by nathan oster
The school year may be ending, but the work is just beginning for the new head coaches who will be assuming the reins of the volleyball, wrestling and boys basketball programs at Greybull High School in the 2019-20 school year.
Big Horn County School District No. 3 has tapped Becky Sorensen to take over the Lady Buff volleyball program, brought Tom Harrington out of retirement to coach Greybull-Riverside wrestling and promoted Logan Burningham to serve as head boys basketball coach.
Harrington’s hiring was approved last week. He replaces Mark Sanford, who spent 20 years coaching G-R. His name will be a familiar one to wrestling fans in south Big Horn County — and probably to some court observers, too.
Just this past winter, Harrington retired as the circuit court judge of the Fifth Judicial District.
But a long time ago, he spent four years (1977-78 through 1980-81) teaching and coaching in Greybull. From there he moved to back to his hometown of Worland, where he was an assistant for one year before spending the next six as the head coach.
Harrington’s wrestling bio also includes being part of the launch of the Greybull-Basin Athletic Club and many additional years of coaching and refereeing at the USA, middle school and high school levels up and down the Big Horn Basin. The last two seasons, Harrington has been an assistant coach in Worland, so he’s never drifted far from the sport.
While he lives in Worland he’s finalizing plans to build a house near Shell and hopes to be in it by year’s end. He said wrestling was always going to be part of his retirement years — he just didn’t know where or to what extent.
When Sanford announced his resignation, a coaching friend urged Harrington to pursue it. “I still think I have a lot left to offer kids and I’m excited about it,” he said. “I’m not ready to sit on the front porch and whittle, I can tell you that.”
Harrington said he believes G-R has some good kids coming back and that he hopes to carry on the tradition. “And it’s a rich tradition too — not only in Greybull, but Basin too. Basin won a state championship in wrestling before Riverside. Chuck Hull was the coach. So it’s really a rich tradition for all of south Big horn County.”
Harrington said he plans to attend coaching clinics this summer to make himself a better coach.
There’s no substitute for the thrill of coaching, he said. “When you see someone use something you taught them in a competitive environment and under stress, it’s just a thrill,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s a first year wrestler or an elite wrestler. The thrill is the same.”
While kids can gain lifelong lessons in all sports, wrestling stands alone, he said. “I’m a wrestler though, so I think it’s the best sport in the world.”
Sorensen hasn’t coached at the high school level before, but did spend three years coaching middle school — the first as an assistant under Renae Waddell, the second and third as head coach.
She resigned to be a fan and a mom, cheering from the sideline as daughters Ky, Payten and the Lady Buffs made strong runs at state titles in recent years. Ky has since graduated — she’s a member of the University of Jamestown volleyball team — and Payten is heading into her senior season.
Sara Schlattmann has coached the team in recent seasons and when she and her assistant, Michaela Williams, resigned last fall, the hope was that someone would step up.
It didn’t happen, at least right away. Becky said several people asked if she’d be willing to take over the program. Initially, she was reluctant, citing the demands of her family’s outfitting business, which stretches from August to the end of the year.
But when months passed without anyone applying, she reconsidered. Payten and other players had approached her, too, saying they were concerned about not having a coach invested in their program during the summer. Becky said she gathered up the family for another heart-to-heart talk. They figured out a way for her coach and others to pick up some of her slack with the business.
Sorensen said virtually all of next year’s Lady Buffs — save for the incoming freshmen — played for her in middle school, which will help. Becky’s assistant, Christine Armel, has also taught and coached in the district.
Becky said she’s planning to take the girls to a team camp at Black Hills State University.
Open gyms are also planned, when they can get in the gym, as new lights are going in this summer.
She said she’s excited about what lies ahead. “These girls have probably been overshadowed just a little bit,” she said, citing the talented group of seniors who shouldered most of the burden the last couple of years. “People will underestimate us and say it’s a new coach and a young program. But I watched these girls play at the Big Horn tournament, when they were without several seniors. They can play some ball, too.”
The head job is a promotion for Burningham, who spent last season as an assistant under Nolan Tracy.
If playing experience counts for anything, Burningham will find his niche as a head coach. He is the state’s all-time leading scorer, pouring in 2,347 points during his career at Ten Sleep High School. Buell Robinson, the Wyoming Indian standout, ranks second — more than 150 points behind.
Burningham said he’s “thankful and excited” for the opportunity.
“My first year as the JV coach was great to be around the players and grow strong relationships with them that transition to success on the court,” he said. “The guys on the team did everything I asked of them and made me really want to continue coaching them as the head coach.
“When I became a teacher, a big selling point was to be able to coach and continue being a part of sports, which is what I enjoy. I would have to give a big thanks to Nolan Tracy who has done a ton for me through my first year and was a great mentor to learn from this past year.”
Burningham and the Buffs will be learning together on the fly, as the entire starting five from this past season consisted of seniors. The work begins this summer, with open gyms planned Monday and Wednesday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. Summer league starts next week, with two games a night every Tuesday through the end of June.
“We are trying to get into some tournaments and trying to play as much basketball as possible. With that said if anytime players want to play, they can always get a hold of me and we will go to the gym and work on their games.”