Since its founding four years ago, the Tonto Apache Track and Field team has provided a shinning opportunity for tribe youngsters to showcase their skills at a very young age. It also has been a healthy athletic outlet during the spring and summer months when youth sports offerings are somewhat limited.
The squad which might be the only Native American-sponsored track team in the country features many fine athletes including 13-year-old Mikey Waterman, who has been one of its most active and successful participants. Through the years, he's competed in the 400 meters, 100 meters, mile run, shot-put and discus. In the running events, he traditionally finishes among the top four in his age/weight division.
But, when competing in the shot-put and discus which are his favorites he's been a legitimate gold-medal threat on the regional and state levels. He's shown well enough in meets to stamp himself a possible national championship contender. In addition to the thrill of competition, Mikey says he particularly enjoys the travel associated with being on the TA team.
Once the season begins in January, the track squad competes each month in the Phoenix area, usually on a college campus.
When the postseason rolls around each summer, qualifiers on the Tonto Apache team are afforded the luxury of traveling around the Western United States trying to earn berths into the national meet.
"I've met a lot of new people doing that," Mikey says.
As a national qualifier, the youngster who is an eighth-grader at Rim Country Middle School has visited Buffalo, N.Y., Omaha, Neb., and Seattle, Wash. for Junior Olympic meets. Mikey admits that if he weren't a member of the team, he probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to visit the many cities he's traveled to.
Now that fall has arrived and school is once again in session, Mikey and his Tonto Apache teammates will put their track and field aspirations on hold in order to compete in other sports. For Mikey, that means the Rim Country Middle School football team. But come next spring, Mikey will be looking forward to another season of track competition.
"It's something I really like to do," he said.
The Tonto track team, which originally numbered only a handful of athletes, was founded by former college football player Billy Joe Winchester. Since its inception, the team has grown to include 30-plus athletes.
Payson Lady Niners
In weekly play for Aug. 17, the winner of the low-net play was Joleen Matych with a 32. Tying for second-place honors was Pam Mitchell and Julie Lynch.
Aug. 24, the Lady Niners played another one of their off-beat rounds, called "Change your worst three holds to par, with 1/2 handicap."
The winner on that round was Mitchell, with Fran Stumpfer taking second place. Rose Devar was the bronze winner.
Last week, Mitchell also won the low-gross round, with Devar as the silver shooter. Lynch and Dorothy Hardman tied for third place.