LUSK – The 1968-69 Niobrara County High School basketball team was loaded with experience, size and talent.
Seniors Steve Cockreham, Jim Peterson, Randy Pollard, Dale Hytrek, Bob Carpenter, Terry Owens, Randy McLay and Tom Templeton were wrapping up heralded athletic careers. Dick Price was entering his fourth year as the head coach and had groomed many of them since junior high.
“We ran the fast break, and we had the guys to do it,” said Peterson. “Coach Price taught it well, and we responded.”
Peterson, Pollard and Carpenter moved into the varsity rotation as sophomores, while Cockreham was already there. They finished at 10-11 but knew something special was brewing. As juniors, they went through some health issues, but came together as the season wound down.
“We had some guys, myself included, that got sick,” mentioned Cockreham. “I think it took us about three weeks to recover but we were coming on late in the year.”
The Tigers won the district tournament and got third at state, with bigger goals in mind.
“We were pretty good our junior year, and figured with a break or two, we’d have been in the championship game that year, too,” said Pollard. “So when we were seniors we knew we had something pretty special.”
A perfect season was not the goal, as Price preached a one-game-at-a-time mentality, but an early season win in Laramie over the number one AA team cemented their confidence.
“They beat us pretty good in football, and we weren’t too happy about that,” said Peterson. The game preceded a Wyoming-Colorado State basketball game and NCHS won going away 74-55.”
“We were going to get beat in Newcastle, but Dale stole the ball and was able to score,” said Cockreham. “I think that’s why we were so successful, there was always another guy to pick us up.” The 60-59 win was the Tigers closest game of the season, next to a pair of two-point wins over University Prep.
They entered the 1969 Class A district tournament in Wheatland with a perfect 18-0 regular season. The Tigers beat the hosts 109-69 and University Prep 100-83 to win their third straight Southeast District Tournament. It was the third meeting between the two, yet the Tigers understood what Prep could do.
“We knew what kind of program they had and we had to be on our A game,” added Pollard.
Two weeks later Lusk won their first state basketball championship with wins over Jackson 80-40, Evanston 58-52 and Prep 55-53. The Buckaroos forced nine Tiger turnovers in the final period, but Lusk held on.
“We beat them four times that year, but we never took Prep lightly,” said Pollard.
Added Peterson, “The game was low scoring, and very close, and it seemed we just couldn’t hit a shot-they weren’t falling,”
The only perfect season in school history, NCHS was dominant on both ends of the court. In an era before the 3-point line, they averaged 83.7 points per game and went over the century mark six times. One display of their talent was the fact that four different seniors set school records during the season. Pollard had 75 assists, Peterson made the most field goals in a game (16), and Carpenter shot 64 percent field. Cockreham was responsible for 11 school records when his career ended and still holds the record for made free throws with 276.
(Writer’s note: This article was written with the assistance of The Stat Rat, Wyoming-basketball.com, The Lusk Herald archives and special thanks to Randy Pollard, Steve Cockreham, Jim Peterson and Ron Pfister).