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How Leadore Competes Despite Low Turnout
With a sometimes nonexistent bench, the Mustangs still manage to field competitive athletes
Published: 2/7/2020 11:11:28 AM
Chris  Peterson
Staff Writer

Leadore, Idaho. 

The small Gem State town sits just 30 minutes from the Idaho-Montana border, and it’s no surprise the media spotlight often passes over the community of 105 people, where the cattle population easily outnumbers their human counterparts. 

Despite the small population in the far reaches of Idaho, 19 students make the trek every day to Leadore High School — nine boys, 10 girls. 

In terms of athletics, there’s no football team. In the fall, the girls volleyball team competes. This basketball season, both teams suited up seven players. Shanna Foster, who has kept the scorebooks for both teams for the last 15 years, has noticed over that time not only are there fewer kids, there is shrinking desire from Leadore students to try out for the team.

“If one or two kids are gamers or want to spend their time on their phones, it could mean not having a team for that season,” said Leadore Principal Shane Matson. “It’s imperative that everyone participates. We encourage everyone to be involved”.

When it comes to competing against other shorthanded teams, Matson said Leadore has nothing but respect for those programs. Roughly five years ago, Matson served as the boys coach in a game Leadore won over a Mackay team which only dressed 5 players. 

A Mackay player fouled out, leaving only four players to finish the game. Matson said he had one of his players stand in the corner on the floor, choosing to go 4-on-4 instead of lighting up the scoreboard. 

“Most coaches respect us, we try and do the same,” Matson said.

Not that winning is the measure of success. The girls team posted the program’s last winning record in 2014-2015, going 12-9. The girls hosted their first district tournament game Feb. 1 in front of a packed crowd. The Mustangs ended the night with a loss to Watersprings 48-29. 

Mustang girls basketball Head Coach Richard Barany said part of the challenge that comes with job is dealing with low turnout year after year. 

“Most coaches underestimate the value of scrimmaging 5-on-5,” Barany said. “We can’t do that, never have. You basically teach them one side of things at a time, then flip it”. 

He also emphasized the importance of conditioning, citing a game a few years ago against Sho-Ban, a run-and-gun team that dressed 12 players, compared to his five. Barany said he was impressed with his players' effort during that game, despite the nonexistent bench. 

“The Sho-Ban coach was amazed at what we were able to with only five players,” he said.

When it comes to building for the future, Barany said he often has to look beyond the confines of the high school, scouting middle school athletes in an effort to keep the program afloat. 

“Kids here know in eighth grade that next year they are on the varsity team. You can’t force them to pick up a basketball in the summer in order to get better, unlike larger programs where self-improvement and competition dictate playing time”.

Junior R.J. Foster, the Mustangs’  leading scorer on the boys team, said getting the team in sync can be an issue. With so few players, all with busy schedules, hosting camps and practices where everyone can work together is difficult.

“I attend one basketball camp a year in the summer and come to open gym when time allows. Yet we never do it as a team, because everyone is so busy or interested in other things,” Foster said. "Others play in order to have a team, but it’s not a passion.” 

And when it comes to game time, Foster said it can be frustrating when everyone on the floor is gassed without many chances to rest. 

“What are your choices?” he said. “You have to compete.”

Foster said his goal is to go to college, come back and start a business, helping keep the community alive.

“Our kids are always fighting, and our fans are always cheering,” Matson said. “Numerous times we have been down 30 or 40 points when one of our kids make a great shot or an incredible play. It gets so loud you would have thought we were in the game”. 

Curtis Beyeler, Leadore's girls basketball coach, said he understands what other shorthanded programs must be going through. 

“We can barely compete with private schools now, how are we to do so in the future?" he said "We're are all in the same boat”.

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