More than a decade ago, the Payson Pacers was one of the most respected youth teams in national amateur track circles.
"At our peak, we had 104 members," team founder and former coach Dan Reid said.
For a variety of reasons, including a shortage of coaching and training time, the team fell by the wayside and wasn't heard from until a contingent of local athletes banded together last week to participate in the USA Track and Field State Junior Olympics.
On the campus of Glendale College where the state event was held, the new edition of the Pacers now coached by Chuck Hardt put on a dazzling display, winning seven gold and four silver medals.
With the stellar efforts, Hardt said he plans to keep the club team intact this summer, but might possibly change the name.
Although she registered for the state meet "unattached" apparently not knowing the Pacers name was to be used, Rheanna Martinez leaped her way to gold medals in the triple jump (36 feet, 8 inches) and long jump (17 feet, 9 inches). Martinez, who will be a senior at Payson High next fall, participated in the young women's (17-18 years) division.
Equaling Martinez's feat of two golds was 12-year-old Kari Hardt. The youngster captured the 800- (2:36.24) and 1,500-meter runs (5:18.40). Her time in the 800 was a personal record.
Kari's older sister, Whitney, sped her way to a triumph in the youth girls (13-14) 1,500-meter run. Her ET of 4:52.80 easily wiped out her PR of 5:02.
Winning the event gold was cause for celebration, but equally as impressive was the fact that Whitney who graduated from Rim Country Middle School last month ran neck-and-neck with Class 4A state champion Aerial Letmer of Mingus High School. Letmer was timed in 4:51.98.
Whitney was afforded the opportunity of learning how she might fare against the high school champion when meet officials decided to allow several age/sex divisions to compete on the same track at the same time.
Capping the Pacer run for the gold were the efforts of Leighann Haynes and the 4x800 relay team of Amy Davis, Jenny Cohen, Brooke Bennett and Haynes.
Haynes won the intermediate girls (15-16) 800-meter run in 2:25.30, coach Hardt said. The relay team turned in a speedy 3,200-meter relay of 10:22.
"That (time) broke the state record (10:50.8) by a huge margin," the coach said.
The Pacer effort at Glendale received considerable support from second-place showings turned in by Hillari Hardt, Whitney Hardt, Hunter Hardt and Jim Paul Beall. Whitney legged out an 800-meter clocking of 2:23.49 that was just off the winning time of 2:22.8.
Hillari was second in the youth girls discuss with a throw of 75 feet, 8 inches. Her younger brother Hunter uncorked a discus throw of 71 feet, 6 inches that earned him a gold in the midget boys' division.
Beall, the son of former Payson High football coach Jim Beall, was second (2:51) in the bantam boys 800-meter run
Third-place honors were garnered by Hillari Hardt (shot-put; 32 feet, 3 inches) and Amy Davis (800; 2:36.11).
Finishing fourth were Beall (1500; 5:47.88) and Hunter Hardt (shot-put; 28 feet, 4 inches).
Top-three finishers at the state meet earn automatic berths into the Region 10 championships to be held July 13 to 16 in Pueblo, Colo.
Coach Hardt said he was unsure which athletes would accept the invitation to compete on the regional level.
Whitney and Kari Hardt have opted to travel July 7-8 to Decatur, Ill. where they will participate in a Junior National championship track and field event.
Kari will compete as a member of the state champion Phoenix Bobcats 4x800 relay team.
White travels to Decatur as a member of the Arizona Cheetah's 4x800 and 4x400 relay teams.
The sisters will also both compete in the 800- and 1,500-meter runs.