ROCK SPRINGS – Former Rock Springs resident Mack Peyton was inducted into the University of Wyoming Hall of Fame on Friday, Aug. 30, as a member of the Class of 2019.
The late Peyton, who grew up in Richmond, Indiana, originally enrolled at Indiana University on a basketball scholarship, but went on to spend 46 months in the military, where he was stationed in Casper part of the time. Following his time in the service, he enrolled at UW, where he became a dominant two-sport athlete.
Throughout the 1947-49 seasons, Peyton played basketball and baseball for the Cowboys. When he first arrived on campus, Ev Shelton, who was the head coach of the two programs at UW, had no idea what kind of athlete he was getting in Peyton.
Due to playing basketball in the military and throughout Europe, Shelton knew Peyton was a dominant player on the court. However, he had no idea just how talented of a baseball player Peyton would turn out to be.
Throughout his three seasons on the basketball floor, Peyton, who played forward for the team, led Wyoming to conference titles in 1947 and 1949. Peyton and the Cowboys came close to a conference three-peat, but in 1948, the team placed second with an overall record of 18-7. In 1948-49, he was even named to the UPI All-Conference team and had a reputation as one of the most outstanding guards in the country. During his three-year span with the team, the Cowboys played in three-straight NCAA tournaments.
Not only was Peyton gifted on the court, but when he wasn’t playing basketball, fans would fill the stadium to watch him play baseball. As a starter on the team, Peyton played almost every position and led the conference in hitting for two-straight years. In 1948-49, he had a batting average of .390, which eventually led to a tryout for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
After not making the pro team, Peyton decided to take up coaching and was hired on at Rock Springs High School as the head basketball coach in 1949 where he served for nine years. In his first year as head coach of the program, Peyton led the Tigers to a 1950 state championship win.
Peyton’s presence was felt at the high school, and following his state championship win his impact would spread all over the community.
In addition to coaching the basketball team, Peyton took over the Rock Springs Recreational Department in the summer of 1950. At that time, he created two of the greatest youth sport little leagues in Rock Springs history.
The first was a little league baseball program that fed the American Legion baseball team. The second was church league basketball. Peyton served as coaches for both.
In order to participate in church league basketball, Peyton required his players to attend church three Sundays a month. By the time the league was up and running, almost every church had a team, some even partnered up.
According to Henry Wilks, an advocate of Peyton who played in that church league, Peyton helped bring him to both God and basketball.
“Mack Peyton not only showed me the direction that I should go, he showed all the kids. He touched a lot of lives,” Wilks said.
Wilks, who will be receiving the Hall of Fame award on Friday on behalf of the Peyton family, has worked to get Peyton inducted into the UW Hall of Fame. He spent more than 300 hours building a book from scratch highlighting Peyton’s career at UW to give to the selection committee.
“Peyton didn’t just develop basketball and baseball players, he developed athletes,” Wilks said. “He also mentored us off the court. He had rules and character and he tried to pass it on to all of us.”
After his time in Rock Springs, Peyton spent two years as the head basketball coach at New Mexico Military Institute at the junior college level. In his second year, the team went 14-8 for the first winning season in school history.
Due to his success in New Mexico, Peytons’s final stop was at Chadron State in Nebraska in 1960. He coached the CSC baseball team for 10 years and basketball team for 14 years. To this day, Peyton leads the school in wins as a head coach with 190 and in losses with 159. During his time there, he was twice named Nebraska’s small college coach of the year.
When coaching turned out to not be enough for Peyton, he became the Chadron State athletic director and chairman of the NAIA District 11. He held those positions until he died from a heart attack in 1980 at the age of 57.
During his time with the college, Peyton also founded the college outdoor education program that included sixth-grade camps that were attended by more than 1,200 students in the ‘60s and ‘70s. When that wasn’t enough, Peyton founded and directed the CSC Holiday Basketball Tournament that utilized Chadron’s three gymnasiums. At one point, it was the nation’s largest tournament, featuring 16 colleges, 32 high school and total of 72 games in three days.
To say Peyton’s impact was everlasting, especially throughout Wyoming and other parts of the United States, would be an understatement.
According to Wilks, one of Peyton’s all time favorite sayings was “keep your legs moving.”
That advice not only affected Wilks and his life, but also the lives of many young student athletes. If not for Peyton and his efforts, Rock Springs youth sports would not be where it is today. His induction into the Hall of Fame is not only fitting, but well-deserved.