[Moving picture of popcorn]

Laramie Movie Scope:
Cowboys: The Story of the 1943
Wyoming World Championship Team

When a Wyoming team beat the world

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

March 1, 2014 -- This documentary film is about a time in the last millenium when major college sports, like football and basketball were mere amateur sports and even small schools had a chance to win a championship. Nowadays, these sports are professional in almost every way, except the athletes aren't paid (they should be). These sports are now essentially minor leagues which supply players for professional sports. Small schools have almost no chance to win a championship in these sports.

This film is about those days near the middle of the last century when a tiny school like the University of Wyoming (about 1,800 students) could win a national championship in men's basketball. The film is directed by Kim Komenich, the son of the 6'7" (and that was BIG in those days) star center of Wyoming's 1943 championship team, Milo Komenich.

As you might expect, Milo Komenich gets top billing in this film, along with star guard Kenny Sailors, one of the few surviving members of the team. Sailors is arguably the inventor of the jump shot in basketball. If he didn't invent it, he was certainly the man who first popularized it. Sailors is one of the most decorated athletes in school history, named the outstanding player of the NCAA tournament, he was twice named NCAA player of the year and is a three time All-American. He is also in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

Sailors, from Laramie, WY, who looks like he could still shoot that pioneering jump shot of his. In the film he says developed the shot in order to score against his big brother, who was also a good player, taller, and five years his senior. At the time he was shooting that jump shot, nobody else was shooting the jump shot on the college basketball scene. Sailors, along with Komenich, were the stars and captains of the Wyoming championship team. Both players would go on to play in the NBA after graduating from UW.

In archive footage in the film, Sailors can be seen shooting something that looks a lot like the modern jump shot, while everyone else is shooting shots that nobody uses in top level competition anymore, like two-handed set shots (the last one of those I saw was shot by NBA Hall of Famer Sam Jones of the Boston Celtics about 50 years ago). Sailors was a good dribbler and ball handler. Like modern jump shooters he could free himself from the defense with a quick dribble move, then jump straight up off the dribble and shoot before the defense could react. He also had excellent jumping ability.

Everett Shelton, who coached Wyoming basketball from 1939 to 1959, was a canny promoter of the team, arranging an east coast trip during the Christmas holidays in order to make national sportswriters and fans aware of his exceptional Wyoming team. According to the film no other team was making those kinds of trips in those days. Shelton was also unusual among coaches of the day because he made out-of-state recruiting trips. His prize recruit was Komenich, from Gary Indiana. Most of the rest of the team was made up of Wyoming natives.

Sailors tells an interesting story about an unusual motivational speech by Shelton. Losing by 10 points at halftime, Shelton told the team he was going back to the hotel to pack for the trip home since they were obviously going to lose. Komenich reportedly said, “Let's win one for the old man” and the team mounted a furious comeback, with no coach on the bench, and ended up winning the game. Shelton's unconventional ploy worked.

The film also talks about the basketball fervor in Wyoming, and how fans drove for hours to see the games. Laramie is in the far southeast corner of a large state. That's where the University of Wyoming, the only four-year state college, is located. I have lived in Laramie for decades and can attest to the fact that people travel hundreds of miles to see the games here.

Among the well-known people seen in the film are former U.S. Senator (and former UW basketball player) Alan Simpson, Jim Brandenburg (former UW basketball coach) and Marialyce Barrett Tobin, daughter of former Wyoming Governor and Congressman Frank A. Barrett. She attended the championship game in New York, and can be seen cheering the Cowboys in archival film footage included in the documentary. Also in the film are some of the surviving players from that era, their children and grandchildren/

This film provides insights into the passion for athletic competition in Wyoming and it provides a historical context for Wyoming's championship season. It is a film that is both informative and entertaining. It rates a B. The DVD of the film has extra features, including archival footage of the national championship game between the Cowboys and St. Johns and a newsreel about the game.

Postscript: I attended the University of Oregon, which also won its NCAA championship around that same time in history (1939) with its “Tall Firs” team. Oregon, like Wyoming, was another small school at the time. Like Wyoming, it would never again win an NCAA championship in men's basketball, but many years later it became a powerhouse in track and field (20 NCAA championships in cross country and track and field under the influence and legacy of the legendary Bill Bowerman). Even later, it became a football power, thanks to financial support from some very wealthy people.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

[Strip of film rule]
Copyright © 2014 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
[Strip of film rule]
Back to the Laramie Movie Scope index.
[Rule made of Seventh Seal sillouettes]

Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)