SHERIDAN — Players answered with very similar responses. ‘Oh my gosh,’ and ‘Geez,’ encapsulated how a few Sheridan High School basketball players reacted when told how much they travel during the season.
Wyoming is the second least densely populated state — least densely populated in the lower 48 — with just six people per square mile. That equates to many miles put on bus tires and a lot of travel time for athletes to play a 36-minute basketball game.
Thunder Basin represents Sheridan High School’s closest conference foe, and 103 miles separate the two schools. Three hundred and thiry-one miles miles exists between Sheridan and Cheyenne East, making that the Broncs’ longest trip within conference.
The large cities boasting 4A schools in Wyoming are, for the most part, spread out. The closest two cities that both have at least one 4A school are Cheyenne and Laramie, which are separated by 49 miles.
The Broncs and Lady Broncs will end up traveling a total of 1,756 miles to play their conference opponents — not including all the other nonconference games and early-season tournaments in which Sheridan competes. That’s about the same distance from Sheridan to Atlanta, Georgia.
If you include Sheridan’s entire schedule, the Broncs will log 3,276 miles on the road — roughly the same distance from Seattle, Washington, to Miami, Florida.
With an average speed of 70 miles per hour, Sheridan players spend 47 hours on a bus.
So what do these players do with all that time?
The Lady Broncs listen to Zoie Jones play her ukulele. If that’s too much to pack for Jones or she isn’t feeling the musical vibes, Sheridan holds “sing offs.” If the energy level is rather low, some players sleep.
“It’s just spending five hours or so with your friends, so it’s fun,” Sheridan’s Bailey Coon said.
The Broncs, on the other hand, just “goof off and eat food,” as Sheridan’s Aaron Sessions put it, and all of the hours on the road actually help improve Sheridan’s chemistry on the hardwood.
“All of that time on the bus helps with the team,” Sheridan’s Parker Christensen said. “We get close on really long bus trips.”
For comparison sake, Berea-Midpark High School — which resides just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, in Cuyahoga County, the 29th most populous county in the United States — has a basketball team that’ll end up traveling 110 miles for its entire conference schedule. Amherst marks Berea-Midpark’s furthest conference trip, just 23 miles down the road.
Berea-Midpark, on game day, will simply play its game, get on the bus and head home. When the Broncs travel to battle Cheyenne East on a Friday night, they’ll remain in Cheyenne overnight and square off against Cheyenne Central the next day. Sheridan will return to the state’s capital a couple weeks later to play Cheyenne South and then make the short 49-mile trek over the pass into to Laramie to play the Plainsmen the next day.
That’s a lot of hotel rooms and team meals away from home, but the players don’t mind.
“I think the long trips are fun,” Christensen said. “Your are just with your buds the whole time.”
And a lot of time it is. Berea-Midpark can’t even hold a candle to that. But what about some other high schools within other large western states?
Montana is the second least densely populated state in the lower 48 with 7.1 people per square mile. Billings Senior, which Sheridan plays a home-and-home series with this season, will end up traveling 1,655 miles within its seven-team conference.
North Dakota is the third least densely populated state in the lower 48 with 11 people per square mile. Minot High, the state’s largest high school, will travel 2,262 miles within conference. That’s more than Sheridan. However, the Magicians reside in a conference with nine other teams, unlike the Broncs, who only have six conferences foes.
So all in all, no one in the lower 48 travels more than student-athletes in Sheridan. That’s a a lot of time in buses, hotel rooms and an abundance of time with one another.
And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“If there were teams closer to us to play, I don’t think I’d like it as much,” Sheridan’s Riley Rafferty said. “We build some team camaraderie, and we bond on the long bus trips. They’re fun.”