TORRINGTON – On Monday evening, the Goshen County School District Board of Trustees hosted a public forum on the future of the wrestling co-op between Lingle-Fort Laramie and Southeast High Schools continuing for next season, with the possibility of combining with Torrington High School in future seasons.
Mark Jespersen, the chairman of the school board, made it clear up front no action would be taken that night.
Athletic directors, coaches, parents, grandparents and former coaches all stated their cases whether or not to combine programs before the school board in the hour-long meeting.
Due to COVID-19 and the dual-only format the Wyoming High School Activities Association went with during the 2020-21 season, L-FL and Southeast combined programs to be able to fill out a roster, allowing them to be competitive with the format.
The co-op was a topic the two schools had discussed in the past with concerns of the declining numbers, but with COVID-19, it forced their hands to go ahead and join forces.
With the success of the co-op last season, the combination of Southeast and L-FL is something both schools want to continue next season.
“When we got into the co-op, we weren’t sure how it would go. It went amazingly. The four coaches and every single kid on the team set their egos aside, and they did what was best for the team. They quickly became a team and became very successful,” Southeast athletic director Tim Williams said. “There was more excitement about wrestling in Southeast hallways this past year than there has been in a long, long time.”
L-FL athletic director Mike Lashley echoed those thoughts.
“We called it ‘two schools, one family.’ It was truly amazing to see the two communities come together and the support they had for each other,” he said. “We would prefer to keep Lingle and Southeast wrestling together. It was a very positive experience for our communities and our kids.”
But the tone quickly changed when discussing the combination with Torrington.
“At this point, we don’t have any interest in joining forces with Torrington,” Lashley said.
“Any disagreement we would have with combining with Torrington in the future comes from what we feel is best for our kids. We want all of our kids, including THS kids, to have the opportunity to compete,” Williams said. “There are limits in weight classes and how many kids you can have in the weight classes. We do not simply want to have those opportunities to compete taken away.”
Both Williams and Lashley stated kids would come out for wrestling if the two schools combined again, but also said they would have multiple kids not come out should all three schools combine in future seasons.
“Until we are forced to combine into one team, I really don’t see a point in doing that,” Williams said. “We were very successful last year.”
The Torrington High School administration presented a different perspective to the school board.
“We would welcome combining all three programs,” THS athletic director Dave Plendl said. “We believe it would make an absolutely fantastic wrestling room and a truly competitive program.”
Torrington, Southeast and Lingle-Fort Laramie already combine in five sports – golf, tennis, cross country, indoor track and soccer.
“There doesn’t seem to be any problems with other combined sports or activities,” Plendl said. “I believe this would be a great opportunity for all the wrestlers. The kids get along fine. The other stuff is just manufactured stuff. The kids support each other. If you came to the last two track meets, the Wiseman and regionals, they were all rooting for each other.”
THS principal Chase Christensen stressed the importance of getting students involved in activities and athletics, along with putting a championship product on the mat.
“We will have more kids out if we have a competitive program. As Mr. Williams and Mr. Lashley spoke to, they ended the season with more kids than they started with,” Christensen said. “Those students who came out later, saw a few things. They saw coaches who cared for them. They saw great coaches who put together a great program. They wanted to compete for that. They also saw, after a couple meets, their classmates were doing well.”
He added, “I believe if we have a championship caliber program, which we will, we’ll have more students out. That will impact the academics that happen at Southeast, Lingle and at THS.”
Christensen pointed out combining programs will help rebuild the pride in the community.
“It’s not fun walking into the gym knowing we are going to lose because we are giving up more points than we can possibly earn to open spots,” he said. “We need competitive athletics here. We need to fund our athletics here. In order to that, we need to combine. I don’t think the agenda item or the conversation should be about combining Lingle and Southeast next year and possibly Torrington later. We should be combining all three now.”
Christensen also brought up the activities budget and how it might ultimately force the district’s hands in making this decision.
“We have been handed a gift from the federal government in having this decision to make right now,” Christensen said.
Adding the $150,000 budget doesn’t go far in this day and age.
“It is getting to the point, because of inflation and budget cuts, that it is becoming a difficult thing to do,” Christensen said. “I spent all day today working to form next year’s budget. I can’t fund the activities and athletics that I have.”
Adding they are going to have to find other avenues to fund the activities and athletics, including fundraising and maybe even merging teams.
In addition to the three school’s administration pitching their cases to the school board, so did parents, grandparents, coaches, former coaches and other supporters of the programs, making their voices heard to the school board whether they were for or against the co-op.
According to Plendl, it is not known when a decision by the GCSD Board of Trustees will be made on what was presented to the board on Monday.