When Ron Wagner and his family sat down to discuss a new job opportunity last month, many factors immediately came to mind.
One of them was the reality that he and his family would have to leave Douglas. Another was he would no longer being able to officiate basketball games around the state. And among a long-list of others, he’d have to resign as coach of the girls soccer program and director of the band at Douglas High School.
So, when Wagner accepted the position of athletics and activities director at Laramie High School last month, it was not a decision that was taken very lightly.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” he said. “When you’re a part of such a great community like Douglas who helps you, supports you, takes care of you and makes you feel welcome, it’s very hard to distance yourself.”
“We’ve made so many great friends here. It’s such a great community.”
Wagner began his time at DHS as the director of the band program 14 years ago. He also coached the girls soccer program for the last eight years.
In his new position as athletics and activities director at LHS, Wagner will have the opportunity to blend both aspects of his time at DHS and will do so in a city that is near and dear to him. He earned all three of his degrees from the University of Wyoming but it certainly won’t make his departure any simpler.
“Giving up coaching and teaching the kids at Douglas, those are the things I had to give up to do something I feel like I’m being called to do,” Wagner said about the decision. “That’s tough to stomach at times but the pros of the opportunity were just too great.”
BUILDING TRADITIONS OF EXCELLENCE
From the beginning, it was always Wagner’s goal to lead the girls soccer program to the state tournament and become competitive.
Like many new programs, the struggles early on were apparent. But as participation grew over the years and the program began stringing together wins, soccer’s reputation at DHS began to change.
“To begin with, (it) was just kind’ve something to do rather than for the competition,” former Lady Cats player Lauryn Curtis said. “We didn’t have any titles. Coach Wagner always wanted us to be successful and because we hadn’t achieved that yet, he really pushed us to do well so that we could have that for ourselves.”
During the summer months, Wagner gave out information to the girls on the team about possible camps they’d be interested in. He also distributed packets of information on ways the girls could improve and even took it upon himself to learn more about the game.
Curtis highly praised Wagner for his ability to help the team in any way possible, even when it wasn’t soccer season.
“Despite not having the best team in the state, he continued to help us improve by doing whatever he could for us,” Curtis said. “He helped spread the word about the program and really tried to get more people involved to help make the program bigger.”
When Wagner arrived at Douglas, he also hoped to continue on a tradition of excellence with the band program and to further build upon it. He did that at DHS, directing the band program to many superior and excellent ratings over the years.
But of all his band and girls soccer accomplishments during his 14 years at DHS, the Lady Cats’ trip to the state tournament this past spring tops the list.
“Reaching that goal among all of the other things that I was able to do at Douglas, that experience will be unforgettable,” Wagner said. “I’ll never forget that team and those girls.”
From day one, Wagner’s time at DHS was never about him. It was always about the programs he devoted his time to as well as the activities and the kids.
He feels confident that both programs are in positions to thrive and that they’ll continue on at a high quality as they always have. And after a season of firsts, including beating a 4A team, winning the quadrant, beating Buffalo and Star Valley and advancing to state, Wagner is making an early prediction for the Lady Cats to advance to the state championship game next season.
“They’re a special group . . . they’re going to do some amazing things,” he said. “To know that I’m leaving both programs better than when I found them, that means a lot to me.”
GOODBYES ARE NEVER EASY
Wagner admits that he stays up a little later each night thinking about his decision and all of the ways in which his life will soon change.
“At first it didn’t really sink in,” he said. “You know, you don’t really think about all of those things at the beginning.”
After the decision had been made official, he arranged to meet with the soccer team and members of the band program. It was just one of the many farewells he’s had to make.
It was evident from the tone of his voice that many emotions were felt during the meetings.
“There were a lot of tears, hugs and ‘I love yous,’” Wagner said. “It’s still kind of tough to think about. Some of the kids are still a bit raw about it, especially those going into their senior year. It was very, very emotional.”
Wagner will also say farewell to members of the DHS administration of whom he’s built many strong relationships with and considers to be a large part of his support system.
He mentioned athletics and activities director Justin Carr who was always there at soccer games and has done many things to help the girls soccer program. Also, Dan Edwards and Steve Walker who’ve always been supportive of the band program.
“That’s not support that everybody has,” Wagner said. “I was very lucky to have those people in my life and it really gave me the freedom to push our programs further and further because I always knew I had that support. That’s going to be tough to walk away from.”
LEAVING ON A HIGH NOTE
Whether it’s at the girls soccer state tournament, state band competition or any other event in which DHS and Laramie High School may cross paths, Wagner will always be rooting for the Bearcats.
It seems almost fitting that the goal Wagner had been chasing for eight years, was accomplished on his way out. In a way, it was a perfect ending.
“We played great against teams that we wouldn’t have thought about competing against in the past,” Curtis said about Wagner’s final season as coach. “I think him leaving on the note that we did is something he’s very happy about.”
Like many others who’ve settled in Douglas and then left before him, the memories and experiences are endless.
For Wagner and his family, it will only mark a small part of their lives. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a community that will not be soon forgotten.
“My family and I are very grateful for our time in Douglas,” Wagner said. “It will always be home to a little part of us. It’ll be one of those places that we’ll always look back fondly on and smile about.”