WLM WLM Spring 2015 - Page 48

WLM | history In a time when the draft was taking more and more men and women from school, creating a legendary team seems like a tall order. Player Tony Katana remembered his and buddy Earl “Shadow” Ray’s tryouts as walk-ons. “I graduated from Rock Springs High School, so I went to Wyoming on a football scholarship,” Tony remembers. “Then the war came on, and they lost a few basketball players, so there was an announcement they would have tryouts for basketball… Shadow Ray was on a football scholarship so he and I said, ‘Well let’s go tryout.’ Out of the 15 or 20 boys that tried, we made the first ten.” The era was thick with the news of loss and fears for the future; interjecting high-intensity sports into the bleak Wyoming winter resulted in a fan frenzy, packing the Half Acre Gym (“Hell’s Half Acre”) to capacity, sending the overflow to the nearby Student Union to sip Cokes and listen to the game over the radio. I appreciated the emotional pull from the film, as well as the tactile way these interviews recounted life in Wyoming in the 1930s and 1940s. “These people we interviewed described how the soot in the air from the trains smelled, the ice being loaded on the trains, the harsh winters,” Kim says. “It gave you a real sense of the World War II era in the high country.” In addition to the players, well-known Wyoming personalities such as Jim Brandenburg and Alan K. Simpson relate tales of the time as well – such as finding remote radio reception in the car up near Cody to hear the big game from Madison Square Gardens. My favorite part of the team’s story was that the majority of the players (all but two, including Milo Komenich from Indiana) were Wyoming-bred. Players from Wyoming included Floyd Volker and Shadow Ray from Casper; Tony Katana and Jimmie Reese from Rock Springs; Lew Roney from Powell; Jim Collins and Kenny Sailors from Laramie; and Jim Weir from Green River High School. A majority of the players did go on to serve in World War II. Some came back to Wyoming to play after the war, others went on to play and coach at various places, some coaching Wyoming high school teams and cheering on their children and grandchildren. All in all, this movie contains pure Wyoming history, nostalgia, education as well as an intense sports story. It’s a study in the 48 Wyoming Lifestyle Magazine | Spring 2015