If you’re a Wyoming Cowboy fan, you know.
You know what it means to be a fan.
You know supporting your team isn’t all unicorns and rainbows—wins and celebrations. It’s cheering loud and proud no matter what the projections for the future may be. After all, Wyoming Cowboys and Cowgirls are no strangers to being overlooked and underestimated. As a Wyoming native, UW alum and former student-athlete myself, I’ve been a dyed in the wool University of Wyoming fan since before I could say, “Go Pokes!” I’ve seen my fair share of disappointing seasons. But like all my Wyomingite counterparts, that’s never stopped me from being proud to wear Brown and Gold, cheer anew each game—each season, and always have faith in our Wyoming programs.
Why? How is it we can maintain such faith in our small, sometimes questionably competitive division I programs? I’ll tell you. It’s because the young men and women who choose Wyoming are far more than student-athletes. They are a special brand of human.
It’s difficult to recruit to Laramie, Wyoming. In a world of competitors that boast schools situated in large metropolitan areas with booster clubs whose memberships outnumber the entire student body of our university, Laramie—the tiny town, sitting amidst a somewhat barren prairie, surrounded by two mountain ranges almost perpetually covered in snow—can be a difficult sell. The student-athletes who possess vision enough to see the diamond in the rough that is the University of Wyoming, they are themselves such treasures.
Case-in-point—The 2014-2015 UW men’s basketball team
Much excitement and hullaballoo has surrounded this team all season. As it turns out, the anticipation has not been in vain. The team brought home the Mountain West Conference Championship trophy Saturday night—no small accomplishment. Certainly something worth being proud of, but anyone who has followed this team knows there is a deep well of character to this group of men that truly makes a Wyoming fan proud.
I’ve been entranced by this group. There is something magical about their dynamic. I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting any of them, but I can sense this something special in the way they play, the way they interview, the way they interact on social media, and in how my fellow fans speak of them.
I’ve heard more stories than I can count from friends about their interactions with Josh Adams, Larry Nance Jr., Charles Hankerson Jr., Riley Grabau, Alexander Gorski, Jonathan Barnes, Jack Bentz, Alan Herndon, Jeremy Lieberman, Jason McManamen, Trey Washington III, and Tyrell Williams. Most of these tales are descriptions of the players’ interactions with my friends’ children. Each story describes an opportunity where one of these men took time above and beyond what was expected to show encouragement and appreciation for their young fans. Dig a little deeper and you find examples of their exceptional character in more than a few places.
Larry Nance Jr. has Crohn’s disease, and in the last calendar year overcame an ACL injury and mononucleosis. His journey to MWC champion hasn’t been one paved on smooth stones.
Charles Hankerson Jr. is paying his own way this year, so to speak. Yup. How many of you know that story? It’s not mine to tell, but I will say that given the opportunity to impart advice to a group of adoring seven-year-old fans, his advice was, “Stay in school. Your performance in class is just as important as what you do on any court or field.” And that is advice not given flippantly, as he has proven he believes it to be true.
Hankerson and Cooke have a story of circumstantially forged brotherhood that gives a person goose bumps. Take the time to read about those two and you’ll be smiling ear-to-ear, cheering twice as loud for them both.
Cooke had only one year of competitive basketball under his belt before his transfer to Wyoming. If that isn’t fodder for inspiration to young athletes, I don’t know what is.
Speaking of this dynamic duo, did you see their social media push to #LiveLifeLikeBentz ? Jack Bentz is a senior whose walk-on status hasn’t changed since his freshman year. Yet, all his teammates and coaches continually tout his characteristics of commitment, work ethic, optimism, and humbleness.
Several of the players showed support, appreciation, and encouragement via social media for a certain young man in my life who is currently fighting AML, a rare form of pediatric Leukemia. Their effort to support his fight was perhaps simple, but in the eyes of a young devoted fan who had only the four walls of a hospital room and limited interaction with the world through technology to keep morale high, it was anything but simple.
As a mother of three small, impressionable, Pokes-loving kids, I couldn’t be more pleased to share what it means to be a Wyoming Cowboy with examples like these.
This team is special. They make it easy to find shining examples of what it means to be a team-player. Every team athlete knows—each player and every coach contributes either positive life-blood or negative damage to the enigma of team chemistry. From the outside looking in, it would appear this team has the essential life-blood of positivity that may very well carry them deep into the NCAA bracket. It will certainly carry each of these men far in life.
I can say with complete confidence that the state of Wyoming is proud of our team.
We are behind you—each of you, cheering for you on the court and in life. You are true Wyoming Cowboys. Thank you for doing us all proud.
We’ll see you in Seattle.
Learn more about this amazing team by following @wyo_MBB and @WYO_VISION on twitter. Special thanks to @MikeVorel for all his coverage of these men and this team. Also, a word of appreciation to the coaching staff of this exceptional group. You are obviously doing your jobs well. #GoPokes !!!
Another great post about this team at Quirks and Recreation