springs, Riverton and Powell was suggested, but Riverton was selected since teams in the southwest didn't want to travel all the way to Powell, and Big Horn Basin teams didn't want to go to Rock Springs," Mecca said.
Mecca noted as well that the burden of tournament hosting didn't always rest so heavily on Riverton.
"When this started Dubois, Shoshoni, Wind River and Wyoming Indian took care of the tournament," he said.
Initially, Dubois provided scorekeepers and timers, Shoshoni provided workers at the gates and security, Wind River organized the tournament and did the program, and Wyoming Indian provided crowd control and extra tournament workers.
It was agreed on by everyone in attendance that the Fremont County schools and Thermopolis benefit from not having to purchase motel rooms and as many meals as teams from farther away and that helping operate the tournament was a fair exchange for the privilege.
It was also suggest that a fee be paid by these same Fremont and Hot Springs County schools to offset the cost of the tournament to Riverton.
The gate receipts for this year's tournament were $24,000. Of that total, Riverton receives 15 percent, or $3,600. HIll said the cost of custodial salaries alone over the thee-day tournament was $5,000.
Businesses in Riverton benefit from the tournament. The 2-A West draws the largest basketball crowds in Wyoming outside the state tournament, and estimates over the last 10 years indicate that an additional $1.3 million pours into Riverton as a result of the tournament.
The Riverton business community has contributed nothing in an organized way to tournament operations in the past, but Riverton Chamber of Commerce president Jim Davis indicated the chamber would help in any way it could and has money generated by the county lodging tax available to help offset the cost of the tournament to District 25.
"I would like to keep it here. I'm a big proponent of this site," Greybull head coach Jim Prather said.
Even though Cody and Powell are much closer to Greybull, nothing approximates the state-tournament atmosphere better than the crowds in Riverton, he said, an important consideration for teams preparing to play at state the following week. At the meeting of girls coaches later in the morning, Kemmerer officials said they would like to host the tournament because they have a new gym under construction.
But, while it is a larger gym than Star Valley now has, it would not hold the crowds that regularly attend in Riverton, and with just a few motels teams would have to travel to Little America or Evanston to find rooms. At the boys meeting, Wyoming Indian Elementary principal Owen St. Clair, who is also the chairman of the Wyoming High School Activities Association's Board of Control, commented on the smaller sites.
"When I was a junior in 1989 we played the state tournament at Sheridan College.
They had to turn away 500 people at the door," St. Clair said.
"No one wants something like that to happen again."
In summarizing the needs of Riverton High School for upcoming tournaments Hill noted that the tournament belongs to the 2-A schools, their involvement is necessary not in just providing workers and financial assistance but it having recognizable staff members in the lobby to control crowds of unattended pre-school and elementary age children that roam the area during games.
The support of the Riverton business community is also a must, officials agreed.
"Jeremy Hill and Dr. Flanagan met with the regional 2-A basketball coaches today to discuss hosting the tournament. Jeremy Hill and Dr. Flanagan told the coaches that Riverton enjoys hosting the tournament but would like to have some assistance running the tournament.
"The original design for the Regional 2-A tournament included assistance from participating teams.
All of the coaches expressed that they enjoy having the tournament in Riverton and are willing to provide staff, organizational support and possible funding.
It is our intent to continue hosting the Regional 2-A tournament in Riverton with additional support from participating schools and a combination of local funding and participant funding.
"I appreciate Dr. Flanagan's and Jeremy Hill's work in resolving the issues surrounding the 2-A tournaments," Fremont County School District Superintendent Terry Snyder said in an e-mail to school board members.
No change in venue is expected for next year's tournament.
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