GOSHEN COUNTY – In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Wyoming High School Activities Association has gone to a dual-only format instead of individual based tournaments for high school wrestling for the 2020-21 season.
That decision has put the strain on smaller wrestling programs across the state, including Southeast and Lingle-Fort Laramie, to put wrestlers in a position to have matches.
As a result, a decision was made at the Oct. 13, 2020 Goshen County School District board meeting to combine the two programs.
The team will be co-coached by Southeast head coach Mark Bullington and Lingle-Fort Laramie head coach Brandon Gifford.
Both coaches are excited to see what comes of the joint effort.
“It’s going to look quite a bit different than it has in years past but talking with the kids and talking with coach Bullington and our assistants, there is an excitement that has built up,” Gifford said. “We have a chance to maybe compete as a team more than we’ve been able to do in the past as two separate teams.”
Gifford has a saying that iron sharpens iron.
“When you get more kids in the room, you get better,” he said. “That’ll make each of us individually better.”
Bullington echoed those thoughts.
“I’m excited. We are going to have better numbers. We’ll have competition in the room,” he said. “Helping with coach Gifford will be a fun experience. It’ll make our kids better.”
They anticipate getting between 20-22 wrestlers out this season, and hope they will be able to fill most, if not all weight classes.
Practice began this week for the L-FL portion of the roster, while Southeast will have to wait until after Monday, Nov. 30 to begin practice because of being in the Tier 3 Virtual Learning.
“The way we have its setup, it’ll be week-to-week,” Burlington said. “We’ll alternate practice locations between here and Lingle. We go a week here and then a week there. It’ll be easier for transportation that way, and just a lot easier overall.”
It will be a unique experience to combine two rival schools to form a collective unit.
“It’s pretty special when you can take two rival schools and put them together to help kids,” Gifford said.
Gifford doesn’t anticipate any issues.
“The nice thing about wrestling and wrestlers in general is, they all know each other and are familiar with each other,” he said. “That familiarity takes away a lot of the rivalry or bitterness that you might have in football or basketball. The wrestlers are a close-knit group and that aspect will alleviate a lot of those concerning issues that might come up.”
Both schools have state placers back from a year ago, and as a result, the expectations are high to be competitive with the new format.
“We have high quality kids from both schools, and it’ll make us better with the added competition in the room,” Bullington said. “It’ll be good for both schools. Just like the football season, a finished season is going to be the best season.”
The Southeast/L-FL team will begin its season on Friday, Dec. 11 at the Sundance Quad.
“We are doing something unique. It’s going to be a work in progress. There’s excitement. Kids know with COVID and all the stuff that goes with it, that there is a chance they might not ever wrestle again – especially the seniors,” Gifford added. “Gratefulness is kind of the buzz word right now. We are all just grateful to be in a position to wrestle, and we are going to do everything we can to make sure we continue.”