Happy New Year from the Stat Rat! The numbers rodent is currently ensconced in his lair at the Wyoming State Archives, researching Wyoming prep hoops from the 1930s, the sort of thing a retiree might do when found with too much time on his hands (or paws).
If the Rat asked you to name ten nationally famous Wyomingites, the following three names would probably appear on most lists, at least from those at a baby boomer’s age or older. The three? Kenny Sailors, Curt Gowdy, and Al Simpson. Besides having Wyoming origins in common, each played basketball versus Lusk in high school, albeit for different schools.
For those here who can’t remember times before TV remotes and push button phones or who fail to recognize any of the above trio, let the Rat explain just who each one is. Bear with me, those of you with (or hiding) grey hair.
Kenny Sailors—Kenny Sailors is known in some circles as the inventor of the jump shot in basketball. Prior to this, most field goals attempted from the outside were two-handed set shots. Forced to play against a much taller, older brother in one-on-one battles, Kenny developed his shot in Hillsdale, WY (which is 13.1 miles away from NCHS’s SEWAC foe, Burns.) Kenny moved to Laramie during his high school years and eventually played for UW, leading the Cowboys to the NCAA championship in 1943 earning All-American honors. After graduating, Kenny played pro ball, including stints with the Boston Celtics and Baltimore Bullets. He was enshrined in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012 and UW’s in 1993.
Curt Gowdy—It’s hard to describe how omnipresent sports broadcaster Curt Gowdy was in the 60s and 70s. Be it a televised event like a Super Bowl, the World Series or the Final Four in college hoops, Curt Gowdy was the man behind the mike. If one had to choose a broadcaster with similar credits from today’s sports scene he’d be on a par with Joe Buck, Jim Nance or Al Michaels. Known as Curtis in high school, he was the leading scorer for Cheyenne’s only high school (at the time) his senior year. After graduating from UW, Curt was the play-by-play man at the mike for 15 years for the Boston Red Sox. He’s enshrined in 22 different Halls of Fame including baseball, basketball, football, and UW’s.
Senator Al Simpson—Much younger than the above two, Al Simpson excelled in a different arena, although it was every bit as competitive, that being Washington politics. Although he was born in Denver, Al grew up in Cody, graduating in 1949. Earning his bachelor and law degrees from UW, Al began a life in public service, first with the Wyoming legislature starting in 1965 and then for 18 years as Wyoming’s senator in Congress. Although he has been in private practice since his final term in 1996, Al continues to be a spokesperson for the common man, for example, he touts reasonable limits on campaign spending and urges current members of Congress to make difficult decisions about lowering the national debt for the sake of the younger generation. He was enshrined in UW’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
And, how did Lusk fare against these three on the hardcourts? Not all that well. Lusk played Sailors on December 16, 1936 in a game at Laramie. The Tigers lost 41-16, and Sailors—a sophomore 6th man at the time—scored 3 points. The next night Lusk played Gowdy in the Cheyenne gym and lost 49-16. Gowdy, a senior, snapped the twine for 16 points. [In the 1930s, there was only one classification in hoops. Lusk with its 160 students, might’ve been a tad outmanned by Cheyenne’s 900 and Laramie’s 836, and no, Coach Murray wasn’t in charge on the bench. It was a man named Chester C. Stiteler. Lusk had a girls hoops team at the time, but neither Cheyenne nor Laramie fielded one.] Fast forward a decade and some to St. Patrick’s Day in 1949 when Lusk faced Cody in the winner’s bracket at the state tourney in Laramie and upset the favored Broncs 40 to 28, holding their stud center, Simpson, to 9 points. [Lusk was led in scoring by George Sturman’s 11 points, kin to current Lady Tiger Sadie.] So let’s say the Tigers batted .333 versus celebrity, which good for baseball, but not so hot, say, at the free throw line.
And what to take from all this? Just this, take a look at the players currently competing on the court. Is there celebrity material out there? You never know which player might become famous, so maybe pick up a few autographs from those boys and girls playing. They might be worth something someday. See you at regionals!