Video: Two unbeaten teams, 12 Fornstroms
Pine Bluffs (Wyo.) enters playoff action with perfect 22-0 records thanks to one large, extended family.
At the Southeastern corner of Wyoming – a hay-bale's toss from Nebraska and eight miles north of Colorado — is Pine Bluffs, a closely-knit town of 1,200 residents known for cattle, agriculture, hospitality, summer rodeo and, most recently, high school hoops.
basketball varsity teams from Pine Bluffs
, home of the Hornets, are each defending state 2A champions, who enter Thursday's state playoffs with a combined 44 victories, zero defeats and 12 Fornstroms.
That's right. A dozen players boast the Fornstrom family name on the back of their warm-ups, eight among the boys program and four from the girls.
"Can't call them by their last name," boys coach Will Gray said. "Way too confusing. We're on a first-name basis."
Considering there are just 115 high-school aged kids at the school, that's roughly 10 percent of the student population. Among the dozen are five sets of siblings and all are cousins.
"We get mixed up for brothers and sisters all the time," senior guard
said. "It's OK. We're all family."
There have been six generations of the Fornstroms in Pine Bluffs, originally known as Rock Ranch when founded in 1868. A family member has been a student at the school every day since 1939.
Almost all of them were athletes, especially the current lot.
"I think by nature we're all very competitive and aggressive on the court," Melissa Fornstrom said. "We're down to earth and friendly, but we definitely don't like to lose."
They haven't at all this hoop season, both 22-0 during the regular season, a first in school history. This after the football team won its first state crown in the fall. Almost all the boys play three sports. Chris Fornstrom
, a 6-foot-2 starting guard, said the competitive gene is simply a reflection of the family's work ethic. Livelihoods among the Fornstroms range from farming to education to livestock to owning businesses and restaurants.
"During the summer, we'll work 40-50 hours a week in the fields and right after work we go straight to the basketball court for open gym," Chris Fornstrom said. "It builds a good work ethic. You have to work hard to do something with your life.
"It's not just our family, but the whole community. It teaches you a lot of values and morals. I mean, we have our fun too. There might not be as many things to do as your average city in America, but when we get bored we go to the field or gym and play our games."
And everyone from Eastern Laramie County comes to support the teams.
And each other, during times of need.
In July, a severe hailstorm did widespread damage to the town, prompting aid from the Wyoming National Guard.
"In this community, people care about you," Gray said. "Anytime someone is in need, dozens are jumping in line to help. The hailstorm was a big deal. We're still waiting on windows, sidings and roofs. But the next day we took care of our neighbor. The basketball team met at the school and kids brought rakes and shovels."
There's an especial watchful eye if you're a Fornstrom. For a teen, that could lead to added pressures and scrutiny. Freshman guard Hyleigh Fornstrom
doesn't see it that way.
"I totally embrace being a Fornstrom," she said. "I love it. Everywhere you go you feel a family member is nearby."
Said star junior guard Haize Fornstrom
, who quarterbacked the football team. "If you're a Fornstrom and live in Pine Bluffs someone is going to know you and what you're doing. There's a lot of pride in the name. You're going to get noticed. You don't want to be one shedding a bad light on the name so you might as well do something good."
Haize has been better than good on both the gridiron and the court. Gray called him "the most dynamic athlete in the school. He's a special talent and the most competitive kid I've ever coached."
At 6-2 and 180 pounds, he can easily get to the rim and throw it down. Gray thinks he can play either college football or basketball. Haize threw for 1,200 yards and accounted for 20 touchdowns.
"He can do any kind of dunk," Gray said. "He's sort of amazing to watch because at school he's very reserved and quiet. But when he steps on the field or court, he switches on the light and transforms into something else."
There's little transformation playing with your siblings day-to-day. Sharing a household, food, playing and practice time can get a little wearing, admitted Chris Fornstrom. He and his sophomore brother Andrew Fornstrom
got into a little skirmish during a football practice in the fall.
"He said something I didn't agree with," Chris said. "I said something back. Then we got tangled up."
Said Gray, also the head football coach: "They were rolling around for a while. We picked them up. They shook hands, got some water and went back to work. It happens. It's a long season. Competitive kids. Competitive family. But a loving, supportive family." Hunter Thompson
can back that up.
The 6-10, 220-pound senior center is the most visible and acclaimed athlete at Pine Bluffs and maybe school history. He's ranked the top recruit in Wyoming by 247Sports and is committed to the University of Wyoming.
"I've been around the Fornstrom family my whole life," Thompson said. "Their dads have coached me. They've always respected and supported me from day one, like I was one of their own. They're just wonderful people."