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Powell, WY

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AMEND CORNER: God and Politics

It seems like only yesterday that I heard my minister declare one Sunday that America had elected “the man God wants” to be president of the United States.

I probably would have been offended, since I voted for the other guy, but, as a lifelong Baptist, I'm used to hearing preachers say things that I disagree with, so I let it pass. While it's acceptable among Baptists to call out an “Amen” when you agree with the pastor, it's considered unseemly to yell “Oh, baloney” when you don't, although, I must admit, I've been tempted to do that a few times.

That Sunday, of course, was 10 years ago, when the “values” people had taken credit for electing George Bush II. I doubt that same minister is singing the same tune since the last election, although I haven't talked to her since then. She's probably of the opinion that the same electoral process that gave us the “right” candidate back then has given us the “wrong” guy today, i.e. the somewhat more liberal Barack Obama.

And she's not alone. The latest right-wing radio heartthrob, Glenn Beck, called a big rally last week to proclaim that it's time for America to “turn back to God.” The implication is that we all disobeyed God if we voted for President Obama, and it's a belief I don't buy.

This rally, as you probably heard, was “not about politics,” according to Mr. Beck, but that assertion really does rate an “Oh, Baloney.” You don't call a rally in Washington two months before an election to proclaim that America is going in the wrong direction for any other reason than to influence the election.

This is especially true since Mr. Beck and his sidekick at the rally, Sarah Palin, have spent the last couple of years blaming the current president for taking America in the wrong direction, presumably, away from God.

The right guy, of course would be a “real conservative” as defined by Mr. Beck and Mrs. Palin. Personally, I think these two are radicals, not conservatives, but that's a semantic discussion for another time.

One of the big messages at the rally, set forth, I believe, by Mrs. Palin, was that we need to reject the “fundamental change” President Obama is always talking about. Instead, she believes we should return to “traditional American values,” which, in conservative circles, are perfectly in line with God.

There's quite an irony in that position in Mrs. Palin's case, since she is the product of fundamental changes in American society, not traditional values.

It wasn't too long ago that one of the unofficial qualifications for president was being a white male. Without the fundamental changes that America has undergone since the 1960s, those “traditional American values” would have meant Mrs. Palin would likely have reached her highest elective office when she was president of the PTA. Being elected governor would have been unlikely, and running for vice president would have been a pipe dream.

In that regard, Mrs. Palin has a lot more in common with President Obama than she does with, say, Mr. Beck, who fits nicely into the white male demographic.

And that's just one problem with leaning on traditional American values. Our rose-colored view of our national history has to ignore quite a bit of violence and injustice, a lot of which was aimed at protecting “traditional American values.” That often meant persecuting Catholic immigrants and other religious minorities, lynching African-Americans and taking Native American children from their parents to drive the Indian out of them. None of that seems very Godly to me.

Mr. Beck, for example, might reflect on a certain mob in Carthage, Ill., whose members almost certainly thought they were defending traditional American values when they shot Joseph Smith, the founder of Mr. Beck's religious faith, in the Carthage jail.

Now I'm firmly in favor of the nation turning to God. I think everybody should consult God prior to making decisions about politics or anything else, and I did so when I cast my ballot for president two years ago. I didn't turn away from God to do so, and I didn't make a mistake.

All I did was reject the philosophy of Mr. Beck and Mrs. Palin, and I did so because, from my perspective as a born-again Christian, there is nothing Godly about it.

SPORTS GUY: Soccer era opens with promise

Intercollegiate soccer made its debut for Northwest College this past weekend. By all accounts, the coming-out party has to be considered a rousing success. In their first four games —two men's, two women's — Northwest College returned home from a lengthy road trip with a combined 2-1-1 record.

Had it not been for some, shall we say, unique timekeeping — I invite anyone to provide me with another example from major soccer where a half is blown dead on a clear attacking opportunity — that mark could easily have been 2-0-2, if not 3-0-1.

Regardless of which record you look at, the results are noteworthy given the fact that neither program existed on anything but a conceptual level just nine months earlier. Sure, soccer had existed as a club sport on the NWC campus. But moving from a club level to a competitive intercollegiate activity is no easier in soccer than one would expect the dorm intramural basketball league champions to step up and compete in Region IX.

And that's the key word in this discussion — compete.

Given the compressed time frame it had to operate with, Northwest College's inaugural season could have been rife with difficulties. Considering the programs were starting behind the curve with regard to both visibility and recruiting, it didn't take a lot of imagination to envision NWC's first season of intercollegiate soccer being largely a throw-away affair where student-athletes were playing to keep their scholarships for the following year and the schedule consisted of lump after lump.

Clearly, that's not going to be the case.

The Trappers demonstrated in the season's opening weekend that they are capable of competing on the pitch —not someplace down the road, but right here, right now. Admittedly, nobody is going to mistake Dodge City for seven-time national champion Yavapai, but the school does play in the Jayhawk Conference, arguably the most consistently strong league in the country when it comes to across-the-board junior college athletic quality. That Cisco College squad that the Trapper women played to a scoreless draw? They've won multiple Region V titles and had walked off the field victorious in 113 of their last 150 games.

Most established programs would gladly take the draw and walk off the pitch with a smile on their faces against that resumé. As a first-year program, one has to imagine the NWC visages were positively beaming with excitement.

Like many, perhaps even those in NWC uniforms, I don't have a large frame of reference when it come to junior college soccer. In fact, today's (Thursday) men's contest against Laramie County will be the first I've covered in my career.

We'll have a better idea one week from now about how both the men's and women's teams stack up against their Region IX counterparts. Based on early indications, however, the Trappers have every reason to suspect that they can be in the mix immediately in Year 1.

If you've got the opportunity to get out of work an hour early Thursday, or if you find yourself looking for a good excuse to get out of the house or dorm to enjoy what should be a seasonable late summer or early fall day, I invite you to head over to the field at Trapper West — NWC's new soccer fields weren't as ready as its teams for the inaugural contest — for today's home and Region IX opener at 4 p.m. Help welcome Northwest College's newest sport to town and provide the team with a positive atmosphere for its first-ever home game.

The soccer era at Northwest College dawned this past weekend. From early indications, plenty of bright spots lie ahead on the horizon.

It really didn't matter to me what the books said. Or what I learned by Googling. Even the wisdom of experienced poultry hands couldn't keep me from it.

Every day — multiple times, mind you — I found myself drawn to the chicken coop in the backyard where I had lovingly placed a brand new nesting box in the darkest corner (following directions to a “T”).

I'd hold my breath in anticipation and slowly lift the lid/roof of the coop. Peering in with my trademark eternal optimism, my eyes would first go the nesting box, then, upon finding it empty, quickly scan the rest of the coop, thinking surely one of our hens must have decided to lay that long-anticipated egg. No such luck. Oh, the crushing disappointment.

This went on all summer, even though everyone, and everything I read, assured me it wasn't quite time for them to be laying. I experimented with different bedding (grass clippings, leaves, shavings) and got another nest box (don't ask me why I thought if the one remained empty, another box would entice fair hens to lay).

I even put golf balls in each nest after reading that the balls resembled eggs to a fair enough degree to convince hens to deposit some more.

Bliss evidently considered the golf ball idea a good one, since she now tosses every golf ball she comes across — and there are many of them around our house and garage — into “Chicken Land.”

Alas, all the effort was for naught — and I'm sure to the great amusement of the more experienced poultry people who got word of our endeavors.

That is, until the one afternoon when I wandered into the backyard and saw one, two, three hens ... Since they usually stick close together, I feared the absence of the fourth meant she'd met the same fate as the unlucky Black Bart. Quickly determining that Henrietta was the missing beak, I began my search for her.

It didn't take me long to find her, comfortably ensconced in the base of a lilac bush — and with five beautiful little pullet eggs underneath her! It was like a miracle.

I gently gathered the eggs from beneath her and took them into the house. Bliss was as excited about the discovery as her mother. After some celebration and the requisite admiration of the eggs, I decided since I couldn't be sure how long they'd been outside in the hot summer temps, it would be best to blow them out, thus preserving the memory of the girls' first eggs.

Since that lovely afternoon discovery, my four little hens have been laying quite regularly (or at least three of them have — Ginger, I know, is not quite old enough).

However, it's been quite the undertaking to convince them to lay said eggs in the nesting boxes. It seems they would prefer to stash their eggs in various suitable nest-like places around the perimeter of our yard. For the time being, our formerly free-range fowl are spending much more time locked up until they can be persuaded to lay their eggs in the right place — lay in the box, get some freedom.

Hens, I'm learning, are a little slow on the uptake (consider the morning I found two eggs, smashed, on either side of the coop.) Apparently, a couple of them decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to perch on top of the coop to lay eggs. That whole bird-brain thing? There's justification behind it.

Yep, every day is like Easter morning at our house — with no dresses or church!

Our egg hunt uncovers homegrown treasures: Henrietta's dark, chocolatey-brown eggs; Water-Head's larger eggs, the color of coffee with cream; and Pearl's, the lightest in color, little more than faint beige.

And, if we're particularly blessed on a certain day, we'll actually find one or more of the eggs in the boxes.

The Sports Guy loves a classic movie as much as the next guy, and it has been 50 years since the classic Western “The Magnificent Seven” first graced the screens. There's a scene in that movie, shortly after the capture of the seven heroic gunfighters, where the bad guy is questioning them over their motives.

After his first request for an explanation is rebuffed, he finds a taker for his second inquiry to why seven heroes would ride to help a dirt-poor farming town. The answer is provided by Vin, played by the late Steve McQueen.

“It's like a fellow I once knew in El Paso,” says Vin. “One day, he just took all his clothes off and jumped in a mess of cactus. I asked him that same question, ‘why?' He said it seemed to be a good idea at the time.”

In the event that Brigham Young University moves forward with its rumored plans to withdraw from the Mountain West Conference to become a football independent, I suspect school athletic officials will be having a similar conversation in the years ahead.

The Cougars have until Sept. 1 to announce their intentions. By all major media accounts, had the Mountain West not performed an eleventh-hour invitation to snatch both Nevada and Fresno State as members (a move, I might add, that was advocated in this column some weeks back), the Cougs would have already have made the announcement. ESPN reported earlier this week that a preliminary 2011 independent schedule had already been crafted for the school's football program.

Look, I understand the financial elements of the equation —BYU is responsible for many of the media dollars that currently seep into the MWC television coffers and the school is watching a lot of that cash get redistributed into others' pockets. I get that.

That said, there's a reason the trend in college sports in recent years is for schools to eschew independence and cluster together in conferences, even when such affiliations make no geographic sense (like Louisiana Tech in the WAC). Even the all-powerful Notre Dame was forced to relent and seek conference affiliation in all sports but football in order to survive.

And let's be very clear here. Brigham Young is not Notre Dame. Any similarity between the two schools ends at the point where we acknowledge both are religiously affiliated. Any Cougar fans thinking there's a greater parallel are jading themselves.

Notre Dame has tradition, something BYU carries very little of once you get east of the Great Plains, where most television sets reside. Notre Dame ensures a record crowd for most any stadium that brings them to town. Does BYU command a similar national fan base?

And who, exactly, will the Cougars be playing in this independent football schedule? Games against WAC opponents aren't going to light up TV executives' eyes or television ratings numbers. Games against big-name opponents? That Texas-BYU series looks nice, but how many other schools are willing to follow the Longhorns? In an era where SEC teams schedule Chattanooga, Big 12 teams invite Montana State to town and the PAC-10 takes on Portland State, who in their right mind will schedule BYU, much less travel to town, in October or November?

Whoever it is probably isn't going to command the sort of attention that will bring a big-name network to town, even on a Thursday night.

The handshake deals and East Coast following that allow Notre Dame into a BCS game with relative ease aren't there for BYU. Watching rival Utah get invited into the PAC-10 had to sting, but a move to independence makes no sense for BYU. It made no sense when the school rejected the idea four years ago. It makes less sense now, particularly given the MWC's strides toward garnering an automatic BCS slot or the Big 12's possible search for additional members in the wake of the Colorado and Nebraska exodus earlier this summer.

Hopefully, the silence out of the campus this week means the university has recognized the dangers before it became too late. The clothes may be off, but there's still time to avoid jumping in the cactus before Sept. 1.

AMEND CORNER: Cooking for one

As of Tuesday, I have become a bachelor.

This is a temporary situation, I hasten to say, not the result of catastrophic changes in my marital status or anything like that.

I'm not about to hit the singles scene looking for dates.

This situation is due to the redeployment of my wife to grandma duty. Our daughter-in-law's employer has sent her off to collect soil samples at some environmental cleanup site, so my permanent dance partner is helping our son manage two pre-school kids, three dogs and a cat. As a result, for the next 10 days or so, I'm a single guy, with only two cats for companionship.

I'm facing the next few days with a bit of uneasiness. After 43 years, a guy gets used to having a wife around reminding him to do stuff like comb his hair. Some of those functions are fulfilled by the cats, but they are mostly concerned with making sure I get up in the morning and feed them, and don't much care if I'm presentable when I go out in public. I don't ever remember a cat reminding me to comb my hair.

For that matter, I've never had a cat remind me to feed myself, but then, I've never needed anybody to remind me of that. I do, however, require my wife's guidance and her knowledge of kitchen lore to make sure I eat the right stuff.

Back in the old days, like 2008, I never worried that much about my diet while the good woman was off visiting. I had an action plan for such occasions and implemented it as soon as the taillights disappeared around the corner.

First, I ordered a large pepperoni pizza. On the way to pick it up, I stopped off to buy a package of Lorna Doone cookies (those were for breakfast), a box of fudge-covered Oreos (formerly known as Mystic Mints), and some ice cream. That generally comprised my diet for the weekend, although if I was feeling ambitious or ran out of Lorna Doones, I'd bake up a batch of oatmeal cookies to boost my diet with some whole grains.

If I was alone beyond the weekend, I'd survive on what was in the refrigerator or take advantage of the supermarket deli or whatever fast food was available.

Unfortunately, this regimen won't work any more. Age has caught up with my digestive system and nutrition has become more critical. I am now obligated to eat my breakfast oatmeal from a bowl, not in the form of cookies. Lorna Doones are definitely out, and fudge-covered Oreos are unthinkable. Moreover, the recommended ration of ice cream, if one is to remain healthy, appears to be one teaspoon every six weeks or so, not half a gallon every three days.

Then there's that pizza thing, which involves a number of negatives, namely, too much cheese and too many carbohydrates.

In addition, I've been told that nobody should ever eat pepperoni. In nutrition circles, the stuff is considered lethal, suitable only for poisoning in your enemies. That alone eliminates pizza because frankly, a pizza without pepperoni isn't really a pizza, so why bother.

Besides, this time I have pledged, both to my wife and my image in the bathroom mirror, to eat healthy stuff while she is with the grandkids.

This does present a problem. My culinary skills are limited, and my ambition to actually perform them is even more limited.

During my real bachelorhood, I survived pretty much on frying stuff, opening cans and boiling stuff in boxes, all of which raise nutritional issues, like grease and salt content.

But, as I said, this stretch of single living is different from those in the past, and I'm approaching it fearlessly. There's a lot vegetables in the refrigerator and some really healthy leftovers in the freezer that will stave off starvation, and recently we acquired a George Foreman Grill, which, at least theoretically, is supposed to be a healthier way to cook a pork chop than frying it.

The main difference though, is that I've become somewhat obsessed with healthy eating over the past few months, so I think I can make it through my temporary bachelorhood without gaining 10 pounds and raising my cholesterol levels to Himalayan heights.

Sometime during the next 10 days, though, I'll no doubt be making that pizza call, and the word pepperoni will definitely be part of the discussion.

A bachelor, after all, has to assuage his loneliness somehow.

SPORTS GUY: Here we go again

It isn't quite like Superman and a telephone booth, but The Sports Guy has dashed through the revolving door and changed from baseball season to fall sports season. One of these years someone's going to qualify for a World Series and really make my month of August interesting.

And that's just fine by me.

Gazing into my crystal ball, I have to confess that I find the fall sports calendar on the local level to be extremely captivating.

Most years, you have a feel for how certain teams and certain players will do. This year, I find myself with more questions than answers — and there's nothng wrong with that.

Powell High School is coming off a strong two-year run on the volleyball court, but the time has come for a few new faces to rotate into the starting lineup and perform. Dynasties reload rather than rebuild, so I'm anxious to see what transpires inside the PHS gymnasium.

Last year's football season had to be one of the craziest gridiron seasons I've covered in all my years as a sports writer. After opening with a four-game win streak that saw the Panthers shoot as high as No. 2 in the state's football polls, Powell crashed back to earth during conference play.

Was that fade a statement of where the Panthers rank compared to the other members of the 3A West conference? Or was it courtesy of a mid-season rash of injuries combined with a widespread mugging at the hands of the state's swine flu outbreak, which by week 8 had left the team too depleted to run a scout team prior to the Lander game?

I don't know. But I do know that there's a lot of athleticism standing out on the Panthers' practice fields when I drive by.

The list could go on. The Panthers' tennis team is again blessed with an abundance of bodies. How will that translate to results once the meet scores start rolling it? Powell cross country has brought home four team trophies, including two state titles on the girls' side —will they do so again? Will the boys' team take its turn on the team podium?

How about Coach Hilde-brand's golfers, who were a close fifth last season at state? Who will be the first member of the Powell High School swim team to bring home a state medal to the new aquatic center?

At Northwest College, the story lines are equally interesting. Trapper volleyball got some national attention with a No. 25 ranking, but are also ranked behind the Casper and Laramie County teams they had to beat in order to reach the national tournament. They're also ranked well in back of the Temple College team they swept 3-0 at nationals last fall.

Can Coach Siqueira's crew go back-to-back with post-season appearances? If so, is that a sign that the balance of Region IX North volleyball power has officially wandered from Casper to Powell?

And how about those fledgling soccer programs at NWC? Traditionally, expansion seasons aren't always the prettiest of things to behold. But if you listen softly to some of the talk around town and look at the interesting collection of credentials held by some of the Trappers' first recruiting class, you can't help but wonder if this might not be the exception to that rule.

We've come full circle, faithful reader. We're back at the beginning. A new sports calendar is staring us in the face, so put on your school colors and cheer on the teams of your choice with pride.

Here we go again.

AMEND CORNER: Changing times

For the third time this year, a Powell landmark is going down.

This time it's the old swimming pool and auditorium which is, as they used to say in old Westerns, biting the dust. Its destruction follows close on the heels of the Westside Elementary, a much newer facility than the natatorium/auditorium, and the disappearance of the old Powell High School gym earlier this summer.

These last two demolition projects don't seem to have raised as much of an emotional response among Powellites as the old gym's death did. I suspect that's because, once the old gym's fate became inevitable, people simply resigned themselves to the fact that time goes on.

I suspect, though, that there were more than a few twinges of sadness felt around town by people who had experienced moments of success, even glory, in the pool or on the stage that are rapidly becoming history.

One former Panther swimmer voiced some of that sadness last week when I talked to him at the new pool. Even my daughter, who, as a swimmer for another school often expressed intense dislike — well, actually, hatred — for the old Powell pool, looked at the picture I had e-mailed her and remarked that it was “kind of sad” to see it go.

I have to admit that, even though I'm a relative newcomer to Powell, I have been sad to see the gym and now the pool and auditorium go. My son won a couple of wrestling victories that were significant to him in the old gym, and I'll never forget watching the pure joy exhibited by the Lady Panther volleyball players when they won the regional championship in that gym a couple of years ago.

As for the pool, despite my daughter's lack of success in the water in Powell, I enjoyed watching her compete there, and I've had a lot of fun watching Powell's swimmers since writing about them became my responsibility a few years ago.

Personally, I was never in the water in the old pool, nor did I ever compete in the old gym. Aside from being a spectator, my only participation in any athletic contests in Powell was as a member of officiating crews at a few football games, when we dressed in the old gym building.

The auditorium is a bit different though, because I actually did appear on that stage once, acting in a one-act play during what used to be called the District Speech Festival back about 50 years ago.

I don't remember the name of the play, but I played the part of a stuffy preacher, and at the play's climax, recited some lines from Tennyson. What stands out most in my mind is that I had the experience of wearing a clerical collar for the role, which I found very uncomfortable. Despite the discomfort, I always enjoyed performing, so I have good memories of that day.

Those personal connections to the old buildings, minor though they may be, are enough to cause a little regret when I see the auditorium being turned into rubble.

But I've had those feelings before. All three of the school buildings I attended in Worland are gone, and just a few years ago, the old Greybull High School building — where I spent three decades of my life working — was torn down. I was sorry to see all of them disappear.

Despite those feelings of regret, though, I am well aware of the shortcomings of those old buildings, and realize that they did have to be replaced. Buildings have a useful lifespan, and changes in our expectations of schools, educational practices and technology require changes in the way buildings are constructed and used.

Those changes have come gradually over the years, and sometimes we aren't even aware that they are taking place. The demolition of a building is a dramatic and obvious change, but, in fact, the changes that brought its destruction have already happened, some of them years in the past.

But change is also beneficial, and the new pool is no exception. I am looking forward to the Lady Panthers' first meet with Buffalo, because, for a photographer, the light in the new pool is much better, and, more importantly, more predictable. As a result, I'm hoping I can finally get a really good picture of a diver in action, something I never could do in the old pool.

It's sad to see the past disappear, but looking forward to the new is pretty exciting.

SPORTS GUY: Future looks bright

So here we are, another year, another column being penned at a regional baseball tournament on the eve of high school fall practices opening. Despite the fact that last year my employer booked me into a hotel near where a fire was burning and this year's journey has brought me to the site of an FBI manhunt for prison escapees, I could get used to this.

And that appears to be a good thing.

Wyoming's baseball capital produced another memorable summer. After leaving many last year asking how things could get any better, we now know the answer.

The Babe Ruth All-Stars from Powell set the standard by which future seasons will be compared. After going 0-for-four during last year's trip west, this year's crew opened with a late-inning heartbreak loss, then rallied to claim their first-ever victory in regional competition.

Then came the fun stuff. The All-Stars steamrolled their hosts by an 11-0 count. They had a chance to seal their place with a victory, albeit against a Kelso, Wash., team that, by most accounts, would have fit in nicely at the Pioneers' tournament venue this past seekend. They got to experience the thrill and the angst that comes with having to watch a sporting event while knowing that your fate and your future rely on its outcome.

Ultimately, they got to experience something that no Wyoming team in a very long time — if ever — has been able to. They got to play baseball on semifinal Sunday at a regional tournament.

Any way you slice it, that's quite an accomplishment considering that very few other states send a team representative that isn't a compilation of several communities' worth of hand-selected all-stars. The significance of Powell's run in Klamath Falls simply cannot be overstated. It was simply the finest baseball run in Powell Babe Ruth history, and possibly in Wyoming history.

That success should also ensure a couple things. First, those younger than this year's All-Stars should embrace the challenge and the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of this year's team. See the goal, and strive to meet it. That's how dynasties are formed in any sport, and hopefully this year's crop of All-Stars will share their knowledge and experience with those a few years younger to help lay the foundation for future success.

Second, it should make the odds good that summer trips, such as the ones Pioneers fans have made to Utah and Montana the past two years, don't become things of the past. Success breeds both expectation and deeper hunger — trust me, I've been there — and back-to-back Babe Ruth regional appearances should set the table for a crop of young up-and-coming Legion players to want the same at the next level.

For those of you who are just returning from Oregon to read these words, congratulations on your success and thank you for the thrill ride you've taken this community and its fans on over these last couple of weeks. For the Pioneers who are moving on, thank you as well. Having spent two summers now chasing you guys around and following you on the diamond, I'm going to miss seeing you in the dugout as you move on in baseball and in life.

Anyone doubting whether baseball still has a place in the heart of America just needs to look at what it has done for Powell these past couple summers. It's given us a reason to be proud. It's united fans in their quest to find out the latest scores in venues in Oregon and Montana. It's had listeners here at home glued to radios and Internet web addresses.

Not many other things do that in this day and age.

Among the decisions Park County voters will be asked to make one week from today is whether to approve a specific purpose sales tax to fund expansions and updates to the emergency room and other portions of West Park Hospital in Cody.

The proposal often has been viewed by Powellites from an “us vs. them” standpoint: Why should people in Powell pay for improvements at the Cody hospital, when Powell Valley Hospital needs many of the same improvements?

But I would ask people to look beyond this selfish reasoning. We're all residents of Park County, and it's important for us to work together to advance worthwhile causes and projects. After all, without the support of many Cody residents (though not a majority), Powell residents would not be enjoying an aquatic center now, and it's likely we will be asking for money for future projects as well — perhaps even a similar building project at Powell Valley Hospital. Park County communities must stop this ongoing community feud and support each other for the good of all.

Others decry any effort to raise money by any form of tax, regardless of the amount or the purpose. I believe this is short-sighted; each proposal should be weighed on its own merit. For most, a 1 percent sales tax is not a budget breaker, and the specific purpose sales tax provides a way to fund projects and facilities for the good of the public that otherwise might go unfunded. It also brings in dollars from tourists who spend money in Park County and Yellowstone, making it a little less onerous for residents, and it ends when the project is paid for.

However, there are some other important factors to consider when voting for or against the West Park proposal, and some of those have been overlooked or downplayed — and even misrepresented — during the discussion over whether to fund the West Park project. Following is my summary of some of those issues.

• The West Park Hospital District is a tax district — formed specifically for the purpose of raising money through property taxes to fund building projects at the hospital. The district comprises Cody and the surrounding area served by the hospital. As with the specific purpose sales tax, any property tax would have to be approved by voters — but in this case, only residents of the district would vote, and if approved, pay the tax for the project.

Some say it would be best to raise the money for the West Park project through a property tax on the district, because the people paying the tax also would be the people who use the hospital's services.

But I think the reasoning should go beyond that. The specific purpose tax is a valuable tool created to fund worthwhile community projects, particularly those without any dedicated funding or methods to pay for them. In my opinion, specific purpose sales taxes should be approved only for important community projects that can't reasonably be funded in any other way. I believe it would have been more appropriate for the West Park board to attempt to raise the money through the district before considering a specific purpose tax proposal.

The reason the board opted to go the specific purpose sales tax route is simple and understandable: By extending the tax countywide, more people pay and the money is raised faster, reducing the amount of interest paid on a construction loan and shortening the wait to begin construction.

• The West Park proposal has been a moving target that, initially at least, came with little or no advance public discussion at a time when other projects already were on the table. When West Park officials first approached the Cody City Council with the proposal, they were asking for a total of $38.5 million. When local government leaders and the public balked at that figure, the project was scaled down and numbers recalculated for lower construction costs. The board also decided to apply $12 million — previously held in reserves for a future building project phase — toward the proposal.

Those changes, combined, whittled the amount West Park needed for the remodel down to $14.2 million. But one could argue they should have been made before the project ever went to the public. It is unconscionable that West Park board members even considered asking the public to fund a $38 million project when they had $12 million stashed away in a reserve account that would have continued to earn interest while taxpayers were footing the bill for the entire project.

• One of the arguments used repeatedly to justify asking for a specific purpose tax to pay for the West Park remodel is, “We don't want to burden our children with a property tax that will take 25 years to pay off.”

That is misleading, if now downright deceitful. True, when West Park initially made its specific purpose tax proposal for $38 million, it would have taken 25 years to pay off the debt with money raised by a property tax on the West Park Hospital District. But now that the proposal has shrunk to $14 million, it would take only nine and a half years to pay it off through that method. Admittedly, that's still about three and a half times longer than the estimated 31-months it would take to raise the money through a specific purpose tax, but it's a far cry from burdening a second generation.

• The bottom line: The proposed remodel of West Park Hospital's emergency room and other areas absolutely is needed. I don't think anyone is arguing with that; I certainly am not. West Park Hospital is a public facility that serves the public, and it deserves public funding, if it is needed; the real question is, what form should that funding take, and who should pay the bill?

Voters need to be informed and prepared to answer those questions when they cast votes for or against the West Park proposal. Make sure to vote one way or another; if you cast a ballot but don't vote on the issue, it counts as a vote against the project.

And, if voters agree to fund the project through a specific purpose tax, we will expect Cody voters to reciprocate if Powell Valley Hospital makes a similar proposal in the future. WPH board members already have said they would support such a proposal.

After all, one way or another, we're all in this together.

SPORTS GUY: An imperfect system

The calendar has turned to August. In less than a week, college football fall practices will begin. Shortly thereafter, the obligatory annual talk of how messed up the BCS is as a system for determining college football's national champion will start.

But there's absolutely no reason to wait for college football to talk about messed up systems. We can start right now by looking at Wyoming American Legion baseball.

Wyoming is flirting with diamond disaster. To date, we've been lucky. In two years under the current format, the state's top two AA programs have found a way to meet in the championship. The top two A programs have managed to meet head-to-head on the consolation side of the bracket and everyone has been able to pretend the system works.

It doesn't work. We dodged controversy last season when teams were inexplicably allowed to change their classification prior to the state tournament. We were dangerously close to courting it again last weekend.

Consider, eventual state A runner-up Laramie trailed at one point in its game against Casper. Had the Rangers not rallied for a two-run victory, Powell would have repeated as state champion by virtue of … eating lunch at Perkins while its lone remaining challenger played an opponent not even from the same classification?

Look, I want success for the local nine as much as the next guy. That said, any system that potentially distributes hardware and regional tournament invites based on something other than head-to-head play is a ticking timebomb.

Wyoming American Legion is faced with a unique problem. The national entity has dictated that, in order to qualify a team to the regional feeder tournament for the American Legion World Series each year, it must hold a state tournament with at least eight teams.

The problem is, we here in Wyoming don't have eight AA teams. Nor is there any reason to suspect we will any time in the near future. In fact, that pool of AA teams has shrunk in recent years. The result is a tournament structure designed out of necessity for the bigger teams being used to also determine Wyoming's regional A representative.

That makes about as much sense as asking for a chainsaw when a butter knife will do.

As long as the current format persists, so will the no-win situation faced by managers like Powell's Mike Jameson.

Faced with a AA opponent in last year's semifinals, the Pioneers' skipper threw one of his top pitchers, lost badly and needed a Herculean 12-inning pitching effort that saw staff ace Scotty Jameson throw in excess of 200 pitches in a single day to help lift his team to a state title. This year, in an effort to conserve pitching arms in pursuit of a repeat state title, it meant the Pioneers were placed in the position of sacrificial semifinal lambs.

Let me be clear here — Jameson and the Pioneers' coaching staff made precisely the right call in taking their lumps and living to fight another day rather than risk that a 40-win season would prematurely end. I'd love to see Powell trying to be David to Wyoming's baseball Goliath — I love the Chaminades and Appalachian States as much as the next person — but the time for those story lines is in the regular season, not during a hybrid AA/A state tournament where different teams are playing for different prizes.

No coach playing for a title should find himself in that position. The post-season is about moving forward, not about pausing to take a step backwards. Brackets should be designed to ensure that all teams are competing for an equal prize, with equal goals. Right now, three Wyoming teams at state need to play for first place. The other five might be able to make do with fourth place.

That's not a recipe for equal competition.

I don't claim to know the fix to these issues. I do know that its just a matter of time before someone more mathematical than myself puts a value on how the current system skews the odds of an A title in favor of the north division teams compared to the south due to the imbalance among AA teams.

Perhaps there is no solution. Maybe it turns out that the Wyoming state Legion baseball tournament, like democracy, is the worst possible idea, save for all others that have been tried.

I don't have the answers. But there's no question we currently have an imperfect system, and it is only a matter of time before it blows up into major controversy.

Page 63 of 66


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